Monthly Archives: November 2016

So Excited

canscaip-logoThe official announcement came out this morning.  A manuscript for a picture book I submitted to a competition for new children’s authors in Canada was one of four finalists from among hundreds of entries. I am so excited!  I submitted to the contest last year and although my manuscript made it to the final jury I didn’t crack the top four list.  

So I edited the story, again and again, trying to follow all the advice the contest judges had provided and submitted it to this year’s contest.  And I was a finalist.  The really wonderful thing about being in the top four is that my manuscript will now be given to three Canadian publishers – Annick Press, Kids Can Press and Scholastic Canada for their consideration and I will receive feedback from their editors about how to improve my manuscript. Since these publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts the only way for me to have them read my story was to be a finalist in this contest. 

I first wrote my story as an assignment in a writing course three and a half years ago and since then have been refining it and changing it constantly to improve it.  I read somewhere that if a picture book gets published it usually takes from five to six years, so I am on the road.  

I owe HUGE thanks to my friend and former Winnipeg Art Gallery colleague Perry Nodelman who gave me such helpful feedback on my manuscript and was the one who suggested I enter my story in this contest, and to the members of The Anita Factor, my writers’ group who have listened to my story many times and offered such wise advice. 

Other posts…….

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

Picture Books Have Changed

Talk About Being In Good Company


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Wash Day Tragedy

Version 2I recently found this photograph of my maternal grandmother on the back porch of her farmhouse in Drake Saskatchewan doing her laundry. It fascinated me. You see I had known since I was very small that Grandma had experienced a tragedy while doing her laundry and this photo reminded me of that.

When I was a little girl and would sit on my grandmother’s lap I noticed that the skin on one of her arms was laced with scars and hung down from the bone in a crepey and twisted way. My grandmother was a very attractive petite woman who always dressed beautifully so this anomaly in her appearance intrigued me. Grandma explained to me that once her arm had been caught in the wringer of a washing machine and that had permanently scared her arm.

The inside of my grandmother's right arm was full of scars and twisted skin

Here I am with my grandparents. The inside of my grandmother’s one arm was full of scars and twisted skin. 

I asked my aunt about the accident when I phoned her yesterday and she said it happened in the mid 1940s  in summer on the back porch in a scene similar to the one in the photograph.  My aunt already had a teaching job in a nearby community where she spent the winter but her summers were spent at her parents. She remembers being inside and hearing my grandmother screaming. She and her sister ran outside to find their mothers’ arm caught in the wringer of the washing machine. Somehow as she fed the clothing through the wringer her hand got caught in the moving rollers and her arm up to her elbow was crushed.  My aunt doesn’t remember if they called the doctor and my grandmother’s hand and arm eventually healed.

My sister and brother and I with my grandmother. Her arm was definitely healed enought to hold a baby.

My sister and brother and I with my grandmother. Her arm was definitely healed enough to hold a baby.

I never noticed that grandma’s hand lacked mobility. She crocheted, painted, hooked rugs and wrote letters in a lovely hand so aside from its appearance her arm seemed normal. She was not at all embarrassed about her deformed arm and let us touch the loose skin. We asked her to tell us the story of her laundry accident over and over.  My grandmother was a beautiful person through and through and her scars only made her more interesting. 

Other posts………..

Earrings and Tombstones

Rural Roots

Baseball Legacy


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Cut in Stone

The Owl stonecut on paper by Lukta Qiatsuk- 1959

The Owl stonecut on paper by Lukta Qiatsuk- 1959

Stone block for owl by Lukta Qiatsuk 1959

Stone block for The Owl by Lukta Qiatsuk 1959

For me the most fascinating room in the Our Land exhibit currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is the one featuring a series of stone cut prints. There are many different ways Inuit artists make prints but stone cuts are unique. In the Our Land exhibit we are fortunate enough to be able to see not only the prints, but also the stone cuts used to make them.  The Owl is interesting because the same artist, Lukta Qiatsuk drew the image and created the stone cut to be used for the print. Often however the artist who creates the image for the print is different from the carver who recreates the image in the stone.

Wier at Shartoweektok by Pitseolak Ashoona- 1975

Weir at Shartoweektok by Pitseolak Ashoona- 1975

The image for this print was drawn by one artist…

Stone block for Weir at Sharoweetok by Sagiatuk Sagiatuk and Timothy Ottochie-1975

Stone block for Weir at Sharoweetok by Sagiatuk Sagiatuk and Timothy Ottochie-1975

But the stone block was carved by two different artists. Once they had carved the image in stone the printmakers applied colored ink to it using a tool called a brayer and then laid a sheet of paper on the inked block and rubbed the back of the paper using a flat tool to apply even pressure. After the ink had soaked into the paper, the paper was peeled carefully from the stone block to reveal the printed impression. The image on the print always appears in reverse of the original drawing.

