Monthly Archives: January 2022


I like the freedom of it, constructing my days as I like, an extra cup of coffee in the morning, an extra glass of wine in the evening

Exploring new ideas and places, the delight of a grandchild’s love, stretching my comfort zone, reading books in stacks, time to create and think and write and volunteer

No longer at an employer’s beck and call, I can defy convention, have opinions of my own, spend time with those I like, do things my way 

More cavalier about my appearance, less attached to stuff, less cleaning, long walks

The twinge in my knees, knowing my mother only as a memory, thinking more about my childhood, a friend’s dementia diagnosis

Lost keys, a missed appointment, the forgotten name of a former student

Repeating stories, mourning lost ideals, screens bombarding me with Twitter and Facebook and What’s App and Instagram

Like the screen on the heart monitor erratic and then slowing to a flatline. 

Other posts………..

Supporting Each Other

The Tree of Life- Poems by Sarah Klassen

The Power of a Poem

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Filed under Poetry, Retirement

Ready for Some Respair?

Grass sprouting on dead wood -photographed on a beach in Tofino British Columbia

What in the world is respair? It’s a really, really old word that the Grammarly application on my computer doesn’t even recognize. Etymologists who study the origin of words say respair was coined by a Scottish poet and historian Andrew of Wyntoun who lived sometime between 1350 and 1423. Respair comes from Latin roots meaning “again” and “hope.”

In 2017 the Oxford English Dictionary still listed the word respair saying it could be both a noun and a verb. But…….. the most recent example of someone using it they could find was in a work written in 1425.

The word respair’s long-languishing in obscurity ended in May of 2020 when blogger and author Paul Anthony Jones who specializes in the study of words used it in a tweet that went viral because it was the perfect word for how people were hoping they would soon be able to feel despite the pandemic. Jones’ tweet said……..

RESPAIR is the little-known opposite of ‘despair’: a word for a renewed or reinvigorated hope or recovery from anguish or hopelessness.

Another definition described it as ‘a return of hope after a period of despair.’

Lone flower blooming on a rocky hiking path – photographed in the Algarve in Portugal

Respair seems the perfect word to inspire people exhausted and spent by the hopelessness of the pandemic.

What actions can we take that demonstrate respair? It is after all a verb as well as a noun. Here are five ideas I had this morning.

  • Reach out to someone you have lost connection with during the pandemic. Have a good phone conversation. I can think of two friends I haven’t talked to in ages I need to call. I am going to do it first thing tomorrow.
  • Plan something for the future whether it’s a trip or a family get together and act as though it really will take place. I am busy getting gifts ready for a postponed family Christmas gathering we are planning for the end of February.
  • Get outside and enjoy nature. My friend Millie just sent a text extending an invitation for a walk with us on the frozen path along the river near their home. What a great idea!
  • Create something. During the pandemic I’ve tried my hand at embroidery a skill learned from my paternal grandmother and I’ve completed a paint by number picture something I saw my maternal grandmother enjoy. Both these woman loved to laugh and remained hopeful even though life sent some awfully tough things their way.
  • Spend some time with children. Last weekend I went for a walk with my grandchildren in Saskatoon and was able to chat individually with each one of them. Those conversations have lifted my spirits all week. I did childcare for my granddaughter in Winnipeg twice this past week and holding her close as she fell asleep each afternoon had me awash in respair.
Tree growing on Cathedral Rock- photographed in Sedona, Arizona

Respair. What might you do to bring some respair into your life?

Other posts……….

Learning A New Word

My Grandmother’s Epitaph- Words to Live By

Words of Wisdom on A Wine Bottle

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The Undercover Book List

I am part of a book club that meets once a month to talk with authors of recently published novels for middle-grade kids. On Thursday we chatted with Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson about her latest novel The Undercover Book List published by Pyjama Press.

Photo of Colleen Nelson from Great Plains Publishing website

Colleen’s The Undercover Book List is told from the point of view of two junior high school students. Jane loves to read but she is struggling because she misses her best friend Sienna who has just moved to a new city. She also misses her Dad who is in the military and stationed far from home.

The other protagonist Tyson initially has no interest in reading and is addicted to video games. He is struggling because he is getting abysmal grades, has become a bully and prankster and has two siblings who are successful high achievers.

