Monthly Archives: July 2020

Lessons From a Nude Man

I read many of the short stories in Donna Besel’s Lessons From A Nude Man while sitting on the deck of a guest cottage on a friend’s property at Jessica Lake.  I was surrounded by the trees of the boreal forest and that was most appropriate. Joan Thomas who wrote one of the endorsements for Lessons From a Nude Man says Donna Besel has an intimate knowledge of the boreal forest and those who live on its edges.

The first story and the one for which the book is named is about Chris, a man scouting around for a nudist-friendly place for a group of friends who want to spend some time together.    He visits a property owned by a widow that might be a potential site.  Chris takes off his clothes just to get a ‘feel’ for the place and it releases a myriad of feelings in the widow.   

Fare Well is one story in the book that has haunted me since I read it.  It introduces the reader to an incredibly dysfunctional family poisoned by a misogynistic and angry father. We view the family’s life starkly and tragically through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old girl named Gina. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the story Hawksley Workman and the Worst Motel in Canada. Songs by Hawksley Workman play an important role in Besel’s account of a memorable family road trip.  My favourite Hawksley Workman song is Safe and Sound and I think the lyrics would have been perfect for a story about a road trip.  I admit I was just a little disappointed it wasn’t one of the songs included. 

 I wasn’t that fond of the three young people who do a renovation project on a boathouse in the story Sam, Lump and the Boathouse Reno. Jacob and Esther the wealthy Mennonite couple who own the boathouse were more intriguing and likeable characters for me, and I actually wished they had played a bigger role. 

Two interesting and thought-provoking stories in the collection revolve around roadside encounters.  One is between a writer and a young boy and another between a social worker and an older couple who need to get to a hospital.  

The story Dead Skunk a set on a Hutterite Colony and describes an art lesson led by a new teacher at the colony school.  As I read it I was reminded of the exhibit of Hutterite artists’ work I visited in October.  Many of the pieces in that exhibit were by school children. 

Lessons From a Nude Man ends with a story called The English Cousin that has sections which are certainly scary and troubling to read. In the end, though, it is a story of courage. 

I was inspired to pick up  Lessons From A Nude Man when I saw it at McNally Robinson because I had just heard that Donna Besel had won first prize in the 2019 Prairie Fire magazine contest for creative non-fiction for her story The Bay Filly.  I have yet to read the latest issue of Prairie Fire but if the stories in Lessons From a Nude Man are any indication reading The Bay Filly will be an experience to savour.

Other posts…………..

Writing as a Healing Art


Water -Skiing



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Filed under Books

The Comfort of a Poem

I had to memorize poetry in elementary school.  I can still recite I Keep Three Wishes Ready by Annette Wynne which I performed at a poetry festival in Grade Three. I remember every word of The Song My Paddle Sings by Emily Pauline Johnson which I memorized in grade four.  At some point in my school life, I memorized The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many times when I’ve needed to calm my mind or heart I have recited one of those poems. 

Photo of my grandparents’ tombstone by my cousin Al Loeppky

My grandmother Margaretha Peters had a marvellous memory for poetry and well into her 90s could still recite long German narrative poems.  An excerpt from a favourite poem is engraved on her tombstone. 

Yesterday The Atlantic published an article by Elliot Cohen called Go Memorize a Poem. Cohen suggests that memorizing a poem may be just what we need to do in these uncertain times. We can choose a poem that gives us hope, a poem that inspires us or brings us peace.  

Oprah Winfrey’s inspirational poem is Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Cohen talks about how civil rights leaders John Lewis and Nelson Mandela both believed in the power of the poem Invictus by W.E. Henley. Cohen says that poems we have memorized can stave off self-pity, offer us a new world view and make us feel powerful. Oprah Winfrey has often stated that Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is that special kind of poem for her. Stephen Spielberg says for him it‘s Self-Portrait by David Whyte. 

I published a poem by Marge Piercy with my blog post on Sunday and one of my readers commented that she was going to memorize it.

I think it may be a good time to add another memorized poem to my canon. What should I choose? What poem might be the perfect one for you to memorize right now?   

