Monthly Archives: December 2017

Empty Adjectives

Don’t use so many empty adjectives.  I was going through an old journal I kept during the time my younger son was a communications student at university. He was taking writing and journalism courses so I asked him to read a number of my newspaper columns and give me some advice on how I could improve my writing.  One of his suggestions was that I needed to get rid of the empty adjectives in my pieces.  

I guess I didn’t take my son’s advice too seriously because on rereading his words a decade later I still had no idea what empty adjectives were.  I decided it was probably time to find out. After a little internet research I discovered empty adjectives are describing words that add a friendlier softer tone to sentences but do not add any meaningful content. Research says women are more prone to using empty adjectives than men. 

Armed with my new knowledge about ’empty adjectives’ I  looked back at my recent blog posts and sure enough it didn’t take me long to find some empty adjectives.  

We had delightful eggnog cheesecake. That’s how I described the dessert at a Christmas get together with my friends in a recent blog.  Delightful is an empty adjective.  I could have used more specific adjectives like creamy or spicy or chocolate -topped. They would have told you more about my cheesecake unlike the empty adjective delightful. 

Pitaloosie and Aqsatunnguaq – a watercolor by Pitaloosie Saila

There is a sad story behind this gorgeous watercolor of Pitaloosie and her sister. I used that sentence in a blog post describing a painting by Inuit artist Pitaloosie Saila.  Gorgeous is an empty adjective.  I could have used more specific adjectives like poignant, child-like or colorful.  They would have told you more about the artwork unlike the empty adjective gorgeous. 

My son was right!  I do use empty adjectives.  I am going to try to cure myself of that habit.  If you discover an empty adjective in my blog posts please do let me know. 

Other posts………

It is Beginning To Feel Like Christmas

A Very Personal Story

Who’s Right? My Husband or Me? 


1 Comment

Filed under Writing

Mennonite Floor Art

Look at those beautiful floors!  friesen house barn neubergthalWhen I toured the Friesen heritage house in the southern Manitoba village of Neubergthal with friends  I took the photo below of one of the floors in the home. It intrigued me. floor tiles friesen house neubergthal

I saw that same pattern when I visited the gift shop at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It was displaying Neubergthal artist Margruite Krahn’s show Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns. Margruite has been involved in the restoration of Neubergthal since 2001.  Neubergthal is a Mennonite street village founded in 1876 and a national historic site.  Margruite became fascinated with the beautiful patterns found hand-painted on the wooden floors of some of the oldest homes in the village.

Upstairs Bedroom by Margruite Krahn

These hand-painted floor patterns were created by Mennonite women often during the long winter months.  Floor painting is an art Margruite believes they brought over with them from Prussia when they migrated to Canada in the 1870s. Margruite decided to try to recreate some of the designs herself on cotton canvas.  The results are beautiful but also completely practical.  Although at the WAG gift shop the floor cloths are hung on the wall they are extremely durable and can be placed on the floor and used in a functional way.

Canvas carpet created in 2005

Margruite says some of her canvas floor clothes were made already in 2005 and still look great after more than a decade of foot traffic. Not all of Margruite’s canvases were inspired by floor patterns.  This one was found on a trap door in the Klippenstein home in Neubergthal. 

Margruite travelled to other Mennonite villages as well looking for painted floorboards and found them sometimes under layers of carpet and linoleum.  This pattern was discovered in a house in Grunthal Manitoba owned by a Driedger family.  I wonder if they could be relatives of mine? Margruite says that while the petals on the flowers in floral patterns were usually painted with a brush the centre circle was stamped using potatoes or some other vegetable. 

Margruite based this artwork on a geometric floor pattern she found in a Gerbrandt house in Sommerfeld Manitoba. She has discovered some 26 different patterns so far.

777 Boxes of Grace by Margruite Krahn from the Herdsman House in Neubergthal

  You can find out more about Margruite on her website and read more about her work with floor patterns there too.  

