Monthly Archives: April 2021

A Dedication For My Book

One of the things I had to decide just before my novel Lost on the Prairie went to the printer was whose name would be on the dedication page of the book. There are so many people whose help, affirmation, advice and support made it possible for me to have my novel published. But there was one person I knew deserved the most thanks and that was my mother.

Dedication on my first page of my book

Mom always believed in me as a writer. When I was ten and had my very first story published in the local newspaper she framed it. When I got a job as a columnist for a regional newspaper in 1985 she cut my article out of the paper every single week. She saved all my columns in albums for decades. She was always ready to pitch in with childcare and meal preparation when I needed a little extra time to finish a writing project.

She read everything I wrote and during the many years she and I went for regular early morning walks in Steinbach she encouraged me as I described new writing assignments for magazines, journals, curriculum developers and anthologies.

When I went to visit her in the hospital the last couple of years of her life she would tell the nursing staff, “My daughter is a writer.”

In the acknowledgements at the end of my book I am able to thank the many people who helped me along the way- the members of my writers’ group who were such helpful critics, my husband Dave who organized an amazing research trip for the book, members of my family and friends who supported me, my cultural advisors from the Sisseton Wahpeton First Nation, Deborah Froese who was my first editor and the wonderful staff at Heritage House my publisher.

I am so grateful to all of them but it was my Mom who was my number one cheerleader in every area of my life. I fully realize that without her confidence and faith in me I wouldn’t have done a lot of things including getting my novel published.

My Mom died in 2013 and I regret she won’t be here to see my book for sale in bookstores or read it. But I know exactly what words she’d say if she was here, because I heard them so many times in my life- “I just knew you could do it MaryLou!”

My book is now ready for pre-order at McNally Robinson Bookstores in Winnipeg and Saskatoon. I’d love it if you gave them a call and reserved a copy so they will be sure to have enough on hand when the book comes out on May 28th.

You can also pre-order the book on Amazon and Indigo and it would be great if you did that too. It will help create some important ‘buzz’ for the book.

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Sex Selective Abortion

Photo of Cathy Wagantall from her official website

The Sex Selective Abortion Act- Bill C-233 is currently being debated in Parliament. It was introduced by Conservative MP Cathy Wagantall. She wants to protect female babies from being aborted because of their gender.  If the bill passes doctors would be criminally charged for knowingly performing sex selective abortions. Polling shows most Canadians think sex selective abortion is unethical. I do too. But I don’t support the passage of Bill C-233. Here’s why. 

Bill C-233 would do nothing to curb sex selective abortion.  Women don’t have to tell their doctor why they want an abortion and if this bill passed they would be even more cautious about disclosing the fact their unborn child’s gender influenced their abortion decision. Doctors worried about criminal charges would hesitate to press patients for too much information about their abortion request.

Of course, decades of research has shown that making abortion illegal in a country does not cause a significant drop in the abortion rate. A recent Guttmacher Institute study found abortion rates are actually four times higher in low- income countries where abortion is prohibited than in high income countries where it is legal. If Bill C-233 passed it would do nothing to lower the already declining abortion rate in Canada. 

Secondly, twelve weeks gestation is the earliest the gender of an unborn child can be reliably determined.  90% of abortions in Canada take place before twelve weeks.  Clearly Bill C-233 is narrow and would do little to impact the larger issue Ms. Wagantall would really like to see addressed. 

Thirdly, based on the data I could find, sex selective abortions happen primarily in new immigrant families because people have brought ideas about gender preference to Canada from their home countries.  Rather than wasting time championing ineffective legislation, perhaps we should focus our efforts on better educating expectant parents from immigrant communities about the opportunities available to their unborn daughters in Canada. Research shows sex selective abortions all but disappear in second and third generation immigrant families.

In China sex selective abortion has created a gender imbalance that has resulted in major societal problems. Chinese families think a male child will be able to support them better in their old age and will bring more prestige to the family name. 

Photo I took of a grandmother and her grandson in Tiananmen Square Beijing

Banning sex selective abortions in China has proved ineffective at stopping them, but what has helped is increasing employment opportunities for women. In areas where a concentrated plan of affirmative action and greater pay equity has been implemented in industry and business spheres, sex selective abortions have been substantially reduced. When parents know their female children have an equal opportunity to support them financially and bring recognition to their family they don’t feel the need for sex selective abortions.  