Other posts………

Come Healing

The Song My Paddle Sings

Two Poets on Prayer


Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Poetry

Afternoon Delight

tuba piano concert“I haven’t listened to live music for such a long time.”  That was one comment I heard at an outdoor concert I attended yesterday afternoon.  With most music venues closed and most music groups on forced hiatus due to the pandemic, it hasn’t been easy to find opportunities to hear musicians performing live concerts. 

backyard concert

Host Ted Redekop welcomes us to the concert.

Yesterday Ted and Marilyn Redekop hosted a delightful afternoon musical performance in their backyard which looks out onto the Red River.  It featured two musicians who are both pursuing PhD degrees.

tuba piano performance

Maddy’s Mom Millie kept her daughter’s music pages from flying off in the breeze and turned them at the appropriate time

Madeline Hildebrand the pianist who performed for us is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University in New York.  Jakob Uschold the featured tuba player is pursuing his degree at the University of British Columbia.  Both musicians have a long list of remarkable musical accomplishments to their name but both have had their studies and regular performance plans interrupted by the pandemic. 

The Redekops thought the concert they hosted would give these all-star musicians a chance to perform and we were invited to make a donation to show our support for them.

tuba playerThe concert was unique and so interesting.  I had never heard a tuba played as a solo instrument and the pieces chosen showed it off to advantage.   We were treated to a tuba concerto by Vaughn Williams, a Bach sonata originally written for the flute, three pieces by Robert and Clara Schumann and a sonata for tuba and piano written by Canadian composer David McIntyre. We also heard a piece called Fnugg written especially for tuba by Norwegian composer Øystein Baadsvik. 

river view during concert

I had this beautiful view of the river from my chair and right behind me was a unique stone fountain. The sound of the water flowing augmented the music in a lovely way.

Our outdoor setting meant at different times gulls, crows, squirrels and blue jays added their unique sounds to the musical pieces.  We were served scrumptious butter tarts, sausage rolls and cheese and vegetable skewers during the intermission and we could bring our own beverages.  Chairs had been set up in groups that were appropriately socially distant. 

tuba piano showThe situation for Canadian musicians is actually quite dire as a recent report from Music Canada details. Without the opportunity to perform live many musicians have lost a vital source of income.  The wonderful concert I attended yesterday gave two of those musicians a chance to perform but was also a rather sad reminder of what has been lost because of the pandemic. 

As my blog readers know, my word for 2020 is LISTEN.  The tuba and piano performance I attended yesterday added a delightful new listening experience to my year.  

Other posts…………..

BrewPub in the Livingroom Concert Hall in the Bedroom

Word of the Year 2020

Recognition for My Favorite Winnipeg Band


Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Music

The Female Lead

I started following a group called The Female Lead on Twitter and I am so inspired by their regular posts that highlight what a different world we might have if women had been given equal rights throughout history and if women, instead of primarily men, were leading the world at this critical juncture.  Some of the posts are quotes from women that help us see things in new ways. 

Jacinda Arden the prime minister of New Zealand is being praised for her leadership during the current pandemic

I really rebel against this idea that politics has to be a place full of ego where you’re constantly focused on scoring hits against each one another. Yes, we need a robust democracy, but you can be strong, and you can be kind.

Jacinda Ardern

Michelle Obama photo by Gage Skidmore from Wikimedia Commons

Strong men, strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful

Michelle Obama

Ruth Bader Ginsberg- American Supreme Court Justice- photo public domain

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

17-year-old climate and indigenous rights activist Helena Gualinga holding the red sign in the photo. She lives in Ecuador.

A strong woman stands up for herself.  A stronger woman stands up for everybody else.  


Vera Rubin- Photo from the Smithsonian Institute

There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.

-Vera Rubin the astronomer who discovered dark matter. She spent her life advocating for women in science and was known for mentoring aspiring female astronomers.

I raise up my voice not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of the human population is held back.

Malala Yousafzai

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

The idea that a woman can be as powerful as a man is something that our society can’t deal with. But I am as powerful as a man and it drives them crazy.
The Female Lead doesn’t just have quotes, however.  Sometimes they feature fabulous cartoons like this one by Lunar Baboon. 

