Category Archives: Culture

Why Do People Collect Things?

Mom with one of the Royal Doulton Figurines she loved to collect

My mother-in-law Anne, collected Royal Doulton china figurines. She loved beautiful things and she had a curio cabinet in her living room where she kept her Royal Doultons.  Each woman in our family received one after her funeral. In this picture, Mom is holding a figurine called Fair Lady which she received as a Christmas gift.  It was the one I inherited as a keepsake. 

Note seashells on furniture cushions, seashells on the coffee table and seashell picture frames underneath the coffee table

Many people collect things. On a trip to Mexico, we visited a woman who collected seashells and items connected with seashells. One room in her house was exclusively for her seashell collection. There were seashells from all over the world everywhere. The room was furnished with couches and chairs with a seashell pattern on the upholstery. There were lamps with shades covered with shells. Sculptures made of shells and books about seashells sat on the tables. Family photos in seashell- encrusted frames lined the shelves. Even the business card the woman gave me was decorated with a photo of a large shell.

My mother collected buttons in this button box

People have a natural tendency to collect things. Seashells may not be their passion but whether its coins, stamps, postcards, spoons, buttons, or more bizarre things like teabags, chocolate bar wrappers or traffic signs we human beings seem inclined to be collectors. Dr Steve Anderson, a neurologist at the University of Iowa says our need to collect may harken back to an earlier point in our evolution, since many animals hoard things, especially food.

According to Susan Pearce, author of the book Interpreting Objects and Collections one in three North Americans collects something. There are many different kinds of collections and collectors.

The earrings I bought in Ukraine

Some collections are souvenirs. I collect earrings from the places we visit on our travels. My sister and her husband have a collection of traditional painted masks from many of the countries where they have travelled. 

Some collections are gifts. For years my brother gave my mother a china plate every Mother’s Day with a message or saying about mothers on it. He hunted through antique stores and curio shops, often for weeks, until he found a unique plate and a design. 

Some collections are of practical use. A couple who were our teaching colleagues in Hong Kong collected Starbucks coffee mugs from every place they visited. 

Our friend Rob collects military memorabilia. Photo by Jordan Ross/The Carillon

The desire to learn new things can also be the impetus behind a collection. Dave and I have a friend who collects military artefacts. He has uniforms, machinery, vehicles, sheet music, maps, books, flags and photographs. His collection has helped him learn a great deal about military history. 

Some people collect things because of their monetary value. I used to work with a woman who collected Barbie Dolls. She assured me someday she would sell her collection and make a mint of money.

Our son in a shirt he received as a gift from our friend who collects Superman items

Susan Pearce says there are some collections which she terms ‘magic’. There is no rhyme or reason for collecting them but they have a certain appeal or attraction for the collector. I imagine this might apply to the collection of snow globes my brother used to have or a friend’s large collection of Superman memorabilia

Collections can remind us of positive experiences and important people in our lives. They can help us learn new things. They can be practical or magical. Collections can enrich our lives.

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My Mom’s Button Box

Earrings and Tombstones

Among the Birch and Pine

 

 

 

 

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The Great Canadian Nanaimo Bar

Cookbook on display at the Nanaimo Museum

Legend has it that in the 1930s the women of Nanaimo British Columbia started putting a sweet chocolate square in the lunch buckets of their miner husbands. The recipe for the square first appeared in the 1952 Nanaimo Hospital Women’s Auxilary Cookbook under the title Chocolate Square. In 1953 the recipe was reprinted in Vancouver’s Edith Adams Cookbook and named Nanaimo Bars.

I did a little digging into the history of the Nanaimo Bar because it is currently at the heart of a social media controversy. It started when the New York Times put the above post on Instagram. It created a great hue and cry from Canadians who said the AMERICAN newspaper had falsely represented the dessert which a 2006 National Post poll had found to be CANADA’S favourite confection. The New York Times kitchen had made the base of the Nanaimo Bar too thick. The chocolate icing should not have been rippled but according to some Canadian critics “smooth as newly Zambonied ice.”