I don’t know if Ms. Wagantall has been a passionate supporter of affirmative action and equal pay for women, but those might be areas where she could more productively focus her energies. We know economic and career concerns are reasons women often have abortions, so let’s do what we can to make sure women have every advantage. 

Even Erin O’Toole the Conservative Party Leader plans to vote against Bill C-233

Finally, I don’t support Bill C-233 because it contradicts the platform of the Conservative Party of which Ms. Wagantall is a member. That makes me wonder if she has proposed the bill primarily for political reasons to bolster the profile of a certain wing of her party. Conservative leader Erin O Toole has assured Canadians his party will not reopen the abortion debate. Yet here is a member of his party doing exactly that. 

It is sad sex selective abortions happen in Canada. There are constructive things we can do to address the problem. Passing Bill C-233 isn’t one of them. 

Other posts……..

Does a Female Finance Minister Make a Difference?

The Post Election Priorities of American Christians

A Spark of Light

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Filed under Canada, Health, Politics

I’m Glad She Made A Mistake

One of the first things writer Ariel Gordon did during Monday’s meeting of the Winnipeg Free Press Book Club was confess that her popular book Treed contained a major error. Ariel had written that Winnipeg has more than 8 million trees when in actual fact only 3.3 million trees populate the city. The mistake wasn’t Ariel’s fault because just after her book came out a new method for counting urban trees was implemented and it was discovered the former estimate of 8 million trees in Winnipeg was way off the mark.

I was glad to learn Ariel had made a mistake because after reading her book I was determined to follow her suggestion to develop friendships with individual trees in Winnipeg. Ariel wrote that if you divided the number of trees in the city by the number of citizens we’d each have eleven trees to call our own. I admit that number seemed somewhat daunting to me. How could I maintain friendships with eleven trees? Using the new figures however I only need to get to know four Winnipeg trees in an intimate way. I figure I can handle that!

Photo of Ariel Gordon from her Twitter page

How to make friends with trees is only one of many interesting things you learn while reading Treed by Ariel Gordon. In fact I wondered after I had finished the book why she called it Treed because she writes about so many other fascinating things. Mushrooms are another passion of Ariel’s and in her book you can read about her adventure harvesting mushrooms at the former home of the famous Winnipeg suffragette Nellie McClung.

Ariel is the kind of person who takes note of every living thing that shares her space. In one chapter of her book she is staying in a house in Langruth Manitoba and she writes about how she notices the exoskeletons of three orange ladybugs on the carpet, the buzzing flies on the walls, the swooping blackbirds and trembling aspens outside her window, the lowing of the neighbour’s cows and the golden raptor hovering over their stubble field. I think one of the most important things I learned from Ariel’s book was to take more deliberate notice of the living things all around me.

Trees in Old Market Square – I took this photo in 2012

Treed does contain many chapters that relate to Winnipeg trees. Ariel writes about the delights of the Assiniboine Forest, the history of Winnipeg’s famous Wolseley Elm, the fate of the trees in Central Park, weaving baskets from bark collected from dogwood trees on the banks of the Red River, the 11,000 Christmas trees the city recycles each year, the fact our city’s hydro poles come from trees and both how Winnipeg’s urban forest impacts climate change and how climate change impacts the urban forest.

In my very favourite passage in the book Ariel compares her relationship with her husband Mike to the seasonal cycle of a crabapple tree that stood on the yard of her childhood home.

If I had to criticize Ariel’s book it would be that she tantalizes the reader with bits of other stories that leave you yearning for more. Could you please write another book Ariel about your naturalist great grandfather who died in Antarctica studying whales and seals? I’d love to see you publish the poem you promised to a family who had lost men from two generations to war. Could you bring us up to date with a current news story about your frightening discovery of lead poisoning in St. Boniface?

This photo I took from the top of the Human Rights Museum in 2015 gives you an idea of just how TREED Winnipeg really is

As you can tell I really enjoyed Ariel’s book Treed and now that I realize she made a mistake with the Winnipeg tree count and I only need to befriend four Winnipeg trees I fully plan to do that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Other posts……..

Would You Want Your Child To Be A Doctor?