The Female Lead has also introduced me to lots of women I didn’t know about who have done and are doing incredible things. Like…………

Dr Gladys West- photo in the public domain

Dr Gladys West one of the lead inventors of GPS Technology. She is known for her contributions towards the mathematical modelling of the shape of the earth and……….

Althea Gibson – photo public domain

Althea Neale Gibson who in 1956 became the first Black person to win a Grand Slam tennis title! 

I am finding that right now I need to make sure my Twitter feed and my other sources of social media are filled with positive, inspiring messages that give me hope.  The Female Lead fills the bill nicely.  My only criticism of the site is that I wish I’d see more Canadian women on its feed.  Maybe I need to send them some suggestions or maybe I need to start a Female Lead twitter page focused on Canadian women myself. 

Other posts……….

Where Does She Get Her Energy?

A Book To Make You Feel Insanely Hopeful

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Filed under feminism, Media

They Jump Into the Work Head First

alexandria ocasio cortez

Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez

This week as I listened to Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez give her brave and incredibly important speech decrying the sexism and misogyny still firmly entrenched in politics, I was reminded of a poem by Marge Piercy called  To Be of Use.  Ms Cortez follows a long line of women who have not been afraid to jump in headfirst to bring about the changes so necessary in our world. 

dorothy day statue

Social justice fighter Dorothy Day photographed in Solanus Casey Center in Detroit

To Be of Use    by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best

jump into work head first 

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

female suffragettes quebed

A trio of Quebec suffragettes who fought for 22 years to get women the right to vote in their province. Photographed in Quebec City.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

rosa parks by tony scherman

Rosa Parks civil rights activist in a portrait by Tony Scherman photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlour generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.


Maria Leal de Noguera influential educator, literacy pioneer and writer of children’s literature in Costa Rica photographed in Santa Cruz Costa Rica. 

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

Other posts…………..

Difficult Women

Are You This Determined to Vote? 

The Beatitudes Come to Life 

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Filed under Inspiration, Poetry, Politics

A Dress From the Catalogue

Recently I was telling my grandsons about catalogues.  They had no idea what they were. I explained how they were big books, kind of like thick magazines, that large department stores sent to our home each year when I was a little girl.  You could order things from them through the mail. eatons catalogue dollsI showed them this photo.  I told them the dolls my sister and I were holding had been ordered from a special issue of the catalogue called the Christmas Catalogue.  It was full of things you could order as gifts. 

I also told the boys the matching outfits my sister and I are wearing in the photo were made by my mother.  They couldn’t believe that when I was their age my mother sewed all our clothes on a sewing machine.

 Just before I started kindergarten in the fall of 1958 I desperately wanted a store-bought dress rather than a homemade one. first day of school 1959My mother let me order this dress from the catalogue. eaton's catalogue 1957-58Just for interest’s sake I looked up the Eaton’s catalogue for 1958 and found this page.  I think I can maybe even spot a dress something like mine in one of the drawings. christmas 1958 cousinsHere I am wearing the dress from the catalogue at Christmas at my grandparents in 1958. 

I also told the boys that some people used pages from old catalogues as toilet paper in their outdoor toilets because toilet paper was too expensive.  They found that hard to believe too. I took this photo at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is of a painting by prairie artist William Kurelek in 1976. He has depicted a person in the outhouse on a winter day. Hanging on the wall is the Eatons catalogue he is using for toilet paper.

I have been telling my grandsons stories on Face Time during the pandemic. Often I talk about things from my childhood that I think might be interesting.  The idea of catalogues certainly was something novel to them. 

Other posts……….

Shin Pads and Toilet Paper

The Olden Days

Two Stories About Grandpa


Filed under Family, History

Maybe It’s Good Some Books Are Missing

I have visited this new artwork at The Forks site in Winnipeg several times now. It is called Education is the New Bison and was created by artist Val Vint who is of Cree, Ojibwa, Métis, African-American and Caucasian ancestry. The sculpture is in the shape of a bison and the parts of its body are made up of replicas of books by indigenous authors.

This quote from Senator Murray Sinclair reflects the theme of the art piece. “Education is what got us here and education is what will get us out.” 