My Nanaimo bars on a plate I inherited from my grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt

I didn’t think I had ever made Nanaimo bars before, so after reading about the controversy I decided to try. I used the recipe of fellow children’s writer and popular Winnipeg food blogger Harriet Zaidman. I think my bars turned out pretty well thanks to Harriet’s great photos and instructions. My husband said he could tell they were made with love.

Canada stamp featuring a Nanaimo bar

I have learned some cool facts about Nanaimo bars………

  • They served Nanaimo bars for dessert at the White House the night Michelle and Barack Obama hosted Justin and Sophie Trudeau at a state dinner in 2016.
  • The city of Nanaimo’s mascot is a walking Nanaimo bar named Nanaimo Barney.
  • On an episode of Master Chef Canada contestants had to make a dish inspired by Nanaimo bars.
  • In 2019 Canada Post issued a stamp featuring a Nanaimo bar
  • Different locations in and around Nanaimo serve maple bacon, peanut butter and deep-fried Nanaimo bars, Nanaimo bar spring rolls, Nanaimo bar waffles and cheesecake and Nanaimo bar coffee and cocktails.
  • Nanaimo bars were a huge hit at Expo 86 in Vancouver and are a popular sales item on BC ferries.
  • Nanaimo bars have their own entry in the Oxford Dictionary

Other posts…….

More Than A Cake- It’s a Memory

Chocolate is Essential

Cooking Up A Storm in the Yucatan

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Filed under Canada, Culture, Food

The Hands of A Basketball Player- Michelangelo’s David

michelangelos-david-wiki-art-public-domain“He’d a make a great basketball player. Look at those big hands.” That was my husband’s first comment as we walked up to the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. The white marble statue is 17 feet high and shows David ready to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant.

David’s hands do look big, but Michelangelo made them that way because initially David was created to stand outside a palace, rather than in an art gallery.  From up close you can see the veins in his hands. 

I’m standing by the sculpture of David in the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence

Michelangelo thought people would be viewing David from far away. He wanted them to be able to see all the details of his statue, including David’s hands. Although some people think the 29-year-old Michelangelo made a mistake when he carved David’s large hands, experts agree their size was deliberate.

I took this photo of Michelangelo’s statue just outside the Uffizi Gallery

At age 24 Michelangelo began visiting morgues. He would cut up unclaimed corpses and study their anatomy. He was as well-trained as any physician in the body’s structure. He wouldn’t have made a mistake with David’s hands. He wanted them to be larger than life and powerful. From up close you can see the very veins in his hands. 

Two other artists had rejected the piece of marble Michelangelo used for David because they claimed it lacked perfection. Michelangelo was able to create something beautiful despite the flawed material he had been given.

We visited the statue of David on a February day along with a few other hardy souls who were braving Florence at the coldest time of the year. The absence of the crowds that usually mill around David made it possible for us to spend about 40 minutes examining not only his hands but all his features from every side. 

David has a determined, focused look in his eye. His cheeks are smooth and his upper lip is just a little bigger than the lower one. His nostrils are slightly flared, his brow mildly furrowed and his hair classically curly.

You can see the clear outline of his rib cage. His elbows appear calloused and rough and his feet are crusty and cracked. 

My husband Dave is right. Michelangelo’s David does have big hands. He also has a big heart, one filled with enough courage, confidence and youthful enthusiasm to try the impossible and succeed.

Just the way his creator Michelangelo succeeded when he took an imperfect piece of marble and turned it into something that has become one of the most universally recognized pieces of art in the world.

If you liked this post you might also like…….

Galileo’s Grocery List

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Filed under Art, Culture, Italy, Travel

Human Rights and February Holidays

In February we recognize two important holidays.  Both remind us we are making progress towards respecting diversity, but each should also remind us we need to continue to be vigilant about protecting human rights. 

Lion dancer I photographed during Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong

We are in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations which run from February 12 -26th.  Canada is home to more than one and half million people of Chinese descent. I learned to thoroughly enjoy Chinese New Year celebrations during the six years I lived in Hong Kong. Some of my colleagues at the international school where I taught were Chinese Canadians.  I was interested to learn that their families had been in Canada longer than mine.  

