Ever since we retired from teaching Dave and I have gone on a trip in the fall except for last year of course when we stayed home due to the pandemic. But this morning we are off again on an autumn adventure that will take us to the west coast with lots of interesting stops along the way. It seemed like a good time to reminisce a bit about our other fall adventures.
2011– Trip to Chicago
2012- Trip to New York
2013- Trip to Toronto
2014-Trip to southern Ontario
2015- Trip to Quebec City
2016- Trip to Newfoundland
2017- Bicycle trip in Germany and a visit to Iceland
2018- Trips to Utah, Florida, and Toronto
2019-Trip to Croatia
I realized as I put together this trip down memory lane and looked through the photo albums of them that what made each of our trips memorable was the people we visited or traveled with. I am sure that will be the case again with our coming trip. Stay tuned to the blog to learn more about our traveling adventures.
I have had quite a number of my stories published in The Chicken Soup series of books but I have had an equal number I’ve sent in that were rejected. I’ve decided from time to time I might publish the rejects here on my blog. Here’s one I submitted for a book about mothers. It is a true story as all Chicken Soup stories must be.
I ran away from home when I was six. I was angry at my mother for making me go to bed at the same time as my younger sister.
“I’m older. I should get to stay up longer,” I said.
“But you’re in grade one now,” my mother tried to reason with me. “You need to go to bed early so you can get up for school in the morning.”
“It’s not fair,” I protested. I took out the blue suitcase we used for train trips to my grandparents’ house and hoisted it onto the couch in the living room of our small apartment. I yanked my school uniform, my Sunday dress, my pajamas, and pedal pushers out of the closet and flung them into the open suitcase along with my piggy bank and a few of my favorite books. To my surprise Mom didn’t stop me. She just stood watching. I closed the suitcase, grabbed the handle and marched to the door.
“Good-bye. I’m leaving and going far away.”
“Have a good time,” said my Mom. “But if you change your mind remember you can always come back home.”
I couldn’t believe Mom was really going to let me go. I trudged down the long apartment block hallway and out into the evening air. I plodded along the train tracks that ran behind our building dragging my heavy suitcase.
Soon I heard a train coming. We heard trains all the time in our apartment. Their clacking and chugging provided a kind of lullaby as I drifted off to sleep beside my little sister in our bed that folded out from the living room couch.
But walking right beside the track was different. The train cars hurtling by sounded like a herd of angry bulls charging past me on pounding hooves. The wheels screeched and I had to let go of the suitcase handle and plug my ears. I was breathless with terror and ran to hide behind a pile of coal beside the track.
And then I heard a dog barking. I was petrified of dogs. I tried to bury myself in the coal to hide. Finally, the dog was quiet but the sun was setting and I was shivering.
Dejected I turned back toward the apartment block, my face and hands and legs black from the coal. My cheeks had white streaks left from the tears I’d cried when I heard the dog. My mother had been watching out the window the whole time, but she acted surprised to see me when I opened the door.
“Why hello,” she said. “Looks like you need a bath.”
After my bath, she put white raisin cookies and chocolate milk on the table for a snack. She read my sister and me a story, listened to us recite our prayers, and tucked us into bed.
“Welcome home,” she said as she bent down to kiss me goodnight.
I was having lunch with my friend Irene the other day and we were talking about how we are at the stage in life where we have ‘senior moments’ and forget to do things.
COVID hasn’t helped because we’ve had fewer items on our calendars for over a year, and now that our lives are getting back into a busier mode it seems to be even harder to remember things. We are out of practice.
Irene told me she and her husband have a little mantra “Do it or write it down.” When they think of something they need to do they either do it immediately or write it down so they will remember later that they need to do it.
I am getting ready for a trip and I started packing days ago. When I think of something I need to take along I either put it in my suitcase immediately or I write it down on a list.
“I read Lost on the Prairie to my grandsons when we were camping. We read by candlelight and it added such atmosphere to the story.”
I get chills when I hear anecdotes like that from people who have bought my book. Last week I did three presentations about Lost on the Prairie in Steinbach and left each event on a high because of the responses people gave me about the novel. Thanks to vaccine and masking protocols I was able to meet some of the folks who have enjoyed Lost on the Prairie in person.
On Wednesday evening at the Steinbach Mennonite Heritage Village Museum, I shared the stage with two former teaching colleagues of mine Andrew Unger, whose book Once Removed won a Manitoba Book Award, and Mark Reimer who recently published his novel The Four Horseman.
We each talked a little bit about our books and read a passage from them and then answered some questions posed by the audience. My favorite part of the evening was signing copies of the novel later and hearing people tell me what they had enjoyed about the book and who they had shared it with.
