Monthly Archives: May 2020

Sobering Sunday Morning Thoughts

A blog post called Death Toll I wrote last Sunday has been reprinted in other publications now. In my reflection a week ago I commented on the way we pay such close attention to the victims of COVID-19 and yet seem less concerned about the victims of hunger, violence and poverty in our world who are always with us. I compared that kind of indifference on our part to the fact that Donald Trump went golfing last weekend apparently unperturbed that more than 100,000 people in his country had died. 

Several friends took exception to me comparing myself to Donald Trump. One woman, an American, said it was a false equivalency because the very fact I was having the thoughts I expressed in the blog made me different than Donald Trump. She believes the President of her country has zero empathy and she worries about children growing up under his terrible influence.  She said whenever I give of myself to others I set myself apart from Donald Trump.  She reminded me that we cannot go down the path of sacrificing joy in our own lives because of the suffering of others.  We should appreciate the privilege we have, feel blessed because of it, and then give of our time and money to help those who are suffering. 

Since publishing the post last weekend I was asked if it could be included in the blog of the magazine The Canadian Mennonite. It was published on their site here.

I was also contacted about having it appear in the Winnipeg Free Press. It does this morning.  The Free Press has titled the story Sobering Sunday Morning Thoughts as the Death Toll Rises.  

This Sunday morning, of course, there are even more sobering things to contemplate as violence and anger erupt in American cities over racial inequality and injustice. 

A Sphere Within A Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro. I took this photo of the sculpture at the Vatican in Rome.  It shows our world cracking apart.  We see the inner core of cogs of our world which the artist is suggesting will keep on working even if the shell cracks. 

I took this photo of a version of the same sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro which is on display at the United Nations in New York


Other posts…………

Turbulent Times

China’s Unsung War Heroes

A President’s Funeral and A Statue in Hong Kong



Filed under COVID-19 Diary

Good News and Good People-Not Good Parents

Photo from Niigaan Sinclair’s Twitter page

I faithfully read Niigaan Sinclair’s columns in the Winnipeg Free Press and think it is important the paper has an indigenous columnist who can help facilitate the journey toward reconciliation in our province. Most of the time I find Mr Sinclair’s columns troubling and difficult to read.  They can make me sad, force me to ask hard questions and inspire frustration.  

As I scroll through the comments readers post about Mr Sinclair’s columns I am often shocked and startled by their tone of venom, exasperation and brusqueness. Those feelings are directed both towards Mr Sinclair in particular and indigenous people in general.  It only points out why it is so necessary to have Mr Sinclair’s columns in the paper.

 Today’s column, however, is the kind I wish could be written more often.  It is full of good news. Mr Sinclair writes about non-indigenous and indigenous people working together to help provide shelter for homeless folks during the pandemic, about indigenous filmmakers being celebrated and the positive impact a Metis educator has had on the lives of thousands of students. I wish Mr Sinclair could write those kinds of columns more often but I understand why he can’t. 

Felix has a pet gerbil named Horatio and he sorely misses his beloved Grandma who has died. He has two bright and interesting best friends and they work on the newspaper staff at his French immersion school in Vancouver together. Both of Felix’s parents are artists.  He lives with his Mom and sees his Dad a couple of times a year. He’s a whiz at answering questions on a television quiz program he loves to watch. He has amazing powers of observation, has developed ingenous categories for different kinds of lies and……………..he’s homeless. Felix and his mom live in a van they have “borrowed” from his Mom’s old boyfriend.  

I just finished reading the novel No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen. She introduces the issue of homelessness and mental health to her middle-grade readers with an endearing main character.  It’s simply impossible not to like Felix who is kind, resourceful, intelligent and perceptive. Felix’s mother Astrid struggles with serious mental health issues and while I felt sympathy for her, I just kept getting angrier at her as I read the book.  Astrid LOVES her son but she constantly makes choices that place him in jeopardy. She refuses to get help and manages to alienate most people who offer assistance. 

