Monthly Archives: November 2020

The Advent Books

I became a grandmother for the first time eight and a half years ago and now I am blessed with four wonderful grandchildren. For my oldest grandchild’s first Christmas in 2012, I sent him a Christmas book. It is a tradition I have carried on ever since. The first Sunday of advent each of my grandchildren gets a Christmas book selected especially for them, usually with some socks, or gloves for the season.

Near the middle of November, I go to the children’s section of McNally Robinson Booksellers and gather an armful of interesting looking Christmas books from their shelves. Then I plunk myself down in one of their cosy chairs and read through them all till I have found the perfect book for each grandchild.

Pandemic times required a different approach. I did my research online, placed my order over the phone and used McNally’s curbside pick-up service to get the books.

This year I selected a new book by Eric Wilson for my eight-year-old grandson called The Boy Who Moved Christmas. It is a touching story of how a town banded together to create a Christmas in October for a little boy who was dying and wouldn’t live till December. I also added It’s Snowing which has poems by one of my favourite poets for kids- Jack Prelutsky. My son recently sent me a video of my oldest grandson reciting a poem for his school class and he performed with such flair and expression I thought he might enjoy reading some of the Prelutsky poems to his brother and sister. My four-year-old grandson is getting The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen.  Beautifully illustrated with watercolour paintings it tells the story of a little girl who helps a reindeer who is lost find its way back to  Santa. For my one and a half-year-old granddaughter, I have chosen Ten Little Reindeer written and illustrated by Johnny Lambert.  Its a counting book that I think she’ll have lots of fun listening to and chiming in on once she catches on to the delightful pattern of the text. My newest granddaughter who will be just a month and a half at Christmas is receiving A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, a Canadian version of the classic The Twelve Days of Christmas. It is a book much beloved by her cousins. I splurged a little on her clothing item going beyond the usual socks or mittens to include a festive little outfit.  It reminds me of a Christmas outfit of her Dad’s at that age. He was also a November baby. Wrapping and sending off the Christmas books to my grandchildren is always my first step in getting ready for Christmas.  I know I won’t be able to see my grandchildren in person this Christmas but I am going to try and figure out ways to carry on with as many of our Christmas traditions as possible despite that. 

Other posts……….

Christmas Books 2019

Children’s’ Christmas Books The Classics

Books For Advent



Filed under Books, Childhood, Holidays

Stories of Brokenness

My husband Dave poses with the sculpture Broken Jug by Frank Stella. I photographed him at Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon in January of 2018

When I was a little girl I accidentally broke a cut glass sugar bowl that my mother had inherited from her grandmother. I don’t remember exactly how I came to drop the bowl but I do remember the look on my mother’s face when it shattered on the floor. She didn’t get angry but she looked so incredibly sad and then she started to cry. I felt just terrible.

It is painful to be the cause of someone else’s brokenness, especially if you didn’t mean to hurt them.

Broken tree embraces a car on my street. The photo was taken on September 9, 2020

As teenagers, both of my sons had their hearts broken by young women who ended relationships with them. I can still hear the brokenness in their voices when they told me and remember how frantically my mind raced as I tried to think about what I could do to ease the pain they were feeling. Later they both found life partners who have brought them much happiness and so I know the end of those relationships was probably the best thing. But I haven’t forgotten how helpless I felt as I witnessed my children’s brokenness and tried to provide some empathy and encouragement to them.

Our natural instinct is to reach out to those we love when they are experiencing brokenness.

Broken tree I photographed in Beaudry Park on November 26, 2020

I have broken relationships in my life. I have hope that some will heal. I have tried to make peace with the fact that some will never heal completely. I have found there is only so much you can do to heal a broken relationship. At some point, your own sense of self-respect and integrity is on the line and you can’t cross it to heal the brokenness so you just need to let it be and not let it damage you or other whole relationships you have.

Not all brokenness can be mended completely or without lasting scars. 

I photographed these boys playing on broken tree branches near Luang Prabang in Laos in the spring of 2009. 

I was once observing a science lesson in an elementary school classroom where the student-teacher I was mentoring was doing a tug of war activity with the children. She was using the game to illustrate different concepts of force and motion. And then suddenly the rope broke! I thought the young teacher would be flustered as her lesson plan went awry but instead, she asked questions and initiated a discussion with the children that made the broken rope a really educational experience for them.

