Monthly Archives: July 2021

Good-Bye Pitaloosie

This is a self-portrait by Cape Dorset artist Pitaloosie Saila. Isn’t she incredibly lovely? The portrait shows the artist as a young woman.  Although in reality Pitaloosie’s face was not tattooed, she has portrayed herself with tattoos because she remembered her aunts having tattoos like this.  Pitaloosie has put her portrait on an ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife.  Pitaloosie had a large personal collection of different kinds of ulus. 

Pitaloosie Saila

I was so very sad to learn of the death of Pitaloosi Saila last Saturday. She was the creator of some of my favorite pieces of art on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery during the eight years I worked there. Pitaloosi was 79 when she died and had been contributing to the Cape Dorset print collection for over 60 years.

Pitaloosie Saila answers questions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on October 28, 2017

I had the privilege of meeting Pitaloosi Saila in person in October of 2017 when she came to the city for the opening of an exhibit featuring 32 of her stunning prints curated by Susan Gustavison and Darlene Wight. The prints told the story of Pitaloosie’s life.

In this lithograph, we see four generations of Pitaloosie’s family.  On the far right is her great-grandmother chewing a seal skin to soften it.  In the middle is Pitaloosie’s grandmother with a more modern hairstyle and clothing.  On the far left is Pitaloosie’s mother.  She died when Pitaloosie was only two years old so the artist never really got to know her mother but she has dressed her in an even more modern way than the other two women. There is little Pitaloosie in the amauti in her mother’s parka.

After Pitaloosie’s mother died she was raised by her grandmother. In this print, she has shown her grandmother dancing a reel on one of the whaling ships that came into Cape Dorset.

Pitaloosie and Aqsatunnguaq – a watercolor by Pitaloosie Saila

There is a sad story behind this gorgeous watercolor of Pitaloosie and her sister. As a child Pitaloosie was sent south to hospitals for seven years because of a back injury and complications from tuberculosis.  While she was gone her dear sister Aqsatunnguaq died.  Pitaloosie didn’t find out till she returned home to Cape Dorset. Like many other Inuit children who were separated from their parents and taken to southern hospitals, Pitaloosie lost her Inituktuk language and couldn’t even talk to her family when she returned home.

Arctic Madonna by Pitaloosie Saila

Pitaloosie began doing artwork in the 1960s and in her lifetime produced close to 1,500 pieces. Her print above Arctic Madonna was featured on a UNICEF greeting card in 1983.

One of her art pieces Fisherman’s Dream was featured on a Canadian stamp.

Four Generations by Pitaloosie Saila

This is my very favorite piece of Pitaloosie’s. Three generations look forward and one looks back.

Pitaloosie’s art told the story of the past and provided a forward-looking vision for a younger generation. One of Pitaloosie’s granddaughters is also an artist.

I was very sorry to hear about the death of Pitaloosie Saila. We are so fortunate to have her beautiful artwork that gives us an intimate and personal look at the life of a remarkable Inuit woman and artist.

Note: Except for the stamp all the images in this post were ones I photographed during the Pitaloosie Saila exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017

Other posts……….

What’s An Amauti?

Sedna is a Planet

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History

1 Comment

Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

Two Memes- Two Opinions on Vaccination

Both of these memes were posted by people from Manitoba I connect with on Facebook. I think they represent the varying views people in our province have about vaccination.

The first meme definitely advocates for the rights of those who don’t wish to receive a vaccination. The message is that if unvaccinated people can’t access the services of government-supported businesses they shouldn’t have to pay taxes.

And I guess they have a point since casinos are operated by a Crown Corporation of the province of Manitoba, the Blue Bombers have received government money for the construction and repairs to their stadium and many restaurants and theatres have been the recipients of government funding to help keep them in business during the pandemic. All these services are being restricted at least somewhat for unvaccinated people in our province.

However, with 90% or more of the patient load in Manitoba critical care wards being composed of people who aren’t vaccinated, it would seem the cost of their increased presence and thus expense to our medical system would probably balance out the price of their loss of services at the football stadium or casino.

The second meme posted by a Manitoban definitely advocates for a belief in science which the unvaccinated seem unwilling to accept. Could this at least partially be the result of a long campaign by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who although he supports vaccines, did so much to discredit the scientific community in Canada, by closing science libraries, making drastic cuts to scientific research, and censoring scientists so they couldn’t freely share their work with the public?

