Monthly Archives: October 2020
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.
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 strong…..
I stumble my way towards the mirror…….
Face just what I’m made of.
Well, I’m not young, but I’m not through.
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.
In 1902 the Krug family decided to sponsor an amusement park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
- Missing the mark like in archery. You aim for perfection but fall short.
- Spending your time and energy and money on the wrong things.
- The opposite of good
- Anything less than love
- Using an illegitimate means to achieve a legitimate end
- Not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
- Ignoring love
- Going your own way instead of God’s way
- 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
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.’