We can learn things from experiences of brokenness.

Kosovar boy looks through a bullet hole in a broken bus window in 1998. Photo by Yannis Behrakis. I was given permission to take a photo of this image at an art exhibit in Dubrovnik in September of 2019

I broke my wrist in December of 2017 and the first x-ray didn’t show it was broken. When the pain didn’t go away for weeks I went to get another x-ray and they discovered my wrist was indeed broken and there was a reason I’d been having all that pain. Sometimes we may not accept that a relationship or perhaps our own spirits and hearts have been broken but when the pain persists we are forced to face that fact.

It isn’t always easy to recognize and acknowledge brokenness.

The art piece Sphere Within A Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro shows a broken world. I photographed it at the Vatican in February of 2010. 

Our world seems so broken right now.

In this uncertain and stressful time, it is healthy to recognize the brokenness we may be experiencing and the brokenness we may have caused for others.

Our hearts will be enlarged when we show empathy for the brokenness we witness.

There are things all of us can do to heal the brokenness in our world, in our communities and in our families but we need to accept the fact that we can’t mend it all.

We can learn a great deal from our experience with brokenness.

Other posts……..

Come Healing

Lisbon By Design

War is Hell- Especially For Children

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Filed under Reflections

The Whole World Is Watching

Dave and I watched the movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 recently on Netflix. It tells the story of a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters who were charged with crossing state lines to create riots and incite violence at the site of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Five months after the convention a politically motivated John Mitchell, the attorney general for newly elected President Richard Nixon brought charges against the protestors.

Directed by Aaron Sorkin, the movie shows us the trial of the protestors and the actions that led up to it. As the accused men enter the courtroom they are cheered on by throngs of supporters holding signs and chanting “The Whole World is Watching.”

The phrase was the same one chanted by the protestors when they were beaten and arrested by the police outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago during the convention. As police were pounding the protestors with night sticks and herding them into vans they were shouting “the whole world is watching” because they knew that the event was being taped by news reporters and would be shown on television.

The Problem We All Live With- by Norman Rockwell shows Ruby Bridges being escorted by United States Marshalls to an all white school in 1960.

Apparently the phrase “the whole world is watching” was first used during the fight to integrate schools in the United States in 1957. As I watched The Trail of the Chicago 7 I thought about how the scope and meaning of the phrase has changed so much since 1968.

The first social media platforms were used in 1997 some thirty years later and they truly do allow the “whole world to watch” in a visceral fashion as newsworthy events take place. When George Floyd died while a police officer knelt on his neck “the whole world was watching” in a way they never could of during the Vietnam war protests.

The Chicago 7 were found guilty despite the fact that the world could watch the blatant discrimination and prejudice with which they were treated during their trial.

And in one case after another police officers who have been charged with using unnecessary violence causing injury or death for black victims have been found innocent.

Donald Trump still garnered the support of 73 million Americans despite the fact that his corrupt, immoral and criminal actions were done in full view of “the whole world watching” for four years.

Does having “the whole world watch” truly make a difference?

Other posts…………..

Higher Ground

After Life and American Son

Four Things to Love about the 2020 Oscars

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Filed under Movies

Looking For The Spirit of the Woods

One of our walking adventures this week was exploring the Bois -de-esprits trail which begins at 650 Shorehill Drive in Winnipeg.   The trail is named for the wooded area it winds through. Translated its name means Woods Where the Spirits Dwell. According to the Save our Seine website Bois-de-esprits is one of the largest pristine urban forests in Canada. I learned that two decades ago this forest was scheduled to become part of a housing development but concerned citizens stepped up to save 117 acres of it.  The trails were created in a way that required as few trees as possible to be taken down. The woods are full of wildlife and we must have seen more than twenty deer during our 5-kilometre walk. The Bois de espirts trail is well known for this sculpture in a tree trunk. The tree had died from Dutch Elm disease.  It was carved by Walter Mirosh and Robert Leclair from Les Gens de Bois Woodcarving Club. The sculpture was given its name Woody in English or Mhitik in Ojibway at a special Indigenous feast and ceremony in 2006.

There were carvings on both sides of the tree but unfortunately, arsonists have damaged the one side. 