Angakuk's Tent by Ikayukta Tunnillie

Angakuk’s Tent by Ikayukta Tunnillie

The art of stone cut printmaking is new to Inuit artists. It was introduced by James Houston an artist who went to the Arctic to work after World War II and in 1958 traveled to Japan to study woodcut printmaking with Japanese masters of the art. Houston shared what he had learned with Inuit artists and they adapted the woodcut technique for stone. 

Stone block for Angakuk's Tent by Qabaroak Qatsiya 1975

Stone block for Angakuk’s Tent by Qabaroak Qatsiya 1975

Normally when a printmaker has made about 50 prints the stone carving that created it is ground flat. So we are fortunate the ones in the exhibit have been preserved for us to see. The exhibit Our Land includes a film showing how the prints are made and a display case with some of the tools used in the printmaking process. 

Other posts……

The Globalization of Art from Japan to Cape Dorset

Learning to Print

Transferring the Real to the Unreal

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Encouragement After the American Election

Last night I had supper with a university professor who had just returned from the American Academy of Religion conference in San Antonio that annually brings together more than 10,000 religion professors, authors and students.  The professor talked about the feeling of sadness that had permeated the meetings in the wake of the election results and said it was striking to see how many of the speakers while presenting their academic research and papers to the conference began to weep. It inspired me to look for words that might offer encouragement and to go through my photo collection to find related images. 

A stained glass window created by Jewish artist Chagall for a church in Mainz Germany as a way to bring people together after World War II

A stained glass window photographed in St. Stephan’s Catholic church in Mainz Germany. It was created by Jewish artist Marc Chagall as a gift he hoped would bring people together after World War II 

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. – Toni Morrison

A trio of Quebec suffragettes who fought for 22 years to get women the right to vote in their province.

A trio of Quebec suffragettes photographed in Quebec City.  They never gave up even though it took them twenty-two years of determined and unrelenting effort to get women the right to vote in their province.

I just want you to know you have to stay encouraged. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. -Barack Obama

In the Chernobyl Museum in Ukraine A huge mobile contains dozens of threads hanging from the ceiling of the museum and dangling at the ends of these threads are black and white pencil portraits of people who died or got seriously ill because they were 'doing their job' and were trying to help the people in the effected areas. There are sketches of doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, military people, police officers and fire fighters who were called to the scene of the disaster and went without even stopping to think that they might be placing themselves in danger.

Photographed at the Chernobyl Museum in Ukraine where there are a multitude of pencil portraits of doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers who died trying to help the people injured by the disaster. They were heroes just doing their jobs. 

Everytime we think we have reached our capacity to meet a challenge we look up and we realize that capacity may be limitless. This is a time for heroes. We will do what is hard.  – President Bartlett on West Wing

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

Portrait of Helen Keller photographed at the Thomas Edison estate in Fort Myers, Florida. Helen was born deaf and blind. She became a famous author, political activist and lecturer. 

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein

Photograph of our son taken at the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown New York with the Jackie Robinson plaque.  Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball.

Photograph of our son taken at the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown New York with the Jackie Robinson plaque. Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball.

Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart. -Ed Koch

Photo taken at the Anne Frank exhibit in Hong Kong.

Photo taken at the Anne Frank exhibit in Hong Kong.

Inspite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart. – Anne Frank

Lighthouse carved from a tree damaged in a tornado in Seacliff Park Leamington Ontario

Lighthouse carved from a tree damaged in a tornado. Photographed in Seacliff Park Leamington Ontario

In a time of destruction, create something- Maxine Kingston

Sculpture photographed in Singapore

Sculpture photographed in Singapore

Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future. – John F. Kennedy

With Starry NIght at the Museum of Modern Art

With Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Van Gogh suffered from anxiety and depression while creating this beautiful vision of the night sky.

Without the dark we would never see the stars. – Stephanie Meyers

Dream Catcher at a Wendat village near Quebec City

Dream Catcher photographed at a Wendat village near Quebec City

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.
― Langston Hughes

Other posts………

A Little Light

That’s How Light Gets In

Thoughts on Hope

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What I Saw in A Classroom Yesterday

welcome to our school different languagesI was visiting one of my student teachers in a junior high classroom in the inner city yesterday.  I started jotting down things I saw. 