Other posts…………

The T-4s Go Mennonite in Neubergthal

The Brommtop and Cross Dressing Mennonites

By Design


1 Comment

Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

Ava Maria

A deep cello accompaniment and the soaring voices of young women created an inspirational performance of Ava Maria at the Pembina Trails Voices Christmas concert we attended last night.  Our daughter-in-law is one of the Pembina Trails music directors and we were sitting with her parents.  “What does Ava Maria mean?” my husband asked our son’s father-in-law after the concert was over.  Neither of them really seemed to know so I looked it up this morning. 


Botticelli image of the angel Gabriel greeting Mary 

Ava Maria directly translated from the Latin is ‘Hail Mary.’ They are the first two words the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he told her she was going to give birth to Jesus.  The angel went on to tell her she was special and blessed and that God was with her. 

I really like the version of the angel’s words in The Message translation of the Bible. 

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

I think those words are ones for us all to take to heart. If we woke up each morning remembering we are not alone in this world and that we are truly beautiful and special we would feel assured, motivated and hopeful.

Other posts…………. 

Jesus is Born at the Sagrada Familia

God as A Stranger

December 23

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Religion

A Meal in a Novel

At my writers’ group Christmas party on Thursday night we each had to bring food for a potluck. We were supposed to prepare something that was related to a novel we have written.  I have just finished the first draft of a middle-grade novel about a boy who travels by train from Kansas to Saskatchewan in 1907.  Here is the excerpt from my novel that I used to plan my potluck contribution.

meal for writers group

My contribution to the potluck

The next day at the station Mama doesn’t say anything about me getting on the train. Sometime during the night, Papa must have convinced her to let me go. She hugs me and two hot tears slip across her cheeks and slide down my neck as her arms squish the air out of my lungs clear to my ribs. Before I turn towards the boxcar with Prince and Gypsy inside she hands me an old sugar sack that smells of spicy pickles, smoked sausage, buttered bread and her dried cinnamon apples. I can tell Mama wants to say something. She gnaws her lips and opens them so wide I can see all of her teeth right to the back of her mouth, but only short frightened gasps come up from her throat. Papa shakes my hand strong and steady like I’m a real grown man and then he puts his arm around Mama’s shoulders and leads her away. She doesn’t look back at me.

Other posts………..

So Much Hard Work

A Quick Five

I’m In Chicken Soup Again

Leave a comment

Filed under Food

Dear World

 Eight year old Bana Alabed narrates a tragic story in the book Dear World.  She and her family lived in Aleppo Syria and Bana started a Twitter account to describe the horror and deprivation her family was experiencing. She garnered nearly 400,000 followers.  Bana’s family has now escaped to Turkey where they have become citizens and Bana and her mother have written a book about their family’s experiences that has been published by Simon and Schuster.  

I had heard nothing about the book before I read it myself and I was moved and mournful as Bana described the terror of bombing raids, the agony of hiding for hours on end in cold and dirty basements, the stark reality of having little or no food to eat, the fear of dodging bullets to get water, the disappointment of having her school destroyed, the anxiety of seeing her family separated and the sadness of losing her dearest friend in a bombing.  

The city of Aleppo where Bana’s family lived

After finishing Dear World which includes a response from Bana’s mother Fatemah at the end of each chapter, I went online to learn more about it and now I am not at all sure what I think of the book.  Many Amazon reviewers, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and a host of websites have questioned the veracity of Bana’s tweets and her narrative in the book.  Even in favourable articles like this one in the New Yorker there are suggestions that Bana’s videos on Twitter are too scripted and that she is being coached. Critics say in interviews Bana simply doesn’t exhibit a good enough knowledge of the English language to have written the tweets she did.  Some even accuse her parents of being aligned with terrorist organizations. Since the announcement of her book launch some of her more political tweets have been removed from her feed. 

Yet I am left thinking …….. Would Simon and Schuster publish her book if they didn’t think it was true and would author J.K. Rowling be Bana’s number one fan and supporter if her story wasn’t verifiable? It’s hard to know. 

The bottom line is that the war in Syria has been devastating for thousands of children.  If Bana Alabed’s story brings attention to their plight and inspires people to help them that’s a good thing.  But it is not a good thing if questions about Bana’s motivations and authenticity does anything to hinder bringing support and aid to the refugee children of Syria .  I am not sorry I read Dear World.  I wish I could still take its very sad story at face value. 

