Monthly Archives: August 2020

Higher Ground

The title of the movie Higher Ground comes from a hymn of the same name. In the hymn lyrics, the writer Johnson Oatman, a Methodist minister, is pleading for a more ethereal, profound faith experience. He doesn’t want to be beset by doubts about his faith or succumb to worldly temptations. He wants to live on a higher, more saintly plane. 

Corinne, the main character in the movie is just like the hymn writer. She is part of a caring faith community that has provided direction to her family and changed their lives for the better. She struggles however with doubts, particularly after her closest friend in the church is left crippled by a brain tumour and after Corinne starts reading more widely.  Corinne wishes she could have profound faith experiences like some of her fellow church members who speak in tongues and who hear God talking to them and are sure God is intervening directly in their lives.  

In one pivotal scene, Corinne is in her bathroom pleading with the Holy Spirit to come and fill her with power. In another scene, she sits in her car begging God to intervene in some tangible way to prevent her from leaving the church. She doesn’t want to abandon the community that is such a key part of her family’s life. 

As I was watching the movie I wondered how many Corinnes there are in Christian churches today–people who no longer believe their religion is a positive force in their life or in the world –people filled with questions and doubts they feel they cannot voice without being ostracized from their faith community–people who no longer believe in God or if they do, have stopped praying or no longer have a personal relationship with God – people who stay in the church because they don’t want to rock their family boats – because they like the community the church provides–because church involvement is just a part of a long-established pattern in their lives.

Although Higher Ground is a 2011 movie the questions it raises are still important in 2020, possibly more so than ever, as people seemingly caught up in the kind of religious euphoria Corinne longs for, are enthusiastically supporting immoral and corrupt political candidates they believe will help promote perceived Biblical injunctions and evangelical priorities. It may be prudent for all of us who claim to be people of faith to follow Corinne’s example and start asking some pretty hard questions about the things we believe and the implications of doing so. 

  • It is interesting to note that the movie production company recently founded by Barack and Michelle Obama is called Higher Ground.  Their purpose is to “sponsor inspirational projects which touch on a variety of issues including race, class, democracy and civil rights.”

Other posts……….

Sword Drills

Is It Wrong To Die For Your Faith? 

Faith for Free- A Faith That Frees

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Filed under Movies, Religion

A Love Letter to McNally Robinson Book Sellers

Yesterday was Independent Book Store Day. Here in Winnipeg, we are fortunate to have a fabulous independent bookstore. I was at McNally Robinson Book Sellers just yesterday to pick up three books, one for the book club I belong to, one for our church library where I serve as the librarian, and another as a gift for a family member. 

The McNally Robinson Booksellers store at Grant Park Shopping Centre. Photo by Mike Deal from the Winnipeg Free Press

I belong to a writers group called the Anitas. The members all write books for children and young people and for many years prior to the pandemic McNallys was generous enough to allow us to gather in one of the alcoves at the store on Thursday nights.  A cheerful staff member would bring out chairs so we could sit in the stacks and read our latest work to one another and discuss it.  

My friend and a member of my writing group Larry Verstraete who has seventeen published books is seen here at one of his McNally Robinson book launches

Almost all the members of our writers’ group have launched a book at McNally Robinson. I have attended so many book debuts at the store, for local authors, new authors, self-published authors and well-known and famous authors.

Writers and publishers know McNallys is a great place to promote their book and launch it out into the reading world. 

Attending a Manitoba Book Awards event with writing friends. McNally’s sponsors several awards for the annual competition.  

I am a member of the Manitoba Writers Guild and our membership includes a McNallys Reader Reward Card which allows us to claim a discount on every book we purchase.  The walls of McNallys are lined with large photos of local writers and the store is the sponsor of several awards in the annual Manitoba Book Awards competition. The store is such a gift to Manitoba writers in so many ways. 

With my friends taking a course about chocolate in McNally’s community classroom

I’ve taken numerous interesting courses in the McNally Robinson Community Classroom. I’ve learned about western Canadian female artists from Pat Bovey and Winnipeg history and fiction from Roland Penner and how to be a better blogger from Cendrine Marrouat. But my favourite course I think was one about chocolate that friends and I took with Doreen Pendgracs which I described in a blog post I called Chocogasm

Prior to the pandemic, I worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and as part of my job there I often led their Books and Brushes events.  These were co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Art Gallery and McNallys.   I remember in particular the Books and Brushes sessions for Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer and The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Susan Roe where more than thirty people showed up at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to talk about how art and literature connected. 