  • Labels in both Arabic and English for items in the room like the pencil sharpener and clock. 
  • A numbered treaty document signed by all the students and their teacher which listed their responsibilities. Some of the treaty items the teacher had agreed to were listening to kids and giving them time to think. Some of the treaty items the students had agreed to were trying their best and showing up for class on time. 
  • A piece of chart paper that recorded the results of a class brainstorming session about bullying. 
  • A series of posters for the seven sacred teachings- courage, honesty, respect,wisdom, truth, love and humility.
  • A large sign providing the number of hotline children could call for help if they were experiencing abuse. 
  • A poster with the United Nations Rights of a Child in kid friendly language. 
  • A colorful poster on the door that featured an acrostic for diversity D-different I-individuals V-valuing E-each other R-regardless of S-skin I-intellect T-talents or Y-years. 
  • Boxes of granola bars for kids to eat if they had missed breakfast. 
  • A Canadian flag right beside a poster that read We Are All Treaty People. 
  • A map of all the treaty lands in Manitoba and the communities in them.  Some of the students had put their names on sticky notes and attached them to the map at the spot where their family came from. 
  • Shelves filled with board games and books. 
  • Students with skin color, language and dress that indicated they came from many different countries. 
  • Plastic containers filled with supplies like pencil crayons, scissors, pens and notebooks for kids that didn’t have their own. 
  •  A poster that declared… Always determine what’s right instead of who’s right. 

As I looked around I thought most of these things would not have been in a classroom I was a part of as a child.

Other posts……..

The Children are Watching and Listening and Wondering

Counting on Their Fingers

Crossing the Line

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My Mom Starts School


Here is my mother ready for her first day of school in 1931.  I found this gem recently as I was helping to move my Aunt Viola who is also pictured here carrying a rather beat up looking lunch kit.  My aunt had penciled in on the back of the photo Dorothy’s first day of school. My Mom has a book under her arm.  I wonder if it was a grade one reader. My Mom told me that each grade had their own reading book with poetry and fiction as well as stories about nature and history.   I just love the girls’ hats, their woolen stockings and from the material sticking out of both of their sleeves they may have been wearing matching dresses or tops. This is on their parents’ farmyard. Look how my grandma has laid out neat little flower beds with stones. 


My Aunt Viola also had this photo of the Kansas School in her collection. See the children arriving for class in a horse and buggy?

Mom and her siblings went to the Kansas School in school district #1699 in Drake Saskatchewan.  It was called the Kansas School because most of the children who attended were from families that had immigrated to Canada from Kansas in the early 1900s as my own great grandparents had. The one room school had grades one to eight and Mom thinks there could have been up to 50 children attending.  Mom walked the one and a half miles to school with her brother and sisters, cousins and the neighbor kids, no doubt one of them her best friend Mildred, who lived just across the road. Sometimes in winter an older cousin took them to school in a sleigh. 


Mom with the other children in grade one at Kansas school during the 1931-1932 school year. Mom is third from the right.

Mom’s teacher in grade one was Agnes Regier and Mom really liked her. Agnes was also Mom’s first piano teacher and Mom told me that at the end of her first school year her class put on a musical on the porch of Miss Regier’s house and all their parents came to watch. Mom remembers how they used to chant their spelling words out loud together letter by letter. 

At recess they liked to skip in pairs and they had skipping rhymes to chant as they did so. Mom said they also played lots of cricket using the tree stumps on the school yard as wickets. 

In September my grandson started school in Saskatchewan and as I look at the photo my son sent of him setting off for his first day of junior kindergarten it is interesting to compare it to the photo of my Mom doing exactly the same thing…… setting off for her first day of school in Saskatchewan 85 years earlier. 

This post has been updated here. 

Other posts……

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

Remembering My Grandpa

Why Was This Special?