Sculpture illustrating the important contribution Chinese workers made to the construction of Canada’s railroad at the Winnipeg Millennium Library

My Mennonite ancestors immigrated in the 1920s but in the early 1880s 17,000 Chinese workers came to Canada to help build the railroad.  Many stayed here and prospered despite the virulent racism they faced. Their families continue to make valuable contributions to our country in politics, culture, business, science, education, technology and sport. 

Sadly, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, in the last year more than 600 incidents of hate related crimes have been reported to Chinese Canadian organizations. Although some of these incidents are related to historical anti-Asian racism many are the result of the racialization of COVID-19. Vancouver police have reported a real spike in cases. They investigated seven racist incidents in 2019 and sixty-six in 2020. 

Dr. Theresa Tam- Canada’s Chief Medical Officer

Although it is easy to point fingers at the United States where their former president’s continual reference to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus has caused a massive increase in anti-Asian hate incidents, we have a similar problem in Canada. One need look no further for an example of such anti- Chinese sentiment than the comments of former Conservative Party member Derek Sloan. He accused Dr. Theresa Tam our country’s chief medical officer who is of Chinese descent, of being more loyal to China than to Canada. This kind of dishonest racist rhetoric has no place in a respectful society.  

I photographed Winnipeg’s Metis mayor Brian Bowman at the opening ceremonies for Folklorama in 2019

On Monday we celebrated Louis Riel day. Louis Riel was a staunch defender of the rights of Manitoba’s Metis people. The mayor of our capital city Brian Bowman is Metis as was a former provincial premier John Norquay. Think of hockey player Theoren Fluery, writer Katherena Vermette, artist Joe Fafard, actress Tantoo Cardinal and members of Parliament Dan Vandal and Shelley Glover and you will get some idea of just how many important contributions the nearly 90,000 Metis Manitobans have made to our province.  

Yet it doesn’t take long to find stories about Metis people being discriminated against in many different areas of society.  In September of 2020 a CTV news story reported that David Chartrand the president of the Manitoba Metis Federation had sent a letter to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission alleging systemic discrimination against the Metis people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Chartrand said the provincial government had been unwilling to work with the Metis nation in an information sharing process that would have benefited both the Metis and the Manitoba health care system.  

I photographed this sculpture titled Manitoba by Metis artist Joe Fafard at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

In 2018 almost the entire Manitoba Hydro Board, whose members had all been appointed by Premier Brian Pallister, resigned to protest the decision the premier made to not honor an agreement the board had negotiated with the Manitoba Metis Federation. Clearly there is still work to do in addressing discrimination against the Metis community. 

A pair of holidays we celebrate in February recognize the rich contributions of two diverse communities in our country. Those holidays should also remind us we need to continue to work at respecting the human rights of those communities.  

Other posts………

Making Chinese Dumplings

Manitoba is Metis

It’s Louis Riel Day

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Filed under Canada, Culture, History, Holidays, manitoba, Politics

Do Buildings Have Souls?

My son and his family are building a new home and we’ve been keeping up to date on the progress of their plans by seeing blueprints and looking at models. The other day they sent a video of the work beginning at the site of their future house.

Observing the planning process they are going through and seeing how they are trying to design a home that fits their family and their lifestyle reminds me of an architect I once interviewed who told me he believes buildings have souls.

There was something quite soulful about the Taj Mahal especially during my visit there at dawn

According to him, an architectural concept for any building should be a metaphor or image for the dreams and values of the people who will use that building. Articulating and defining the soul of a building is a process that needs to include as many of the people who will inhabit the finished structure as possible. If you read the story I wrote about the designer of the Syndey Opera House Jorn Utzon you see how his vision for the soul of the building was compromised and the consequences of that. 

My husband and sons on a Habitat for Humanity build in northern Thailand. I think the homes Habitat builds reflect the values of their organization.

For his article Do Buildings Have Souls writer Ray Edgar interviewed a number of architects who said buildings might be said to have souls when they reflect the personalities and values of the people or organizations who build them.  Apparently, no concrete rules can be laid out for making sure a building has a soul. 

An architect from Dehli India Vidur Bharadwaj says he tries to treat each building he designs like a living being, a being with a soul and fundamental need to breathe.”