Tyson and Jane meet serendipitously via a secret book exchange arranged by Jane’s friend Sienna before she moves away and both their lives are impacted in all kinds of ways as a result.

I liked many things about Colleen’s story but here are three that stuck out for me.

1. We learn how the books Tyson’s teachers have read aloud to him over the years have left a lasting impression on him even though at the time he was listening to them he might not have appeared interested.

I am often struck by the fact that when I meet former students of mine one of the first things many will mention will be a book I read aloud to them. Years later they still recall the plot of Island of the Blue Dolphins or Anne of Green Gables or Silverwing or The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen. Colleen who is a teacher herself reminds us in her novel how very important it is for teachers to read aloud to their students every day.

2. Having a parent whose work takes them away from home much of the time is tough. Jane really misses her father who is stationed overseas. During one of my first years of teaching, I was in a school in a neighbourhood with military housing and I certainly became aware of how having a parent who is absent for long periods of time is a struggle for children.

Later in one of my rural teaching placements, I had many students who had parents that were truck drivers and also away from home a great deal. This impacts kids and families in huge ways and I am glad that is an issue Colleen addresses in her novel.

3. Colleen’s novel shows us how books can change people’s lives for the better. Her character Tyson makes new friends, broadens his interests, bolsters his self-esteem, becomes much more empathetic and improves his academic performance thanks to books.

I am lucky enough to have an autographed copy of The Undercover Book List

There is much more to The Undercover Book List than I’ve revealed in this short post and I’d encourage you to read it for yourself to learn the whole story. And as I’ve said so often before……. books written for a middle-grade audience can be enjoyable for people of all ages.

Other posts………..

Reading Aloud To Teens

Learning About Winnipeg History From Books For Kids

Sharing Shelf Space With A Terrific Tale

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Thinking About The People In Ukraine

I am thinking about all the people we met when we spent several weeks in Ukraine. I hope they will be okay.

This farmer in a field just outside the former Mennonite village of Tiege where my father-in-law was born.
The three waitresses in Yalta who laughed at my husband Dave when he asked them for help in his search for the best holopchi in the city.
The woman protesting in Independence Square in Kyiv
The friendly woman who now owns the home where my mother-in-law was born in the former Mennonite village of Rudnerweide.
My husband Dave with the vivacious university student who acted as our guide on a tour of Kiev
The military men on leave we saw in many different locations in Odessa

The folks we shared the beach with in Yalta.

The congenial couple who helped us find the location of the large estate in Kowalicha once owned by my husband Dave’s great grandparents and their children.

The woman selling poultry in Odessa.

The women’s string quartet we listened to on the Promenade in Yalta

The man who was living in what had been the schoolhouse my grandmother attended in the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal.

The bird lover who turned up every day to feed the pigeons in Independence Square in Kiev.

The women who lived in what had once been the high school in the Mennonite village of Schoenfeld where my husband Dave’s uncle was a teacher.

The ballet dancers who entertained us in Lviv.

These women near the former Schoenfeld Mennonite settlement who let us watch them milk their cows.

A knowledgeable young man who gave us a tour of the Massandra winery in Yalta.

We had an unforgettable time in Ukraine. We met so many wonderful people who helped to make our time there rewarding and enjoyable. What is happening to them now?

Other posts………

Thinking of Kyiv

A Station of Tears

Feeling Sad About Odessa

Introducing Visitors from Hong Kong and India to Mennonites

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Ten Things About Those Protesting Truckers

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been following the news surrounding the trucking convoy making its way across Western Canada and here are some things I have been thinking about.

1. I am glad I live in a country where people can voice their opinions with acts of peaceful protest and shows of public support. I have marched in parades, attended rallies and written hundreds of newspaper columns and articles to support or protest a whole myriad of issues. It is important I have the freedom to do that and important that the protesting members of the trucking community and their supporters have that freedom too as long as their actions remain safe and peaceful.

2. Regardless of the protest convoy we need to be grateful to the truckers both vaccinated and unvaccinated who have worked hard throughout the pandemic to ferry supplies across the country and across the continent so that our families and communities have continued to have access to goods and services.

3. We need to be grateful as well to the families of truckers. When I was a Manitoba teacher I had numerous students in my classes who had parents who were truckers and I came to realize that it is a hard life not only for the trucker but for their families too. The sacrifice and dedication of the truckers and their families should be recognized and respected and not diminished by how we might feel about the convoy protest.

