Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Biggest Loser

I came in last!  We had a little Oscar party on Sunday night with friends.  Just before the Academy Awards show started we all selected our favorites in a dozen or so main categories.  We got a point for every movie winner we chose correctly. I was the biggest loser.  

I certainly didn’t think Emma Stone in La La Land should have won the best actress award.  I chose Ruth Negga for her understated but moving performance in  Loving as a woman trying to get her mixed race marriage legally recognized.

For best actor I didn’t pick Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea I went with Viggo Mortensen who gave a thought-provoking emotional performance in Captain Fantastic as a man raising his kids alone in the wilderness.  

I selected Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water for best supporting actor. Jeff played Marcus Newman a character based on a real Texas lawman. Jeff’s portrayal was convincing but it didn’t win him the best supporting actor award.

I did get best supporting actress right since I chose Viola Davis for her powerful performance in Fences. She was the very heart of her family and the film as far as I was concerned. I also picked the right original song and music score both from La La Land even though I much prefered the soundtrack of Manchester by the Sea

I earmarked  Silence for cinematography because its  views of the Japanese wilderness and Japanese villages in the 1600s were stunning. I was wrong again because La La Land took this category. 

Manchester by the Sea got my vote for best picture, best director and best screenplay.  I thought it was far and away the top  film when it came to telling a gripping and moving story.  It only won the screenplay award. 

At the end of the evening when the scores were tallied I had picked the fewest Oscar winners. Luckily an earlier plan to actually bet money on the outcome was scrapped so at least my poor predicting skills didn’t cost me any cash.  

If you click on the links in this post you can see other posts I wrote about the nominated films. 

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Don’t Over Analyze- Just Enjoy

swannnovelSwann was the very first Carol Shields book I ever read and I loved it. I found a copy at my friend Perry’s house this summer when he was giving away books to prepare for a move. I just reread it last week and enjoyed it ever so much once again. The story is told from the viewpoint of four different people and Carol makes sure we know each one intimately before she moves on. The four- a publisher, librarian, biographer and English academic become fascinating characters in Carol’s skillful hands. There is something about each one’s life that is just a little sad. They all think of themselves in some way as experts on the poetry written by an Ontario farm wife named Mary Swann whose writing career is cut short when she is brutally murdered by her husband. In the last section of the book the four meet at a symposium in Toronto where the work of Mary Swann is to be discussed and analyzed by a gathering of literary experts. The book is a cautionary tale about not taking literary analysis too seriously. The New York Times review of the book called it a “gentle satire of English academia.”  It reminded me of a poem by Jean Little that I tried to keep in mind when I was an English teacher. 

After English Class

By Jean Little

I used to like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking–and adding to
–the stillness,
The gentle drift of snow. . . .
But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep–
They all have “hidden meanings.”
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Other posts……….

Carol Shields

A Picture Perfect Afternoon

Stopping By Woods- A Children’s Masterpiece

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Two Artists- Me and My Grandson

drawing-a-ceramic-turtleDuring my four year old grandson’s  stay with us in Arizona we had so much fun creating art together.
grandmas-turtle-drawingWe drew turtles using a ceramic turtle as our model. grandsons-turtle-drawingMy grandson labeled his turtle in French because that’s his first language.
grandmas-maskWe created these masks together in the art studio grandsons-maskat the Phoenix Children’s Museum during the afternoon we spent there.  
cape-dorset-coloring-bookWe both like coloring. I knew my grandson was learning about Canada’s north at school so I brought an Inuit art coloring book for him. One rainy afternoon we spent about an hour coloring. He colored Bountiful Sea by Meelia Kelly while I women-artist-coloring-bookworked on a portrait in my Women Artists’ Coloring Book called Portrait of Princess Belozersky  by Marie Louise Elizabeth Vigee Lebrun. 
construxs-machinesWe used the construxs building toys I’d brought along to make a bunch of different machines. My grandson made a gum machine and a toy machine. I  made a music machine and a sandwich machine.

cacti backyardOne sunny morning we both sketched the different plantscacti-childs-art we saw in our backyard. 