The house my grandfather built for his family in Drake Saskatchewan

I wonder if people aren’t attracted to certain buildings and love to revisit them because they speak to their souls.  It might be a church or an art gallery or someone’s home.  I remember my grandparents’ homes as having a kind of soul for me.  They were places I felt I belonged. Our family’s Moose Lake cabin had a soul for me too. 

Recent troubles at the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg seem to indicate that the stunning design of the building can’t override its troubled soul

I once led a discussion about a book called Treasure Palaces a collection of essays by well-known authors who talked about the museums and art galleries that have touched their souls in some special way and brought them back for many visits. 

The church I attended in Hong Kong Tao Fong Shan had a soul for me.  I think it was the way the building was designed but also it’s setting high on a hill surrounded by trees and rocks and the quiet oasis it offered in a noisy city that lived life at a very fast pace. 

I asked the architect I interviewed, how we could know for certain that a building accurately reflected the soul of the community it housed. He told me the soul of a building could not be measured. It was something that could be discerned only with the heart.

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Cancel Culture

I’ve been hearing the term cancel culture so often lately.  What does it mean? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as cancelling an entertainer, a political figure, a businessperson, an organization or an institution by ending your support of them. You do so because they expressed a belief or acted in a way you find unacceptable.

Some Canadian examples would be refusing to buy clothing made by Peter Nygard’s company because he has been accused of sex trafficking or taking down the statue of Egerton Ryerson at Toronto’s Ryerson University because Ryerson was the architect of Canada’s residential school system. It might be changing the name of Cecil Rhodes School school in Winnipeg because Rhodes believed in the superiority of the white race or not watching the games of a sports team whose name or logo you deem to be racist.  

Some songs were removed from the new Mennonite Hymnal Voices Together just before it went to press

The Mennonite Church just decided to remove seven popular pieces of music from a new hymnal they are publishing because the composer has been accused of abusing his power in church music circles, making women feel they needed to exchange sexual favours for a chance to get ahead professionally. I know people who refused to travel to the United States after Donald Trump was elected President because they felt he was racist, had treated women disrespectfully and was using his political position to benefit his family fortune.

Erin O’Toole is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party

Erin O Toole who is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada has promised if he becomes Prime Minister, he will end cancel culture.  I am not exactly sure how he is going to achieve that but it’s a promise he is making.  He says in a campaign video that all people and institutions have both good and bad aspects and we can’t try to erase their legacy because of the things they have done that are questionable particularly when they have also done things that are praiseworthy and important.  

Sculpture illustrating the important contribution Chinese workers made to the construction of Canada’s railroad at the Winnipeg Millennium Library

He gives the example of Sir John A McDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister who was instrumental in building a railroad that united our country. Of course, MacDonald did so by illegally expropriating indigenous land and having Chinese workers sacrifice their lives doing slave labour to construct it. Despite the negative aspects of his legacy, which are many, O Toole thinks MacDonald still deserves to be honoured with statues and other symbols for his important contributions to Canadian history. 

My husband Dave stands beside Old Sun a sculpture by Adrian Stinson which has been added to a gallery filled with work by Canada’s Group of Seven at the Art Gallery of Ontario

American artist Titus Kaphar has proposed an interesting alternative to cancel culture that involves adding things instead of removing them. You might call it additional culture. I saw an example on my last visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario where at least one work by an indigenous artist has been added to every room.

When We Were Alone – awarding-winning book by David Robertson illustrated by Julie Flett

I see it in the world of children’s writing where books by indigenous writers and illustrators like David Robertson and Julie Flett, are given publishing priority so their excellent work is added to the canon of children’s literature. Additional culture might mean putting up a statue of Cindy Blackstock the indigenous activist who has fought so long and hard for the welfare of indigenous children beside a statue of Sir John A MacDonald who called indigenous children savages and ordered them taken from their parents.

Rosemary Brown was elected to the BC legislature in 1972

We could name the next new schools we build after people like Black Canadian baseball legend Ferguson Jenkins or Rosemary Brown the first Black provincial legislator in Canada.

We may still need to employ some cancel culture to set the historical record straight but perhaps we can also consider how additional culture might provide an alternative course of action.