There is a line in the book that made me really think and ask lots of questions. Felix has just had lunch with his Dad and comes to the realization that while both his mother and father are “really great people they are not great parents.” How many children have that experience?   

Felix keeps track of the items his Mom has stolen in the hopes that someday he will have enough money to pay back the stores she has robbed.

I enjoyed No Fixed Address but did wonder if some of the lifestyle choices it describes including theft and sex for money might not make the book better suited for an audience that is just a little older. I had read Susin Nielsen’s book Word Nerd previously.  It was published in 2004.  As I turned the pages of No Fixed Address the similarities between the two books were uncanny.  Both have been very popular, so Susin Nielsen obviously knows a winning formula when she finds one. 

My book club read No Fixed Address and so I can assure you that not just kids but adults find the book a good read and a good discussion starter. 

Other posts………

Why So Many Dysfunctional Parents? 

Living Beings Just Like Us

The Great Statue Debate


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Filed under Books, COVID-19 Diary, Media

Glacial, A Letter From the Premier and Coffee

royal canoe glacial

Royal Canoe performing at the Forks on January 31

Last night we joined the online premiere events for the documentary Glacial.  On January 31 and February 1 Winnipeg band Royal Canoe performed a concert at the Forks on instruments made of ice.  Every musical sound they made was created with ice in some way.

royal canoe by jonathan dyck

Drawing by Jonathan Dyck used with his permission

The documentary film shows how the ice for the instruments was harvested from the lake at Fort Whyte. We get an inside look at the process of the band figuring out how to design and build the instruments. We see how they rehearsed in an unheated train car down at The Forks.

royal canoe ice show

Our son with his band Royal Canoe just before their phenomenal show on ice instruments at The Forks in Winnipeg in January 2020

Prior to the documentary premiere last night, the Royal Canoe Band members interviewed the different people who helped them stage and plan and design their show.  It was a phenomenal effort by lots of really creative people.  The Winnipeg Free Press had a great article about the documentary. You can see Glacial here. 

letter from brianMy $200 cheque and a personal letter from the premier of Manitoba arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  Everyone over the age of 65 in our province received this money to help us weather the COVID-19 crisis.  I understand that some seniors are struggling financially but many of us receive pensions and no longer have to worry about house payments or the expenses of children and their educations. We have health plans to help us cope with medical expenses. I do wonder if these cheques shouldn’t have been targeted at seniors who have a lower income level and the rest given to young people struggling with job loss, late rent payments and child care stresses, but perhaps it was easier to just send them to everyone over 65.  The premier suggests in his letter that if we think others could use the money more than we can, we should donate the money to charity.  I will do exactly that!

black pearl coffeeOur bike ride yesterday morning was freezing but we did make one stop.  We were driving down Dufferin Avenue and we smelled COFFEE! We discovered the Black Pearl Coffee Company where they roast about fifteen different kinds of coffees.  Dave who is the coffee maker and coffee connoisseur at our house just had to go inside. He bought two kinds of Black Pearl Coffee for us to try. 

Other posts………

So Cool

Waver- A New Album From Royal Canoe

Cowboy’s Coffee Hour

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Music, Winnipeg

A Fine Balance

winnipeg busI went back to volunteering at the MCC Thrift Store on Selkirk Avenue yesterday.  It was going to be the first time I was spending time indoors with a group of people since the pandemic started. I took the bus and that was a first for me too.  Before COVID-19 I took the bus everywhere in Winnipeg. on the bus with maskThere were only two other riders on the bus yesterday morning. I wore my mask and was careful about covering my hands when I touched the railings and doors.