Could it be the result of having an American president who knew little about science but believed he was more of an expert than the scientists in his own country? I realize there are a substantial number of Manitobans who were Trump fans. Has that influenced their ideas about vaccinations? The impact of journalism outlets like Fox News, and social media platforms that haven’t always regulated misinformation the way they should have, can help explain why some people have developed a low opinion of the science of vaccines. I know that education, political preferences, and one’s choice of social media can greatly influence whether you believe the scientists advocating for vaccinations.

I mentioned that both memes in this post come from Manitobans I know, and yet they represent very different points of view. I think by now almost everyone is personally aware of someone opposed to vaccines or someone who simply refuses to have one, and that can make things difficult. I have heard from many people that this disparity of opinion about vaccinations is causing all kinds of friction between friends, family members, neighbors, church members, and colleagues.

My word for the year is acceptance and I know I need to try and accept and understand people whose views are so very different from mine, whose decisions about vaccination have the potential to cause so much harm to themselves and others. But I admit doing that is hard. Very hard!


Filed under COVID-19 Diary

My Novel In The Great Outdoors

Initially, I was a little disappointed that my novel was going to be published in the summer. I figured the target audience for the book was school children and their teachers, and so it would be ideal for Lost on the Prairie to be published in the fall when learning had just begun and the book had a chance to become popular in classrooms, be used as a teaching resource, and thus, earn itself a long life in the education sphere.

However, I have discovered to my surprise that Lost on the Prairie has a much wider audience than I had ever imagined among people of all ages and interests, AND I have realized that one of the wonderful things about having the book published in summer is that people are having a chance to enjoy it in the great outdoors.

My niece Grace published this beautiful photo on her Instagram page recently. Grace has her master’s degree in Social Work from Wilfred Laurier University and uses yoga as an integral part of the services she offers her clients. Grace holds positions with two different professional teams that provide psychotherapy and counseling.

With my niece Grace

Grace used Lost on the Prairie in a post where she encourages people to make time in their life to recharge, reconnect and rejuvenate. She says we all need to balance the generally fast pace of our lives with times when we slow down. She suggests we might do this by drinking coffee, spending time in nature, and reading a good book like the one her aunt MaryLou Driedger just wrote. I just LOVE the fact that my niece is using my book as a part of the very important work she does. I am so proud of her.

Many people have told me they are reading my book with nature as their background. They are reading Lost on the Prairie on their balconies, at their cottages at the lake, looking out over their gardens, on canoe trips, and on park benches. Here are just a few of the photos they have sent.

My niece Olivia with my book in Canmore, Alberta. So proud of my niece who has worked as a professional chef in some of the area’s finest restaurants and is an avid and successful tri-athlete competitor.
Our niece Olivia with my husband Dave.
My friend Randy read Lost on the Prairie on a canoe trip.
My friend Perry posed the book among the plants in his backyard.
My brother Ken outdoors delivering copies of Lost on the Prairie to Little Free Libraries in Victoria
My friend Mitch posed my book along with his other summer reading choices outdoors on the deck of his home on the shores of Jessica Lake in Manitoba.
My niece Hannah posing with her son in their home right on the shores of Lake Erie. Hannah is a first responder and I am so proud of the vital work she has been doing during the pandemic.
Having coffee with Hannah on the deck of her lakeside home.
My friend Pearl with Lost on the Prairie under the trees in her backyard.
My friend Erin told me she was reading Lost on the Prairie on her balcony
A friend putting Lost on the Prairie in The Little Free Library at Strathmillan School in Winnipeg
My niece Amanda lives in rural Manitoba and here she creates the perfect prairie picture for my book. Amanda is an elementary school teacher and Reading Recovery specialist and we are already discussing a possible visit to her classroom this coming year so I can talk about Lost on the Prairie with her students.
With my niece Amanda celebrating her university graduation. I am so proud of the important work Amanda does to promote reading and literacy.
Photo by Jordan Ross The Carillon

I was glad photographer and reporter Jordan Ross decided to do our interview and photo outdoors in Steve Juba Park near my home when he wrote an article about me in The Carillon.

I really like this outdoor image the team at my publisher Heritage House created to promote Lost on the Prairie.

I have realized there are advantages to having my book published in summer and one of them is that people get to read my novel in the great outdoors and that is fitting because the majority of the novel takes place outdoors. If you have read Lost on the Prairie outside I’d love to hear about it.

You can read more about my book at my website

Other posts………

Wild Grasses – A Love Story

For the Beauty of the Earth

A Bird on the Hand

Leave a comment

Filed under Lost on the Prairie

Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Matilda Effect

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

I watched a fascinating New York Times documentary yesterday about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the woman who discovered pulsars in 1967 while a graduate student at Cambridge University working on her thesis project. This was big news in the world of astronomy but most of the credit for the discovery went to Jocelyn’s thesis supervisor Anthony Hewish, who in 1974 won the Nobel Prize for ‘his’ discovery.