art-from-rocks-with-kidsAnother morning we used stones to make three faces.  My grandson labeled them George, Jean and Jack after the three main characters in a story about three coyotes which his grandfather continued each night. After it got dark Dave lit a fire in our fire pit wrapped our grandson in a cosy blanket and they created another chapter in their ongoing saga about the adventures of George, Jean and Jack. 

rock-artStones were featured in this art project as well where we used thin tipped felt markers to create faces and scenes on the flat sections of stones.

iguana-drawingOn Tuesday we decided to draw two iguanas sitting on a rock. My grandson drew and colored the little iguana and I did the big one. We colored the rock together.  We discovered the spelling for the word iguana is exactly the same in English and French except for the last letter. 

grandma-portraitBut my favorite art piece from our week together is this portrait my grandson drew of me. 

Other posts…….

Stopping By Woods- A Children’s Masterpiece

I Love My Job

When Did You Stop Drawing?


Filed under Arizona, Art, Family

My Former Church and The Pope

grace-sign-used-with-permissionThis terrific sign is displayed in front of the church I attended for some forty years- Grace Mennonite in Steinbach.  With its message  in both English and Arabic it lets everyone know that God’s people of every faith and background are considered friends of the congregation. 

I thought of the Grace Church sign when I read an article about the Pope’s Lenten message. This year he wants people to give up indifference for Lent, indifference towards neighbours and God. He says indifference is becoming a global phenomenon.

I am in the United States right now and the media here carries reports each week about at least one new executive order from the country’s current government that shows a marked indifference and lack of sensitivity towards the concerns of neighbours. One week it was refugee neighbours, the next immigrant neighbours and just this week transgender neighbours lost some of their freedoms.  

In the face of government indifference and lack of compassion it is even more important for people of faith and faith communties to display their caring and acceptance.  I happen to know Grace Mennonite reaches out to their neighbours  in many ways. They recently sponsored a Syrian refugee family and have housed a soup kitchen in their building for over a decade. They haven’t only put up a sign they have taken action as well.  Their example is an inspiration.

Other posts………

Saying Hello to People

Introducing Abigail 

Those Who Went to War and Those Who Didn’t


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Great Reading And Great Writing

lucy-bartonBare as bone and clean as a whistle.  Those words by Canadian memoir writer Fredelle Maynard perfectly describe the writing in My Name is Lucy Barton.  I once took a memoir writing workshop with Ms. Maynard and she told us memoir writing is best when it is bare as bone and clean as a whistle.  

Elizabeth Strout’s book My Name is Lucy Barton is not a memoir of a real person.  Elizabeth who is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge makes it clear in an NPR interview that although her new book is about a writer it is not about her.  But it is written like a memoir.  A woman is in the hospital for an extended period of time. Her mother comes to visit her. The two have not been close and their family’s life has been highly dysfunctional. The conversations and interactions during her mother’s five day visit form the heart of My Name is Lucy Barton.

I liked the way Lucy doesn’t whine about the difficulties life sends her way. She is generous and respectful in trying to understand her troubled parents and siblings. When she ends her marriage and her daughters resent her,  she is generous and respectful of both her husband and children as she tries to understand them and realize the positive ways they have contributed to her life.

I liked the way Strout jumped around in time in her novel. We start in the hospital setting and then Lucy takes us forward and backward in time so we learn about her childhood as well as her marriage and career after she leaves the hospital. 

I liked the way several incidents in the book resonated with me personally.  I am sure that will be the case for most readers. 

My Name is Lucy Barton is a simple, straightforward telling of an emotional story.  You are bound to be taken in by its spare and lovely prose.  

Other posts……


A Book That Mirrors A News Story

Lessons From Gray Mountain

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Family Blue Prints

exterior-schmidt-house blue printGoing through some of my mother’s things I found these blueprints for her family home in Drake Saskatchewan.  Although my grandparents no longer lived there after I was born I still visited the house many times because my Uncle Earl and Aunt Lenora had taken over my grandparents’ farm and home. I have many fond memories of happy times with my cousins in that house and so it was great to find these blueprints. I asked my Aunt Viola the only surviving member of my mother’s immediate family if she remembered the house being built. She was 3 years old in 1925 when they moved into the house and can’t really remember a time before she lived there. My mother was born in this house shortly after her family moved in. 

