Monthly Archives: March 2018

Racism- Pure and Simple

We were having supper in a small hotel in Portugal and my husband struck up a conversation with the only other diner, a man from Chicago. He was in Portugal looking for a retirement home to buy.  He and his wife had planned to retire in Arizona or Florida but the election of Donald Trump and the fear he might get re-elected in 2020 has them looking elsewhere for a retirement residence.  

Our dinner companion said he wants to throw up every time he sees Donald Trump on television. He called him and I quote “a moron without morals.”  He told us he is particularly sickened by the evangelical Christian support of a man who is the antithesis of everything Christianity should embody.  I asked him why he thought Donald Trump enjoys so much support in the United States. His answer was quick.  “It’s racism. Pure and simple.” He felt Donald Trump made people feel less uncomfortable about their underlying racist tendencies. He was sure Trump was voted in as a backlash against the election of a black president. 

The morning after our conversation with the Chicago businessman I happened to read an article in The Atlantic called The Heavy Burden of Teaching My Son about Racism in America. It was by Jemar Tisby, a PhD history candidate and the president of a group called The Witness. They seek to engage the Christian church in an honest dialogue about racism in America.

 Tisby’s article explained how he, like all diligent black parents, has had to introduce his seven- year old son to the reality of racism in the United States. Black parents must remind their children early and often that people may consider them threatening for no reason. They must tell their kids they will have to work twice as hard as others and won’t get second chances. They have to teach their children that just hanging out with other black kids in too big a group can raise suspicion.

Parents must choose the right way to explain lynching and slavery since they play such an important role in family history. Tisby lives in Mississippi and he says racism is especially prevalent in the American south. He believes in the south for “every adult who is trying to train their children to confront racial intolerance, there is another teaching their children how to perpetuate and preserve it.”

Illustration from a blog post called Youth Perspectives on Racism by Tom Yoder

I had wanted to believe my Chicago acquaintance from the previous evening was exaggerating when he talked about the extent of racism in the United States. Tisby’s article suggested he was not.

 And we Canadians need not grow too smug, We have our own issues of racism to address. 

Other posts……..

I’m So Tired of You America

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

Bear Witness

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Ten Good Things For Good Friday

Easter lilies in the lobby of our condo

Here are ten good things that happened to me my first week back in Canada after two months in Portugal. Ten good things to be thankful for on Good Friday. 

  1. The elderly Chinese woman at my gym who gives me a smile and a wave each and every morning…. ….came over and gave me a hug on Saturday when I returned to the YMCA after my two month hiatus. 
  2. I had a lo……………ng wonderful non-stop talking lunch with my good friend Esther.
  3. I got a cute photo from my grandsons in Saskatoon posing with the Easter treats I sent them. 
  4. I helped with a family afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where nearly eighty parents, children and grandparents turned up to do soap stone carving together. 
  5. I had a fantastic meal at my sister and brother-in-law’s house along with my husband, one of my brothers and his wife. We talked avidly about family, politics, work, religion, retirement and vacation experiences. 
  6. I had an interesting discussion with a fellow church member who came to the church library where I volunteer, to find a book about the Mennonite experience in Ukraine.  She is planning a trip to Ukraine. 
  7. My niece and I celebrated her birthday as we have done each year since she was eight with a visit to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and lunch out together. What a great time we had discussing books, education and all kinds of other things. 
  8. I gave a tour to a perceptive group of kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for a spring break camp and they found four details in an artwork I had NEVER seen before even though I have shown that same painting to hundreds of art gallery visitors in the past. 
  9. I went out for sushi with my cousin and we caught up on almost everything we’d missed talking about since I left in January. 
  10. We enjoyed a family Sunday.  Lunch with my Dad and in the evening a tea party with our daughter-in-law while watching the Jets win on television. 

Other posts……….