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A Head Trio

heads-robert-tattyI am absolutely fascinated by this trio of heads created in clay by Inuit artist Robert Tatty.  Each face is so unique and there are animals and people all over the heads. robert-tatty-head-2This person looks relatively happy. Their mouth is open showing  teeth in a smile.  Perched on top of the head is a person watching while two bears approach each other. Are they ready to fight? Or is it a mother approaching her child to protect it?robert-tatty-head-2-backIf you look at that same head from the back the person appears to be scaling some sort of rock face and there seems to be an igloo at the top.  robert-tatty-head-1
This person definitely looks sad. Notice how the tails of the creatures on either side of the mouth draw the ends of the mouth down.  The animals look a bit like bears, but they have flipper- like appendages and are perhaps transforming from one kind of animal into another. The one at the top seems almost ready to fly away. robert-tatty-head-3-frontThis person looks stoic.  Do you notice how their ears are formed by some kind of creature? The fox or bear on top seems to have sprouted wings. While the other two heads feature eyes half closed this one’s eyes are wide open and recessed. robert-tatty-head-3-backThe rear view features a person looking at some kind of lizard that appears to have crawled out of a hole.  And flying downwards are winged creatures with tiny heads and pawed feet. 

Photo of Robert Tatty at work taken by John Reeves

Photo of Robert Tatty at work taken by John Reeves

Robert Tatty who was born in 1927 is the creator of these pieces.  Here you can read about how his Inuit stepfather successfully ran a Hudson’s Bay post at Ukkusiksalik. Robert’s biological father was one of the previous managers.

Here Robert’s wife Annie talks about her arranged marriage to Robert when she was sixteen and how they lived in Rankin Inlet for most of their married life. Robert initially worked in the nickel mines there.  

In 1962 the mines closed and an arts and crafts project began in Rankin Inlet as a way to encourage local people to try their hand at carving, sewing and ceramics.  By 1966 the Rankin Inlet Ceramics Project was producing a large number of works which were critically praised.  However sales lagged and in 1977 the workshop closed.

From 1978 to 1980 Robert and Annie moved back to Robert’s childhood home in Ukkusiksalik where Robert worked as a hunting guide. Ill health and their children’s education needs eventually took them back to Rankin Inlet. Robert died in 2009. 

Other posts……..

Stitching a Story

Inuit Fashion Show

Transferring the Real to the Unreal

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Chicken Noodle Soup

How did Grandma make her chicken noodle soup? That was the header of an e-mail I sent my aunts recently.

 Last year I published a blog post in which I included some stories about my grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. I talked about Grandma bringing me a jar of her special soup when my son was born. I mentioned that my Dad had sometimes delivered jars of his mother’s soup to neighbors using a little sled pulled by his dog. I also described a story my younger son had written about his great grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. 

A Manitoba author writing a book about various cultural groups and their unique foods read my blog post about Grandma’s soup and wanted more details. After we chatted I agreed to contact my aunts. I thought they might have more information about my grandmother’s soup. Indeed they did! Spread out in three different cities my five aunts conferred by phone and then my Aunt Mary combined their findings in a lengthy e-mail

My aunts who provided the information about the soup are shown here wearing the kinds of aprons and kerchiefs Grandma would have worn while cooking

My aunts who provided the information about the soup are shown here having fun dressing up in the kinds of aprons and kerchiefs Grandma would have worn while cooking

Besides receiving a detailed recipe I learned other interesting things about Grandma’s chicken noodle soup. She only used hens well past the egg laying stage. Their heads were chopped off on a chopping block. Next the feathers were plucked after which the hairs on the chicken were singed in an alcohol flame. It was a matter of some skill to divest the chicken of its innards. Entrails were fed to the barn cats as a treat. The chicken was cooked in a large pot of boiling water along with peppercorns, star anise, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves and large bunches of parsley tied together with thread.

aunts in apronsGrandma made her own noodles drying them on a laundry rack and saving the water in which she boiled them to starch my Grandpa’s shirts. She got flour for her noodles by bringing wheat from their farm to the mill for grinding. The eggs for the noodles came from her chickens and the milk and butter from the family cows. Sometimes Grandma would devote an entire day to making noodles so she would have a ready supply for many months. A village tradition was to give gift packages of noodles at Christmas. Till she moved to a nursing home my grandmother continued to receive noodles as gifts from a niece she helped to raise after her mother died in childbirth, and from a cousin she and my grandfather sponsored to come to Canada after World War II.

   Grandma did not have a written recipe for her soup. She kept sampling it while it was cooking and adding things until it tasted right. The women of the village of Gnadenthal all made chicken noodle soup for new mothers. After a baby was born a family received many jars of soup. In this way the women of the village showed solidarity and support to the new mother so she didn’t have to cook too much while she was regaining her strength.

 One of my aunts remembers routinely having a bowl of chicken noodle soup as a ‘night cap’ with her father after evening church services. Another aunt recalls my grandmother telling her stories while she stirred her chicken noodle soup.