There are several lovely paths to follow, one that runs through the heart of the forest and another along the Seine River. We walked both. I just loved the colours of the golden grasses against the stark brown branches. Besides Woody, there are all kinds of other sculptures in tree trunks in the woods made by various artists.  I don’t think we found them all but we discovered quite a few.

I’d love to go back sometime and find more carvings. We won’t be getting together with our grandchildren this year for Christmas but another year I think it would be lots of fun to go looking for the ‘spirits’ in the woods on this trail with them. 

Other posts………..

A Bird On My Hand

Living Beings Just Like Us?

The Stranger in the Woods


Filed under Nature, Winnipeg

The Post Election Priorities of American Christians

The Institute on Religion and Public Life published an article this week by Kenneth Craycraft who claims that the newly elected Biden/Harris administration will implement policies in direct conflict with Christian morality. 

And what are those policies that will offend Christian morals? 

Abortion and gender identity. The Biden administration will protect a woman’s right to control her own body and make it easier for women to have abortions and obtain contraception. Biden will also enforce Obama era policies that require schools and workplaces to respect someone’s gender choice and to offer gender-neutral washrooms and locker rooms.  

Biden’s plans in these areas,  according to Craycraft, should be morally repugnant to Christians. Biden will infringe on Christian freedoms by forcing Christian employers to provide for abortion and contraception in their medical plans.  The rights of Christian schools and workplaces will be violated if they are forced to comply with Biden’s gender-neutral mandates. 

Jesus had nothing to say about either abortion or gender identity but for some reason, these are issues that Craycraft suggests American Christians take very seriously as their new president comes to power. 

Might I suggest that instead, Christians like Craycraft evaluate Biden on the policies he will initiate that address things Jesus did talk about?  Things like affordable health care, poverty reduction and increased immigration? Unlike abortion and gender identity, which are topics about which Jesus was silent, Jesus had a whole lot to say about healing the sick, caring for the poor and welcoming the stranger. 

As I’ve said so many times before in my blog posts, research makes clear stricter abortion laws don’t reduce abortion numbers although there are many other political initiatives that do.  And I simply don’t understand why gender-neutral washrooms should bother anyone.  We all have them in our homes. 

If Craycraft wants to find reprehensible things for American Christians to examine he might turn his attention to the lines that stretch as far as the eye can see at food banks across America while the profits of billionaires in the country soar. Now that’s truly morally repugnant. By comparison, laws that will be ineffective at reducing abortions and worrying about washrooms that won’t hurt anyone seem petty concerns at best. 

I realize however that there are millions of American Christians who agree with Craycraft’s concerns and priorities. It leaves me puzzled and incredulous. How do I begin to understand such a mindset in those who share my faith? 

Other posts……….

Pro-Choice and Pro-Life – What Might We Have in Common?

Responding to Changing Understandings of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Gender-Neutral Washrooms

Three Things I Couldn’t Get Out of My Head As I Watched The Two Popes

Your One Wild and Precious Life




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Filed under Religion

Mark Twain is a Character In My Novel

“Have you met Mark Twain?” a student asked when I showed a high school English class of mine the photo below.  No doubt meeting the great author in person would have been an interesting experience but this photo was taken in Hannibal Missouri more than a hundred years after Mark Twain died in 1910. Although I didn’t meet Mark Twain in person the main character in my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie does. 

The man I’m posing with is actor Richard Garey. I attended his one-man show about Mark Twain. Standing on a stage crammed with Twain memorabilia, Richard did a lively and educational re-creation of one of Mark Twain’s lectures. Mark Twain travelled across the United States entertaining crowds of people in the late 1800s.  

In my novel Lost on the Prairie, coming out this spring, my hero Peter meets Mark Twain in an elevator in a hotel in Minneapolis. It is 1907 just three years before the writer’s death. Of course, I have no idea if Mark Twain was in Minneapolis that year. He certainly wasn’t there on an official visit to promote his books, because those visits are all a matter of public record.

The West Hotel in Minneapolis in 1896. Mark Twain stayed here on his visits to Minneapolis.

But he had been in Minneapolis quite a few times and had always stayed at the West Hotel which is where he meets my book’s hero Peter. So it was possible for me to imagine that he may have made a personal trip to Minneapolis in 1907.