4. The vast majority of truckers (I’ve read between 85 and 90 per cent) are vaccinated and are continuing to do their jobs. They are not taking part in the convoy protest. Those who are involved are a vocal minority.

5. The Canadian Trucking Alliance a national federation that represents truck drivers across the country does not support the protest saying it may interfere with public safety on highways, bridges and roads. Their president encourages all their members to get vaccinated in compliance with federal regulations.

Convoy supporters in British Columbia- photo Wikimedia Commons

6. Canada has four major political parties. Three of them have issued strong statements that they support the border vaccination mandates for truck drivers and do not support the goals of the protesting truckers. Those three parties together represented the popular vote of around 70% of Canadians in the last election.

7. The United States has issued an almost identical mandate that will not allow Canadian truckers to enter their country without a vaccination. This means that even if the Canadian protest were successful and Canada lifted its mandate it wouldn’t change anything.

8. The protest is a good reminder that when people are passionate about a cause they open their wallets freely to support it. When I checked this morning the Go Fund Me Page for the convoy had amassed almost 6 million dollars. That kind of financial support for the protest encourages us to dream that we could get equally passionate about donating money to supply Hepa Filters for classrooms across Canada or vaccinations for countries that can’t afford them or support for people whose livelihoods have been critically damaged by the pandemic.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

9. I was a bit concerned the convoy protest might interfere with the accessibility of items on our grocery store shelves but store owners and suppliers say a whole variety of factors have slowed down the food supply chain. Although Canadians may not be able to get every product they want, the heads of large grocery store franchises are assuring customers there will always be alternatives and there is absolutely no need to worry that stores will run out of food.

10. Those taking part in the convoy are frustrated and angry about vaccine mandates in general and think they are unnecessary. They represent the feelings of many Canadians who refuse to accept the expertise of the majority of scientists, doctors, mathematicians and epidemiologists who have dedicated their lives and careers to studying pandemics and their spread. These experts tell us vaccination mandates are necessary to protect the public health care system. The lack of faith in scientific expertise by many Canadians is something to take seriously because it could greatly impact other areas of life in our country. The trucker convoy provides an important reminder of that reality.

Other posts………

Container Port Troubles

Gandalf’s Pandemic Advice

Boosted and Optimistic

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary

The Edge of the Trees

Did you know that today is an official public holiday in Australia? It commemorates the day the British flag was first hoisted in the country. On January 26th, 1778 British Admiral Arthur Philip sailed into Sydney Cove with a fleet of ships filled mostly with convicts and planted the Union Jack.

An interactive exhibit created by artists Fiona Foley and Janet Laurence outside the Sydney Museum helps people imagine what that moment was like for both the newly arrived colonizers and the Indigenous people who watched them land.

Here I am exploring the work of art called Edge of the Trees outside the City of Sydney Museum in Australia

Edge of the Trees has twenty-nine huge pillars made of wood, steel and sandstone. They represent the twenty-nine original Indigenous clans in the Sydney area and create a kind of forest just outside the Sydney Museum.

Photo – Wikimedia Commons

The name of the artwork Edge of the Trees comes from a historical essay by Rhys Jones describing the moment the newly landed folks from England came ashore. ” the ‘discoverers’ struggling through the surf were met on the beaches by other people looking at them from the edge of the trees. Thus the same landscape perceived by the newcomers as alien, hostile, or having no coherent form, was to the indigenous people their home, a familiar place, the inspiration of dreams.……”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Organic materials like ashes, bones, hair, shells and feathers are installed in some of the wooden pillars in Edge of the Trees and can be observed through windows. They remind viewers of a prior way of life for Indigenous people.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

One pillar features the signatures of First Fleeters, the people who arrived on the original fleet of eleven ships that came to Australia. Most of them were prisoners convicted of petty crimes and sent to penal colonies that were established in Australia.

When we visited we were encouraged to walk among the pillars so we could hear Indigenous voices reciting the names of ancient communities in the Sydney region and run our fingers over the engraved names.

Janet Laurence one of the artists who created Edge of the Trees says it provides a glimpse of a moment when two cultures and communities looked at each other for the first time.

Would they eventually be able to weave a positive future together?

View of the sky from within the installation Edge of the Trees- photo Wikimedia Commons

Other posts………..

