Monthly Archives: October 2020

Dressed Up

My sister and I ready for Halloween in the late 1950s

With my friends dressing up at an historical house in Neubergthal Manitoba

Trying on a hat from the 1920s at the Thrift Shop where I volunteer

Our son dressed up in a beaver hat and Metis sash at Lower Fort Garry near Winnipeg

Me dressed up like Santa with colleagues in Hong Kong 

My Dad and his sisters dressed up in their parents’ old clothes for a visit to my Grandma in the nursing home. 

Playing dress up with my cousins on my grandparents’ farmyard in the 1960s

Our son dressed up like Pharaoh for his role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Dave and I dressed up at a history museum in Quebec City

Members of my family dressed up in Dutch costumes in Holland

Dinosaur costumes my cousin Lynne made for us and our grandson

My husband Dave borrowing the outfit of a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City

Donning a traditional hat at a museum in Prague

In a wedding photo booth with my sister and brothers

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The Book of Two Ways

Jodi Picoult is a hugely popular American writer

You always learn so much when you read a novel by Jodi Picoult. It might be about humpback whales, organ transplants, elephants, the Holocaust, school shootings, wolves, suicide or music therapy. Picoult’s research is impeccable and exhaustive.

Her latest novel The Book of Two Ways is no different. This time her main character Dawn is a death doula. I had heard of death doulas before but I didn’t know much about the profession. The Book of Two Ways provided me with valuable insight into the services they offer and how important their work can be for many families.

Dawn was studying to be an Egyptologist before she became a death doula and so we also learn all about ancient Egypt. We are introduced to Egyptian gods, family structure, literature and geography as well as the modern archaeological methods used to unearth and study artefacts in Egypt.

Although I enjoyed learning about death doulas and Egypt while I read The Book of Two Ways, I felt like Jodi’s desire to inform and enlighten us about those topics interfered with the drama of the story. At some points, several consecutive pages were dedicated to helping us understand new concepts complete with diagrams and that tended to take me out of the story.

This was not the case with the last two Jodi Picoult books I read Small Great Things which was about white supremacy and racism or A Spark of Light which addressed the abortion issue. In those novels, I felt she struck a better balance between the drama of the story and the thought-provoking information she wanted to relay.

In The Book of Two Ways Dawn, our protagonist is trying to make a tough decision. Should she stay with her physicist husband Brian and their teenage daughter Meret with whom she has built a rewarding and comfortable life in Boston? Or should she go back to Wyatt a man she loved passionately in the past?  He was a fellow archaeologist when she was a graduate student doing an internship in Egypt.

Although one learns to expect surprise endings in a Picoult novel I was not a fan of the ending in this book. 

Other posts……….

Jodi Picoult- Fan Fiction Writer Today- Classic Writer Tomorrow

A Spark of Light

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Filed under Books

Listening To My Son’s Radio Show

Some of you may remember that my word for the year is ‘listen’ and so I thought it might be time for a little update on my progress.  One of the things I’ve been listening to every week in recent months is a radio show my son hosts on CKUW 95.9 FM called Binky Pinder’s Fun House. 

On his show, Bucky has introduced me to lots of new music I would never have listened to otherwise.  Bucky is a professional musician and before the pandemic toured and performed with his band Royal Canoe at venues around the world.  He knows quite a number of the performers featured on his radio program personally or has performed at the same musical events with them. So it is interesting to hear his commentary and stories as he introduces the various artists.

He also connects many of the songs to personal experiences and so I am learning some new things about my son as I listen to the show.

 During a multi-episode series, we listened to the songs that were in Bucky’s top ten rankings each year for approximately the past decade.  During another series, the radio show toured North America vicariously.  We stopped in at various cities along the way to listen to music that originated in that particular city.

I listened to a show with just instrumental music, another with loud music, one with quiet music, and another where Bucky interviewed different people who are devoted fans of the album Left and Leaving.  It is by the Winnipeg band The Weakerthans. 

One October program had songs that featured the autumn season in some way.  In a recent show,  Bucky interviewed Free Press columnist Ben Sigurdson and several other guests about their affection for an album by Radio Head called Kid A

I look forward to having my musical tastes enriched and often challenged each week when I tune into the program.  Here are just two examples of the songs my son has introduced me to that are now part of my music library. 

2000 Places by Polyphonic Spree

Some of the words of this song are just what our world needs right now. 

You gotta be good.
You gotta be strong…..
And time will show the way
And love will shine today
Muscle n’ Flo by Menomena
Some of the words of this song really spoke to my time of life
Oh in the morning,
I stumble my way towards the mirror…….
Face just what I’m made of.
There’s so much more left to do,
Well, I’m not young, but I’m not through.