When I attended the Mark Twain drama performance in Hannibal I learned lots of interesting things about the author. He was born and died in years when Halley’s Comet passed by the earth. Due to his wife Olivia’s influence, he became a slavery abolitionist. Twain was a pipe smoker and loved cats. He was a poor financier and lost a great deal of money investing in various inventions. I knew Mark Twain was a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens but I found out Twain used another pseudonym as well Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. 

For the purposes of my novel, I needed to learn about Mark Twain’s family life and it was very tragic. In 1907 when my novel takes place he was struggling with the deaths and illnesses of his wife and three daughters and was dealing with it by drinking too much.

Meeting Mark Twain causes my novel’s character Peter to reflect on how life circumstances can change a person. Peter thinks about how his experience of being lost on the prairie has changed him.

Other posts………

A Novel for Peter

Enola Holmes

James Bond is From Winnipeg


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Filed under Lost on the Prairie

A Bird on the Hand

We went for a long hike in the Assiniboine Forest on Sunday afternoon. Dave as always was on the lookout for birds to photograph. He was shelling peanuts and eating them as we walked. A little chickadee kept landing on the trees along the trail right beside us.

“I think that bird is interested in my peanuts,” Dave said. “I bet it can smell them.”

Dave told me to crack a peanut and hold it in my hand. He figured the chickadee might land on my hand to eat the peanut. And it did!

I kept putting new peanuts on my glove and the chickadee kept flying in, landing on my hand and diligently pecking at the peanut bits until it had managed to pick one up. Then it flew away to eat its tasty treasure. Later I found out this is typical behaviour for chickadees. If they visit a bird feeder for example they will take a seed and then fly away to eat it. How delightful to feel the chickadee’s delicate little feet on my fingers and its sharp tiny bill tickling my palm. The bird was truly light as a feather. I was amazed that this little chickadee would trust a stranger and sit on my hand as if it were nothing more than another twig on a tree. Up close I could see the chickadee’s white cheeks and sporty black bib. Its black cap seemed to be pulled down over its eyes.  

According to Jennifer Ackerman author of The Genius of Birds, “Chickadees are generally unfazed by people… they possess a deep-rooted self-confidence, and will investigate everything inside their home territory.”  

Oh to have the confidence and curiosity of a chickadee.  

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Filed under Nature

I Can’t Say I Don’t Know Anyone With COVID-19 Anymore

I used to be able to say I didn’t personally know anyone who had contracted COVID-19 or anyone who had died as a result of the disease.

Windmill on the grounds of the Steinbach Mennonite Heritage Village Museum

Not anymore. I spent over thirty years living and working in Steinbach and since it currently has one of the highest positivity rates for COVID in Canada I know many people with COVID-19. 

A former teaching colleague and a former work supervisor of mine have died of COVID. People I golfed with, attended church with, who were my high school classmates, who were my students, who were our neighbours, whose children played sports with mine, whose businesses I patronized, who sang in choirs with me, were my health care providers, and who I served with on committees have all tested positive for COVID. 

They say our attitudes and ideas change once we experience something personally. MADD ( Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) is an influential organization formed by people who were galvanized to take action after losing a loved one to drinking and driving. Lucy McBath is an American Congresswoman who was motivated to run for political office after her son was the victim of gun violence. Gun control has now become a passionate issue for her.

Many of us have may have not have taken COVID-19 as seriously as we should have. But having it touch someone we know makes it a great deal more real and sobering. Hopefully, it can motivate us to follow all the health guidelines religiously and to publicly advocate that others do so too.

I wish I could still say that I don’t know anyone who’s had COVID-19 or has died from it. But I can’t.

I can however do my small part to follow the health guidelines and urge others to do so too. I certainly don’t want the circle of people I know who have contracted COVID-19 to expand anymore.

Other posts……….

I Should Have Said Something But Its Too Late Now

Not A Stop Sign But A Heart

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105-year-old Photo

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary

A Book For A New Grandma

I became a grandmother for the fourth time two weeks ago when my lovely little granddaughter Nora Dot was born. My thoughtful friend Marilyn sent me a book as a Grandma Gift.  I hadn’t received a Grandma Gift before but I LOVED this one.