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Christmas Down Under

The Animals of Australia

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A Letter From My Teacher

On the weekend I was surprised to find a letter in my inbox from my grade five teacher Mr Helmuth Klassen. He had seen a notice about me teaching an online course and it had reminded him of the year he had been my teacher in 1963. He wanted to let me know that he had really enjoyed having me as a student and that he was so pleased every time he noted something in the media about an accomplishment of mine. He said he had learned a lot from me the year I was in his class.

My grade five Class in 1963 with our teacher Mr Klassen. I am second from the left in the second row.

Well, that was certainly a two-way street because I learned a lot from Mr Klassen. He stands out as one of my favourite teachers because he was so innovative and creative in his teaching methods-way ahead of his time. He made our days at Southwood School in Steinbach so interesting.

We listened to radio broadcasts including the news so we could discuss current affairs. We did projects. I remember making books about all kinds of different things. We had to gather information, design creative covers and present our work to the class. I still remember a book I made for our health class. I called it Healthfully Yours and formed the letters for that title from dyed eggshell bits I glued onto the cover of my project.

I remember making these huge Plaster of Paris maps of Canada and painting all the provinces in different colours. I remember we had debates. Mr Klassen taught us how to debate and then we were divided into teams to defend the two sides of important social issues.

My Mom framed the first newspaper article I had published at age 10. It still sits on my desk.

And Mr Klassen encouraged us to write and celebrated our writing. Manitoba had a huge snowstorm the year I was in grade five and I wrote a story about it in class which Mr Klassen sent to the local paper The Carillon and they published it!

Mr Klassen’s letter of affirmation on the weekend was such a lovely surprise and so kind. I think I need to consider sending similar letters to students who I particularly enjoyed teaching.

Other posts…………

Where Were You?

Old Friends

My Dad Was Once A Teacher


Filed under Education

A Century-Old School Souvenir Booklet

Sorting through some of my aunt’s belongings this past weekend I found a 120-year-old souvenir booklet that had belonged to my grandmother Anna (Annie) Jantz and was given to her in 1901 by her teacher Miss Agnes Nickel. Doing a little research online I discovered that in the early 1900s the teachers of small schools often distributed souvenir booklets to the students at the end of the school year.

The cover of Grandma’s booklet has a picture of George Washington, an American flag, an owl sitting on some books balanced on a globe and a gold sun rising out of the ocean.

The first page in Grandma’s souvenir book has a sketch of a schoolhouse and an introductory message. I wondered if perhaps it was typed by the teacher or someone other than the printing company who made the booklet because the typewriter appears to have had some dirty keys and the large letters and numbers clearly had been created with a stencil.

The second page identifies Grandma’s teacher Agnes Nickel and all the students in her class at the Belfry Public School in District 22 in the Risley Township in Marion County Kansas. I know my grandmother was born in Hillsboro Kansas. Maps show most of the community of Hillsboro lies within the Risley Township.

Although Belfry was a public school it was obviously serving a community of Mennonites since almost every surname on the list is almost instantly identifiable as being of Mennonite origin including those of the teacher, director, clerk and treasurer.

My great grandfather Peter Jantz in 1874

I knew my grandmother’s father Peter Jantz immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1874 living in Illinois for a time and then moving to Kansas in 1877. I also knew Mennonites immigrating from Russia and Poland established more than a dozen communities in Kansas in the 1880s several of them in the Hillsboro area. So the fact that most of the students at the Belfry Public School were Mennonites made sense.

In this family photo of my grandmothers’ family believed to have been taken in 1900 the year she would have received the souvenir booklet, Grandma Annie (born in 1892) is standing just to the left of her mother. Several of her siblings are also listed as students in the souvenir booklet, her sister Matilda (born in 1885) who is just behind Grandma Annie, her brother Edward (born in 1888) who is sitting in the chair and her brother John (born in 1887) who is just behind and to the right of his father.
My grandmother’s name Anna Jantz is one of the last on the page while her sister Matilda’s is one of the first

My grandmother Anna (Annie) Jantz’s name is near the bottom of the second row in the class list and I see her older sister Matilda Janz is listed as the second name in the first row. I also see Edward Jantz and John Jantz presumably her brothers in the first row. I am assuming this is a multi-grade classroom so perhaps the students are listed by grade with the more senior students listed first. Since grandma was the youngest in her family it makes sense she is furthest down the list.

