Monthly Archives: October 2019

Sadia -A Muslim Girl From Winnipeg

I just finished reading Sadia by Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson. It is a novel about a young Muslim woman facing the pressures most teens do as they deal with friends, faith, family, school work, extracurricular activities and their first romantic feelings.  There were many ways I connected with the book. 

  • It is set in my home city. Although Sadia’s family is from Damascus in Syria they have immigrated to Winnipeg where her Dad is a professor at the University of Manitoba and her Mom works at the Millennium Library. I liked coming across familiar places in the novel.
  • Sadia, a grade nine student, is crazy about basketball. I was a die-hard fan when both of my sons played basketball in junior high and high school. I could understand Sadia’s devotion to the game.
  •  I loved the photography assignment Sadia’s teacher Mr.Letner gave his class.  When I taught high school journalism I did a unit on photography and Mr Letner shows his students some of the same award-winning photos I used in my teaching.  
  • I am a big fan of Nadia Kidwai the CBC radio morning weekend host.  She has such a warm way with her guests and listeners. Nadia acted as a consultant for this book.  Sadia the main character wears a hijab and so does Nadia.  

Author Colleen Nelson, a Winnipeg teacher, says she wrote Sadia at the request of a Muslim student who was disappointed there were so few novels with Muslim young women as the protagonists.  

Another book I have read that has a Muslim young woman as the main character is Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali. It is however directed more towards an older adolescent audience while I think Sadia might be enjoyed more by younger teens. 

I learned more about the war in Syria from reading this book.  

I learned what it might be like to wear a hijab.

I learned about an amazing worldwide project called If You Give a Kid a Camera.  

Photo of Colleen Nelson from Dundurn Press

I was introduced to Colleen Nelson. This is the first of her novels I have read and it made me want to read more of them.

Other posts………


Coop the Great

She Persisted


Filed under Books

I Don’t Want to Outlive the Trees

On Sunday afternoon I went to hear the boys choir my daughter-in-law conducts perform in a concert called Autumn Kaleidoscope. One of the pieces they sang was The Sun is Mine by Laura Hawley.  The words come from a poem by Robert Hogg and Robert Priest.  It is a lovely piece of poetry but it has a sad message.  Children are acknowledging their worry that the trees of the forest may die before they do. They are hoping the trees will go on for generations but they aren’t sure they will.  They sing, “I don’t want to outlive the trees.”

The song reminded me that in the last few weeks it has been teenagers and children who have been protesting and demanding our attention about the need for climate change in the world. We need to listen to their voices.

The Sun is Mine by Robert Hogg and Robert Priest

The sun is mine
and the trees are mine
the light breeze is mine
and the birds that inhabit the air are mine
their voices on the wind are in my ear
I am young and I want to live to be old
and I don’t want to outlive these trees – this forest

When my last song is gone
I want these same trees to be singing on – newer green songs
for generations to come
So let me be old, grow to be ancient
to come as an elder before these same temple-green sentinels
with my aged limbs
and still, know a wonder
that will outlast me.

Other posts………..

The Religion of Trees


Imitating Emily

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Filed under Music, Nature

This Was Crazy Wonderful!

I counted nearly 250 people lined up to enter the Grant Park Highschool gym for the Friends of the Library book sale when the doors opened at 10.

On Saturday I volunteered at the annual Friends of the Library book sale at Grant Park Highschool. The sale has been a Winnipeg tradition for more than a decade and a half.

My job was to sit at the door and count the people coming in.  We opened the doors at 10:00 and ten minutes later 331 folks were in the gym engaging in a book buying frenzy.

The calm before the storm. Volunteers worked hard on Friday night to set up more than fifty tables full of books

For a whole year dedicated volunteers had been sorting and pricing and boxing books in the basement of a Winnipeg library and now another raft of volunteers was helping customers find books, acting as cashiers and keeping all the tables stocked with merchandise.

Books are organized into more than twenty categories.

The money from the sale all goes to support programs at Winnipeg’s public libraries. In 2018 the sale raised $23,000.  At 1:30 when my shift ended 1047 people had passed through the doors.  I wonder how many more visited Saturday afternoon and Sunday?

Look at all these eager book buyers!

I couldn’t believe how many of the folks I recognized as they came through the door.  I saw former students of mine, people from my church, my children’s friends, a fellow blogger, colleagues from the art gallery where I work, members of other boards I serve on, a resident of my condo, a former Winnipeg Free Press colleague, a player on my husband’s ball team, a good friend and a university colleague.  People left with boxes and carts and huge bags full of books.

I said good-bye and thanked people for coming as they exited.

Sitting at the door as they left many book buyers engaged me in conversation or made comments I overheard.

“This was crazy wonderful.”  