My grandparents' car standing outside their farmhouse in Drake, Saskatchewan

This is how the completed home looked.  My aunt thinks my grandfather ordered the house from somewhere and it came with all the lumber pre-cut and ready to build.  I did a little research and found out this kind of house was called a mill cut house or a mail-order house.  You picked a house design from a catalogue and then tens of thousands of pieces of lumber and every single other building material that you would need to construct it were loaded into boxcars and sent to the customer’s hometown. In Canada, the Eatons Department Store was one of the main sources of these ready to assemble homes but on the prairies, various Grain Growers Associations also provided this service to its members. That makes sense because in the corner of each page of the blueprints its says Saskatchewan Grain Growers Regina. My aunt thinks my grandfather put the house together with the help of a carpenter. basement-schmidt-houseOne thing that is interesting about this floor plan of the basement is the little square labelled Dumb Waiter on the right-hand side.  My mother remembers what a cool feature that was about their house. When I was interviewing her for her life story she said…… We had a dumb waiter in the kitchen.  It was behind doors and had several shelves. We could place items on there that needed to go into the basement and them lower them down with a pulley system.  This came in especially handy when my mother was canning and we had to transfer all the jars to the basement. We kept potatoes, vegetables and onions in cold storage down there.  Our basement also had our cream separator and storage areas for wood and coal and my mother’s washing machine. ground-floor-schmidt-house blue print

 The ground floor had my grandparent’s bedroom, a parlour, huge dining room and kitchen. Here’s how my Mom described the dining room. In the centre of the dining room was a big table with lots of chairs because we had a family of six and my grandmother and uncle also lived with us as well as our hired man. We had a plate railing high up all around the dining room wall and Mom not only kept plates there but also all sorts of other knick-knacks. There was a couch by the stairway leading to the upper floor. This couch is where my father used to lie to listen to Amos and Andy on the Philco radio. He loved that show. There was a wooden sideboard on one wall for dishes and our wooden party line phone was on another wall. 

Mom said the parlour was where her parents visited with company and it had a desk for her Dad that was always covered with his papers and it is also where they kept the piano and their organ.  Mom said the kitchen had a wood stove and her Uncle Alvin who lived with them chopped the wood and kept the stove going.  Mom’s uncle had epilepsy and he was nearly blind so after his parents died in the influenza epidemic he came to live with my grandparents. upper-floor-schmidt-house

This is the upstairs floor plan.  See those stairs over on the right? Mom said…….

Wooden steps with a bannister led upstairs. I remember my sisters and I used to sit on those steps holding hymnals and Bibles. My brother Earl played the role of the pastor and we pretended to have church on those steps. Beside the stairs was a beautiful stained glass window. Not many houses had them in those days. My Dad always bragged however that our house had the best of everything and I guess that included a stained glass window.

My Mom shared the bedroom right beside the stairs with her sisters. They liked to play with their dolls in the long walk-in closet. One of the bedrooms upstairs was for my mother’s maternal grandmother Maria Jantz who lived with them and the other was shared by my Uncle Earl and Paul their hired man. 

Can you see the bathroom over in the right-hand corner?   Mom had lots to say about that!

The bathroom was at the top of the stairs. We were one of the very few families to have an indoor washroom. We had a washstand and basin. There was a claw foot bathtub. My mother heated water and filled it up every Saturday so we kids could take a bath. My sisters and I took turns bathing in the water one after the other and then my brother Earl was last. I’m sure the water was pretty cold and dirty by the time he got into it. In wintertime, we brought in snow and put it in a big barrel beside the wood stove in the kitchen to melt and then used the warm water for our baths. We had an indoor toilet as well. It had a pail and my Dad took out the pail and emptied it every morning before the rest of us woke up.

I’m so glad my mother kept these blueprints.  They tell a story not only of a house but also of the family that lived in it.

