Category Archives: Books

Olive Again

When I first started reading Elizabeth’s Strout’s book Olive Again I didn’t really care for the heroine Olive very much.  Olive is a prickly old woman, blunt and hard-nosed.  She isn’t easy to like.

Author Elizabeth Strout

In fact, Elizabeth Strout has said that Olive is so irritating and brutally honest that only some of the chapters in Olive Again have Olive at its centre because Elizabeth found it difficult to spend too much time with Olive, even though Elizabeth is the one who created her character.

Despite all her annoying behaviours……….. Olive can be extremely empathetic.  In one chapter she has the courage to spend time talking honestly and regularly to a neighbour dying of cancer.  Other people don’t know what to say to the neighbour and avoid her.  At a baby shower where one of the guests goes into labour, Olive is the one to take matters in hand and delivers the baby in the backseat of her car.  One of the nursing aides sent to look after Olive after she has a heart attack is a Trump supporter and Olive hates the American president with a passion.  Yet, she takes time to listen to the aide’s deeply troubling family story.

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook for the review of Olive Again in the New York Times

The novel and its beautiful, beautiful writing made me think about how……….

Everyone’s life has sadness in it and if we really get to know people we will always find that sadness no matter what kind of cheery exterior they may project.

We all have regrets about the way we lived our lives and it takes courage to go on living and maintaining relationships with people when we have regrets about how we interacted with them in the past.

Everyone is lonely sometimes and we have a choice to stay that way or reach out to the people around us no matter where we are and change our lonely state.

Some people will like you and some people won’t.  That is just the way it is and there’s no use beating yourself up about it or letting it stop you from getting joy and meaning out of life. 

I was weeping when I finished Olive Again because at the end of the book Olive was in a situation I am getting to know oh so well as the members of my family in the generation just ahead of me near the end of their lives and as I get ever nearer there myself.  

Olive Again is a rich and moving novel and it touched me in ways I didn’t expect when I first started it.

Other posts……..

My Name is Lucy Barton

All That Belongs

Where Do the Crawdads Sing For You?





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Decisions That Change Your Life

I received Alice Kuipers book Me and Me as a Christmas gift. It has an intriguing premise. A seventeen-year-old girl named Larkin is in a situation where two people she knows and loves are drowning and she has to decide which one she will save. One is her boyfriend and the other a little girl she babysat. During the rest of the novel, the story flips back and forth between the two different outcomes. We see how Larkin’s life would have turned out had she saved the little girl and what would have happened had she saved her boyfriend. Her life is markedly different in each scenario. 
Reading the novel made me think about times like that in my own life. Not nearly so dramatic as Larkin’s but decisions I made that would have totally changed the course of my life.

Photo with my class when I was named Manitoba Teacher of the Year

I remember when I was in college and I was thinking about whether I should become a teacher or a nurse and my Dad came to have supper with me in my college dining room. We went into this little lounge off the dining room after our meal to visit and I told Dad I wasn’t sure what my career should be teaching or nursing. And Dad told me he didn’t think I would make a good nurse. I should be a teacher. I remember at the time I was upset with him for saying I wouldn’t be suited for a career in nursing but his instincts clearly steered me in the right direction. I liked being a teacher and I think I was pretty good at it. I still sometimes speculate though about what would have happened if I hadn’t taken Dad’s blunt advice. What would my life have been like if I had been a nurse?

Our family on the waterfront after the tsunami

In 2004 we were getting ready to holiday in Phuket Thailand and we decided at the last minute to switch to a hotel high up on a cliff instead of the one right on the ocean where we had planned to stay. The one on the ocean was totally destroyed in the tsunami and many many people staying there died. What if we hadn’t changed our mind at the last minute?

In the receiving line at our wedding in 1973

What if I had decided at age 19 that I was too young to get married as many people told me? What if I had decided after three lost pregnancies that I just couldn’t try again? What if we hadn’t gone to Hong Kong to teach because just after we signed our contract SARS broke out and many people thought we were crazy to go?
In each case, if I had made an alternate decision my life probably would have been markedly different. Alice Kuiper’s book made me think about that.

Other posts………….

A Christmas Carol Saved Our Lives

A Bathtub In My Classroom

A Walk in My Old Neighborhood

Vision and Voice

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Filed under Books, Reflections

Giving A Child Away

I just finished the novel Miles to Go by Beryl Young. Inspired by a true story it is narrated by two grade seven girls Anna and Maggie. They are best friends growing up in a small rural Saskatchewan community in 1948. Sadly right near the beginning of the book, Anna’s mother dies in childbirth. Anna who is just twelve must step in and care for her two pre-school sisters and the new baby. Anna has to keep house, make meals and do laundry. Anna is a promising student but she has to drop out of school.