MCC Thrift Store Selkirk Avenue WinnipegThe Thrift Store had just opened the day before to the public and the shop managers told us they’d had a record sales day. People had obviously been waiting for the store to open. Yesterday only volunteers were on-site because for now, the shop is only open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with strict limits on how many people can be in the store at a time.

thrift shop upstairs

The upper floor of the Thrift Shop is large enough that volunteers can stay six feet away from each other

The number of volunteers who can work on the upper level of the store sorting and pricing and cleaning is limited as well, so I couldn’t volunteer with the usual group of women from my church.  We have too many people in our group.  A smaller number of them will volunteer today. But even though I wasn’t with my church friends, I knew all the other volunteers there yesterday from various connections and it was nice to chat as we worked a safe six feet apart from one another.  

christmas boxesI am the Christmas lady at the store and plenty of Christmas decorations and paraphernalia had piled up for me to sort, clean, organize, package and price.  I was there for five hours and didn’t get to the bottom of the pile although I had filled eight boxes with product ready to sell in December by the time I left. I decided to walk home rather than take the bus and that felt good. Next week I think I will bring my bike. Since the shop will be closed to the public while I work on Wednesdays there will plenty of space to store my bike inside. 

in the storeI was a little nervous about the whole thing but I am glad I did it.  The work the Thrift Shop does is so important.  We recycle thousands of items, offer them at prices the people in one of the poorest areas of Winnipeg can afford, and the proceeds go to fund education programs, medical care, peacemaking efforts, water supply projects and agricultural initiatives in countries around the world.  

From what I’ve been reading it’s time for us all to take some tentative steps to return to our normal lives in the safest way possible and in ways that make us comfortable.  I can’t say I was totally comfortable yesterday, but it was good to do something useful and I think my comfort level will ease each week as I return. 

An article in Psychology Today says that helping others makes you healthier.  People over 55 who volunteer live longer, are happier and have better mental and physical health.  I know I must continue to exercise caution as I volunteer because it could be dangerous, but there are also huge benefits to volunteering and I need to find the fine balance between the risks and rewards.

I think we will all be trying to figure out that fine balance in many areas of our lives in the coming weeks, months and perhaps even years. 

Other posts……….

Look What I Found

Embracing Anxiety and Handling It

Empathy and the Golden Rule


Filed under COVID-19 Diary

Questions About School Opening, Apple Blossoms and Travel Options

“Keep working from Home” was the headline for the CBC story about yesterday’s question and answer session with Dr.Brent Roussin.   Roussin cautioned employers not to rush to bring their employees back to their communal workspaces.  Seems strange then that the province has decided teachers will be returning to their communal workspaces next week. 

Photo by fauxels on

I am wondering what will happen to their own children when teachers return to school. Phase 2 guidelines for Manitoba schools indicate that not all children will be at school every day in June. This means teachers with school-age children will have to arrange child care for their own children. Who will provide that care? Grandparents? Not the best idea with most of them in the age group that is considered at risk. Perhaps their children’s other non-teaching parent can provide care. But what if that other parent is a front line or essential worker? What if the teacher is a single parent? 

 Will daycares that have filled their spaces with the children of other front line workers now have to find room for teacher’s children as well for just four weeks?  Will teachers now be considered front line workers? 

I haven’t heard about any provisions being made for older teachers, teachers who may have compromised immune systems or those who are living with illnesses like diabetes or a heart condition or arthritis.  Will they have to go back to school as well? 

Will teachers be expected to continue providing daily online learning for their students who remain at home at the same time as they are at the school building meeting with small groups of other students? 

Will teachers receive training about how to operate a classroom in which you maintain physical distancing? I can only imagine what a huge learning curve that is going to be. For their own health and safety and that of their students’ teachers will need to have some kind of professional development in this area. 

Will children and teachers be required to wear a mask?  Will the province be supplying personal protective equipment for students and teachers? 

As someone who is involved with training new educators, it seems to me there are lots of questions to be answered before teachers should be asked to return to their classrooms. I went to see my Dad again yesterday. Dad is in an assisted living facility and I had to make an appointment to meet him outside on the patio. The staff at the facility where he lives have set up benches placed a safe distance apart where we can talk. Dad couldn’t get over the beauty of the blossoming apple trees around us.  He thought the blossoms falling to the ground looked like the petals sometimes scattered in the church aisle for a couple getting married.  This made Dad think about his seven great-grandchildren.  “I don’t think I will be around to attend any of their weddings,” Dad said. The new life on the trees made him consider the approaching end of his own life.  