Maud and Grand-Maud is a book that was published just this year and is an absolutely delightful story by Sara O’Leary illustrated with the most gorgeous watercolours by Kenard Pak. It tells the story of a girl named Maud who goes to her Grand-Maud’s house for sleepovers.

They wear matching nightgowns Grand Maud made for them and watch old black and white movies together while eating a supper made up of breakfast foods. 

Grand Maud tells Maud about when she was a little girl and encourages Maud to imagine what her life will be like when she is a grown-up. 

But best of all Grand Maud keeps a treasure box under the bed Maud sleeps in and every time she comes to visit there is something interesting and special in the box.  You will have to read the book for yourself to find out what kinds of wonders are in it. 

This book would make a simply marvellous Christmas gift for any Grandma on your list or grandchild for that matter.  It is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Thanks, Marilyn.  You are the best!

Other posts………

 A Love Letter To McNally Robinson Booksellers

Four Grandmothers

When My Grandmother Was Twelve Years Old


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Filed under Books

Living at the Hospital- 1959-1960

On a bike ride this week I stopped to take a photo at my former home

I lived at a hospital for a year. When I was five my family made our home in the McEwen Building on the grounds of the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.  Named after Dr Sanger McEwen a former medical director of the hospital, the building currently houses the St. Boniface psychiatry department. But when I lived there it was an apartment block for interns who were completing their medical degrees.  

Photo of the McEwen Building from the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation website

In the summer of 1959, my family moved into one of the many apartments in the McEwen Building since my father who was a medical student at the University of Manitoba was doing his year of internship at the St. Boniface Hospital. 

Dad and his fellow interns at St. Boniface Hospital 1958-59.  My Dad is in the back row third from the right. 

Our family was assigned a one-bedroom apartment.  My parents shared the bedroom with my baby brother who had been born in February of 1958 and I slept on a fold-out couch in the living room with my sister who was three years old. I can remember when we first moved I would wake up at night because I heard the trains on the tracks just across the river, but later I got used to the sound. This postcard was used to advertise the internship program at the St. Boniface Hospital. It features a photo of my mother and my sister sitting at the piano in our apartment. My mother was a talented pianist and college music graduate. This Heintzman piano was a part of every house I lived in as a child. My sister still has it in her home. You can see the small kitchen and our table pushed up against the wall to the left.  When we had guests the table was pulled into the living room so we could sit all around it.nun's christmas st. boniface
There were many other young families living in the building and my mother made friends with the wives of other interns and we often played with their children. There was a large common room in the McEwen Building. At Christmas time in 1959, the Grey Nuns who ran the St. Boniface Hospital hosted a party for the children of the interns. We played games and ate goodies and each of us received a gift from Santa. In the photo, I am sitting on Santa’s knee with my friend Candice. The nuns are walking in with more gifts to add to the pile under the tree.

Marion School built in 1950-photo from the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation website

While we lived at the hospital I attended grade one at Marion School. It was primarily a French school but my class was in English. I took a Winnipeg City Transit bus all on my own to school since Mom thought that was safer than having me walk a mile down busy Provencher Boulevard.

My grade one class during the 1959-1960 academic year at Marion School with our teacher Ms Bourreau. I am third from the left in the second row. 

Some of my memories of grade one include being made to stand in the corner because I dropped my thermos in the lunchroom and broke it. This made a noise and we were NEVER to make a sound in the lunchroom. I also remember sitting out in the hall all alone when the priest came to give lessons that would prepare my classmates for taking their first communion. My Mennonite parents asked I be excused from these lessons.

Photo by Canadian Heritage- Queen Elizabeth visits Winnipeg in 1959

One of my memories of living in the McEwen Building was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Winnipeg in the summer of 1959. My father took me up onto the roof of the St. Boniface Hospital so he and I could have a bird’s eye view of the queen as she rode down Tache Avenue in her motorcade. I was so excited to see the queen but also so excited to be doing something special with my Dad. I’ve been on a pilgrimage of sorts to visit all of the different places where I lived in Winnipeg as a child. This week I went back to my third home in the city. 

Want to read about my previous visits to my past homes?

My First Home on Dundurn Place

It’s So Beautiful! My Old House

Other posts related to this one……….

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

The Clapper

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun? 


Filed under Childhood, My Old House