“I come to this sale every year.  I wouldn’t miss it. ” 

“I’m a teacher and now my classroom is stocked with books.” 

“I’ve been here browsing for hours. It’s awesome.”

“Large print books are so hard to find, but I found some here.”

“As you can see from this stack I’m a biography man.”

“I’m ready for eight months of winter reading now.” 

“I found all these lovely huge art books and I am going to frame the pages to make a classic art wall in our house.”

“I hope there is enough room in my car for all these books.” 

“I got Christmas presents for all my grandkids.”

“A big thanks to the volunteers for doing this.”

“This is my second visit today and I’ll be back again tomorrow.”

“I found a bunch of new authors I want to try.” 

“I wish I had three or four more hands so I could carry more books.”

“I hate to go home and leave so many beautiful books behind.”

“I found some really nice surprises.”

“What great fun I’ve had.”

Anyone who thinks people are no longer passionate about books and reading should have been at the Friends of the Library sale last weekend when Winnipeg book lovers of every age indulged voraciously in their love of literature. 

Other posts……….

My Childhood Reading Heaven

Winnipeg’s Millenium Library

There’s A Waterfall on the Library

A Bottomless Vortex of Books


Filed under Books, Winnipeg

Beer, Baseball and Literature- An Eclectic Evening

Guests visiting before the literary readings began

On Friday my husband Dave hosted a kind of literary soiree/beer tasting at our house. The theme was beer and baseball. Dave is the organizer of a bi-weekly beer club here in Winnipeg that visits a different brewpub in the city each time they meet. He invited the members of that club and their partners, plus a variety of other friends, to come to our house for a beer and baseball literary night.

Dave had done some decorating for the party- a series of photos of him playing ball taken by sports reporter Terry Frey- his award when his ball team was admitted to the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame and a sculpture of him as ballplayer by a former colleague Jack Tait

Dave has been a ballplayer since he was about four years old and continues to play ball at age 67, but I think part of the reason the evening’s theme included baseball was because a World Series game between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals was being aired Friday night and Dave had it on in the background although the sound was muted during the party.

Dave chats with Andrew Unger one of the guest readers 

Five people shared pieces of their writing during the evening.  Roger Groening who has published the book Knuckleball, Andrew Unger who is the author of the blog The Daily Bonnet, Erin Unger who writes the blog MennoToba, our friend Mitch Toews whose short stories have been published in all kinds of different journals, anthologies and literary magazines and finally me.  Not everyone’s readings revolved around beer and baseball but a few did, including mine. 

Reading a chapter from my novel to the group

In between the readings, each of the fellows from the beer club who were in attendance introduced a special beer they had brought along for everyone to taste. Each explained why that particular beer had been chosen. The party went on till after midnight and I think folks had an interesting time meeting new people and hearing the readers share their writing.  After each reader’s presentation, the audience could ask questions. Some of the stories shared were humorous, some were sad, and some a little of both.

One guest had brought cheese from Wisconsin in the shape of a beer mug for us to sample

Dave provided snacks, one guest had brought delicious homemade cookies, another some interesting cheese and Dave topped off the evening with chocolate-covered treats from a famous Winnipeg ice cream parlour Sargeant Sundae.  

I think maybe the word I’d use to describe the whole evening would be eclectic. 

Other posts……….


I’m on Mennotoba

 The Daily Bonnet Just Made Us Famous


Filed under Writing

A Role Model

I’ll never forget Colleen. When we visited New Zealand in 2008 we stayed in the lovely bed and breakfast Colleen and her husband Bob ran in the city of Taupo. This past week I was preparing for a talk I will give to a women’s group in Carmen on Wednesday. In a section of my talk about a fulfilling retirement, I will describe Colleen.  I had written about her at length in my journal when we were in New Zealand.

Dave with Colleen’s husband Bob. He took Dave golfing.

Colleen and her husband Bob were both in their seventies and already great grandparents. They were the consummate hosts. They had been sheep farmers. After selling their farm they used some of the proceeds to finance travel adventures on every continent. They were wine connoisseurs. They showed us pictures of their granddaughter’s recent wedding. Bob and Colleen chuckled about the fact they had attended barefoot because the wedding was on a beach by the ocean.

Me with Colleen

Colleen was active in her church, was in the midst of taking a writing course, belonged to a bridge club, and one afternoon during our stay she canned thirty jars of apricot marmalade and then whipped off a letter to the editor of the local paper concerning an issue she felt passionate about. She was the president of the local Women’s Institute and was in the midst of preparing for a New Years Eve party they were hosting. She wrote the invitations to the party in the form of a narrative poem that she shared with me.
Colleen bounced around her home whistling hymns and Beatles’ songs. One night she cooked us a lobster dinner that also included glazed ham, potatoes, beets and salad, was highlighted by two bottles of fine New Zealand wine and capped off with a homemade bread pudding served with cream and apricots.