One woman had four copies in hand for me to sign, gifts for her nieces and nephews. Many had plans to read the books to grandchildren or had already done so. Some had gifted Lost on the Prairie to their elderly parents. A number of people had already read the book twice.
I received so many positive comments about the book. Nita Wiebe the wonderful manager of the museum gift shop who organized the evening had placed her fourth order for Lost on the Prairie just before the author nightand many more copies were sold that evening. I can’t thank Nita enough for selling my book in the museum store.
On Thursday I met with two Steinbach book clubs one from Grace Mennonite Church in the afternoon and another from the United Church in the evening. I was appreciative of the way both groups made sure to follow provincial health guidelines.
At the book clubs, I heard great stories about the reactions of people’s grandchildren with whom the book had been shared including the lovely one that opened this post. One grandmother said months after her grandson had listened to his mother read the book to him he was still making references to it. One had gifted the book to great-niecesand nephews. Another had read the book to two grandchildren at their family cottage over the summer. One woman told me she had read the book twice and loved it. Her father had been a stationmaster in rural Saskatchewan for most of his life and the book brought back great memories for her.
At one book club, I talked about a tie clip and cufflink box I had received that belonged to my grandfather and the participants all shared something they owned that had belonged to a grandparent, dinnerware sets, dolls, chairs, and one woman still planted seeds in her garden that came from plants originally planted by her grandmother.
Writing a book is very hard, getting it published is even harder, but talking in person with people who have read it well that’s just pure pleasure and joy and more than enough reward for all the work.
In Miriam Toews’ latest book Fight Night, the all-female household at its heart is presided over by a grandmother named Elvira. She is quite a character. Elvira loves watching old episodes of Call the Midwife with the subtitles on and the volume level at its highest setting. She is a huge Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays fan. She literally saws books into sections so they are easier to hold while she is reading them and she can strike up a conversation with anyone. Elvira has no qualms about using the men’s washroom in the airport and has her toenails painted with a colour called You Couldn’t Handle Me Even If I Came With Instructions.
Elvira is quirky and loveable but the thing I appreciated about her the most in Fight Night was the mantra she carols every time she says goodbye to someone leaving the house. Good luck! Have fun! Don’t work too hard! Elvira tells her granddaughter Swiv that in her hometown those three statements were subversive because people didn’t believe in luck, they thought having fun was a sin and believed work was the only thing they were supposed to do.
I like Elvira’s mantra. We all need good luck because in many ways life is a bit of a crapshootand having someone express the wish that the odds will favor us, helps us remain hopeful and move forward with a little more confidence. Fun means different things to different people but Harvard researchers have proven that people who have more fun in life are healthier physically. When it comes to not working too hard a Forbes study has found that working an excessive amount doesn’t actually lead to greater career success.
Elvira’s mantra is so positive and provides some pretty sound advice.
One of the neat things about keeping a blog is being able to go back and see what you were doing in the past. This morning I went on a little trip down memory lane to see what I was doing five years ago in September2017.It struck me that almost all the things I was doing I couldn’t be doing now during the pandemicat least not in the same way.
We enjoyed Burger week in Winnipeg. Our favorite burger was at the Schwarma Kahn restaurant run by former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Obi Kahn. Here he kindly agrees to pose with me after I’ve enjoyed my burger.
My friend Esther and I had one of our sketching afternoons at the Folio Cafe.
I hosted a huge celebration for my husband Dave’s 65th birthday.
We attended the art show opening of our friend Les.
I was super busy giving tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery of a new exhibit called Insurgence- Resurgence featuring Canadian Indigenous artists.
We visited Iceland with my sister and her husband.
We also did a cycling trip around Lake Konstanz in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
September five years later has been much different. No travel abroad. No large gatherings in people’s homes. No tours at the art gallery. Worries about social distancing. Anxious about whether the people around me are vaccinated.
Many good things have happened this September too and I am grateful for them, but I look forward to a year when my September will look more like it did five years ago.
My friend John, an amateur naturalist, said some very kind things after reading my novelLost on the Prairiebut he did point out a mistake I had made. In one chapter of the book, a pair of young boys come upon a roost of monarch butterflies. Thousands of them are covering the trees and plants in a wooded area. Joe who is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton First Nation in South Dakota tells my hero Peter that since it is autumn the butterflies are in the midst of their journey migrating south to Mexico.
Of course, the monarchs are on a journey south to Mexico, but my discerning friend John said no one would have known that in 1907 when my book takes place. The information that monarchs went to Mexico was only made public in 1976 when a Canadian zoologist Frederick Urquhart published an article in National Geographic sharing data from a monarch research project he and his wife Norah Patterson had been working on since their marriage in 1945.