The next two pages in the book contain excerpts from two poems The Green River by William Cullen Bryant and The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Another page has an excerpt from a poem called In School Days by John Greenleaf Whittier. I read the full poem and the excerpt here really leaves a lot of the story out. The page opposite is empty. All the pages in the booklet are very, very thin like onion skin paper.

Grandma’s souvenir booklet was produced by the Ohio Printing Company in New Philadelphia Ohio. This page at the end of the book has an illustration from the Biblical story of King David playing music for his sheep or perhaps it is an illustration of the Greek God Pan who played the pipes for his flock.

The back of the book has another image of a schoolhouse. Note the sheared edges of the card and the fancy tassel that holds the book together.

I am so pleased to have this souvenir booklet of my grandmother’s and I love the little glimpse it gives me into her school days in Kansas. Grandma’s family immigrated to Canada in 1906 and settled in Drake Saskatchewan.

Other posts……….

Getting to Know My Great Grandfather

A Hundred Year Old Birthday Book

History Hunting in the Cemetery

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Filed under Education, Family, History

What A Nice Young Man

The white rental car that I’ve been driving around Saskatoon all weekend doing a seemingly endless number of errands

I know the phrase what a nice young man might be a cliche but yesterday morning I honestly did encounter such a nice young man!

I am in Saskatoon. My aunt is in the hospital and won’t be able to return to the suite in which she has been living. As her power of attorney, it fell to me to clean out the suite’s contents during my short Saskatoon visit. I also wanted to spend as much time as I could visiting my aunt.

Saturday morning my brain was frantically dancing around the myriad of things I still needed to do before I flew home from Saskatoon. At 9 o’clock in the morning, I walked into a Shoppers Drug Mart and headed to its Canada Post kiosk carrying a large black garbage bag filled with items that needed to be mailed back to three different companies- wifi, medical device and cable TV.

A tall lanky young man with bright red hair came out from the backroom to serve me. I explained what I needed to do. He cheerfully recommended the right size boxes for me to purchase and then proceeded to help me assemble them. He helped me figure out which cords went with which devices and got everything into the right boxes. Then he used packing tape to shut them all tightly for me and helped me print the addresses on the various boxes! Talk about service!

We chatted as we worked and he told me he had just started his job with Canada Post in August and really liked it. I told him all about my aunt and he commiserated and expressed sympathy for the situation. In between helping me, he would efficiently serve other customers who arrived at the kiosk.

I had started my day feeling overwhelmed and anxious but after my interactions with the cheerful helpful young man, I was energized and had a new resolve that I would get everything done I needed to do that day.

“Thank you so much,” I said to the young man as I left the kiosk. “You’ve made my day!”

He just grinned!

Other posts……….

Friendly and Polite

I Was Stuck

I Got My Camera Back

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Filed under People

Reading About Rick

The first chapters of Rick Mercer’s Talking to Canadians where the comedy icon describes growing up in St. John’s Newfoundland are very funny and entertaining and offer readers a glimpse into part of Rick Mercer’s personal life. I really enjoyed it. The rest of the book? Not so much. It is basically a blow by blow account of Rick’s rise to stardom and the years he spent doing the show This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

I realize he has already written about his time doing the Rick Mercer Report television program in a previous book Rick Mercer Final Report but I was hoping to hear more interesting anecdotes from that signature show of his which ran for fifteen years. It is through The Rick Mercer Report that I got to know him best.

In less than a page, Rick describes how he got together with his life partner Gerald and after that, all we hear about the two of them are anecdotes that involve their professional lives. I wanted to know more.

Rick acts as if it was no big deal to be a gay man and a national star at a time before same-sex marriage was legal. Surely there must have been some struggles, some soul-searching, some discussion about whether to share his sexual orientation with his audience. We don’t read about it. I get it that he wants to keep his private life private. I respect that. But I have to admit I was hoping for a little more information about his personal life.

One thing that stuck out for me in this book was how a teacher really changed the course of Rick’s life. He was a terrible student and his future looked rather bleak, but then the drama teacher at his high school got him hooked on theatre and he never looked back. I have heard many other people who achieved great things talk about how the interest and confidence of just one teacher turned their lives around. Those kinds of stories make me feel profoundly grateful for the educators in my own life who made a difference.

Other posts………

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes

Black Water

Nice Guy- Not A Great Writer

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Filed under Books