Off to Saskatoon for spring birthdays for our grandchildren. There are books from McNallys in each package and the pillow is for my grandson’s bedroom reading nook. 

And there are many other ways McNallys has enriched my life and that of other Winnipeggers. I’ve bought tickets for local music performances at their front counter.  I have purchased so many gifts at McNallys.  Each Christmas I look forward to spending a couple of hours browsing the shelves picking out the perfect book for each family member’s stocking. How many delicious meals have I had in their Prairie Ink Restaurant?  I couldn’t begin to count.

When I still taught elementary school I made exciting outings to McNallys with my colleagues to purchase stacks of books for our classroom libraries.

I remember a special trip I made to the McNallys in Saskatoon with my grandson to purchase a book and his first lunch kit when he was starting grade one. 

McNally Robinson at the Forks- image from the McNally Robinson Facebook page

I love the new additional McNallys store at The Forks although it is so close to my home that it poses a danger to my economic stability since when it comes to books I have very little financial restraint.  But being able to pedal or walk over to McNallys in just a few minutes is wonderful. 

Chairs where books were placed outside for customers as McNallys continued to serve their readers during the pandemic

Independent books stores across Canada have really struggled during the pandemic and some have had to shutter their doors.  What a shame it would be if that happened to our beloved McNallys.  They have done such a great job of adapting to the COVID-19 restrictions so they can continue to serve the reading public.  We all need to do whatever we can to ensure they remain open. 

Thanks, McNallys!  Winnipeg wouldn’t be the same without you!

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Filed under Books, Winnipeg

The Pull of the Stars

I read Emma Donoghue’s new book The Pull of the Stars in one fell swoop over a period of three days during which I neglected many other things I should have been doing.

You probably know Emma Donoghue from her best selling book Room in which almost all the action takes place in a small space where a kidnapped woman and her son are being held hostage. In The Pull of the Stars almost all the action once again takes place in one small space, a cramped maternity ward with only three beds in a Dublin Hospital during the height of the 1918 flu pandemic.

The graphic and troubling scenes in Room were not for the faint of heart and neither are many of the scenes in The Pull of the Stars, although ‘faint of heart’ would be no way to describe our heroine Julia who is the day nurse on the maternity ward. The other two key characters in the story are Julia’s plucky and endearing volunteer aide Bridget and Dr Kathleen Lynne the only female doctor in the hospital who is as savvy a political fighter as she is a medical expert. 

Emma answers questions from the audience at an author event at McNally Robinson several years ago where I had the opportunity to meet her in person. 

The research Emma Donoghue must have done to write this book is astonishing. It is rich with historical and medical detail and although I am not an expert in either field, I was riveted by the graphic picture Donoghue paints of the time, a picture that makes the reader ever so grateful to be living through a pandemic in the present.

The various patients on Julia’s ward over a three day period give us heartbreaking insight into what women’s lives were like just after the turn of the century and the fact that Julia’s brother Tim is a recently returned World War I veteran helps us see what a devastating impact the war had on so many people. 

I would not give this book to a pregnant woman but other than that I can highly recommend it for everyone. Despite the dark period in history it brings to life Pull of the Stars is a story of warmth and caring and courage that ultimately inspires the reader to feel grateful and hopeful.  

Other posts……….

Lessons From a Nude Man

Three Likes and Three Dislikes

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

 

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Filed under Books, COVID-19 Diary, Health

How Are They Doing?

Forbes magazine published a report this week that claims the tourism industry is facing more than a trillion-dollar loss because of the pandemic. A hundred million jobs have been put at risk as tourism has dropped by about 78% worldwide. In a normal year, about a billion and a half people are international tourists. I was surprised to learn that in many places one in every ten people’s jobs depends at least partially on tourism.

That got me thinking about all the wonderful people in so many different jobs who have helped to make our travels so memorable. What has become of all of them? What is happening to ………….

Sunlini, my expert golf caddy in Tanah Lot in Bali?

Rong, our amazing cycling guide in Yangshuo in Guangxi Province in China?

The musicians who entertained us on the bridge in Prague in the Czech Republic?

The jovial waitresses who served us holopchi in Yalta in Ukraine?

Khom who was the curator of a landmines museum in Siem Reap in Cambodia.  