Eventually, the father comes to realize the whole situation is untenable. He can’t afford to hire help, and he really wants his oldest daughter to go to school. His job requires him to travel and doesn’t allow him to assist with household responsibilities. The father makes the difficult decision to give away the baby for adoption and put the two younger girls in foster care. Anna is devastated her family is being split apart.

I think what Anna’s father did was fairly common seventy years ago. With birth control not available and knowledge about women’s health not what it is today, many women died in childbirth and families were left in the situation Anna’s was.

A friend of mine has written a memoir about her father in which she reveals his parents sent him to live with relatives for five years.  His family would grow to include 13 children and his parents simply couldn’t manage to feed and care for them all. 

Hopi woman with her children 1940s- image from the Digital Public Library of America

When we lived and taught on the Hopi First Nation in Arizona we learned about a custom in the past whereby women gave their childless sisters one of their own children. This was considered the right thing to do. We met a Hopi university professor who had been raised by her aunt and uncle in a situation like this and she had no hard feelings. She realized that in many ways she’d had a better life and more opportunities than her siblings because she was raised as an only child by parents who had been desperate to have children and gave her every advantage.

Making a decision to give a child away would be such a difficult thing to do, but in the past, it was something parents sometimes felt was their only option.

Other posts………

Common Threads- The Hopi

Thirties Prairie Portraits

Learning How to Write Historical Fiction

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Family

Winnie the Pooh Day

Today is Winnie the Pooh Day.  January 18th is the birthday of A. A. Milne the author of the Winnie the Pooh books.  Many people don’t know that Winnie was named after the city of Winnipeg. This statue in the Children’s Nature Playground at Assiniboine Park shows Winnie with his owner Harry Colebourn, a Winnipeg veterinarian.  During World War I Harry joined the army. On his trip to his barracks in Quebec his train made in stop in White River Ontario.  Harry bought a female bear cub there for $20 from a hunter who had killed the cub’s mother. Harry named the bear Winnie after his hometown.

Harry Colebourn and Winnie

Harry was sent overseas to England and took Winnie along where she quickly became the mascot of Harry’s regiment The Fort Garry Horse. Later when Henry was sent to France for three years he put Winnie in the London Zoo.

A. A. Milne and his son Christopher

Author A. A. Milne visited the London Zoo with his son Christopher, who decided to name his teddy bear after Winnie.  That teddy bear became the main character in a series of stories his father wrote about Winnie the Pooh.

My friend Meena with the Winnie the Pooh statue in Assiniboine Park

After the war, Major Colebourn decided to leave Winnie in the London Zoo. He went back to Winnipeg where he practised veterinary medicine till his death in 1947.

A. A. Milne’s books about Winnie the Pooh became beloved pieces of children’s literature read around the world. Later Walt Disney turned the stories into a movie and television series.

Other posts……..

James Bond is From Winnipeg

Kent Monkman is From Winnipeg

Sadia- A Muslim Girl From Winnipeg



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Filed under Books, Winnipeg

Anne of Green Gables- Still Popular

I have several copies of Anne of Green Gables but my most treasured volume has a battered blue cover with the title in faded gold lettering. I’ve had to tape it back together several times. The flyleaf is inscribed with my Aunt Vi’s name and the year 1942. That’s when she received the book as a gift. Two decades later she gave the book to me and I’ve read it many times since. At age ten I became a devotee of Anne’s and in short order read all eight books in the Lucy Maud Montgomery series.
I read Anne of Green Gables to my oldest son when he was six. I wanted him to hear some stories with girls as the main character and Anne immediately engaged him with her hijinks and mischief-making. He often begged for an extra chapter before I tucked him into bed.
I taught six to nine-year-olds for a portion of my career and Anne of Green Gables was always one of the books I read aloud to them. There was rarely a dry eye in the house when we reached the chapter where Matthew, Anne’s adopted father dies. Even the toughest boys in the bunch could be caught wiping away a tear and hoping no one would see.
One year I had a boy in my grade four class named Ashton who confided when we were about halfway through the novel that he was convinced he and I were “kindred spirits’, a term Anne uses to describe people who understand her. It was one of the finest compliments I received during my career.

Anne of Green Gables House Prince Edward Island

I visited Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace in Prince Edward Island in 2002. I toured her cousins’ home. It was the model for Green Gables in her books. I was lucky enough to have Carolyn Collins, a Lucy Maud Montgomery biographer as my guide. She provided all kinds of interesting information. Apparently, Winston Churchill, with whom Montgomery shared a birthday, was a fan of her books and wrote to tell her so. 