In the documentary, Jocelyn talks about reporters coming to interview the two of them after the discovery was made public and they directed all their scientific questions to Anthony while Jocelyn the ‘girl astrophysicist’ was merely seen as a human interest part of the story and was asked to open more buttons on her blouse for photos, questioned about her waist size, asked how many boyfriends she had and whether she would call herself a blonde or a brunette.

Dr. Bell Burnell accepting the Special Breakthrough Prize in 2018

Jocelyn went on to a long and impressive career as a researcher and professor and served as the president of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 2018 she was awarded a special prize for her breakthrough work in discovering pulsars. It came with a 2.3 million pound prize. She donated the entire amount to the Institute of Physics to fund scholarships that would help female, minority and refugee students become physics researchers.

There is a name for what happened to Jocelyn. It is called The Matilda Effect and is named after Matilda Josyln Gage who first brought attention to the issue of women scientists whose work was accredited to men in an 1870 essay she wrote called “Woman as Inventor.”

Poster from Wikipedia explaining The Matilda Effect

Sadly reading the comments section on the documentary in the New York Times, it became clear that while things are beginning to change The Matilda Effect is still alive and well.

Other posts…………

The Matilda Effect

Where Are the Women?

Why People Don’t Trust Scientists


Filed under People

Is Laughter Really The Best Medicine?

Laughter by Nanette Nacorda Catigbe

My younger son was about a year and a half old when I walked into our kitchen to find him sitting in a huge puddle of ketchup. He had emptied almost an entire plastic squeeze bottle of the stuff out onto the floor. I was just about to reprimand him when he looked up at me with his big brown eyes, smiled sweetly, and caroled, “Fries please!” My anger dissipated immediately and I burst out laughing.

Robert Provine, whose New York Times obituary credits him with creating the modern science of humor, once said laughter is the perfect way to deflect anger. If other people in a tense situation join in, the risk of confrontation will almost certainly dissipate. My husband is a master of this technique. He often uses his dry humor to ease the tension between us when we’ve had an argument.

In the movie Patch Adams Robin Williams played a doctor who used laughter as a way to heal his patients.

A Mayo Clinic report says laughter improves your immune system, stimulates heart and lung circulation, lowers blood pressure, can relieve pain, and reduces anxiety. Psychologists are finding that people who laugh have more hope, energy, creativity, and a deeper connection with other human beings. Remember that 1998 movie Patch Adams? Robin Williams plays the role of a real-life doctor who used laughter to heal his patients.

Laughter in Creases by Christina Carmel

I am fortunate to have good genes when it comes to laughter. My grandmothers both knew the value of a good laugh. My father’s mother had a witty one-liner for almost any situation. At my grandmother’s funeral, one of my cousins said, “When I think of grandma an image comes to mind of her whole body just shaking with laughter, her eyes brimming with tears and her teeth on the verge of falling out.  She is laughing at a funny comment, probably one she made herself. “ 

My maternal grandmother loved to laugh as well.  I can remember times when she and her daughters would start telling funny stories and get so carried away they simply couldn’t stop laughing. They would be holding their sides, tears streaming down their faces as they recalled some humorous incident from their family’s past. 

Neither of my grandmothers had easy lives. But I think they must have known as writer Madeleine L’Engle once said that a good laugh heals a lot of hurts.

Other posts………

 He Hasn’t Lost His Sense of Humour

Warms Your Heart and Makes You Laugh Out Loud

Start and End Happy

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Health

The Five Minute Rule

Visiting the Colosseum in Rome

After we moved to Asia in 2003 my husband and I began to travel extensively. We were teachers in Hong Kong and every vacation or long weekend we hopped on a plane somewhere and explored another part of the world. The people we worked with at the international school where we taught, were almost all avid globe trotters as well, and so we loved to chat about our various holidays and travel adventures with one another.

I noticed however when we returned home to Canada that most people were interested in hearing us talk about our travels for about 5 minutes in a conversation. Unless they were avid travelers too or had actually been to the same destination their eyes started to glaze over after about 5 minutes. I soon learned to watch for the signals and then cut off stories about travel escapades as quickly as possible.

Opening the box with the first copies of my book

I am finding it is kind of the same thing when you have a book published. Of course, you are terribly excited about it and want to talk about it but soon realize there are many people you know or meet who don’t have any idea you’ve written a book, haven’t read your book, didn’t think your book was that great, or have no clue about all the years of work that goes into writing a book or how slim your chances were of getting it published.