Other posts……….

A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

Radiohead and Plato

A Bad Choice of Words

 

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Filed under Culture, Politics

The Spirit of Ukraine

We did a 26 kilometer round trip on our bicycles on Monday to visit the Ukraine Pavilion at Folklorama. Our friends Brian and Merle had invited us to join them to watch their grandson perform. He is part of the Zoloto Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. We started our visit to the pavilion by sharing a typical Ukrainian dinner, holopchi, perogies, sausage, pickles, coleslaw, and bread. And then the show began. It featured traditional dances associated with harvest time. The dancers were absolutely amazing. They performed so enthusiastically. I loved their bright colorful costumes. They were incredibly flexible and did all kinds of gymnastic moves. I figured they must be in terrific shape to dance for so long and so energetically.

Our friend’s grandson is furthest to the left

Our friend’s grandson is only six years old but he took a central role in the performance by the youngest members of the Zoloto Dancing Ensemble.  The kids were charming and were certainly very talented dancers!

A woman sitting across from us said the Spirit of Ukraine Folklorama Pavilion features the culture of the area of Ukraine around the city of Lviv in the more western part of the country. Her family is from the Kyiv area of Ukraine and they will have their own pavilion at a different location in the city during the second week of Folklorama.  She told us the two groups from Ukraine have major differences so it wouldn’t really work to run a pavilion together.  I guess even at Folklorama there are politics involved.  Since Dave and I have visited both Lviv and Kyiv the woman’s comments had me thinking about differences we may have detected in our visits to the two cities. 

The Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion was great and if you get a chance to go and see the show you will definitely be entertained. 

Other posts……….

Independence Square in Kiev

50 Years of Folklorama

Dancing in Shangrila

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Filed under Culture, Winnipeg

Why Do We Have To Blame Someone?

This is my Carillon column this week. 

Who is to blame?  Last week the headlines of provincial news media featured a story about a car accident that occurred during a funeral procession. Thomas Novak a pastoral worker for the Catholic Church was in a procession to a cemetery, when his car was hit on the passenger side at a busy Winnipeg intersection. Novak was shaken up but not injured.

funeral-processionHowever as a result of the accident he is calling for an end to funeral processions.  He thinks they are just too dangerous.  Funeral processions are a tradition still practiced in some rural Manitoba areas, but infrequently in Winnipeg, and consequently many drivers simply don’t know the protocol surrounding them. That invites accidents. I tend to agree with Novak.  If funeral processions are a hazard why have them, particularly at high traffic times of the day? Most families now lay their loved ones to rest in private services before or after the actual funeral. Often cremation has taken place and ashes will be scattered later so no trip to the cemetery is required.

One argument made for continuing funeral processions is that people might have a hard time finding their way to cemeteries without them.  GPS technology and Google Maps make that argument a moot one. 

lyle thomas memorial garden

This plaque near the Provencher Bridge in Winnipeg pays tribute to Lyle Thomas a worker who died while it was being built.

Another reason given for funeral processions is that they are a way to show respect for the person who has died. But there are many other opportunities for doing that, including publishing obituaries, making a charitable donation in the person’s name, planting a tree in their memory, erecting a plaque or carrying on traditions they started. 

What really surprised me about this news story was how it became such a big issue and how commenters on media sites immediately looked for someone to blame after reading articles about the issue.

The first targeted group was young people, who according to many commenters don’t have proper respect for traditions like funeral processions. Young people cause accidents because they are so busy texting they don’t pay attention.  Parents were also targeted for failing to teach their children proper respect for the law and for letting their kids spend too much time on their devices, so they become socially isolated and don’t understand social norms.

Another targeted group was elderly people who according to some commenters don’t quit driving when their health no longer allows them to drive safely, and are generally a hazard.  Manitoba Public Insurance was also targeted for not having stringent enough protocols for awarding licences and not making people retake their driving tests more frequently.  The RCMP was blamed for not enforcing laws more strictly to get bad drivers off the road and for not providing police escorts for funeral processions.

Another targeted group was newcomers to Canada who according to some commenters don’t know the traditions and cultural habits of their adopted country and haven’t become accustomed enough to driving here. The federal government was also targeted for letting too many immigrants into Canada.