Sanih Nasri a teacher in Bata Putheh Borneo and his wife Hanina, who supported their own children’s schooling by having homestay guests in their house?  We stayed in their home and in this photo, I am with their daughter Hana.   Mr Singh our unflappable driver during our highway trip from Dehli to Agra to Jaipur in India? dee dee snorkel guide in boracay philippinesDee Dee our snorkelling trip organizer in Boracay in the Philippines.  

The women who were our fabulous masseuses in Progresso in the Yucatan province of Mexico? The amazing cook who made us special okonomiyaki pancakes in Hiroshima Japan? Andre the superb naturalist who taught us all about the cloud forest in Costa Rica? 

I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself because I can’t travel but what about all these people who depended on tourists to support their families or their education or their communities?  I can only hope they will be able to find new ways to make a living or that the pandemic will end soon and they will once again be able to use their skills and talents to educate, entertain, care for and enlighten others. 

Other posts…………

We Placed Our Lives in His Hands

Hiroshima Pancakes

Visiting A Land Mines Museum

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Travel

A Million

Writing my blog in a beautiful house we rented in Iceland

I write the posts on this blog each day as a way to keep my writing skills in good form, to reflect on what is going on in my life, to force myself to evaluate ideas, and to figure out where I stand on certain issues. Knowing I need to write something each day keeps me reading and learning and exploring.

About once a week I check my blog statistics and was surprised yesterday to find that my blog had been viewed for the millionth time.  I knew I was getting close to a million views but a post I wrote on Monday about the house I used to live in on Home Street in Winnipeg was read over a 1000 times in a twenty-four hour period and that pushed me over the million mark. 

Thanks to my blog a photo I took was on display in the Supreme Court Building in London

One of the most rewarding things about blogging is the way it connects me to all kinds of interesting people.  On an average day, posts from my blog will be read around 350 times but I can be surprised by the sudden popularity of a certain post. Once a post I wrote about guns in Israel was read nearly two thousand times in one day. 

My post What Does Your Mother Do is my most popular.

Some of my posts have had ongoing appeal and continue to be read even years after I publish them.  My most popular post remains What Does Your Mother Do?  It has been read almost 30,000 times since I first published it.  Another popular post has been  A Prayer For A Golf Tournament which has been read more than 10,000 times.

I wrote forty-five blog posts about our travels in Costa Rica. 

This blog has been a great way to keep a record of our travel experiences.  Writing my posts during the COVID lockdown kept me sane and I know writing this blog has motivated me to do things I might not have tried otherwise.  I keep track of the books I read and the movies I see by writing about them on this blog.

I have often prepared for my art gallery tours by writing blog posts about the art pieces I want to introduce to visitors. 

I often prepared for the tours I gave at the Winnipeg Art Gallery by writing a blog post about the art I was going to introduce to gallery visitors. My blog has been a way for me to share my newspaper columns and excerpts from many of my other freelance writing assignments. 

It has taken a little over eight years to get to the one million view milestone.  Will I still be writing eight years from now?  We’ll have to wait and see.  

When I was naming this blog What Next?  I had just retired from teaching and I wondered what the future held for me. During the last eight years, I have built a rich post-retirement life.  The pandemic has taken away quite a number of the things that made that life meaningful so now I need to craft another one.  I guess that means the blog name What Next? is just as relevant as ever. 

A huge thank you to all my blog readers and especially to the nearly 500 of you who follow my blog.  Your interest and support and affirmation is so appreciated.  

 

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Filed under Writing

Ready to Die?

My husband Dave in a cemetery in Vik Iceland

“I’m preparing to die. ”  Four years ago I visited with a woman in her eighties who told me she was spending a fair bit of time reading, writing, learning, talking and thinking about death.  Even though she wasn’t terminally ill she wanted to be ready to die. She felt the more she could prepare herself for death and accept it as a natural part of life, the easier it would be for her and her family. 

Perhaps because we are faced each morning with a new death toll from the pandemic many of us are thinking more about dying, especially those of us in what is considered the vulnerable age population for COVID-19. 

Madeleine L Engle- image from her Twitter page curated by her granddaughter

In Madeleine L’ Engle’s book The Summer of the Great Grandmother she describes the last summer of her mother’s life. L’ Engle says we experience a series of letting go events or deaths that can prepare us for the end of our life.  