Having breakfast with Donna Janke in summer

Last summer I had the privilege of meeting a fellow blogger Donna Janke. Donna writes a travel blog called Destinations, Detours and Dreams. Since we can’t really travel outside of our own province right now Donna is encouraging people to look for things to see and do right in their home towns and cities. In her latest blog post, she gives ideas for how to discover what you can see and do in your own area.  I was privileged to have my blog What Next referenced in Donna’s post. 

Other posts……..

Into the Wilds of Winnipeg

Winnipeg and Mennonites in the Movie Gone Girl

Watch Schools and Daycares For A Sign Things Are Returning to Normal

At the Apple Orchard



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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Education


close up photo of golf ball

Photo by Thomas Ward on

We went golfing yesterday morning with another couple, who we’ve wanted to golf with for quite some time.  But……..all four of us are busy people involved with family, charities, part-time jobs, hobbies and friends.  The pandemic has slowed down our lives so there was time for a morning of physically distanced exercise and fresh air and interesting conversation.  Wonderful!

house inner city winnipeg

Our friend checks out an interesting sign on the fence on one of the houses in his neighbourhood.

Yesterday in the early evening we went for a walk with a fellow church member, someone we don’t see that often. He took us through his neighbourhood in the heart of the inner city. I was familiar with the area because two of the elementary schools I work at for the university are nearby.

But………… I had never been there when the weather was warmer, the workday was over, and many people were outdoors interacting with one another.  The sidewalks were too narrow and many not well -kept, so we walked down the middle of the streets to keep our physical distance. Our walk and our conversation with our friend helped us get a sense of a part of our city that is dynamic and interesting but also home to poverty, violence and neglect.

roof top ashdown warehouse

We are grateful for our rooftop patio which allows for getting together in the fresh air for conversation while physically distancing.

We chatted with our condo neighbours who joined us for a glass of wine on our rooftop last night.  Our neighbours come from France.  The woman’s family hails from Toulouse and she told us how the pandemic has impacted that city whose economy depends almost solely on the aerospace industry, an industry that employs her sister and some 90,000 other people in the Toulouse area. They make Airbus planes in Toulouse and there simply isn’t a demand for new aeroplanes right now.  

people inside commercial air plane

Photo by Sourav Mishra on

Our neighbours, who are experts in their professional fields, cancelled lectures they were to give in some half dozen spots around the world this spring. But…….   they still gave many of those lectures online and their audiences were much, much larger than they had anticipated. Why? Because people didn’t have to fly to a high-priced conference and pay for airfare, hotels and food as they did so.  They just joined a zoom meeting or some other form of electronic conferencing and heard the same speakers and lecturers at a tiny fraction of the cost.

We talked about how this might be the wave of the future.  The demand for air travel for business and academic and professional reasons will wane as people realize they can connect online so much more cheaply. The plane manufacturing business in Toulouse and other places may not be rallying anytime soon. 

Other posts……….

Another Friend For A Moment

Up On Our Rooftop



Filed under COVID-19 Diary

This Generation’s Condom, New School Routines and A Historic House

I’ve started wearing my mask more often when I go into businesses. I had an optometrist appointment at Costco on Friday.  I wore my mask as did all the employees in the eye department. But I’m guessing only about 10% of the customers in the store had masks.

According to an article in the Atlantic, we will be wearing masks much more often and for a very long time, so we’d better get used to it. Brian Castrucci a state department health veteran says “the face mask will be the condom of this generation.”  During the AIDS epidemic wearing condoms became a necessary way to protect yourself and others.  The face mask will be the way we protect ourselves and others during the COVID-19 epidemic.  

With my summer school students in Hong Kong. We wouldn’t be taking a picture like this now. No physical distancing happening here.

I saw a video posted online for the school in Hong Kong where we were teachers for many years.  Classes are finally resuming after being cancelled in January, and the video demonstrated the new ways the kids would be walking up the stairs and down the halls. It explained how they would use the washrooms, classrooms and playground so they could maintain physical distance. They would ALWAYS wear a mask.

