This past week my sister and I had a meeting with the staff at my father’s nursing home to discuss his care and the progression of his dementia. One interesting thing we learned is that Dad likes to dance. Apparently whenever the activity directors put on music and invite the residents to dance Dad is up and ready to sashay around the room with his walker and has no lack of partners who want to dance with him.
My sister and I found this quite surprising since we couldn’t recall our father ever dancing. I do remember him telling me that dance was on the curriculum when he took a short training course in Winnipeg the summer after grade twelve so he could begin to work as a permit teacher in the fall.
But he never had a chance to give dance instruction in the small Mennonite community of Silberfeld where he ended up teachingfor several terms before he began his medical studies.Dancing was still considered controversial by many Mennonitesas late as the 1990s according to the Mennonite Encylopedia.
Dad has always liked music and had a deep appreciation for it but I can’t recall him ever dancing. Now he lives in a home run by the Ukrainian Catholic Church and dancing is an important way of preserving culture in the Ukrainian community.
Dad’s Mennonite family comes from Ukraine and although I don’t think the Mennonites with their theology of non-conformity ever assimilated the affection for dance of their Ukrainian neighbours in Russia I think it’s kind of neat Dad is learning to appreciate that aspect of their culture now.
I’d never read a book by best-selling author James Patterson before but listening to an interview with him and his latest famous collaborator Dolly Parton tickled my curiosity enough that I bought the book they wrote together Run Rose Run.
It is about a young woman named AnnieLee Keyes who goes to Nashville to try and become a star. She is befriended by Ruthanna a former country music icon who has become a recluse and Ethan Blake a handsome singer and songwriter AnnieLee meets in a bar. Fiesty and independent AnnieLee is running from a past with dark secrets that are only revealed at the end of the novel.
I read Run Rose Run for two days when we had horrible weather and I was pretty much trapped inside our condo. It was perfect escapist fare. The character development is a little thin and things work out in a rather predictable fashion but I learned quite a bit about the country music world. Even though I’m not really a country music aficionado I enjoyed listening to some of the catchy tunes on the album Dolly Parton has released to go with the book. The songs follow the plot of the story and one wonders if they won’t form the soundtrack if the book is ever made into a film.
I have a lot of respect for Dolly Parton. A friend arranged a girls’ night out once when Dolly gave a concert in Winnipeg. I so enjoyed Dolly’s high energy performance and it was at the concert I learned more about the important work Dolly has done in the area of children’s literacy. Her Imagination Library has donated nearly 180 million books to young children in five different countries.
Dolly Parton and James Patterson’s novel provided me with a look into the country music world which I knew little about. It’s good for me to expand my reading and listening horizons. Run Rose Run did just that.
I met my member of Parliament last week. Leah Gazan was walking up to the entrance of the old Hudson’s Bay Store and I was on my way to work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when we passed each other on the sidewalk.
Although I voted for Ms Gazan and follow her on social media I had never met her in person before. I almost passed by without saying anything but then blurted out, “You’re Leah Gazan aren’t you.” She stopped. “I’m MaryLou Driedger,” I said “and I am one of your constituents. I want to thank you for doing such a great job of representing our riding.”
She thanked me and told me in an enthusiastic and excited voice that she was going to the old Hudson’s Bay Store for the official announcement that the building would become a community hub with plenty of affordable housing. “Best of all,” she smiled broadly “it will have a hundred new daycare spaces.”
I think no matter what your political persuasion you would have to admire Ms Gazan for her hard work and tireless efforts on behalf of our Winnipeg Centre riding which has the highest rate of poverty in the province.
She introduced a bill in Parliament that would guarantee every Canadian a basic living income. It was her hard work on a Parliamentary committee that helped pass a bill to have Canada recognize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. She has advocated tirelessly for more affordable, safe, and accessible social housing and along with her NDP colleagues promoted universal pharmacare and a dental plan for low-income Canadians.
I don’t when she sleeps because she is constantly out and about in the community meeting people in our constituency at one event after another. On her Instagram feed, I watch her speeches and questions in the House of Commons and she is a passionate and dynamic defender of those facing challenging life situations like the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
Another thing I appreciate about Ms Gazan is that she is quick to apologize when she makes statements that could be misconstrued or she realizes she has made an error in judgementperhaps based on insufficient information.
At the end of our short conversation, I asked Ms Gazan if I could shake her hand. Looking back now I realize that perhaps that wasn’t appropriate given the pandemic, but she agreed and I remembered later I was wearing gloves because of course even though it was mid-April it was a freezing day in Winnipeg.
On Sunday the Winnipeg Free Press carried a story about the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Thrift Store on Selkirk Avenue where I am a regular volunteer. Profits from the store go to the Mennonite Central Committee an aid organization that has programs to help those in need in North America and around the world.