If I talk about my novel too much, even if someone has asked me a question about my book, their eyes soon glaze over, their attention is diverted by something going on around us, or they start an alternate conversation. Of course, the exception is other writers who know all about the process of writing and publishing a book and are eager to hear and share information and ideas. I am realizing when it comes to my book it is a good idea to not bring up the topic, but wait for someone else to introduce it, and then use the same 5-minute rule that I use for travel stories.

If you aren’t visiting with other educators its best to limit your descriptions of your teaching experiences in conversation

I think this isn’t only true when it comes to the topics of travel or book publishing. I have also found if you are with people who aren’t grandparents it’s best to keep your comments about your own grandchildren to a five-minute limit. If you are with people who aren’t teachers it is best to keep your wisdom about schools and education and your own teaching experiences to five minutes. If you are with people who don’t attend church it is best to keep talking about your church down to a five-minute quota. When I worked at the art gallery I noticed that waxing eloquent about some exhibit just made people who weren’t interested or familiar with art decidedly bored after 5 minutes.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always stick to the five-minute rule nor am I always as sensitive as I should be to situations where I need to use it, but I’m trying.

Other posts………..

No Christians Fed to Lions and Other Things You Might Not Know About the Colosseum

It’s Not Vanity

Five Things I Believe About Learning


Filed under Reflections, Travel

Teen Targets

Someone told me a story this week about a teenager who had just started work at a Winnipeg cinema that had re-opened for business. The teen had already been bullied by people who didn’t want to follow the mask regulations dictated by the province. They became rude and angry when the teen requested they put on a mask before entering the theater. That brought to mind a conversation I once had with a group of my high school students about bullying.

Photo by Keira Burton on

Some told me they had been bullied because of their race. Some had been teased about their accent because English wasn’t their first language. Others had been harassed about their clothing or hairstyle or had their sexual orientation questioned sarcastically. There were students whose family background had been ridiculed and others had been the butt of jokes because of their unique physical characteristics.

But…….. the most common kind of unfair treatment surprisingly had come from adults who bullied them or treated them unfairly because of their age. 

One boy said he’d been browsing in a store when the business owner approached him and asked if he had stolen something. The young man said he hadn’t and turned to leave. The owner refused to let him go until he had searched him for stolen merchandise.  “He didn’t even apologize for falsely accusing me”, said the student. 

Other kids had seen people cross the road rather than walk by a group of teenagers. Teens had been the recipients of dirty looks for no apparent reason other than their age. Some felt discriminated against in the workplace where they believed employers felt freer to get angry with teenage workers.

Teen workers deserve the same respect as adult employees

Like the situation, I mentioned at the beginning of this post, customers sometimes feel they can treat teen employees less respectfully too. They feel freer to vent their anger at a teen thinking perhaps they won’t face the same repercussions because the teen isn’t as likely to retaliate or stand up for themselves. I know I experienced some of that kind of bullying treatment when I was a teenager and worked as a waitress.

As we slowly begin to enter post-pandemic life and start engaging with each other again in all kinds of settings we may need to remind ourselves of just how important it is for adults to be good role models when it comes to bullying or angry behavior. We need to accord everyone, including young people a full measure of respect.

Other posts………

Lessons Waiting Tables

Crossing the Line

A Display of Racist Anger

Leave a comment

Filed under Childhood

Summer Reading Recommendations

Truth and Reconciliation. Pandemic. Black Lives Matter. Immigration. As I prepared this annual column of reading recommendations I realized current news stories had certainly influenced my choice of books this past year. 

Five Little Indians uses rich language to relate deeply personal stories about five survivors of the same residential school. They each describe their own incredibly sad childhood. We follow them into challenging adulthood where their lives braid together and their strength of character, astounding resilience, and innate goodness are revealed. Author Michelle Good is a Cree lawyer who has represented residential school survivors in court hearings.  Five Little Indians has won a host of awards.

David Robertson’s memoir Blackwater was another favorite this past year. It describes how David developed a relationship with his father after they had grown apart, and how that new relationship helped David learn to understand and appreciate his Cree heritage.