The author who contacted me was delighted with all the information my aunts provided about my grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. My aunts were delighted to have a chance to recall and share their fond memories of their mother’s soup. And I was delighted to learn more about my family from their stories.

An updated version of this post can be found here. 

Other posts………

Tütjes- An Important Christmas Tradition

I Married a Talented Spitter

Introducing Visitors From India to Mennonite Food


Filed under Food

Stitching a Story


She is the master of the herringbone stitch! Inuit fabric artist Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq uses the herringbone stitch almost exclusively in her artwork, but what a story she can weave with that stitch.  This untitled work of Elizabeth’s is one of the fascinating pieces in the wall hanging section of the current exhibit Our Land at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Version 2Take a closer look at Elizabeth’s piece and you can see a happy family near the top. Where are they off to? There is a kayaker with a dog perched precariously  on the back of his boat. What is it doing there? Two characters appear to be shouting at each other. What are they upset about?  Two people are dancing. Are they celebrating or mourning something? elizabeth-angrnaqquaq-photoElizabeth was born in 1916 and her family lived a nomadic life till starvation and poor health forced them to settle in Baker Lake. Here Elizabeth become part of a sewing cooperative and was one of the first women in Baker Lake to use her talents as a seamstress to make wall hangings instead of clothing. In some of her hangings not only the figures but much of the space between them is covered in stitches. Elizabeth’s magic needle can turn the herringbone stitch into a bird’s feather, a dog’s hair or a fish’s scales. 


Fanny Algaalaga Avatituq is the creator of this hanging.  Fanny also comes from Baker Lake but is forty years younger than Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq. Although both women stitch with embroidery floss Fanny’s work is brighter, denser and more detailed.  The children I take through the galleries like to play a kind of I Spy game with this wall hanging looking for animals hiding in the leaves and flowers. A couple of figures are in the process of transformation. 


There are so many stories waiting to be told in this hanging by Victoria Mamngupsualuk Kayuryuk. It depicts an Inuit shaman named Keeveeok or Kiviuq who some say has lived for thousands of years.  There are countless legends of Kiviuq’s journeys and adventures.  Filmaker James Houston compiled information from interviews with forty different Inuit elders to make a movie about Kiviuq in 2007. On Houston’s website you can read different versions of six stories about Kiviuq with titles like Grizzly Bear, The Storm at Sea and Goose Wife

Fishing in the Weir by Martha Kakee

Fishing in the Weir by Martha Kakee

Martha Kakee who wove Fishing in the Weir says she wanted to show how things were done in days gone by with her artwork. Here she shows us how fishing weirs were built by piling stones at the mouth of rivers in a crescent shape to make a wall to trap the fish. People waded into the river and hooked the fish with long-handled spears called kakivat. A needle was passed through the fish under the spine to add it onto a stringer. 

irene-avaalaaqiaq-tiktaabaqIrene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq has a bold colourful  style that makes her work easily recognizable.  In this hanging we can see the interplay between humans and animals.  What stories of the spirits is Irene depicting here?  Irene’s pieces are based on Inuit myths and legends told by her grandmother who adopted her when her parents died.  Her interesting shamanistic figures usually show heads in profile and duplicate. Perhaps some of these figures are the story tellers themselves. 

Other posts about Our Land

Inuit Fashion Show

Transferring the Real to the Unreal


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Thoughts on Hope

John Lennon Wall in Prague

John Lennon Wall in Prague

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.
― John Lennon

Palm Tanagers photographed in Costa Rica

Tanagers photographed in Costa Rica

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
― Emily Dickinson

School boys in Boreno

School boys in Boreno

They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. 
― Tom Bodett

My Grade Five Class in 1963 with our teacher Mr. Klassen. I am second from the left in the second row.

My grade five teacher Mr. Klassen was an inspiring and creative influence in my life.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning – Brad Henry

My Mom and Dad with children from a refugee family from Sierra Leone they sponsored

My Mom and Dad with children from a refugee family from Sierra Leone they sponsored

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. Maya Angelou

Photo taken near Sanford Manitoba

Photo taken near Sanford Manitoba

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments — can see a possibility of hope. ~Maya Angelou

My Dad examining patients in Haiti

My Dad examining patients in Haiti

Hope is the physician of each misery. – Anonymous

Photo taken in Jiang China

Photo taken in Jiangsu China

May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears. – Nelson Mandela

Other posts……..

Inspiration in Quebec City

Rumi Inspiration

A Balm for my Soul

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