Organized religion was also a target of blame. Some commenters said without the religious traditions and trappings surrounding funerals these accidents wouldn’t happen.

funeral processionI was struck by the fact that finding someone to blame was uppermost in many people’s minds.  Why do we do that?   The funeral procession issue is just one of a myriad we could use as an example of how finding someone to blame and ranting about them seems to be the first response.   Why instead of laying blame can’t we have meaningful conversations, look at data, weigh possible options, propose alternatives, and find solutions?  Why do we always look first for someone to blame?

Other posts………

Pallbearers

Apartments for the Dead

Dead Yard Party

 

 

 

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Filed under Culture, manitoba, Religion

Looking For Love

Robert Indiana died on May 19th.  He’s the artist who created this iconic design of the word LOVE.  You’ve probably seen it somewhere in some form.  It was orignally made for a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has been featured on postage stamps as well as in sculpture form in many cities, including New York and Philadelphia.

Love sculpture in JFK Plaza in Philadelphia

The news of Robert Indiana’s death had me searching through the media library on this blog for images described with the word love.  

Photographed at an April 2012 Earth Day celebration in Winnipeg this placard exhorts people to LOVE creation. 

This statue of Joey Smallwood the first premier of Newfoundland depicts him with his hand over his heart to show his LOVE for his province. Photo taken in Gambo Newfoundland in October 2016. 

This declaration of  LOVE was photographed on the side of a building when I was in Austin Texas in March of 2014 watching our son perform at the South by Southwest Music Festival.

A child made this drawing for me about her LOVE for art in August of 2016 after I had taken her on a tour of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

I saw this statement about LOVE from Dr. Martin Luther King in Phoenix Arizona at a professional basketball game in January of 2017 on Dr. Martin Luther King Day.  I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden.  Bob Marley had a song called One LOVE. I photographed this image on his former home in Jamaica when I visited it in February of 2014

Thomas Edison was good friends with Helen Keller who autographed this photo for him with the words…..
Not loudness but LOVE sounds in your ear my friend. Helen Keller. I photographed it at the Thomas Edison Museum in Florida in February of 2014

I photographed Wayan in Ubud, Bali in March of 2008. Wayan is one of the main characters in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, LOVE.

This sculpture called LOVE of Learning by J.D. Lees is outside the site of one of the city of Steinbach’s first schools. I photographed it in October of 2013.

My husband made me give the sculpture The Bean in Chicago a kiss of LOVE in December of 2011.

Other posts…………

Meeting Wayan From Eat Pray Love

A Lovely Day in Steinbach

Holding Joey Smallwood’s Hand

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Filed under Art, Culture, Reflections

Is Binge- Watch A Word?

atypicalLast night I binged-watched a series on Netflix called Atypical. It was about a family whose eighteen year old autistic son has decided its time for him to start dating.  The series shows how having an autistic child impacts every member of the family in both positive and challenging ways.  There is lots of love and antagonism, responsibility and irresponsibility, independence seeking and bonding as the family tries to get things right.  

offspringAtypical is the third Netflix series I’ve binge-watched.  The other two are Offspring and Outlander.  Offspring had six seasons with around a dozen episodes each and Outlander two seasons each with sixteen hour-long episodes.  After both those instances of binge-watching  I vowed not to binge-watch again because when I do I neglect many other important things in my life. 

However last night when my husband abandoned our planned bike ride to watch the Blue Jays game I decided to binge-watch Atypical, a series that had been recommended to me. I wasn’t sorry.  It was an engaging and interesting show and with only eight episodes each  thirty to forty minute long I finished the series in one evening.  

As I started to write this post I was wondering if I should hyphenate binge-watched or if it was even a word.  So I looked it up and yes indeed it is a word.  In fact the Collins English Dictionary chose ‘binge-watch’ as its word of the year in 2015. I also discovered that about 64% of North Americans binge-watch a television series at least once a year.  So in that way I’m not atypical but very typical indeed. 

Other posts……….

Offspring

Warms Your Heart and Makes You Laugh Out Loud

What in the World is That? 

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