In The Pull of the Stars Emma Donoghue takes us into a cramped Dublin Hospital maternity ward during the 1918 flu pandemic. Julia is the courageous duty nurse, and the story revolves around her as well as a plucky volunteer named Bridget and Kathleen, a doctor and political activist. The depth of the author’s research gives readers a graphic and disturbing picture of a past pandemic. It makes you appreciate all the medical advances that are helping us navigate our current health crisis. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles was fascinating.  The novel’s hero Count Alexander Rostov makes the most of his life despite being sentenced to a decades-long house arrest in a hotel in the Russian capital. The endearing Alexander provides a road map for how to live through a time of isolation with humor and hope. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet was certainly a page-turner!  The novel follows two light-skinned African American sisters from 1968-1988. As young girls, they witness their father’s lynching. One sister decides to pass for white and ends up living in the lap of luxury in Los Angeles. The other sister maintains her black identity and becomes an FBI employee in Washington DC. Although the two women break off contact, a generation later their daughters meet, and the sisters’ lives intersect once again.  The book definitely makes readers examine their own racial biases. 

The Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi is about both racism and immigration. It tells the story of a family from Ghana who moves to America.  Gifty, the protagonist, is a brilliant neuroscientist trying to make sense of a past that includes her brother’s struggle with addictions, her mother’s battle with depression, and the systemic racism her family faced. Just as science and religion are often at odds these days, so is Gifty’s heart as she tries to balance her emotional attachment to her religious beliefs with her scientific sensibilities.  This is a beautifully written book that raises important questions. 

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins tells the compelling story of Lydia and her young son. They are fleeing to the United States to escape the Mexican cartel that killed Lydia’s journalist husband. Along the way they meet other migrants who have remarkable tales to tell. I was totally invested in the characters and the book kept me in nerve-wracking suspense. It helped me understand in a visceral way what it might be like to be an undocumented immigrant. 

My recommendations this year certainly aren’t for light summer reading but at a time when our world seems to be at an important turning point, these books definitely widened my world view and gave me new ways of looking at things. 

Other posts………

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

A Heart Felt Book That Started on Instagram and Sold Two Million Copies

Librarians on Horseback

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Clean Water

Elders from the Lhoosk’uz Dené community tasting water from their new water treatment system (Photo source)

I was excited to read recently about a small Lhoosk’uz Dené community in northern British Columbia which finally has a steady supply of clean tap water. Village leaders approached the University of British Columbia to help them develop a water treatment system that uses a combination of ultraviolet light and chlorine disinfection to ensure the water in the community is safe enough to drink.

The innovative system is simple to operate and can be maintained and repaired without having to call in specialists from other places or pay for expensive parts. The community partnered with a team of scientists and engineers that use a collaborative, community-driven approach to develop practical drinking water solutions for rural Canadian communities. The new water system in the Lhoosk’uz Dené village ends a 14-year boil water advisory.

The good news story reminded me of an installation I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario a few years ago by Ruth Cuthand. It was called Don’t Breathe, Don’t Drink.  The blue tarp on the table is the kind used for hastily constructed shacks people on one reserve had to move into when black mold was discovered in the drywall in their homes.

The glasses of water on the table contain plastic and beaded representations of the different kinds of bacteria and parasites found in the water on northern Canadian reserves that have boil water advisories. 

baby bottles boil water Don't Breathe Don't Drink

The artist put some of the bacteria-filled water into baby bottles to remind us that children may be drinking this contaminated water too. 

I am glad those kinds of problems are over for at least one Indigenous community. According to a government of Canada website as of today, there are still 32 communities in Canada with boil water advisories in effect. Let’s hope that innovative solutions like the one found for the Lhoosk’uz Dené community can be created for those 32 communities as well.

Other posts………

She Is Gripped By Terror

Blackwater- A Book That Connected With Me

Locked Away

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, Health

Aunt Olly

Olly Penner

We didn’t have Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or Blues Clues when I was a kid. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood.

Like many families in the late 1950s and early 1960s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red or Johnny Appleseed and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and There’s a Hole in the Bucket. If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present.

I remember hurrying home from school and sitting down at the table with the snack Mom had ready for me and listening to Aunt Olly.

Photo from the CFAM radio website of Aunt Olly and her sidekick Gus

In 1989 I was on the staff of the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and was assigned to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine. I was excited to have the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had Olly done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show, and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years.

Remember this was a time when most women did not work outside the home, something Olly Penner was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was the editor of the Altona newspaper The Red River Valley Echo but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cookbook, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

Children’s Party souvenir from Greg Lindenbach

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings and I recognized some of the names. But Olly also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her, and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a clergyman who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly Penner

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and was enjoying traveling with her husband, and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner died in 2015 at the age of 86. She had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity.

The full original article I wrote for the Mennonite Mirror can be accessed on page 4 of the May/June 1989 issue here.

Other posts………

Radios Good and Evil

What a Woman!

My Childhood Reading Heaven


Filed under Canada, Childhood, Culture, Media