Thinking About Mary on Good Friday

Blood Upon the Rose

A Life That Adds Up To Something

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Recipe for a Terrorist

Although I was very sad to see The Marrow Thieves voted off Canada Reads yesterday the fact that American War by Omar El Akkad remained a contender means I can write about it while it is still in play as a possible winner.  We have heard so much talk from politicians about terrorists, and how we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, and this book tells us how we can do that………create more equality between the haves and have nots of this world and stop wars.  Wars and their aftermath create terrorists out of young people with promise and potential.  

american warSarat the protagonist of American War is a child living in a time when the United States has become a third world country because of climate change and a divisive civil war.  The war means Sarat is deprived of her father, proper schooling, medical care, adequate food, clothing and shelter. She is suspectible then to a mentor who can provide her with some of those things and most importantly give her life a sense of purpose.  She is easy prey for terrorist recruiters. 

This is a dark, dark book.  I started out liking Sarat.  My affection turned to overwhelming sadness and anger for what Sarat became. What a waste!  American War puts a human face on terrorism and helps us understand that the recipe for creating terrorists is failing to address economic disparty and deciding to solve differences with war.  Violence and poverty create fertile ground for terrorism to flourish. 

American War is just way too depressing and hopeless a book for me to want it to win Canada Reads. Since my first pick The Boat People and my second pick The Marrow Thieves have both been eliminated from the show I will have to cheer for Forgiveness to win today even though it was my number three pick.  

Other posts……

Is the Solution to Ending Terrorism Really This Simple? 

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

The Shady Area  Between Violence and Non-Violence

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Canada Reads Day 2

Well at least things righted themselves a little in the Canada Reads contest yesterday.  Precious Cargo which I wanted voted off the first day is gone now and The Marrow Thieves which I championed yesterday has remained.  My blog readers responding to yesterday’s column were vocal on Facebook about The Boat People’s elimination. One said it was an absolute travesty and another felt the panel members were sadly lacking when it came to being connoisseurs of good literature.   

My third place pick for 2018 would be Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto. The first part of the book completely captivated me.  Mark tells the World War II story of his maternal grandfather who was from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and served as soldier stationed in Hong Kong during the war.  The Japanese take him as a prisoner. I felt such a strong connection to this story because the history of Hong Kong was part of the curriculum I taught at an international school in Hong Kong and I visited all the places where Mark’s grandfather’s story unfolds with my students as we learned about what happened when the Japanese attacked and occupied Hong Kong during World War II. 

The Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong where many Canadians are buried

 The cemetery where all the Canadian soldiers are buried in Hong Kong was my very favorite place in the city.  Woven in with this narrative is the story of Mark’s paternal grandmother, born in Canada, whose Japanese family was living a good and prosperous life in Vancouver when World War II broke out. They lost everything when the Canadian government forced them to move inland.  Mark’s grandmother’s family ends up working like slaves on a sugar beet farm in Alberta and living in a chicken coop.     

Mark Sakamoto made me really love his grandparents and so I was sorry that during the second part of the book we hardly heard about them. The latter part of the book is all about Mark’s mother and her fight with alcoholism and addictions and how those impacted her son. There are brief references to his grandparents in this section but I wanted to know so much more about how they related to their grandson and to his parents as they walked through so much grief. How did they feel about their children’s divorce?  What was happening in the grandparents’ lives during this time?  The story about Mark’s mother is a riveting one but I agree with some of the Canada Reads panelists who felt Mark should have written two books, one about his grandparents and another about his mother. 

I hope Forgiveness doesn’t get eliminated today.  We will see if my hopes are realized.  I have one more book to blog about and that’s American War. I am having a birthday lunch with my niece today and she LOVED the book so that should give me additional perspective when I blog about it tonight. 

Other posts………..

Remembering Hiroshima

A Riveting Read

Questions After Watching the film Silence

 

 

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So Disappointed!