Other posts……….



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Riding the Roller Coaster

This train station in Omaha was built in 1870.

My novel Lost on the Prairie begins with the main character Peter setting out from Newton Kansas on an immigration journey to Canada. He is travelling by train and the first stop the train makes is in Omaha Nebraska. Peter and his two brothers decide to visit the Krug Amusement Park in Omaha while they wait for the train to continue its journey north.

The Krug Amusement Park was operated by Krug Brewing in Omaha. The company was founded by a German immigrant Fred Krug in 1893. It was a large modern brewery that employed around 500 people. 

The beer pavilion at the Krug Amusement Park in the early 1900s

  In 1902 the Krug family decided to sponsor an amusement park.

The Krug Amusement Park in the early 1900s

In my story, Peter visits the park in 1907 and rides the roller coaster there.   The roller coaster at the Krug Amusement Park called The Big Dipper wasn’t really built till 1917 so I took a little historical licence having Peter ride it in 1907.  

The Krug Amusement Park had a hot air balloon

I know from historical documents about the park that it had a Tunnel of Love, a hot air balloon ride and that dancers performed in the park’s special dance pavilion.  In my novel, Peter sees all those things on his visit to the Krug Amusement Park as well.  

Peter shares his seat on the roller coaster in Omaha with a girl named Annie. And although they only spend a short time together it is certainly memorable.   I won’t tell you why!  I have to leave some things for you to find out when you read my book. 

Other posts about Lost on the Prairie 


Filed under Lost on the Prairie

All Those Doilies!

Looking through old family photos from the 1950s I have noticed how beautifully crocheted doilies are featured on the furniture in many of them. Check out this photo of my Grandma Annie Jantz Schmidt reading in a chair in her home in the mid-1950s. There are doilies on both arms of her chair and on its back. There is a doily on the record player to her left under the clock and on the table, to her right, there are two doilies, one on the upper shelf and one on the lower shelf.  I think I see one on top of the piano too.

In this 1955 Christmas photo, you can see my grandmother’s doilies on the backs and arms of the couch

I know my Grandma Annie was a gifted crocheter. I have a huge tablecloth she crocheted and so I am pretty sure she made the doilies featured in these photos herself.

My sister and I with our dolls in our home in the 1950s. Three doilies are on the chair where we are sitting.

The name doily is thought to come from a sixteenth-century cloth merchant named Doiley who sold bobbin lace.  Women bought it and crocheted fancy napkins they called doily napkins.  After a strong cotton thread was invented in the mid-1800s crocheting became very popular and by the end of the century, women’s magazines were printing instructions for the creation of doilies. Women thought they added elegance to their homes.

My Dad feeding me while studying for his medical school classes. There is a Home Sweet Home doily on the chair behind him. 

By the early 1900s doilies were everywhere. They adorned almost every type of furniture and were viewed as a must for any proper table setting.

Mom and Dad ready to leave for my Dad’s medical school graduation party in 1959. See the doilies on the chair where Mom is sitting? 

The doily craze began to ebb in the mid-1940s but as my family photos from the late 1950s show they certainly hadn’t gone out of style completely.  

My sister and I with our aunt around 1956 or 1957. There are doilies on the couch and under the plant on the end table. 

Apparently, there is a renewed interest in doilies and there have even been some formal exhibits of vintage ones because they illustrate how women who lived during an era when running a home was extremely labour-intensive still found the time and energy and patience to create intricate works of art.  It was a way to express their creativity. 

My friend Sue and I in a Japanese taxi in Kyoto.  Check out the doilies on the front and back seats. 

I remembered as I was writing this blog that although doilies are no longer popular in North America, there was one place I had seen them more recently.  On my visit to Japan, I noticed the headrests and seats of most of the taxi cabs we took were adorned with doilies. 

I still have one doily.  It sits on my dresser and is a combination of embroidery and crocheting.  It was made by my other grandmother Margaretha Sawatsky Peters.  

Other posts……….

Grandma and Embroidery Hoops

Japanese Surprises

Medical School Graduation 1959



Filed under Art, Family, History

Do Buildings Have Souls?

My son and his family are building a new home and we’ve been keeping up to date on the progress of their plans by seeing blueprints and looking at models. The other day they sent a video of the work beginning at the site of their future house.

Observing the planning process they are going through and seeing how they are trying to design a home that fits their family and their lifestyle reminds me of an architect I once interviewed who told me he believes buildings have souls.