Colleen gave me a valuable piece of retirement advice over a cup of tea one evening, “ I love my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren desperately” she said to me, “but I’ve realized its not healthy for me to be involved in every single detail of their lives.”
Colleen was vivacious and opinionated and I wanted to be just like her on my own retirement journey.

I did an internet search yesterday to find out if Colleen and Bob were still running their bed and breakfast in Taupo and was saddened to discover an obituary for Bob who died in September of 2017. I did learn from a Women’s Institute newsletter that Colleen was still hosting events for their organization in 2017 and I found the photo below of Colleen with other women from the Women’s Institute. In a May 2019 newspaper article I read that she and her friends at the Women’s Institute were hosting a national meeting of women from all over New Zealand.  It seems Colleen is as active as ever. 

Colleen is second from the left

 Other posts……..

Taonga Treasures

A Realistic Look At Aging


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Filed under New Zealand, Retirement

She’s Done It Again

It was my friend Esther who several years ago convinced me to take a drawing class. After she and I had signed up for the weekly sessions Esther bought all the supplies I would need to take the class. She gave me a couple of introductory tutorials where I got a little braver about drawing and after the course was over she continued to meet me for regular drawing sessions. Thanks to the encouragement she gave me to try my hand at art I began exploring books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and The Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert that claim too many of us have been wary about expressing our thoughts, ideas and feelings with visual art because we assumed we had to be experts to do so. They say that’s nonsense. 
Now, once again Esther is encouraging me to try something new in art. For my birthday this year, she bought me a set of watercolour paints and a pad of paper for watercolour paintings. I looked online and there were lots of tutorials to get you started with some simple watercolour landscapes. I tried one the other night and you can see the result at the beginning of this blog post.
Thanks, Esther for being such a good friend and encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone.

Other posts……….

Meet You at the Folio

Artists In Action

When Did You Stop Drawing

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Filed under Art

Bus Chat

“He’s just human too.”  I was taking the bus to work the other day and about halfway down Portage Avenue the bus pulled over at a stop and the driver hopped out.  He was gone for several minutes and I looked at my watch a couple of times hoping I wouldn’t be late for work.  

The woman sitting beside me, who appeared to be about my age said, “Don’t worry.  He will be right back.  He just had to go the washroom.  These drivers have long shifts and sometimes they need to pee. He’s just human too you know.”  She told me a public washroom nearby was one frequently used by drivers.  She pointed out that our bus was actually a bit ahead of schedule and so that meant the driver had a few minutes to use the washroom. 

I was curious why the woman seemed to know so much about bus drivers’ habits.  She told me she had recently retired after working for several decades in a cafeteria that catered to bus drivers. She had come to know many drivers very well.  She had heard plenty of first-hand stories from bus drivers who had been abused or treated poorly by riders and how tough it can be to keep your cool, remain respectful and be friendly to folks throughout a long shift. She maintained that almost all the drivers she had come in contact with while working in the cafeteria were ‘really nice, hardworking people.’

The woman and I continued to chat.  She told me who she had voted for in the Canadian election the day before and why.  She asked me about my work and when I told her I was a retired school teacher and now worked with young teachers in training she thanked me for doing the work I do.  She said school had been boring and tough for her as a kid.  She was hit with a ruler if she did something wrong. But she is so impressed with the kindness and care her grandchildren get from their teachers now and the way their teachers try to make school enjoyable and interesting for them.  

As I got up to exit the bus my seatmate said good-bye and thanked me for chatting with her.  “My pleasure,” I said. 

I have been thinking about our conversation quite a bit these last couple of days wondering how much better a place our world would be if we all could remember that phrase “they’re just human too,” every time we want to criticize people.  

Other posts…………

Riding the Bus Alone At Age 5

Another Friend For the Moment

I Almost Broke My Arm Again

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Filed under Reflections, Winnipeg

Downton Abbey Not Quite As Charming Anymore

“They’ll tie everything up for you in a beautiful bow by the end”. My friend made that comment when I told her I was going to see the movie, Downton Abbey.  And she was right! They did.  All the storylines introduced for the different characters reached a satisfying conclusion by the end of the film.  

Despite this, watching the movie left me feeling much less charmed then I had been watching the many seasons of Downton Abbey on television.  Somehow the excesses of the wealthy class and the way the servant class accepted their lower station in the film made me uncomfortable in a way I somehow hadn’t experienced while watching the series on television four years ago. I wondered why. 

Perhaps it is because I follow American politics fairly closely and in the last four years, I’ve observed wealthy people benefit from even greater tax breaks. Giant corporations seem to have no limits on using their gargantuan profits to buy candidates and votes and set the direction for governing with their money. The most powerful nation in the world is being led by a wealthy man who has no qualms about using his political office to enrich his personal finances. The gap between the wealthiest one percent and the rest of society keeps widening. Perhaps all these things make me more keenly aware that a society where wealth is distributed so unfairly cannot be a healthy or a happy one for the majority. 