Finding Nellie’s House

A Bird on the Hand

Roof With a View

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Filed under Books, Nature, Winnipeg

Grandma Gets A Perm

I have been going through old journals where I’ve inserted all kinds of memorabilia and came across this photo of my grandmother. It was on the Christmas card I received from her in 1996. My grandfather had died in March of that year and at age 96 Grandma was an independent woman for the first time in her life.

In this photo taken by my Aunt Mary on my grandparents’ farm in Gnadenthal, Manitoba you can see how my Grandma has her long hair pulled back like most Mennonite women of her generation did.

Grandma had always had long hair, because my grandfather liked it that way. She wore it up in a bun at the back of her head. I remember as a little girl I once convinced her to let her hair down out of her bun for me so I could comb it and I couldn’t believe how long it was. It stretched almost to her waist.

In this photo my Grandpa is helping Grandma braid her long hair so she can put it up

After Grandpa died Grandma got her hair cut and had it permed. I remember going to visit her shortly after she had been to the beauty shop and being quite taken aback at the change in Grandma’s hairstyle. She told me how much she had admired and loved my other grandmother’s hair. My Mom’s mother, my Grandma Annie had short, perfectly white wavy hair.

My Grandma Annie had short, white wavy hair

Grandma said she had always longed to have hair like that and now that she could make her own decisions she had decided to get her hair cut and permed. Her new style was featured on her 1996 Christmas card.

Grandma’s signature on the back of the card includes her maiden name as well as her married name. Perhaps another sign of her new independence?

I also remember how that Christmas in 1996 we grandchildren each received an unusually generous cheque from Grandma and she told us to buy something with it that would remind us of her. I don’t recall what my husband Dave did with his half of the cheque, but after purchasing gifts from their great grandmother for both of my sons, I had enough money left to buy this bench. The seat opens up so you can store things inside. Twenty- five years later it still graces the front hallway of our home.

I think of Grandma every time I look at it.

Other posts………

My Grandmother’s Childhood

On My Grandparents’ Farm

My Grandma’s Guitar

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When is an Inuksuk Not an Inuksuk?

This marvellous 1989 sculpture on the rooftop of the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Manasie Akpaliapik is called Inuksuk. But I learned after I had worked at the art gallery for a couple of years that it actually wasn’t an inuksuk at all. It was an inunnguaq. What’s the difference?

Inuksuks on Foxe Peninsula- Baffin Island- photo by Ansgar Walk

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia inuksuit (the plural for inuksuk) also sometimes called Inukshuks have been found at sites that date from as long ago as 2400 BC. They are formations of rocks used by people across the Arctic as markers for all kinds of purposes- navigational routes, good kayak landing spots, good hunting and fishing sites, locations of celebrations and caches of meat. These markers can be in many different formations. 

Inunnguaq on the other hand are shaped like human beings and can venerate a person, mark a spot for people to meet, or have spiritual significance. 

Flag of Nunavut

So this symbol on the flag of the Canadian territory Nunavut is an inuksuk or inukshuk because although it looks somewhat like a human figure it does not have legs.

But in 2010 this symbol chosen for the Olympic Games in Vancouver was really an inunnguaq even though officials and the media regularly referred to it incorrectly as an inuksuk or inukshuk.

Piita Irniq, Inuit cultural activist, inuksuk builder, and former Nunavut commissioner, says it is important to distinguish between inuksuit and inunnguaqs because inunnguaqs have only been built in the last hundred years or so, largely by non-Inuit people, and are not authentic inuksuit.

Inuksuk- a lithograph by Gilbert Hay 1981- photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

There are inunnguaqs mistakenly called inukshuks or inuksuit all over the world.  

A statue in Hiroshima Japan donated by a variety of Canadian groups as a landmark for peace.

This statue in Hiroshima Japan is called an inukshuk on the plaque at its base although it is clearly an inunnguaq.

A inunnguaq in the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC

So when is an inuksuk not a Inuksuk?

When it’s an inunnguaq !

Other posts………..

Build Your Own

The Amazing Race- Driedger Style

Whalebone Sculptures

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A Passage For A Prince

The first Scripture passage read at Prince Phillip’s funeral last weekend was a poem from Sirach 43: 11-26. Sirach is one of the books of the apocrypha, a set of Scriptures that have not always been included in the Biblical canon. I hadn’t heard this particular passage before and it was so descriptive I decided to look for some photos of mine to illustrate it.