On the roof of our school with my advisory students in Hong Kong

Those Hong Kong students were going to have lots of new routines to learn. With schools in Manitoba possibly opening next month I am sure teachers and administrators are working hard to figure out new and safe routines for schools in our province too. 
We came upon this historical gem on our bike ride yesterday. I’ve never seen it before even though it’s close to our condo. This was the first post office in Winnipeg and also home to the first postmaster William Ross. He and his wife Jemima had the house built in 1855.  William who was the son of a prominent Metis family only served as postmaster for one year before he died leaving Jemima with five children to care for. Jemima remarried an Irish journalist William Coldwell who came to Winnipeg and founded The Nor Wester, the city’s first newspaper. The couple continued to live in Ross House intermittently till Jemima died in 1912. You can visit the house during the summer months for a tour and that’s something I want to do once museums open up again. 

Other posts……..

Ancient Objects- Seven Oaks Museum

Tree on Fire-Hong Kong on Fire

Lunch in an Old Train Station

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Death Toll

I started this morning in tears as I read through the heartbreaking list that blankets the front page of today’s New York Times. To mark the deaths of nearly 100,000 American citizens the paper has listed the names of a thousand of them.

Short phrases accompany each name, things like -a veteran who excelled at peacemaking- a nurse who loved to travel-  a deacon of her church- a beloved school teacher- helping raise a dozen grandchildren- first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School or a singer in a Yiddish folk group.

These little descriptors give readers a sense of each COVID-19 victim’s life and personality and what the world lost with their death. A similar list could be made for over 25 countries, including Canada, where thousands of people have died because of the virus. 

Kosovo Albanians prepare to bury a baby who died of exposure after her family was forced to flee their home. I photographed this photo by Ron Haviv at an art gallery in Dubrovnik.

I wonder if things in our world would change if every morning newspapers would publish a list of a thousand names with little descriptions for children who have died of starvation in recent weeks, or young men and women killed by violence or people whose lives ended because they didn’t have access to proper health care or refugees who lost their lives fleeing impossible situations.

Cramped by Hunger by Portuguese artist Marcelino Vespeira . I photographed the painting at an art gallery in Lisbon.

Someone I was talking to recently said their attentiveness to the death toll from COVID-19 has them looking at death tolls from other preventable things and wondering why they haven’t been as outspoken and aggressive about taking action to stop them.  We are changing our lives in huge ways, making sacrifices both personal and financial, to keep the COVID-19 death toll low. Why haven’t we been as willing to make similar sacrifices to bring down other death tolls in the world? 

Some people are angry that Donald Trump went golfing yesterday while thousands of people in his country were dying. But am I really any different?  Don’t I go golfing and biking while thousands of kids die of starvation?  Don’t I draw and do jigsaw puzzles while thousands of teens are killed by violence and armed conflict? Don’t I visit my family and have fun with friends while thousands of refugees run from death? Don’t I watch movies and read books while thousands of people end their lives without receiving adequate health care? 

Sobering thoughts for a Sunday morning when sunlight is streaming in through my bedroom windows, I’m listening to the beautiful music recording my children made for the service at their church today and I can smell the cup of fresh ground coffee my husband is preparing for my breakfast. 

Other posts………

Inspiration From Portuguese Artists at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon

War is Hell Especially For Children

Starvation – Kent Monkman Style


Filed under COVID-19 Diary

Where’s the Toilet, Bowing on the Golf Course and Don’t Forget the Dads

Dave and I are back on the golf course on a regular basis. Normally at the end of a round, you shake hands with your fellow players and thank them for a good round. One of our golf partners last week told us since handshaking is no longer recommended an alternative is to put your hands together and bow to your golf companions. That’s a practice Dave and I already know.

Dave and me with our golfing partners Maggie and Clovis on a course in Chiang Mai Thailand

When we lived in Hong Kong we went on a golfing excursion organized by a tour company to Chiang Mai Thailand. Dave and I were partnered up with a friendly couple, Maggie and Clovis for most of our games, and they taught us to use the bowing protocol at the end of our golf rounds. 