King George, Queen Mary, and their daughter visit Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is set at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a time when British society was structured in such a way that those who had inherited privilege and wealth had enormous advantages the rest of the population could only dream of.  Since the film also revolves around the visit of the royal family to Downton Abbey the idea of inherited wealth and privilege is even more in evidence. 

So while the plot lines in the film Downton Abbey were certainly tied up in a neat bow by the end of the movie my feelings about the highly stratified and unfair society it portrayed were not. 

Other posts……….

Gilded Prostitution

The Queen Who Couldn’t Bake Gingerbread


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Filed under Movies

Three Observations About the Jets Game on Sunday Night


These nice Jets’ scarves were draped over our seats when we arrived at the game.

I went to the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers game on Sunday night courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law.  Here are three observations.

  1. I felt really sad for Carl Dahlstrom who thought he had scored his first goal in the NHL only to have it disallowed after they reviewed the play because Scheifele was offside.  This prompted me to do some reading about the whole offside thing and there are those who say it takes away too much of the excitement of the game.  Some want to get rid of the offside challenge possibility after a goal is scored. I think I might be in favour of that. 
  2. The five minute overtime period was the most exciting part of the game.  I did a little research and discovered that only having three players plus the goalie on the ice during overtime was just instituted in the 2015-2016 hockey season. I think that was a great decision. It certainly made me sit up on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation. 
  3. I was pretty happy that Kyle Connor scored the first goal in the shootout.  As some of you may know I decided last year to choose one Jets player to follow more closely in my attempt to become a little more literate and informed about the game of hockey.  I chose Kyle. I was on pins and needles when the season was about to start and the Jets hadn’t re-signed him.  I thought I might have to choose another player for my special guy. But thankfully that wasn’t necessary. The Jets inked a pretty sweet seven-year deal with Kyle just a few days before the season-opening game.

The Jets won the game in a shootout when both Kyle and Patrik Laine outsmarted the Oilers goalie.

Other posts ……….

Trying to Become A Winnipeg Jets Fan

That Jets Hat

White Noise



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Filed under Sports

Thoughts on Dora Dueck’s New Book All That Belongs

The reason a good book often engages you is because you are able to make a personal connection with one or more of the characters.  While I was reading Dora Dueck’s new book All That Belongs I was making so many connections with her protagonist Catherine that I started jotting down a list of things we had in common.  When I got to twenty I stopped.  

Catherine and I are both retired and live in apartments in downtown Winnipeg. We volunteer at Thrift Shops. We like to go for walks along the river. We feel an obligation to spend time with an ageing parent. We grew up in Mennonite homes. 

How often did I sit around a campfire with my church youth group singing Kumbaya just like Catherine did in her teens?  We are both Sound of Music fans who met our husbands, who are both teachers, at Mennonite colleges and began our relationships with them at the college fall retreat. We have younger sisters living in Winnipeg in homes very different from our own.  We savour the special feeling of buying a new notebook for journaling. 

Catherine and I spend time down at the Forks in Winnipeg. In fact, I picked up a coffee and pastry at the Tall Grass Prairie bakery there and ensconced myself in one of the comfy chairs in their new second-floor sitting area to finish reading All That Belongs. Over the course of the book, Catherine explores her family’s history including tragic events that happened in Ukraine.  I visited Ukraine to follow up on some of my family stories that take place there.  

When I was reading All That Belongs the phrase ‘gentle reader’ kept coming into my head. It is a kind of old fashioned way writers like Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen address their reading audience directly.  I felt like Dora was talking directly to me in this book and she had some important things to say, but she did so in such a gentle and measured way that I felt a sense of comfort and goodness as I read.  

 All That Belongs made me think of Hans Werner’s book The Constructed Mennonite. Like Catherine in Dora’s novel, Hans explores some startling things he discovers about his family’s past that he didn’t know while growing up. 

I spent quite a bit of time studying the wonderful artwork by Agatha Fast Doerksen on the cover of All That Belongs.  I thought about how I might create a similar kind of creative collage with photos of people from my family’s past.

 I was sorry to miss Dora’s Winnipeg launch of All That Belongs because of my trip to Croatia. I would have liked to hear what she had to say about her book.  I did, however, follow her blog posts about her travels to launch her book at various locations in Canada.

All That Belongs is published by Turnstone Press and is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  I would definitely recommend it and I’d love to hear from blog readers about points of connection they may have discovered in the book.  

Other posts……..

Writing is the Way I Think and Remember

The Age of Hope

There Is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

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Filed under Books