I still have the program for the performance of the musical Anne of Green Gables we saw at Confederation Hall in Charlottetown. My husband Dave was singing along under his breath on many of the numbers since he had directed a production of Anne of Green Gables at Elmdale School when he was a teacher there.

When I worked for the Winnipeg Free Press one of my faith page columns was about the theological insights to be found in Anne of Green Gables. I republished that column on this blog and it has been read more than 5000 times.
Just goes to show how popular Anne still is. 

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Christmas Books

I’m mailing the Christmas books today.  At the beginning of December, I send each of my grandchildren a pair of Christmas socks and a special book related to the season to read during Advent.  This will be my oldest grandson’s seventh Christmas book and my new granddaughter’s first. Sometimes the books are about the religious aspect of the holiday like this one I sent last year which told the nativity story with beautiful illustrations made from rocks.  Here are this year’s books. When I taught grade one and two I had sets of poems and songs for the children to learn for every theme we studied and Christmas was no exception.  I always included some poems by Jack Prelutsky. The kids loved his rhymes. I didn’t even know Jack Prelutsky’s poem book It’s Christmas was still in print so I was delighted to find it for my seven-year-old grandson who will probably be able to read most of these poems on his own. There are touching poems in the book like the one about a family caroling and poems that make you laugh out loud like the one about getting underwear for Christmas. As soon as I read this beautiful book I knew I wanted to buy it for my middle grandchild who is three years old and just loves stories. The first thing he said when I arrived at his home in Saskatoon on my last visit was, “Grandma did you bring books?”  He knows I always come with books to read to him. He is lucky to be growing up in a home filled with books and parents who love to read. Bear and Wolf is about two very different animals who strike up a friendship and go out and explore the natural world together. Their story warmed my heart.  In a time when many people in our world are being pushed apart by their differences and are failing to recognize that we can’t take the beauty of our natural world for granted, this story shows us what to do. It has a simple text and wonderfully interesting illustrations. For my granddaughter’s first Christmas book I chose Santa’s Cookie is Missing! Anne Passchier’s colourful illustrations leap off the page in this board book about the hunt to find the cookie left for Santa that has gone missing. My granddaughter just started to crawl and she is off on her own explorations now, so I thought she’d like this book about kids who explore their surroundings trying to find the missing cookie. Guess who ends up with it?

When my boys were little we lit the advent candles on our dining room table each evening in December and then read a story from the big basket full of Christmas books I kept under the table. I am happy the tradition of Christmas book reading is being carried on with the next generation.  

Other posts…….

Children’s Christmas Books- The Classics

A Christmas Tree For Readers

I Just Won a Cache of Great Children’s Books

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Filed under Books, Holidays

The Consolation of Water Lilies

Clouds reflected in the water in a pond full of water lilies in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg

In her beautifully written book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer has a chapter about water lilies. Kimmerer is a botany professor but she is also a poignant writer and has this incredibly wise and wonderful way of linking our lives to those of the plant world.

She tells the story of her two daughters leaving home.  She has just visited the older one who is attending university in a distant state and now she is driving the youngest daughter to the college she will attend.  Robin recalls all the responsibilities she had as a mother keeping a household running for her two daughters and supporting them in their various endeavours. There were constant demands on her to give and give and give.  Yet she is grieving deeply as she drives away after dropping off her daughter at her dormitory.  Robin decides to go canoeing and the time she spends in nature feeds her and restores her. Just as she has been giving to her daughters for so many years now nature is giving to her.

Water lily in a cenote in Mexico where I went swimming

Robin talks in particular about the water lilies she encounters canoeing and how they look so beautiful. She knows as a botanist that water lilies get their air and light on the surface of the water but they are anchored below by a rhizome as thick as your wrist and so strong it is almost impossible to break. Robin also describes in delicate and lovely language how the old leaves of a water lily and the new ones are inextricably linked and how they help one another survive. 

Robin is wise enough to let her readers come to their own conclusions but her words reminded me so much of my parenting experience.  How we hope when our children leave home we have given them a strong enough anchor as they seek the things that will bring air and light to their own lives.  How we hope that the bond we have with our children will keep us linked together albeit in constantly new and changing ways and that as our lives move forward we will continue to help one another survive and thrive in this world.  

This chapter in Robin’s book is entitled The Consolation of Water Lilies.  She named it perfectly. 

Other posts………….

Grateful for Mom’s Support

Captain Fantastic

Plants That Talked to Me

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Filed under Books, Nature