L’ Engle suggests we die to childhood and are born to adolescence. We die to adolescence and become adults.  We die to our single selves when we become someone’s partner or parent. When we move to a new place or a new career we experience a kind of death. She thinks these experiences can teach us things that will make the end of our lives easier. 

We spend much of our childhood and adolescence being educated and prepared for our adult lives. Many couples attend counselling sessions to prepare for marriage.  I took prenatal classes and read books to prepare for parenthood. Many people take seminars and visit a financial planner to prepare for retirement.  It makes sense that just as we prepare for these other deaths and rebirths during our lifetime we should also prepare for our final death and rebirth.  

I provide support for a 97-year-old family member who has prepared very well for her death.  She has her financial affairs in impeccable order. She has paid for her funeral and burial plot. She has written and published her life story.  She has given away or sold most of her personal belongings. She has designated which charities will be the beneficiaries of her estate. She is at peace with God.

I suspect it is never too early to begin to prepare for death. As Steve Jobs once said, “Death is the destination we all share.” As we travel through life we need to think about how we can live to the fullest but yet prepare ourselves for eventually reaching that destination.  

Other posts…….

Death Toll

Wind Blessings

Hold Their Hands And Say Their Names As They Die

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Filed under Reflections, Retirement

It’s So Beautiful- My Old House

That’s me in the doorway of a house I lived in at 110 Home Street in Winnipeg. My family moved into the house in 1954 and we lived there for the next four years. I have been back in Winnipeg for nearly a decade now, but for some reason, I had never made a point of going to look at my old house. I decided to do that this past weekend. I was a little worried about what kind of state the house might be in, but it was BEAUTIFUL and obviously, had been treated with tender loving care. Of course, it looked a little different sixty-some years ago.  This is the one photo I could find of the front of the house in 1954. My grandparents helped my Mom and Dad buy the house and various aunts and uncles lived on the third floor at different times while they were going to university or working in the city. The bedrooms on the second floor were rented out to university students and my Mom cooked and cleaned and did their laundry.  This provided income for our family since my Dad was a medical student at the time.

This is how the house looked in the fall of 2016

The house was sold in 2016 and so I was able to go online and see the listing, which contained lots of photos of the house.

Winter 1956 -Playing outside the Home Street house with my friend MaryJane.

On the front steps of the Home Street house with my friends Dorothy and Lynette

Here I am having a bath in the kitchen of the house in  1954. Here is how the kitchen looked in 2016.

My Dad reading my sister Kaaren and me a story in the living room of the Home Street house in 1958. The living room of the house in 2016.  The radiator is still under the window but it has been painted a different colour. There is a lamp in the same corner.

Standing on the steps of the house before leaving for Laura Secord School in 1959.   Standing in front of 110 Home Street in August of 2020. 

Other posts………….

House With A View

Our Home in Mexico

A House with More Than Just A View

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Filed under Family, My Old House

Masks

We have a coat tree we inherited from my Dad when he made his most recent move into assisted living. We are using one of its hooks for our mask collection. Each evening we put the masks we wore during the day into the laundry basket and after I do a load of laundry I hang the freshly washed masks back up there. The coat tree stands by the front door so we are reminded to grab a new mask whenever we leave our condo. 

For me wearing a mask indoors when I am with other folks just makes sense. I admit I make exceptions, and I forget sometimes, but I am trying. I don’t feel at all like my personal freedom is being infringed upon when a business or organization requires that I wear a mask. They aren’t asking me to do something unethical or harmful. They are just following the most current scientific research that says mask-wearing is helpful. If there is any chance my wearing a mask can prevent another person from getting COVID 19 I don’t mind doing it.

I follow some Facebook threads where people have suggested that masks are at best useless and at worst harmful and so I spent a couple of hours yesterday evening trying to find proof of that online. Any articles with credible sources had been written several months ago. If there are blog readers who can direct me to those kinds of current sources I’d be interested in learning more. 

I have an acquaintance who is an expert in the field of pandemics and is currently doing research for a national health organization. He tells me the rate at which scientists around the world are learning new things and collaborating with one another about COVID-19 is unprecedented. In a given week he may give lectures and consult with colleagues in a half dozen countries and every morning his inbox is flooded with new scientific articles about COVID-19.

Scientists are learning new things every day about a disease they initially knew little about, which is why the suggested protocol around mask-wearing has changed and may change again in the future. It is because of ongoing research that we know we don’t really need to wipe our groceries down with disinfectant anymore and that kids can have fun on playground equipment again and that it is much safer to meet with others outdoors rather than indoors.