There was something quite soulful about the Taj Mahal especially during my visit there at dawn

According to him, an architectural concept for any building should be a metaphor or image for the dreams and values of the people who will use that building. Articulating and defining the soul of a building is a process that needs to include as many of the people who will inhabit the finished structure as possible. If you read the story I wrote about the designer of the Syndey Opera House Jorn Utzon you see how his vision for the soul of the building was compromised and the consequences of that. 

My husband and sons on a Habitat for Humanity build in northern Thailand. I think the homes Habitat builds reflect the values of their organization.

For his article Do Buildings Have Souls writer Ray Edgar interviewed a number of architects who said buildings might be said to have souls when they reflect the personalities and values of the people or organizations who build them.  Apparently, no concrete rules can be laid out for making sure a building has a soul. 

An architect from Dehli India Vidur Bharadwaj says he tries to treat each building he designs like a living being, a being with a soul and fundamental need to breathe.”

The house my grandfather built for his family in Drake Saskatchewan

I wonder if people aren’t attracted to certain buildings and love to revisit them because they speak to their souls.  It might be a church or an art gallery or someone’s home.  I remember my grandparents’ homes as having a kind of soul for me.  They were places I felt I belonged. Our family’s Moose Lake cabin had a soul for me too. 

Recent troubles at the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg seem to indicate that the stunning design of the building can’t override its troubled soul

I once led a discussion about a book called Treasure Palaces a collection of essays by well-known authors who talked about the museums and art galleries that have touched their souls in some special way and brought them back for many visits. 

The church I attended in Hong Kong Tao Fong Shan had a soul for me.  I think it was the way the building was designed but also it’s setting high on a hill surrounded by trees and rocks and the quiet oasis it offered in a noisy city that lived life at a very fast pace. 

I asked the architect I interviewed, how we could know for certain that a building accurately reflected the soul of the community it housed. He told me the soul of a building could not be measured. It was something that could be discerned only with the heart.

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Filed under Culture, Reflections

What is Sin?

I am preparing for an upcoming sermon on the topic of sin. I needed some ideas so I posted the question What is sin? on the home page of a Facebook group I belong to. The group’s purpose is to foster discussion on how one might best follow the example of Jesus in our modern world.

People in the group were obviously interested in my question since I received nearly a hundred responses. Here are some examples.  I have combined or summarized ideas that were very much the same. 

Sin is………….

  • Missing the mark like in archery. You aim for perfection but fall short. 
  • Spending your time and energy and money on the wrong things. 
  • Selfishness
  • The opposite of good
  • Anything less than love
  • Using an illegitimate means to achieve a legitimate end
  • Disrespect
  • Not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Ignoring love
  • Going your own way instead of God’s way
  • Idolatry
  • Something that breaks trust
  • Something that leads you away from a good and purposeful life
  • Pushing God away
  • Not listening
  • Missing an opportunity to love
  • Abusing power
  • Thinking you have the right to choose your own reality
  • A lack of integrity
  • Making bad choices
  • Sin and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin and the relationship between them is hope 
  • Anything that is out of kilter with what you were created to be or meant to be

There are two definitions that I am going to expand on in my sermon. 

  • Sin is anything that causes harm to your relationship with yourself, others, the earth or God. 
  • Sin is the refusal to grow. 

I am very grateful to all the people who took the time to respond to my query. How would you answer the question What is sin? 

Other posts……..

Silent Prey

Blaming Satan is Misguided and Dangerous

A Black and White Religion




Filed under Religion

A Lament For Letters

During one summer of our courtship, my husband Dave and I were separated for several months because we had jobs in different countries. We exchanged letters about two or three times a week. I have saved them all and frequently re-read them.

The emotions, ideas and dreams expressed in those letters have been a real source of encouragement and strength during our nearly five decades of marriage. We were poor college students in 1972 so we couldn’t afford to call each other during our summer apart and it was long before everyone had personal computers.  The only way we could communicate regularly was through cards and letters.

My grandparents on their anniversary

At my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, two of my aunts, who both had lived most of their lives in places far from their mother’s Manitoba home, presented a readers theatre that gave a humorous and entertaining look at our extended family’s history. Every line of the dramatic script was an excerpt from one of the hundreds of letters my grandmother had written to her daughters.

Heinrich Enns and his wife Gertrude my husband Dave’s grandparents

My husband’s grandfather Heinrich Enns was doing alternative service in a forestry camp in Ukraine in the late 1800s. He went to church with a buddy and met a girl named Gertrude Unruh. He had to go back to the camp but he wrote Gertrude such passionate and beautiful letters, she agreed to marry him.

Gertrude and Heinrich during wartime. You can see Heinrich’s medical hat with the red cross on the table.