I can’t believe it!  They eliminated by far the best book!  I can only think of one reason the Canada Reads panelists removed the wonderful book The Boat People on their first day of debating and that is because they were being protective of their own books.  They knew Sharon Bala’s novel was the best and so they decided getting rid of it would give their books a better chance. 

the marrow thievesSo…………now I have to pick another winner and I’m going to choose The Marrow Thieves.  This is a story set in a future when global warming has devastated much of the earth.  Most people no longer have dreams but indigenous people still do and so they are being hunted by ‘recruiters’ who want to harvest their bone marrow thinking it holds the key to recovering the ability to dream.  The story centers around a strong group of indigenous people unrelated to one another and from different First Nations who have banded together and become a family as they flee from the recruiters.  I really think this book should win because ……………

  1. Although the main character is a young sixteen year old boy named Frenchie there are some wonderfully strong female characters in the book like the old woman Minerva -full of courage and tradition, the little girl RiRi full of curiosity and liveliness and the young woman Rose full of rebellion and independence. 
  2. The book ably covers two issues very important to Canadian society- climate change and reconciliation with our First Nations. 
  3. This is a young adult novel and I want it to win because more people need to discover that books labeled young adult can be great adult reading too. 
  4. Unlike American War, the other Canada Reads novel set in a dark future The Marrow Thieves actually leaves one with some semblance of hope for our world and has likeable characters you can cheer for. 
  5. We are constantly rethinking just exactly how the word ‘family’ should be defined and have come to realize families can each look very different.  The Marrow Thieves really makes us think about what it means to be part of a family and not just your biological family. 

I am almost scared to pick a new book to win Canada Reads when my initial choice was eliminated on the first day.  I hope The Marrow Thieves fares better today.  Whatever the outcome I’ll blog again tomorrow about one of the other books. 

Other posts…….

The Boat People

Canada Reads Starts Today

 

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Canada Reads Starts Today!

During our time in Portugal I managed to read all the books nominated for the upcoming Canada Reads competition. The first was The Boat People by Sharon Bala. I’ve already reviewed it in a blog post and after reading all the other contenders Boat People remains in top spot on my list!   It a good story, very well written, offered the viewpoints of three different narrators, two of them women, and it truly address this year’s theme of  A Book To Open Your Eyes by offering interesting insight into Canada’s immigration system. So I really hope it doesn’t get voted off on the show today. 

I also know which book I hope does gets voted off today.  Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson really lured me in initially.  It is autobiographical and the way Craig describes his dysfunctional personal situation at the start of the book literally had me laughing out loud. Craig’s life is changed during the year he drives a school bus for special needs kids.    As a teacher who has worked with many children with special challenges Craig’s  description of his relationship with these terrific kids warmed my heart and rang very true.   But……………. he also includes excerpts from a novel he tried to write about the same experience and these excerpts just didn’t fit or make sense to me and took me out of the narrative.  And………he tacks on this whole section at the end of the book reflecting on his experience and trying to explain what it meant to him and what it should mean to us.  It was completely unnecessary.  The story of his year with those children and how they captured his heart speaks for itself and I didn’t need to be told what to think of it. 

I plan to follow Canada Reads closely and will be doing further blog posts about the remaining three nominees.  Stay tuned!

Other posts……….

They Remembered the Books

A New Book Set Right Here in Winnipeg

Great Aunt Marie’s Books

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I’m Trying To Draw Cartoons

I’m trying to draw cartoons.  I was inspired by Canadian author Carrie Snyder who has been sketching a four frame cartoon every day in 2018.  She is a professional writer, not a professional artist but is exploring her creativity by doing quick daily cartoons.  In one of them she reminds us we don’t have to be technically skilled to be an artist. 

My writers’ group has been reading the book The Artists’ Way and it encourages us to explore our creativity in new ways, by stretching ourselves.  If you have been following my blog you know that during our two months in Portugal I’ve been trying to do eight things everyday to improve myself as a writer. I’ve written about five of those things – the sixth is drawing.  I’ve done a sketch or a drawing everyday, but the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to do those drawings in the form of cartoons.  Some of them tell about experiences I’ve had. Here’s one. 

Some of them summarize things I’m learning.  My writers group listened to a Ted Talk by Brene Brown. This is how I summarized it in a cartoon. 

I think drawing cartoons can help me become a better writer because it makes me  think about experiences and ideas in new ways and forces me to summarize them in just a couple phrases. 

Note: I have written about six of the daily things I did to work on my writing skills during my time in Portugal. The seventh is to write these blog posts everyday and the eighth is working on the books I make for my grandsons.  On this holiday I’ve been creating a songbook for my younger grandson’s upcoming birthday. 

Other posts………

When Did You Stop Drawing?