We all wear seatbelts and try to follow highway speed limits because research has shown that can save lives. We don’t let people text on their phones and drive because research has shown it can save lives. We don’t let people smoke in public buildings because research has shown banning indoor smoking can save lives. We didn’t always have those rules but then we learned something new and now we do. I think about mask-wearing in the same way.

Photo by Anna Shvets

I am not sure why wearing a mask has become such a political issue but I know it has, and there are lots of people who really feel their personal freedom and personal rights are being challenged by any mask-wearing mandate for them or their children. I am trying hard to be considerate of that point of view and would be happy to hear from blog readers who can provide information or insight that would help me understand it better.

Other posts…………

Typhoid Mary- Pandemic Lessons From an Irish Cook 

This Generation’s Condom

Dave Makes a Mask

 

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Health

A Lesson From My Grandfather

My grandfather Diedrich Peters was 92 years old when he lost his driver’s license. He was sad, but he resigned himself to being chauffeured around by his children. However, on the first fine spring day after he had lost his license, he went outside and was overcome by a strong urge to drive his car.

Grandpa on his farmyard in Gnadenthal

Grandpa was a retired farmer and there was nothing he liked better than to drive from his house in the town of Winkler out to his old farm in the village of Gnadenthal and watch the work that was going on in the fields. He knew that on a spring day with such beautiful weather, his nephew, who was farming Grandpa’s land, would probably be getting out his machines and heading to the fields to prepare them for planting. How Grandpa wanted to go and watch him work!

He got his keys and went into the garage where his vehicle still stood.  He slid into the front seat and started the engine. Sounded good! Should he take a quick drive? Would it harm anyone?  What were the chances of the police stopping him?  Telling me about the experience later, my grandfather said he put his head on the steering wheel and asked God to help him do the right thing.  He turned off the car, pocketed the keys and went back inside. 

Going out to feed the pigs on his farm with my grandfather when I was a child.

Even after a lifetime of acquiring wisdom and experience my grandfather was still tempted to make an unwise and unsafe choice that could have hurt not only him but others as well. We face those kinds of temptations all the time and especially now during the pandemic when we may be tempted to make choices we know aren’t safe for us or for others, just as the choice for Grandpa to drive his car wouldn’t have been safe for him or for others either. There may be times when like my grandfather, we need to call on divine help so we can do the safe thing and the right thing. 

Other posts………..

My Mother Said……..

Wisdom From Dr Seuss

Faith in a Time of Fear and Women in a Time of Crisis

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Family

Dad’s Sacred Trees

I visit on the phone with my ninety-one-year-old Dad every day and go to see him several times a week. Without fail our conversations include some talk about the stand of poplar trees outside the window of his apartment. He can judge the strength of the wind by looking at how much the trees are swaying. In spring he took careful note of the progress of the poplars’ leaves unfurling and talked often about how he watched the landscaping crew prune the trees. He notices birds in the poplars’ branches and squirrels and rabbits by their roots.
Early one morning this week, before the day got too hot, Dad and I were sitting out on his balcony having coffee. Dad interrupted our conversation to ask me if I could hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the poplars. He actually got a little teary as we sat quietly listening to the wind create a song in the poplars and then he said, “Those trees are sacred to me.”  Dad, who is struggling with dementia, seemed sort of surprised at his comment and asked me what sacred meant. I told him sacred meant something holy or respected, something connected to God. He nodded.

I’ve been thinking about why Dad would regard those poplars outside his window as sacred. I’m wondering if it is because during the height of the pandemic those trees became a kind of lifeline to the outside world for him, a connection to something beyond the almost solitary confinement in which he found himself because we couldn’t visit him at his assisted living seniors facility and he had to stay in his room and not have contact with any of the other residents of his building.  Now, even though he is allowed more interaction with other people, the trees remain sacred to him. 

My Dad grew up on a farm, so he was always very connected to nature and the outdoors. His family’s property was surrounded by Russian olive trees. The two homes he and my mother built had huge yards with plenty of trees. I think those half a dozen poplars outside his window remind Dad of those places. 

I think I understand why he’d say, “Those trees are sacred to me.” 

Other posts………….

My Dad Hasn’t Lost His Green Thumb

Dad’s Treasures- A Fern

Edge of the Trees

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Nature