Volunteering at an MCC store is a family tradition. My mother Dorothy volunteered at the store in Steinbach Manitoba for many years and my mother-in-law Anne was a volunteer at the MCC store in Leamington, Ontario. After my parents moved to Winnipeg my Dad Paul volunteered at an MCC store in the city’s Kildonan area with friends from the seniors’ complex where he lived.
The Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Store movement which has spread across North America was co-founded fifty years ago by a group of friends from Altona. Selma Loewen (Auntie Selma to me) was part of this group. She was an honorary aunt of mine since she and her husband Bill were dear friends of my parents.
Clearly, in volunteering at the MCC Thrift Store I am carrying on a family tradition.
I began working at the Selkirk Store when I first retired from teaching and have filled many different roles there but for the last number of years have worked on the second floor of the building with a group of women from my church, sorting through boxes of donations and pricing items for the store shelves.
My friends and I visit and talk and share stories as we work and eat our lunches together. We tell each other about the good times as well as the challenges in our lives.
We are lucky to have Marge Sawatsky as our leader and organizer. Every week she sends out an e-mail to our group giving updates on our work at the store and the news we’ve shared about our lives. So even if we haven’t been able to make it to the shop that week we are kept informed. Marge’s messages help to create a wonderful sense of community that keeps us coming back to volunteer.
I hope I can continue my work at the Thrift Shop for many more years carrying on a family tradition with friends.
This puzzle is called Avian Friends but I ordered it because it reminded me so much of the title of Anne Lamott’s famous book about the craft of writing Bird by Bird first published in 1994. The title of the book comes from a piece in Lamott’s book that reads…….
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Anne’s father’s advice rings true for writing projects but also for almost any task that seems overwhelming. You have to start and take one step at a time and eventually the task will get done. That was certainly how I felt when I wrote my novel and how I feel when I am preparing to learn all the material for an exhibit at the art gallery or when I have to clean my whole house. But if I go ‘bird by bird’ it gets done.
Another thing I liked about this puzzle was the way the birds were pretty easy to put together they were so bright and unique in their colour and design but it was the pieces that connected them that took so long to figure out.
And isn’t that true? Figuring out how to bring together diverse people at work or in a family or figuring out how to take the diverse aspects of your life and bring them together in a way that is meaningful and manageable is always a challenge.
I loved the puzzle Avian Friends. But I would have called it Bird by Bird or Coming Together.
I was curious to see the actors who would play Jake and Lottie Von Riesen in the new film based on Miriam Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows. Their characters were inspired by Miriam Toews’ own parentsMelvin and Elvira Toews who were colleagues and acquaintances of mine.
I felt both Donal Logue and Mare Winningham were brilliant choices for their roles as Jake and Lottie Van Riesen, their characters appealing, sensitively drawn and charming to watch despite the sad story they told.
In fact the acting in this movie adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows was all- round terrific. Alison Pill is riveting as Jake and Lottie’s daughter Yoli a less than successful writer going through a divorce and struggling to parent a teenager.
Sarah Gadon playing her sister Elf, gives a subdued but heart wrenching performance as a famous concert pianist struggling with her mental health. Yoli is trying to be a support to her family even as her own personal life unravelsand isn’t easy for her to manage her anger as well as her envy and fierce love for her sister Elf.
There are plenty of flashbacks meant to help us figure out the current situation in which the Van Riesen family finds itself, but I did wonder if viewers who were being introduced to Miriam Toews and her books for the first time while watching the film would have enough background information to fully appreciate its story.
As the film’s scenes moved back and forth in time I thought perhaps the reason they seemed fluid rather than disjointed to me was because I had read All My Puny Sorrows and had also read the Toews’ novel Swing Low which provides a kind of back story for this film as well as Fight Night which in some ways takes the All My Puny Sorrows story on into the future.
I experienced an emotional jolt duringthe first scene of the movie which shows the father stepping in front of a train because I distinctly remember hearing the news that Miriam Toews’ Dad Melvin had done just that.
It was only a short while after he had stopped by our Steinbach home for a glass of iced tea on one of his afternoon walks. Our teenage son who was out doing yard work had invited him in. Our son had Melvin Toews for a teacher in elementary school and I remember later trying to help him understand why his former teacher had committed suicide.
At his funeral Melvin’s widow Elvira did such a wonderful job of explaining what had happened in a compassionate way to all his former students in attendance. Lottie’s warm and honest eulogy for her sister in the film All My Puny Sorrows very much reminded me of the tone and spirit of the talk Miriam’s Toews’ mother gave at her husband’s funeral.
In this Globe and Mail story about the movie we learn Marie Winningham and Miriam Toews established an e-mail correspondence that helped the actress learn to know Miriam’s mother. That dedication to craft and detail shines through in Winningham’s performance.
As always when I am immersed in a Miriam Toews’ work I can’t help but make connections to my own memories of growing up in The East Village (Steinbach). My experience with the role of music in the community and the history of the Steinbach Public Library would be quite different than the ones portrayed in the film, but of course Miriam’s work is fictional and it is interesting to see things from her point of view especially when it differs from my own.
I would highly recommend All My Puny Sorrows. I am not sure how long it will be in theatres so I’d suggest you see it soon. Hopefully it will also be available for viewing on a streaming service once its theatre run is over.
That got me thinking about the gorgeous Chi Lin Nunnery in Hong Kong with its sixteen huge halls all built out of thousand-year-old yellow Canadian cedar without a single nail. You can smell the cedar the moment you walk on the grounds.
And the cedar at the Chi Lin Nunnery got me thinking about these towering cedar trees we saw along our cycling route in Croatia. They were so tall they dwarfed the church’s bell tower.
And the cedars in Croatia got me thinking about the cedar waxwings we saw a couple of years ago at Moose Lake where my brother now owns the cottage that has been in our family for three generations.
And those cedar waxwings got me thinking about the colorful cedar boards we had on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2016 made by artist Jordan Bennet who is from Newfoundland. They were inspired by stories he heard about the land and the history of his people.
And thinking about those cedar boards at the art gallery made me think of the beautiful yellow cedar tree the artist in residence last year at my church Lynda Toews painted when we were doing a worship series about trees.
And Lynda’s cedar got me thinking of the grade three class I visited at John M. King School where the children had painted replicas of Emily Carr’s masterpiece Red Cedar.
And thinking about the cedar trees the children had painted made me think about the Cedar Hill Golf Course in Victoria where Dave and I played nine holes last fall.
It’s amazing where the word cedar in my Canuckle puzzle took me.
I made the mistake of starting the novel In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner just before I went to bed. I read the first few chapters and turned out the light.
But I couldn’t sleep as I mulled over the poetic beauty of the writing and tried to figure out what was going to happen with the two main characters who had so thoroughly engaged me in the initial chapters. So…….. I ended up reading all night. I did close the book and turn out the light a couple of times but the story wouldn’t let me sleep. I finished it around 6 am.
The novel is about two best friends Delaney and Cash who live in a small poverty-stricken Appalachian community. They meet at a Narateen meeting because both of their mothers are opioid addicts. They have each other for care and support but they also have Cash’s grandparents who have raised him since he found his mother’s dead body in the cramped bathroom of their squalid trailer. Mamaw and Papaw provide both Delaney and Cash with unconditional love and it’s what carries them through when they receive scholarships to a prestigious prep schoolin Connecticut.
I loved this book because the author’s descriptions are total sensual experiences. You smell. You hear. You see. You feel.
I loved this book because a young man’s life is turned around by poetry. I taught poetry to teens for many years and remember how exciting it was for me to see kids who thought they’d never write a poem come to realize that with some support and practice they could. I loved watching as they discovered poetry was a way to record their life, examine relationships and convey their feelings.
One reviewer called In The Wild Light a love letter to possibility and that’s another reason I loved this book. It does not shy away from lots of trauma and trouble but it holds out the possibility that there is hope for a better future no matter what kind of dismal circumstances you have in your past.
Jeff Zentner is a Mormon and this book has a faith element to it, but it doesn’t hit you over the head and the kids who talk about God do so with questions and critical thinking.
The characters are so well-developed. You really feel like you know them and that’s not just true for the two main characters but minor ones too.
The book is chockful of passages that make you stop and think about them. Here are two.
Fear tells you to make your life small. Fear tells you to think small. Fear tells you to be small-hearted. Fear seeks to preserve itself, and the bigger you let your life and perspective and heart get, the less air you give fear to survive.
You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that.
In the Wild Light is billed as being for teens and young adults but I am convinced adults will thoroughly enjoy it too. As you can tell, I certainly did.
The first time I realized that the creation story in Genesis wasn’t unique was at age eighteen. I had to read Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright for my Old Testament class at Canadian Mennonite University. I grew more incredulous as I turned each page.
The story of creation as it was told in Genesiscontained elements borrowed from earlier Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation stories, had things in common with Egyptian creation accounts, and there were many similarities between the Israelite’s god Yahweh and the Canaanite god El.
I barged into my professor’s office and asked him if it was true the Israelites had just cobbled together a creation story using material from other sources. I remember him telling me that the purpose of the story was more important than the story itself.
Fast forward some fifty years and as part of my job as a mentor for university education students, I am visiting a grade nine class where the students are learning about the earth’s origins. Before they examine scientific theories the teacher shows a beautiful video where Canadian Indigenous elders tell the story of Sky Woman and the creation of Turtle Island.
He uses slides to introduce the Chinese story of Pangu who pushed apart the earth and the sky. Then he invites the students to do research on creation stories from other cultures around the world and share them with the class. The kids discover all kinds of creation stories.
Those teens will not head off to university as naive as I was, having only been exposed to the Genesis account in the Bible.
It’s Earth Day today and it may be a good time to remember that there are many different creation stories about how our earth came to be.
I believe their purpose is to teach us there is a life-giving creative force at work in the world and the world was made for people to care for and enjoy.