Other posts……

Remembering My Grandpa 

When My Grandmother Was Twelve Years Old

My Mother’s Childhood Christmases


Filed under Family, History

Showers and Flowers

It rained pretty much all weekend here in the San Tan Valley.  That’s not the kind of weather you hope for on a trip to Arizona and we had to get creative with finding activities especially for our four year old grandson. But the upside of all that rain is that the desert has started to bloom.  hiking-dynamite-trailYesterday was a sunny beautiful day and we went for a family hike with our children and grandchildren on the Dynamite Trail in the San Tan Regional Park. I had hiked it with my friend Justina recently and there was not a flower in sight.  yellow-desert-bloomsYesterday when we hiked it there were beautiful little yellow and purple blooms popping up everywhere.  purple-desert-flowersDesert flowers are a more common sight here in late March and April but yesterday we got a little preview of what that must be like.  There was a silver lining to those showers. 

Other posts…..

The Flowers of Jamaica

The Flowers of Costa Rica

Exploring Gros Morne National Park

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Questions After Watching The Film Silence

silence-posterI watched  Silence a movie about Catholic missionaries sent to Japan in the 1600s. It made me ask lots of questions.

Can faith truly be transferred from one culture to another.  When you attempt to adapt a faith so it fits into another culture does it change so much that it becomes something else entirely?  Is that a good thing? 

Is it morally right to attempt to transfer a faith common to one culture into a different culture when trying to do so can result in enormous suffering?  That kind of suffering is depicted in a graphic and violent  way in Silence. 

Rather than trying to convert others to our faith wouldn’t we be better off  learning from people of all faiths? Perhaps if we put our truths together we could actually find a way to ‘save’ the world. 

People talk about a simple faith.  Is faith ever simple?  In the movie Silence faith is a messy, troubling puzzle. Trying to untangle that puzzle is painful and heart breaking and costly. 

Is coming to faith a static one time thing?  There is a character in Silence named Kichijiro who keeps questioning and rejecting his faith for a variety of reasons and then returning to it.  That seemed pretty realistic to me.

Do those television evangelists really have it right?  I watched a sermon by one of them the other day and its basic message was if you believe in God everything will work out for you.  That doesn’t happen in the film Silence where people who are intensely devoted to their faith have tragic things happen to them. 

Can anyone truly say……..”God told me to do that?” Some people claim that happens to them and then they go ahead and do some pretty terrible things in supposed obedience to God’s voice.  In Silence the priest Rodrigues is desperate for God to tell him what he should do. But God is silent. Maybe that’s a good thing.  Could it be that “God’s voice” is  a combination of our own conscience, the advice of others, and what our faith has taught us is good and right? 

Other posts…….

Chinese Spiritual Practices

A Religious Opinion

A Veronica Sighting

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During This Past Week

golf with Paul and ShirleyDuring this past week in 2012 I wrote about the four different golf courses we had been to in Phoenix with Dave’s brother Paul and our sister-in-law Shirley.

The bell outside the school we taught at on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona.

The bell outside the school we taught at on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona.

I also wrote about going to visit the Hopi Mission School where we used to be teachers. 

uncle and nieceDuring this past week in 2013 I wrote about going out to dinner with my Uncle Herb who was holidaying in Phoenix. golf teamI also wrote about a golf reunion with Dave’s Manitoba golfing buddies and their wives at the Arizona home we had rented in Gold Canyon. 

making chinese dumplingsDuring this past week in 2014 I wrote about making Chinese dumplings in Florida at the home of our friends Jeff and Anna.

Dave gets suited up in the dive shop.

Dave gets suited up in the dive shop for our manatee swim. 

I also wrote about going swimming with manatees in Crystal River on a trip Jeff had arranged for us. 

at the handlebarDuring this past week in 2015 I wrote about a fun night at our favorite Phoenix restaurant with friends. dave and marylou at the grand canyonI also wrote about our visit to the Grand Canyon.  

waterfall-spaDuring this past week in 2016 I wrote about going swimming in a waterfall pool in Costa Rica. dave bamboo pole vaultI also wrote about a musical walk we took in a bamboo forest there. 

You’ve already read on my blog what we have been up to this past week here in Arizona. I wonder what I will be writing about next year at this time. 



Filed under Reflections, Travel

An Arizona Trifecta

ray-and-nickyBreakfast with Ray and Nicky paul-and-shirleyGolfing with Paul and Shirleyhans-and-chrisSupper with Hans and Chrischris-and-marylou

Other posts……….

Top Ten List in Arizona

Arizona Mailboxes

Hi Ho 

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