An article by Dan Reid on the Golf at a Glance website suggests ten different alternatives to the handshake at the conclusion of a golf round and ends up recommending ‘the bow’ as the best way to recognize your partners before you leave the 18th hole. 

I planned to spend almost eight hours away from home the other day and wondered what I would do if I needed to use the washroom.  During COVID-19 restaurants, coffee shops and many other businesses with restrooms are closed or open only for take out. Their washrooms aren’t available to the public.  In an interview on CTV news Lezlie Lowe, author of the book  No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs says COVID-19 is highlighting the lack of on-street, accessible washrooms in Canada. Most towns and cities rely on people being able to use customer toilets in businesses and now that those are closed the dearth of public toilets and the need for them is becoming more evident. Clean and accessible public washrooms will be especially important as we look for ways to improve hygiene and sanitation to help prevent the spread of deadly viruses in the future. 

I will be the first to admit Ontario premier Doug Ford has impressed me with his handling of COVID-19.  Maclean’s magazine notes that Ford bungled his way through his first term in office creating one disaster after another, but during the pandemic, he has surprised everyone. He has listened to scientists, shown empathy for people struggling due to unemployment, done his best to help health care workers, and generally been as the Maclean’s writer puts it calm, competent and decent

But yesterday some people took exception to the fact that Ford thanked mothers for their dedication and diligence during the pandemic, handling all the household tasks, teaching and caring for their children, while at the same time continuing to work at their full-time jobs from home. Some fathers pointed out there are also many families in Canada where it’s the Dads who are providing primary care for children and working from home while mothers are out doing front-line essential service jobs.  

I think I will cut the premier a little slack on this one and suggest his heart was in the right place.  Parents are being called on to do a really demanding job right now and as this article in the Globe and Mail points out it hasn’t been easy.  So kudos to Canadian parents. 

Other posts………

A Prayer For a Golf Tournament

Why Aren’t As Many People Playing Golf?

Pop Up Toilet

Gender Neutral Washrooms

Women in Politics- Much More Qualified Than Doug Ford


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Filed under COVID-19 Diary

Not a Stellar Example, Doors and Letters During a Pandemic

Photo The Carillon

This photo of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new business in my hometown of Steinbach was in the current issue of The Carillon, the regional newspaper where my column appears regularly. It was noted in the photo’s caption that social distancing was not being practised by either the city mayor or the local member of Canada’s Parliament. The two gentlemen appear front and centre in the photo. It’s great to hear that a new business is getting off the ground even amidst the pandemic, but if the restaurant wants to stay open and not be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak, it might be prudent for the patrons of the eating establishment to behave in a safer manner than their local political leaders. 

In the latest issue of the Canadian Mennonite magazine, writer Doug Klassen suggests the pandemic can inspire people of faith to find safe and innovative ways to open the doors of their homes and churches to their neighbours and the local community.  Klassen’s article is illustrated with gorgeous photos of doors taken by Jane Grunau, a former college classmate of mine.  

Door photographed while biking in Yangshou China

I also love taking pictures of doors.  Here is one of several blog posts I have done about the doors I have photographed. 

I have been writing weekly letters to my grandsons during the pandemic.  I know with school cancelled they have more time to read letters from their Grandma. I include photographs and stories about their Dad when he was a little, stories about their great grandparents and even great-great-grandparents and I ask them questions about things which they answer when we have our regular Face Time chats. 

The Letter by Mary Cassatt

I read an article in The Lily about an aunt who is writing letters to her new niece because pandemic travel restrictions mean she can’t go and meet her in person.   The Lily, a newsletter that features stories about women, also had a delightful article about a granddaughter who is exchanging poems with her 94-year-old grandmother through the postal service during the pandemic. 

Other posts……..

A Lament for Letters

An Open Door For Everyone

A Writing Inheritance From Two Grandparents





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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Politics, Writing