Don’t Be Scared To Be Creative

Meet You at the Folio

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A Perfect Way to End Our Portugal Adventure

Dave was getting tired of  touring by the end of our stay in Portugal, so for our last days there he booked us into a small hotel in the town of Maiorca which is near the ocean between Porto and Lisbon.  The place used to be  home to a rice plantation owner and is called Quinta d’Anta- Hotel Rural.

The gate to our hotel

It certainly was rural and quite lovely.  

The building where the hotel rooms are located

The rooms were very nice, the grounds gorgeous and since it was the off-season and during the week we were one of only two couples at the place.  It advertises itself as a resort where you can learn how to surf and this glassed in surf board art deco piece just outside our bedroom door gave evidence of that.  But the place isn’t just for surfers.  There was a beautiful Jackson Pollack print over the comfortable chairs in our own little lobby where I could sit in the morning to do my writing while I waited for Dave to wake up.  It was too chilly to use the nice looking pool but we did take out a pair of bicycles one morning and went out for a long ride in the surrounding countryside and around a lake. 

Dave stopped to arm himself with a big stick after a yappy dog ran after his bicycle and tried to bite him.

Dave drives off armed with his bamboo stick

People seemed eager to stop us for a chat and practice their English

 

Dave Driedger Nature Photographer hadn’t been very active on this holiday but on our bike ride he swung into action and got some beautiful shots.

In one tree we passed there were three nests with a stork sitting in each one

The afternoon we arrived we went for a long walk, stopping for coffee at a little shop and meandering through the narrow cobblestone streets snapping photos.

View of Maiorca

This abandoned mansion was obviously home to a rich family at one time. There is still a family crest over the door.

Church in Maiorca

One of the village squares

Abandoned and used apartments right beside each other

We ate breakfast and supper in the hotel restaurant.   We decided to treat ourselves to massages and they were wonderful. It was the perfect way to end our Portugal adventure. 

Link to all my Portugal Posts

 

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Hallelujah! A Hot Sunny Day! But I Almost Broke My Arm Again!

We woke up one morning in Porto and realized it was a beautiful day!  No rain. The sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. We had planned to hang out at our hotel till we took the bus into the city for the afternoon tour we had booked, but we weren’t about to waste this wonderful bit of sunshine.  Who knew how long it would last? 

So we set off for the centre of Porto. Just across from our hotel an enterprising elderly woman and her family had created a clothesline by tethering wooden sticks and ropes to street signs. They were taking advantage of the nice weather to dry their clothes.  There are very few clothes dryers in Portugal. Everyone hangs their wash outside – in apartments they hang it off their balconies- just like in Hong Kong when we lived there. I took this photo in Lisbon.

We walked to the bus stop past this old abandoned house right beside our Porto hotel. We actually had a little bit of excitement with the bus. Dave got on and was paying his fare. I waited for him to finish before I got on. But the bus driver must not have seen me. He closed the doors. Instinctively and probably stupidly I stuck my arm in the door thinking it would open. It didn’t and the driver put the bus in gear to take off with my arm still securely stuck in the door. I pounded on the door with my other fist and shouted and Dave alerted the driver to my presence. So he stopped and opened the door freeing my arm. Sheesh!  I could have broken my wrist again and it’s just healed from its December break. But all was well and several people on the bus were concerned and ever so nice and asked if my arm was okay. Once we got into the city lots of  people were out enjoying the sunshine. The street musicians were taking advantage of the nice weather too. 

We took a little time to check out the Sao Bento Train Station. It is just lovely and inside high on the ceiling are painted the names of the two main rivers in northern Portugal

The station also houses many huge tiled blue and white murals. This one depicts rural life in Portugal. See the mother taking a break from the harvest to nurse her child?This one shows the wedding of Henry the Navigator’s parents Phillipa of Lancaster and King John I of Portugal. Speaking of Henry the Navigator that’s him beside the globe at the top of the monument and that’s Dave sitting on the park bench furthest to the right. While I checked out an urban market for souvenirs Dave enjoyed the sun in the park. It was still an hour till our tour started when we found this lovely little place with chairs in the sun offering a glass of wine from the Douro Valley at a bargain price. We couldn’t pass up that deal! So we just sat and enjoyed the beautiful day and did some serious people watching. 