Rainbow near Vik Iceland

Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker; it shines with a supreme beauty, rounding the sky with its gleaming arc, a bow bent by the hands of the Most High. His command speeds the snow storm and sends the swift lightning to execute his sentence.

In the Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

To that end the storehouses are opened, and the clouds fly out like birds. By his mighty power the clouds are piled up and the hailstones broken small. The crash of his thunder makes the earth writhe, and, when he appears, an earthquake shakes the hills.

Icicles on the Royal Albert Hotel Winnipeg

At his will the south wind blows, the squall from the north and the hurricane. He scatters the snow-flakes like birds alighting; they settle like a swarm of locusts.The eye is dazzled by their beautiful whiteness, and as they fall the mind is entranced. He spreads frost on the earth like salt, and icicles form like pointed stakes.

Dew on a flower during an early morning walk in Leo Mol Gardens in Assiniboine Park

A cold blast from the north, and ice grows hard on the water, settling on every pool, as though the water were putting on a breastplate. He consumes the hills, scorches the wilderness, and withers the grass like fire. Cloudy weather quickly puts all to rights, and dew brings welcome relief after heat.

Orca seen on our kayaking trip in British Columbia

By the power of his thought he tamed the deep and planted it with islands. Those who sail the sea tell stories of its dangers, which astonish all who hear them; in it are strange and wonderful creatures, all kinds of living things and huge sea-monsters. By his own action he achieves his end, and by his word all things are held together.

Prince Philip was a passionate environmentalist who helped found the World Wildlife Fund and served for many years as its president. People eulogizing him in the last weeks frequently pointed to his dedication to conservation and environmental causes. Perhaps that explains why he chose this particular passage to be read at his funeral.

Other posts……..

Seeing the Queen

Getting to Know Richard II

My Husband Sits on a Throne

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Filed under Nature, Religion

I Taught Chisanbop

Do you know what Chisanbop is?  It’s a Korean method of learning to do math computation on your fingers that was used in North American schools in the 1970s and 80s. I took a course in the method and used it with my students for quite a number of years. Chisanbop attracted some media attention. My Elmdale School students and I were featured in an article about Chisanbop in our local Steinbach newspaper The Carillon. This photo accompanied the article. 

My students and I doing Chisanbop at Elmdale School

There was a story about Chisanbop in Macleans magazine where they interviewed my aunt Margaret Froese who along with her husband Dave taught the method to many teachers including me here in Manitoba. There was even a segment featuring Chisanbop on the Johnny Carson show and actor Fred McMurray of My Three Sons fame did advertisements for the Chisanbop system on television.

The system assigns a one, five or tens value to different fingers and children learn to do all the mathematical operations by manipulating their fingers quickly. The Chisanbop method was somewhat controversial because critics said it would prevent children from memorizing mathematical facts but as I searched for current articles about why counting on their fingers is bad for children learning math I couldn’t find a single one. Most educational researchers like Stanford professor Jo Baylor think learning to count on their fingers is actually critical to helping kids understand math.

I know after a time I stopped using Chisanbop in my classroom. I am not sure why. I would be interested in hearing from other teachers who may have used the method or students who remember being taught Chisanbop.

Other posts……….

Amazing Kids

A Different School Year

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

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A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

My favorite novel as a young girl was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare Published in 1958 the story is set in the 1860s. Kit Tyler, an orphan, has grown up in her grandfather’s home in Barbados. When Kit is a teenager he dies and circumstances force Kit to go and live with her very conservative Puritan relatives in New England. After being there for a time she is accused of witchcraft.

I think I loved the book as a young girl because Kit the protagonist is fiesty, independent and determined to stand up for those who are weaker than she is.

Kit and Nat- illustration by Christy Tortland.

I delighted in the tension of the romance that Kit has with a young sailor named Nat even though after the first time I read the book I knew exactly how it would turn out.  

Kit and Hannah-illustration by Christy Tortland

Kit has this wonderfully supportive mentor named Hannah, a woman who understands her and provides solace in tough times. I had a mother who was like that.  

Kit with Mercy and Judith -illustration by Christy Tortland

Mercy and Judith, Kit’s two cousins are a complete contrast in character and they reminded me of my own two cousins who were closest to me in age, one on each side of the family.  