Later during World War I when he was serving as a medic in Moscow his letters were the ones all the villagers back home wanted to hear read aloud because they provided such a descriptive and informative picture of the battlefront. In those letters, he was also able to offer advice and encouragement to his young wife who was trying to run their large estate alone during his absence.

Personal letters are a special and unique form of communication. Somehow e-mail missives just aren’t the same as handwritten letters. 

Silver ink well I inherited from my maternal grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt. Grandma received it as a Christmas gift from her brother Henry in 1911

I lament the loss of personal letters every time I look at this lovely heirloom letter writing set I inherited from my maternal grandmother Annie Schmidt.  She had beautiful handwriting and wrote many letters to family members. 

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Mailboxes in Arizona


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Filed under Family, Writing

My Mom’s Button Box

My mother collected buttons in this button box

After my mother died my siblings and I helped our Dad sort through Mom’s personal belongings and each of us took things home that had special meaning for us.  I asked my family if I could have Mom’s button box.  Mom had a button box for as long as I can remember. She kept buttons in the same tin container my whole life. 

She put buttons in it that she cut off old clothes before turning them into rags. If she bought buttons for a sewing project and didn’t use them all….. into the box they went. If she ever needed a button she was almost certain to find what she needed in her button box. 

As a child, I remember playing with the buttons. I sometimes sorted them by size and shape and colour. Sometimes I turned them into characters in stories I acted out. Often I used them for art projects. Sometimes I would try to pick out my five favourite buttons.

Mom’s collection of unique and interesting buttons reminds me of how our world is a collection of unique and interesting people.  They remind me things can be used more than once and shouldn’t just be thrown away.  They remind me that ordinary things can be the inspiration for creativity. They remind me of my Mom. 

Other posts……

Why Do People Collect Things? 


Filed under Family

Imagine Van Gogh- Thumbs Up or Down?

I’d heard some really great things about the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit currently installed at the Winnipeg Convention Centre and I’d read some fairly critical things as well. Yesterday I went to see for myself.

I will readily admit my opinion of  Imagine Van Gogh was coloured by the fact that I was excited about attending an actual cultural event with other people, something that is all too rare during the time of COVID.

All precautions were taken. We were in a huge space and no more than five people were in a group. We wore masks, sanitized our hands and guides made sure we stayed six feet apart.

 Some entertainment writers and culture critics have given Imagination Van Gogh a thumbs down because viewers are not in control of when they see the art. If you visit Van Gogh’s work in person in a more conventional gallery you can look at each painting for as long as you like. During Imagination Van Gogh the images change at the will of the exhibit designers. 

There is a bit of historical information about Van Gogh to read before you enter the projection room but critics say people really learn very little about Van Gogh and his life from the exhibit. Cynics claim most visitors are just there to take photos to put on Instagram. Van Gogh’s original works are quite small but the projections in Imagine Van Gogh are huge and some viewers feel like they are trapped or drowning in the images. Others say Imagine Van Gogh is just a kind of crass commercialization of art.  

With Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

I have seen the work of Van Gogh in art galleries around the world. For me, Imagine Van Gogh wasn’t a lesser experience it was just a different one.  Van Gogh’s work was displayed all around us, including on the floor, and I liked the feeling of being surrounded by the colours and shapes and magnified brush strokes of Van Gogh. I could see his works from different perspectives, angles and distances. Sometimes it was almost as if Van Gogh was creating in front of my eyes as the paintings grew and changed while I watched.

All the classic pieces were there. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Irises, his Bedroom at Arles and Starry Night. We saw his famous self -portrait painted after he had severed his ear. I think my favourite piece was First Steps which showed a child learning to walk. I found it particularly poignant because it portrayed an endearing moment in family life that VanGogh never got to experience himself  because of his troubled personal relationships and struggles with mental health. I was intrigued by Van Gogh’s painting of a Japanese woman in traditional dress. I knew many of the French impressionists had been influenced by Japanese prints as had the American artist Mary Cassatt but hadn’t been aware of the Japanese influence on Van Gogh’s work.

 The classical music pieces that had been selected to accompany the show added to my enjoyment of the experience. Although I am glad I have had the opportunity to see Van Gogh’s work in person in the past, most galleries only have one or two paintings. Here I was treated to dozens of them at once.

I am glad we went to see Imagine Van Gogh.

Art can be appreciated in all kinds of ways and finding new methods of making art interesting and inviting to a wider audience especially during a global pandemic is something to be applauded. I’d give the experience a ‘thumbs up.’

Other posts……….

Is It Art? 

Works of Art of Historical Documents?

Hutterite Artists


Filed under Art, Winnipeg