Other posts……….

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi

Standing Up For Children

Thoughts About Children

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Childhood, Politics

Thirties Prairie Portraits

family in the gardenThose are works of art!  Charming portraits of a family on the Canadian prairie’s flashed on the screen during the slide show I  put together for my Aunt Viola’s 95th birthday. mom and siblingsI had found many of the photos saved in albums and envelopes when I helped her move into a personal care home.  Some of the scenes were so idyllic and lovely my brother suggested they could be turned into beautiful paintings.  I just loved these portraits of my mother’s family. family portrait on porchI asked my Aunt Viola who had taken all the lovely photos and she said most were taken by her Aunt Marie.   My Great Aunt Marie, my grandmother’s sister never married.  She had a  job in California working for a wealthy family.  When she came home to visit her family in Drake Saskatchewan she always brought along beautiful clothes for her sister and her sister’s children.  prairie girls playing houseGreat Aunt Marie also owned a camera and she took photos of her sister’s family. three sisters 1930s

Tbese are just a few samples of the charming prairie family photos taken by my Great Aunt Marie.  

mom and sisters oct 1934

I am grateful to her for recording these beautiful memories from my mother’s childhood. 

schmidt family with sleigh


Filed under Family


with the nikkels in japan.One night when we were in Kyoto Japan with our friends Rudy and Sue we went to a local market and bought fruit, vegetables, cold meats, bread, cheese and wine so we could have a meal in the dining area of the traditional Japanese house where we were staying. We arrived at our lodgings and dumped out our shopping bags onto the table. We were tired and hungry and began nibbling away silently at the things we’d bought when Sue said, “Wait a minute.” She gathered up our purchases and went into the kitchen, returning a short while later with all our foodstuffs cut up and arranged and presented beautifully on a tray she had found. Suddenly our meal took on a whole new tone. The lovely presentation of our food made us take time to savor what we were eating and really enjoy it and each other’s company. Even though it was the end of a long day of walking and sight-seeing we had a great time visiting, eating, sipping our wine and talking about our new experiences.

We all know appearances aren’t everything but my friend Sue taught me that the look of things makes a difference. Whether it was the artistic way she served the delicious meals she cooked, the comfortable way she designed the interior of her home, the creative way she could organize a vase of flowers or the classic way she often dressed, Sue had a flair for presentation. It made food taste better, rooms seem more inviting, flowers look even lovelier and simple outfits appear perfect for the occasion. Sue had a talent for arranging things so their innate beauty shone through.

My friend Sue died on Monday night.  She was a successful businesswoman, adventuresome world traveler, supportive wife, caring mother, loving grandmother, wonderful cook, avid reader, wine aficionado, first class social coordinator, experienced cyclist, hardy hiker, brisk walker, talented bridge player, serious golfer, easy conversationalist, empathetic listener and many, many other things to her family and to her wide, wide circle of friends. I count myself blessed indeed to have been one of those friends. I will miss her greatly.  

Other posts…….

A Serendipitous Sail

Hecla Island Inspiration

Getting To Know A Famous Inventor




Filed under Reflections

Happy 95th Birthday Aunt Vi

My brother and Aunt Vi check out her cake.

My Aunt Viola turned 95 years old yesterday.  On Saturday our family hosted a party for her in Saskatoon.  I think over a hundred people came to wish her well.  I was so happy that a big group of my cousins and their children as well as some of my aunt’s cousins were there.  

My sister and Aunt Vi enjoy a happy moment.

I made a speech about my aunt describing her as a world traveler, devoted daughter, voracious reader, dedicated teacher, loyal friend, faithful sister, caring aunt, gracious hostess, prolific needle worker, active church member, dedicated volunteer and plant lover!  

Aunt Vi greets some of her many friends who came to the party

Aunt Vi surprised us all when she got up to make a speech too.  She talked about her life and how it had been her desire to serve God in all she did. She also encouraged us to share a kind word or even just a smile with others.

Aunt Vi with some of her cousins.