I also really liked the fact that the book taught me so much history. I learned about the Salem witch trials, Quakers, Puritans and life in early New England. Kit charmed me because she had the courage to be different and go against the societal norms of the community in which she lived.  As a young girl I didn’t have the courage to do that, but I wished I did.

As an adult I’ve continued to appreciate The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I make a point of reading it again at least once every year. In the last decade as I have tried to become a writer for young people myself, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the writing genius of Elizabeth George Speare. She won many literary awards including the Newberry Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  Her characters are memorable and interesting.  Her plot has plenty of conflict. The setting is described beautifully and the pacing is perfect.

I’ve learned recently that since Speare’s novel was published during the McCarthy era in American history some people think she was using the book as a way to make a political statement. By describing Kit’s unfair accusation and trial for witchcraft in the 17th century, Elizabeth George Speare was actually commenting on the way many people in the United States in the 1950s were unfairly accused of being sympathizers with the Communist Party.

Image from @freepik

Today is World Book Day. It is a world wide celebration of books and reading designed to highlight the power of books to change lives and impart knowledge. It encourages people of all ages to understand the value of books and to read more. It promotes the idea that books serve as window into different worlds.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been that kind of book for me.

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand.” – Kit Tyler in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Other posts……..

I Read Canadian

The Magic Geranium

A Novel For Peter

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Filed under Books, Childhood

For the Beauty of the Earth

Sun rise in Praia da Luz Portugal
Mountains in Zion National Park Utah
Quetzal in San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica
Rock in Sedona Arizona
Mekong River in Laos
Swan on Lake Konstanz in Germany
Wild grasses in New Zealand
Fields in Vietnam
Water lily in Merida Mexico
Alligators in the Florida Keys
Winter trees in Steve Juba Park Winnipeg
Crab on the Black Sand Beach – The Big Island Hawaii
Hills in Gros Morne National Park Newfoundland
Kangaroos in The Hunter Valley Australia
Bee on a flower in Runaway Bay Jamaica
Sunset in Fiji

Happy Earth Day!

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Filed under Nature

Susie’s Babies

 “Tonight, after your brother is asleep, you girls can come to my room. We’re going to do something special.”

 My sister and I were seven and nine in 1962 when my mother whispered those words to us after supper one night. We were excited. My five- year- old brother wouldn’t be included in whatever was going to happen. Mom’s whisper indicated it was something secret and very interesting indeed.

When my mother was sure my little brother was asleep, she poked her head into our room where we were waiting in anticipation, and gestured it was time to come down to her bedroom. She invited us to jump up onto her bed and when we were sitting snugly tucked in on either side of her, she took out a book called Susie’s Babies. There was a hamster on the front cover. She told us she would be reading us one chapter of the book every night and we could stop her anytime to ask questions.

 Susie’s Babies, published in 1960, is the story of an elementary school class that has a pet hamster who is pregnant. The book’s flyleaf calls it “a gentle and charming way to explain the miracle of birth to your children with wholesomeness and reverence.” The students in the story follow Susie the hamster through each day of her pregnancy and observe her nurturing her baby hamsters.  My mother used the book as a springboard for talking to us frankly about sex.

My siblings and I with our new baby brother

After my mother finished reading us Susie’s Babies she told us she was pregnant and in six months we would have a new brother or sister.  Throughout her pregnancy Mom let us continue to ask questions and explained the changes that were taking place as our new sibling grew and developed. She talked to us about what would happen when the baby was born. The birth of my youngest brother was such an important and meaningful event in our lives because Mom had shared the experience with my sister and me almost right from the start of her pregnancy.

Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have a mother in the early 1960s who thought it was important to impart the facts of life in such a positive and honest way.   I found out later many of my friends had been left completely in the dark about the physical changes they would experience when they reached adolescence and had no idea how you got pregnant. This lack of information left them fearful and uninformed about sex, a reality that sometimes led to disastrous consequences. We lived in a small, very religiously conservative community, so there was no sex education in the schools. 

 When my mother was in her eighties, she told me that her own mother had never given her any information about sex. Consequently, her wedding night had been a shocking experience and she had been anxious and scared when she became pregnant for the first time. Mom wanted things to be different for her own daughters. Thanks to her it was.  I am grateful to my mother for so many things but especially grateful for those memorable evenings in 1962 when she read us Susie’s Babies. 

Note: Three years ago a version of this story appeared in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book called My Amazing Mom.

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