Fred and Norah wanted to know where monarchs went for winter and so they began raising thousands of butterflies in their Toronto home. They experimented with all kinds of tagging methods for the monarchs until they found one that worked.
In 1952 Norah wrote a magazine article asking for volunteers to help them with their project. Initially, twelve responded but by 1971 thousands of butterfly lovers were helping catch, tag, and release hundreds of thousands of monarchs. Nora and Fred began taking field expeditions to follow the data and it led them to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1972 Norah wrote letters to Mexican newspapers asking for help and Ken and Cathy Brugger a pair of amateur naturalists and butterfly lovers took up the search. In 1975 thanks to a tip from some Mexican loggers, they found millions of monarchs carpeting the ground and trees on the Neovolcanic Plateau about 240 miles from Mexico City.
In 1976 Norah and Fred now in their sixties traveled to Mexico and hiked 10,000 feet up to the plateau to see the amazing reward of forty years of research they had done. They happened to be standing near a pine branch that crashed from the weight of the butterflies on it and in the cluster of monarchs at their feet, the Urquharts found one that bore one of their tags. It had been tagged in Minnesota before setting out on its trek to Mexico.
In August of 1976, an article about their research and discovery appeared in National Geographic and shared what Fred and Norah had discovered with the world. Since then more than 13 wintering sites for monarchs have been found and are protected as ecological reserves by the government of Mexico.
Fred and Norah Urquhart were given the Order of Canada in 1998 for their amazing discovery.Of course, Indigenous people in Mexico had known about the butterfly roosts for thousands of years.
In 2012 a movie called Flight of the Butterflies premiered starring Gordon Pinsent and Patricia Phillips as Fred and Norah.
So how could Joe the young boy in my story have known the butterflies were going to Mexico in 1907 if that fact wasn’t made public till 1976? Well, he probably couldn’t have.
Although I did tons of research for my book and my editor was great at helping me find historical errors we didn’t catch them all. My book has a mistake in it but I am almost glad it does because it led me to do all the research for this post and learn about Fred and Norah Urquhart, two Canadians I’d never heard of before.
I am sure I will find other mistakes as my book reaches a wider audience of discerning readersand I’m excited about what I might learn from those mistakes. Thanks, John for pointing this one out.
How did I miss this? I drive through Stephen Juba Park on my bicycle almost every day but had never noticed this digital sign till yesterday when it caught my eye as I whizzed by it. What in the world was it? I pulled in with my bike to get a closer look.
Once I got up close I realized it was an electronic display that shows the water levels of the Red River. Installed a year ago the sign is really a functional piece of art.
Called Feet James the artistic sign responds to real-time hydrometric data provided by Environment Canada to repeatedly light up to the height of the Red River at the foot of James Avenue.
Till 2017 the water level was measured by a device inside the James Avenue Pumping Station which has now been redesigned to house rental apartments and commercial spaces including the brand new James Avenue Pumphouse Food and Drink.
Other information panels on Feet James describe what happened in 1950 and 1997 when the river waters reached historic levels.
This interesting panel describes other record river heights including one in 1826 when the Red River rose to 12 feet above the level of the 1997 flood.
Doing a little research online I discovered the functional art piece had been designed by the Signex Company in Steinbachand they had a photo of it being installed on their website.
I can’t believe this interesting artwork has been in my neighbourhood for a whole year and I’ve never noticed it before. Just goes to show you there are always new things to discover about Winnipeg.
I went to visit my trees on the weekend. I will leave on an extended trip soon and so I won’t be seeing the four trees I’ve befriended again till the end of October.
My dear aspen has lost two friends.
On the left, you can see there were two aspen trees that looked like they had died, standing beside my special aspen which is the one closest to my husband Dave. Now both of those dead trees are goneas you can see in the photo on the right.
The only evidence left that the trees were once there are their freshly cut stumps.
There are lots of older stumps around my aspen which tells me this aspen grove has been pruned before.
Speaking of stumps I found this one underneath my lilac bushes. There must have been a tree there at one time that was cut down and the lilacs planted all around where the tree had been.
The lilacs have definitely been pruned. I can see where all their branches have been cut off.
Something nice is that the flowers in the urns in my lilac bushes have been restored to their former beauty by the rain we’ve had.
I decided to photograph my cottonwood from four different vantage points. I was out at dusk and just after I took the first two photos all the street lights went on.
My poor little crabapple has lost almost all its leaves. Just a few are still fluttering on the branches behind me.
I am so curious about how my trees will look a month from now when I return. I am going to miss my trees.