Val Vint said the bison was once of primary importance to indigenous people providing them with the essentials of a good life.

I was delighted to see a book I absolutely love Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer included in the sculpture

She feels that in the present day education is an essential ingredient for a rich life and an important key to the success of the process of truth and reconciliation.

I thought it was neat the way spider webs and greenery have grown around this foot of the bison which features The Secret Path by Gord Downie

I  have spent quite a bit of time crawling around and under the sculpture looking for new titles. There are apparently 200 books included and I find some new ones every time I visit.

That being said quite a few works by indigenous authors I’ve enjoyed seem to be missing. Some books I am still looking for are Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, 7 Generations by David Robertson, In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Canada Reads 2016 nominee Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and The Right To Be Cold by Sheila Watt- Cloutier.

I am a little puzzled why Blackflies by Robert Munsch is included but not A Promise is a Promise which Munsch wrote with Inuit author Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak. I know some books like From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle which I just read and Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq are too new to be included.  

Maybe it is good I haven’t found all the books in the sculpture I think should be there because that will bring me back to explore Education is the New Bison again and again and perhaps locate more of them.  

And maybe the fact that there are now so many books by indigenous authors they can’t all be included in one sculpture is a wonderful and promising thing. 

Other posts………..

I Just Won a Cache of Great Children’s Books

Top Ten Pieces of Writing Advice From David Robertson

The Consolation of Water Lilies



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Filed under Art, Books, Winnipeg

Cancel Culture

I’ve been hearing the term cancel culture so often lately.  What does it mean? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as cancelling an entertainer, a political figure, a businessperson, an organization or an institution by ending your support of them. You do so because they expressed a belief or acted in a way you find unacceptable.

Some Canadian examples would be refusing to buy clothing made by Peter Nygard’s company because he has been accused of sex trafficking or taking down the statue of Egerton Ryerson at Toronto’s Ryerson University because Ryerson was the architect of Canada’s residential school system. It might be changing the name of Cecil Rhodes School school in Winnipeg because Rhodes believed in the superiority of the white race or not watching the games of a sports team whose name or logo you deem to be racist.  

Some songs were removed from the new Mennonite Hymnal Voices Together just before it went to press

The Mennonite Church just decided to remove seven popular pieces of music from a new hymnal they are publishing because the composer has been accused of abusing his power in church music circles, making women feel they needed to exchange sexual favours for a chance to get ahead professionally. I know people who refused to travel to the United States after Donald Trump was elected President because they felt he was racist, had treated women disrespectfully and was using his political position to benefit his family fortune.

Erin O’Toole is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party

Erin O Toole who is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada has promised if he becomes Prime Minister, he will end cancel culture.  I am not exactly sure how he is going to achieve that but it’s a promise he is making.  He says in a campaign video that all people and institutions have both good and bad aspects and we can’t try to erase their legacy because of the things they have done that are questionable particularly when they have also done things that are praiseworthy and important.  

Sculpture illustrating the important contribution Chinese workers made to the construction of Canada’s railroad at the Winnipeg Millennium Library

He gives the example of Sir John A McDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister who was instrumental in building a railroad that united our country. Of course, MacDonald did so by illegally expropriating indigenous land and having Chinese workers sacrifice their lives doing slave labour to construct it. Despite the negative aspects of his legacy, which are many, O Toole thinks MacDonald still deserves to be honoured with statues and other symbols for his important contributions to Canadian history. 

My husband Dave stands beside Old Sun a sculpture by Adrian Stinson which has been added to a gallery filled with work by Canada’s Group of Seven at the Art Gallery of Ontario

American artist Titus Kaphar has proposed an interesting alternative to cancel culture that involves adding things instead of removing them. You might call it additional culture. I saw an example on my last visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario where at least one work by an indigenous artist has been added to every room.

When We Were Alone – awarding-winning book by David Robertson illustrated by Julie Flett

I see it in the world of children’s writing where books by indigenous writers and illustrators like David Robertson and Julie Flett, are given publishing priority so their excellent work is added to the canon of children’s literature. Additional culture might mean putting up a statue of Cindy Blackstock the indigenous activist who has fought so long and hard for the welfare of indigenous children beside a statue of Sir John A MacDonald who called indigenous children savages and ordered them taken from their parents.