We haven’t had lots of great weather in Portugal but maybe that’s good because it certainly made us appreciate the lovely days we did have.

Other posts……

The T-4s Welcome Spring

Sunday Morning at the Olive Mill

Sun Dogs and Steam

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Putting the Port Into Porto

Since my husband Dave has a glass of port every night before he goes to bed taking a port tour in Porto was a MUST on our visit to the city. 

The river front is lined with signs for all of the different port houses located there

Porto is world-renowned for its port wine. In fact port wine originated here and gets its name from the city. Other places in the world produce fortified wines too but only those from the Douro Valley in Portugal are legally allowed to be labeled as port. David our tour guide started by asking each of the participants in our tour group to say where we were from.  There were folks from different parts of the United States- Washington, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois,New York and people from Romania, Ireland, England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and five of us from Canada.  We walked across the Luiz Bridge to the Gaia side of the beautiful Douro River where there are dozens of port houses along the quay. Up a narrow alley we found our first port house Quinta de Santa Eufemia. In this port house we tasted a ruby port and learned all about the oak barrels the port is stored in and the cork used to stopper the bottles. 

On the way to our second port house we saw this amazing piece of street art called Half Rabbit. It is by an artist named Bordalo II. Porto is famous for its street artists many of whom have gained international recognition. This piece was made from trash and discarded items found around the city of Porto. One half has not been painted so you can see what those items are. Next up was the Ramos Pinto gallery. The original owner of this gallery used all kinds of lewd posters to sell his wine around the world in the 1800s.  We saw the posters as well as the original owner’s opulent office that included a throne for customers to sit on.  But were not allowed to photograph the posters or the office. I tried to get a good picture of our tour guide at this winery because both Dave and I were just blown away by how much she looked and sounded like our friend and former Steinbach neighbour Ingrid. We tasted two ports at Ramos Pinto a white and ruby.  Dave and I had such a wonderful time visiting with the young people who shared our table. One couple was from Toronto where the fellow was a graduate student in medicine and his wife a speech pathologist.  They both had parents who immigrated to Canada from India to make a better life for their kids. Their families had traveled back to India many times so we compared notes on our India travels.

The young man had played soccer in his earlier university days and had participated in an international tournament in Shenzhen China.  We visited Shenzhen at least once a month when we lived in Hong Kong. So we had lots of shared experiences about Shenzhen to discuss.  The young woman had just been to Winnipeg to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. So we talked about The Forks and Winnipeg restaurants.

The other twenty something guy at our table was from New Zealand. He had just returned from a year of back packing through Latin America and now had a job in London.  I become so heartened about the future when I meet young people like this. Articulate, bright, well-educated, well read, hard working, interested in seeing the world, helping others and broadening their horizons. Our last port house visit was to Porto Cruz. First we went up on the rooftop terrace of the port house.  It was packed with people all enjoying the absolutely stunning views of Porto it provided. While Dave chatted with a woman who owned a gourment food company in Ottawa, I took some shots of the city from the roof top. 


We tasted four kinds of port here, white, roseau, tawny and vintage. I had a great time visiting with the couple across from me. He was from Germany and she was from Australia. They fell in love when his work took him to Australia for a year. She is  visiting him in Europe now and they are trying to decide if they can make a long distance relationship work.

At this port house our guide David gave us lots of tips for how to smell port, swirl our port glass and hold it properly. drink port so we can really enjoy the flavor, and what kinds of foods go best with each type of port. The white port was my personal favorite. At this last port house Dave was deep in conversation about golf, baseball, hockey and the March Madness basketball tournament with a recently retired businessman from Wisconsin. He and his wife have just started tackling their travel bucket list.

We loved our port tour in Porto. Although drinking the port and learning about how it was made was great, visiting with the other people on the tour was definitely the highlight. The world is a much smaller place than we realize and we have so many things in common with our fellow human beings.  

Other posts……..

Roll Out the Barrel

Three Wines for Three People

Remembering Yalta

 

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