I thought Aunt Vi would be tired after meeting and greeting people for almost three hours but when we got back to her suite she wanted to look at all her cards. So we formed a little assembly line.  My Dad and brother opened the envelopes, my sister read Aunt Vi the notes and signatures in the cards and I put them all up on a wall in her room so she could look at them again and again.

Nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews and a couple great, great nieces and nephews who came to the party along with my Dad.

 It is quite something to live to be 95 and still be in a state of health and mind to enjoy it. I’m glad that’s the case for my aunt. Happy Birthday Aunt Vi!

Other posts……..

A Tipped Caboose, A Black Eye and A Wedding


Aunt Vi’s Autograph Book

Leave a comment

Filed under Family

Nuggets of Hope for the Disgruntled

“I’m just disgusted with what’s going on.”  I was chatting with a disgruntled man after the service at my church last Sunday. He was depressed about the state of our world.  I asked him if he had listened to the sermon.  Our pastor had done a first rate job of making us feel hopeful about humanity despite the scary headlines.  

Blindness is epidemic in India as I discovered when I visited there

Our pastor introduced us to Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr. V). Dr. V is an opthamologist who decided he wanted to eradicate blindness in India and set about developing a system that would allow him to perform inexpensive, quick and successful cataracts surgeries. His system led to the creation of a chain of hospitals in India that have brought sight back to nearly 5 million people. Two thirds of these surgeries have been performed for free and yet because Dr. V developed economical ways of producing supplies and efficient methods of training surgeons, his hospitals actually make money. 

 Palestinian and Israeli women take part in a march near the Jordan River, in the West Bank on Oct 8, 2017. 

Our pastor also showed us a video of Palestinian women and Israeli women marching together for peace. This past October more than 5000 women from both Israel and the Palestinian territories arrived in Jerusalem after a two-week march through Israel and the West Bank. These women were of different religious backgrounds, different economic backgrounds and had different political affliations but they were united on one thing – they wanted to prevent another war in the Middle East and they wanted a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Primeminister Justin Trudeau visibly moved during his apology to LGBTQ Canadians

Another nugget of hope in the sermon was our pastor’s description of the heart felt apology in Canada’s House of Commons the previous week, when our prime minister stood and recited more than twenty ways in which our country had acted reprehensibly and oppressively towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities. You could see many members of Parliament were visibly moved as our Primeminister declared,  “We were wrong. We are sorry. And we will never let this happen again.”

Our pastor had other hopeful examples in his sermon. I pointed them all out to my disgruntled fellow church member. I also mentioned the heavenly music provided by a string and wind ensemble during the service.  Hadn’t that given his soul a measure of peace? 

I’m not sure I convinced him. We live in a time when we need to look for every sign of hope we can. I’m glad I attend a church that helps me do that but I realize that a lot depends on me too.  I have to be ready to listen with a positive attitude and take to heart those nuggets of hope.  

Other posts……..

Thoughts on Hope

Hopeful Families in South Korea

That’s How Light Gets In

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion


What does the number 504938C stand for?  I found out while visiting a grade eleven English class this week where the student teacher I supervise is doing a unit on documentary films with her class.  The documentary she showed the day of my visit was called 504938C.  That is the number filmmaker Ervin Chartrand had when he was an inmate in Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Prison. In his short film he shows the choice he had to make upon leaving prison.  Would he go back to join the gang he was part of before going to jail or would he try to walk a different path?  

Stony Mountain Prison

Before she showed the film the student teacher asked the kids to share what they knew about life in a prison.  They came up with lots of ideas.  Then she provided them with some factual information about Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Finally she posed these three questions.  How did indigenous spirituality play a role in this documentary?  What did you learn from the flashbacks in the film?  What did you think of the lack of dialogue? The students were busy writing answers to the questions after the film was over. 

You can watch the film yourself here. I told the student teacher I was impressed with the way she was introducing her class to topics relevant to their community and province and the way she was encouraging them to become thoughtful critical viewers of media. 

Other posts……….

Hopeful Diversity

Bear Witness

But He Wasn’t Unbroken


Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Movies