Rosemary Brown was elected to the BC legislature in 1972

We could name the next new schools we build after people like Black Canadian baseball legend Ferguson Jenkins or Rosemary Brown the first Black provincial legislator in Canada.

We may still need to employ some cancel culture to set the historical record straight but perhaps we can also consider how additional culture might provide an alternative course of action.

Other posts……….

A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

Radiohead and Plato

A Bad Choice of Words


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Filed under Culture, Politics

My Husband Was On TV

My husband Dave didn’t tell me he had been interviewed by CTV last week but luckily a friend saw him on the evening news and sent me a message. I looked up the news clip and sure enough, there was Dave giving his opinion about a new practice instituted by the Kings Head Pub an eating and drinking establishment near our home. On Saturday Dave went there to do the crossword puzzle with a friend.
The Kings Head has started asking all customers to show their identification. They are checking your age but also where you come from. This is because in recent days customers from the United States, New Brunswick and Quebec have come to the King’s Head to eat and the staff have discovered they did not quarantine for the requisite two weeks.

Restaurant owners would like the province to intervene with stricter follow up measures for people who enter the province from eastern and southern destinations. They believe the government should monitor whether visitors quarantine for two weeks after they enter the province. But since the provincial government isn’t doing that kind of checking the Kings Head management has decided to take matters into their own hands.
Dave gave his opinion about having to show his identification right near the end of this news clip. Check it out for yourself.

Other posts………..

Dave on Television in Kiev

Insight and Wisdom From My Daughter-in-Law

My Husband is Famous


Filed under COVID-19 Diary

A Different Kind of July

One of the valuable things about keeping a blog is that it allows you to look back and see what you were doing other years at the same time.  This July is definitely unique so I thought I’d go back and look at some things I was doing during the other Julys in the decade I’ve kept this blog. 

People sitting and listening to authors read their work

Last July I was reading some of my writing at a Prosetry event organized by our friends Jan and Mitch at their Jessica Lake cottage.  They invited people to come and listen to writers and musicians share their work lakeside.  Due to COVID, the event was not held this year. 

In July of 2018, I was working at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in the Winnipeg Art Gallery activity tent for children.  The Fringe Festival was not held this year due to the pandemic.

In July of 2017, I had dinner with my good friend Meena, who was a teaching colleague of mine in Hong Kong. Meena and her husband Anil make an annual summer visit to Winnipeg, to see their children who live here.  We always get together when Meena and Anil are in Winnipeg.  This year COVID meant they couldn’t travel and had to stay in Hong Kong.

Marching in the Pride Parade in Steinbach. Photo credit- Grant Burr

In July of 2016, I participated in the first annual Pride Parade in my hometown of Steinbach. So far the event this year has been postponed until the fall when organizers will reassess the risk involved due to COVID 19. 

Doing the limbo on the golf course with my nephews in Leamington Ontario

In July of 2015, I was participating in a fun family golf tournament in Leamington, Ontario. Now the Leamington area where my husband’s family lives has one of the worst concentrations of COVID-19 in Canada.  We would be ill-advised to be traveling there. 

We were part of a quartet that sang at the wedding of good friends in Minneapolis in July 2014.  Of course, now we wouldn’t be allowed to cross the border into the United States because the border has been closed due to pandemic fears. In 2013 we reunited with friends from Hong Kong at a wedding celebration in Denver Colorado.  We visited with the couple whose wedding we celebrated that day just this past February on our way to Arizona. Of course, border closings now make such trips impossible. In July of 2012, our younger son got married. Such a large gathering of family and friends some of whom traveled from other provinces would not have been possible in 2020. In 2011 our older son and his friend in Saskatoon introduced us to the sport of Frisbee Golf.  We haven’t seen our son and his family in Saskatoon since Christmas and have no idea when we will be able to see them again.

This July is very different than the Julys of the recent past.  Of course, we are having good times this July too but COVID-19 has certainly changed things. 

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary