I am writing this at 4 am because I’ve just finished a really good book. I woke up at 2 am and couldn’t stop thinking about The Son of the House by debut author Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia. I was about three quarters of the way through reading it when I went to bed. I just had to know what happened so I finally gave in, turned on the light and finished the story.
The novel is about two women Nwabulu and Julie who both live in the same city in Nigeria and are kidnapped together. As they wait in captivity for their families to send money for their release they tell one another their life stories- both fascinating but very different. As you read you increasingly come to suspect their stories are intertwined with one another. And they are!
The ending resolved some things but also left me with questions. I sometimes like that when I finish a book because I can imagine my own answers to the questions. This time I’m not so sure.
The author Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a law professor who divides her time between universities in Halifax and Lagos, Nigeria. She researches, works and writes academically in the areas of health, gender and violence against women and children and those themes are certainly a part of The Son of the House as the two main female characters find their way in a misogynist and patriarchal society.
The Son of the House was a Giller Prize nominee last year and someone recommended it to me but I don’t remember who. If that person happens to be reading this blog post I am grateful to you.
Yesterday morning I did an interview for an article I’ve been asked to write. It was with a young university student whose family immigrated to Canada from Lagos, Nigeria. Listening to her story just when I was in the middle of a novel set in Nigeria made me all the more interested in The Son of the House and may be why I had to get up in the middle of the night to finish it.
We have a new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Transmissions. One of its themes is how knowledge is passed on or transmitted from one generation to another. A piece in the exhibit is by famed Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. It depicts a grandfather teaching his grandson about living things and the way they are all connected to one another.
It got me thinking about photographs I might have that show knowledge being passed on from one generation to another.
We learn many things from the generations that come before us. Some of these things like the ones I’ve chosen to illustrate here are positive but others are not. We have to decide the difference and also decide what knowledge that’s been passed on from previous generations can best help us move forward in our own lives.
“Can you help me find a grocery store?” A young woman with a slight accent stopped me as I was doing an errand in my Winnipeg neighbourhood yesterday. She wondered if I knew where she could find a grocery store. I told her that sadly there was no major grocery outlet in the downtown Exchange District Area.
I asked her if she was visiting Winnipeg from another place and she said she was from Ukraine and had recently immigrated here. I told her my grandparents had immigrated to Manitoba from Ukraine too and that I had travelled back to Ukraine to see their homeland a decade ago.
The young woman told me she was an engineer looking for work in the city. A few days ago she had a promising interview and is hoping she will be offered a job.
She sang the praises of our government for the way they helped her get a visitor visa and a work visa. As soon as she landed at the airport in Winnipeg a volunteer met her and she was taken to an office where they facilitated her obtaining a social security number and a medical number.
She is being housed in a nice Winnipeg hotel at the government’s expense and can have her meals there for free till she gets on her feet. She is very, very grateful.
We chatted about the beauty of her hometown of Odessa, including their beautiful opera house, which I have visited and she told me about the bombings of the Odessa port and her fear of being on the streets alone at night now that so many criminals have been released from prison to fight in the war.
Before we parted we exchanged first names and shook hands. Later I was able to find her on social media and sent her a message telling her she should let me know if there was anything I could do to be of help to her.
She responded by saying I was just like so many of the people she has met in Winnipeg, friendly and kind. It is nice to know our city has that kind of reputation.
I bought a fitness tracker about a month ago and I am trying to decide whether I like it or not.
On the plus side……..
I wanted to be motivated to walk at least 10,000 steps a dayand I think the tracker has inspired me to do that. Often at the end of the day if I am just a thousand or so steps short I will do a quick walk, sometimes even in the hallways of my condo building to bring me up to the 10,000 steps.
I’ve come to realize how many steps I can put in just doing things around the houseand it’s good to be reminded that even getting up and moving around my home has benefits.
One feature I like about the fitness tracker is that it automatically records how many hours I sleep. I know I need to get more sleep to be really healthy and my tracker tells me each morning how many hours I’ve had which is good for me.
On the con side………
I don’t know how accurate my fitness tracker is because when I wear it and also carry my phone, say on a trip to the grocery store, the step tracker on my phone will record far more steps than the tracker on my wrist. Apparently different trackers can vary wildly in the number ofsteps they record.
Much of the technology of the tracker is beyond me. My fitness tracker offers other programs like receiving messages, recording workouts, taking your heart rate and measuring distance and calories burned but I can’t do all that yet. I have replaced my watch with my tracker and sometimes I can’t even figure out how to find the time or date on it.
I know to be really healthy I need to engage in a more intense exercise like cycling or lifting weights several times a week and sometimes I worry my fitness tracker lulls me into complacency about that.
The jury is still out on whether my fitness tracker was a good investment or not. I didn’t buy an expensive one so I won’t feel too guilty if I decide using it isn’t worthwhile. I will keep you posted.
I think I am qualified to answer that question because my husband doesn’t want to wearhis wedding ring either.
Yes, I did put a ring on his finger on our wedding day as this photo attests.
But the summer we got married Dave had a job working at the John Blumberg Golf Course and shortly after our wedding he caught the ring on a piece of equipment there and claimed he nearly lost his finger as a result.
He also said wearing the ring felt strange when he was holding the baseball bat, golf club or tennis racket. He decided he would take off the ring just for the summer. He put it in my jewellery case and never took it out again. It has been sitting there for nearly 50 years.
Dave has not worn his wedding ring at all during our marriage but he has been a faithful husband, an involved father, a caring grandfather, an enthusiastic travel partner, and an unending source of humour, surprises and adventures for almost five decades.
So to answer the question the woman in the Globe and Mail asked about whether you are really married even if your husband doesn’t want to wear his wedding ringI would answer, “Yes you are”.
The setting was ideal. We relaxed in lawn chairs on the shore of Jessica Lake in the late afternoon and early evening. Waves lapped gently, and the sky was a stark blue canvas painted with a bevvy of interesting clouds. I could smell the pines. I was sipping crisp white wine and took my shoes off to feel the sandy soil beneath my feet.
And then my friend Roger started reading a charming and intriguing chapter from his latest manuscript.
We were at Proestry II, the second annual literary event hosted by our friends Jan and Mitch at their Whiteshell cottage.
Mitch who was celebrating the announcement that a book of his short stories will be released by At Bay Press in 2023 was an affable and accommodating master of ceremonies and introduced us to each of the folks who had come to share their work. There was such a variety.
Leslie read a humourous short story.
Marnie shared excerpts from her journal.
Wes entertained us with tunes by Leonard Cohen and Woody Guthrie
Phyllis introduced us to her poetry
I debuted the opening chapter of my latest work in progress.
Donna presented an excerpt from her first book.
Mitch interspersed his master of ceremonies comments with several readings from his own work.
Later there was time for visiting and eating.
I am already looking forward to Prosetry III next summer.
I have been catching buses in front of Winnipeg’s City Hall for over ten years now and last week I noticed the monument behind me in this photo for the first time. It has been in this spot since June of 1984. I can hardly believe I was so unobservant that I had never noted its presence before.
The memorial was created by sculptor Roman Kowal. It was a gift to the city from the Winnipeg chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee and was unveiled by Mayor William Norrie during his time in office. It commemorates the deaths of millions of Ukrainians in the genocidal famine of 1932 and 1933.
This famine is often referred to as the Holodomor famine a term that comes from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (more).
Joseph Stalin instituted policies that caused the famine in order to consolidate his hold over Ukraine which served as the breadbasket of the nation but whose population was rebelling against Stalin’s collectivization measures and voicing notions of independence.
Since more than 100,000 people of Ukrainian descent make their home in Winnipeg it is not at all surprising that this catastrophic event in Ukraine’s history is recognized in a memorial in front of City Hall.
Noticing the memorial was a good reminder to me that although it has been over a decade since I moved to Winnipeg from Hong Kong there are still many interesting things to discover about this city.
This is the latest jigsaw puzzle I’ve completed. I have done other puzzles about birds but the theme of this one is the music they make. Bird songs are very important. They help birds claim and defend territory, find mates, keep in touch with each other while flying, and warn each other of danger. There are some ornithologists who claim there are times birds sing just for the joy and beauty of it.
One of my most beautiful experiences with bird songs happened when we were staying in a house in Costa Rica in the jungle. Our bedroom only had three walls and the fourth was open to the outdoors. We were awakened each sunrise by a symphony of song, created by a whole variety of birds joining together in the dawn chorus. The dawn chorus is an extra loud and long crescendo of noise issued by birds just as the day begins. There are lots of ideas about why this happens but no one really understands it.
During our recent stay with our whole family at a house in Oak Lake, Manitoba our younger son who is an avid birdwatcher repeatedly heard the song of the sora bird and since he had never seen one was determined to find this elusive bird that is rarely spotted because it makes its home in thick marsh grasses. On our last day there our son took the kayak into the reeds near our cottage and spotted his sora bird. He knew it was there because he’d heard its song.
Our youngest granddaughter isn’t two but she already recognizes the sounds and songs of many different birds when her grandpa plays them for her on his computer.
Research shows that listening to bird songs, especially those that are melodic and in a high frequency is good for our mental and emotional health. In surveys done by the National Museum in London they were surprised to learn that people had become much more attuned to bird songs during the pandemic and said listening to birds sing had comforted and calmed them.
According to National Audubon scientists, 3 billion North American songbirds close to 30% of them have vanished since 1970 due to the use of pesticides and habitat loss. In the future, it may become a much rarer thing to hear bird songs. I am glad my grandchildren are being taught how to hear those songs now while they still have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate their beauty.
My friend Beena recently sent me a photo of herself with my novel Lost on the Prairie which has made its way to Delhi, India. When we visited Delhi many years ago Beena and her family entertained us for a meal in their home.
Dave and I taught with Beena’s sister at our school in Hong Kong and Beena has visited us here in Winnipeg. I was delighted to know she had a copy of my novel.
Every month or so I like to post an update on things that are happening with my novel Lost on the Prairie. My publisher Heritage House is as diligent as ever in promoting my book and recently featured it as part of a summer reading campaign.
When I first retired from teaching and decided I wanted to try and write a children’s book and get it published I took a correspondence course in writing for children from The Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding Connecticut. The course provided an excellent start to learning about writing for children.
My personal writing coach was Pegi Deitz Shea and she was wonderful. She gave me such encouraging and helpful feedback on each of the submitted assignments but more importantly she gave me confidence. Recently the Institute of Children’s Literature contacted me asking if they could feature me on their successful graduate’s page and I agreed. You can read my interview with them here.
I was delighted that the popular children’s book blog Bit About Books featured Lost on the Prairie as part of their Summer Trails Reading Challenge.
I have to admit I LOVE going into the Millennium Library near my home and seeing my novel on the shelf just as you walk into the children’s section where it is featured as a Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award nominee with so many other great books.
Teacher Librarian Ella Munro reported on social media that Lost on the Prairie was the fourth of the ten nominated books for the MYRCA award she had read before singing the praises of its charming hero. You can read more comments about Lost on the Prairie here.
Recently my friend Pearl had Dave and me over for brunch which included a delicious quiche made by her husband Ken. She asked me to sign five copies of my book which she was giving to families she knew. Thanks, Pearl!
I always think that one month soon there won’t be anything to write about my novel but more than a year after it was first published things keep happening that I want to write about and remember and that was something I didn’t expect.
The Hanover School Division sent a letter to the Steinbach City Council recently proposing a police officer position be established at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. They feel this will ensure heightened safety for students. The city council indicated their approval but said the school division would need to cover all associated costs.
I found it interesting Hanover wants to begin this initiative when two of Winnipeg’s largest school divisions recently chose to terminate programs that had placed police officers in their schools.
In the Louis Riel School Division, they plan to redirect the funds they used to maintain a police presence in schools towards hiring diversity, equity, and inclusion officers to work on issues like racism and bullying which are often underlying factors in violent incidents in schools.
Some American schools are choosing to replace police officers in their schools with nurses, mental health workers, social workers, and additional counsellors. However, Hanover Board chair Ron Falk said in the letter to the city council that he does not believe adding counsellors at the Steinbach high school would make a difference.
The Peel School District near Toronto had been investing some 9 million dollars annually for 22 years to have police officers in their schools but in November of 2020, the program was cancelled because of concerns it made Indigenous, Black and students from other minority groups feel unsafe. Edmonton, Ottawa, and Vancouver all recently cancelled their police in the schools’ initiatives while Calgary and Regina temporarily suspended their programs in order to review them.
It seems Hanover will be heading in a different direction than many Canadian school districts if they choose to implement a policing program in their largest high school.
Reading in The Carillon that Steinbach police officers say they now spend one to two hours a day at the high school responding to various incidents made me curious whether youth crime, in general, has been on the rise in Canada. That would certainly explain why more crimes are happening at the local high school. I was surprised to learn that youth crime in Canada has in fact been declining steadily for the last two decades as has the severity of the crime youths commit.
I read an array of articles about the impact of police officers in American schools where 72% of high schools have a police officer on campus. Although many report positive experiences with having officers present, statistics don’t prove they substantially lower crime rates or decrease violent incidents despite the fact that many officers impose a commanding presence in American schools carrying guns, tasers, handcuffs, and batons and employing full-body metal detectors. There were police officers employed on campus in Uvalde Texas during the recent horrific school shootings there, but they were unable to prevent the loss of twenty-one lives.
Reading through reviews of school policing programs makes several things clear. If officers are going to be effective in schools they need to be specifically trained to work in that unique environment, so they understand adolescents and their psychological development.
Officers should invest heavily in extra-curricular and other school involvements to build positive relationships with staff, administrators and students and must focus on respectful and open communication with them.
It is best if there is a memorandum of understanding so both the school and the officers know what areas the police will have a responsibility for, and what disciplinary matters the school will continue to handle.
If the Hanover School Division chooses to move forward with its program to install a police officer on the regional school campus there are clearly many factors to consider beforehand.