Category Archives: Culture

Two-Spirit- A Term That Originated in Winnipeg

You’ve probably heard the term Two-Spirit before. A workshop I attended yesterday helped me to understand it better and I learned it had first been used by a woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Dancers at a Two-Spirit PowWow at the University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Photo from the Toronto Star

According to TransCare British Columbia a provincial health care authority, Two-Spirit is a term used in some Indigenous communities to reflect understandings of gender roles and gender and sexual identities in their culture. The term has spiritual connections as well.

It is important to remember that terms and roles and understandings about Two-Spirit people are specific to individual Indigenous nations.

Before colonization, Two-Spirit people were included and respected as valued members of many Indigenous communities and often took on important roles as healers, matchmakers, ceremonial leaders, and counsellors.

The erasure of Two-Spirit people was part and parcel of the religious and value belief systems brought by the colonizers who condemned any kind of gender or sexual diversity. This led to homophobia and transphobia in many Indigenous groups which often forced Two-Spirit people to leave their home communities which meant they left their families, land and culture as well.

Increasingly the role of Two-Spirit people in Indigenous communities is being recognized and reclaimed.

Photo of Myra Laramee from the Magazine UMToday in 2021 when Myra was given a distinguished alumni award by her alma mater

The term Two-Spirit was created in 1990 at an international Indigenous gathering for gay and lesbian individuals. It was held in Winnipeg.

The speakers at the workshop I attended yesterday told us the designation Two-Spirit was proposed by Myra Laramee an Anishinaabe woman who said the name came to her in a dream. Myra is currently teaching at the University of Winnipeg.

Often letter designations for inclusive recognition of gender and sexual minorities like 2SLGBTQIA+ begin with 2S. The 2S stands for Two-Spirit.

Now I have a better understanding of what those letters mean and why they are important.

Other posts……..

A Rollicking Read and a Rollicking Interview

Memorable Final Day

Storied Land- Metis, Indigenous People and Mennonites

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Filed under Culture, History

Do I Need to State My Personal Pronouns?

We are getting new identification tags at my place of work and we have the option to have our preferred pronouns on the tag. Would we like to be referred to as she/her, he/him, they/them or in some other way?

I realize that for some people particularly in the transgender or non-binary communities this is important. But should someone like me who is cisgender, which means I identify with the sex assigned me at birth, list my personal pronouns as well?

I’ve been reading about this to learn more as I decide whether to have my preferred pronouns she/her listed on my name tag.

I have discovered that listing my pronouns can be a way for me to show I’m aware that pronouns are important and I understand that we all need to be thoughtful about the pronouns we use to address others.

Stating my pronouns on my employment badge can send a message that I don’t assume someone’s pronouns but rather I respect the idea that people should be addressed in the way they see themselves and choose to be seen.

Sharing my pronouns can normalize the practice so those who are in the gender diverse community don’t have to feel like they are in the minority when they do so.

Displaying my pronouns is also a way to show gender-marginalized people that I am an ally. By putting my pronouns on my identification badge I can send a message to trans or non-binary people that they are in a safe space when they are with me.

I did read a number of articles however, by both people in the 2SLGBTQ+ and cisgender communities, that say no one should feel pressure to publicly share their preferred pronouns. It is up to each individual to decide what they feel comfortable doing.

I’ve decided I do feel comfortable having my pronouns listed so that’s what I’ve decided to do.

I will be the first to admit I often struggle with getting people’s pronouns straight in conversation especially if a person’s pronouns change and I have to refer to them in different ways than I did before. Perhaps clearly displaying pronouns can help us all to be more respectful and mindful of one another’s choices.

Other posts………

Pride in Steinbach Isn’t Something New

Proud of the New Words in Canada’s National Anthem

Many Women Are Pastors But Our Language Still Excludes Them


Filed under Culture, Education, Introductions, Language

Museum Photo Day

Did you know that today, the third Wednesday in January is Museum Photo Day? The idea for it came from a woman named Mar Dixon who lives in London and manages a website about museums and art galleries.

My husband Dave with a statue of Henry the Navigator at the Maritime Museum in Lisbon, Portugal

Dixon decided to initiate a one-day crowdsourced event that would promote awareness of all the great stuff housed in museums. The first Museum Photo Day was held in January 2014. Since then museums around the world have joined in the online campaign. People are encouraged to post pictures on social media of themselves with items on display in museums and art galleries they have visited.

I decided to join in the fun with some museum and art gallery photos we’ve taken on our travels.

With a beautifully designed kaleidoscope at the Kaleidoscope Museum in Kyoto, Japan
With my infant son in front of a stagecoach at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon
Dave on a throne from the TV series Game of Thrones in a museum housed in a monastery on Lokrum Island in Croatia
Here I am in the stocks on display at a museum in Prague, Czech Republic
Dave with his head in a dinosaur mouth at the Sydney Museum in Sydney Australia
With Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Dave with Grant Wood’s American Gothic at the Chicago Art Institute
With the artwork Pensamiento or Thought at the Nahualli Art Gallery in Merida Mexico
Meeting a Drysdale sheep on display at the Agrodome museum in Rotorua New Zealand
Dave with Mina Miller Edison at the Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Meyers Florida
With Hopi dancers at the Heard Museum in Phoenix Arizona
At the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum in Hong Kong
Dave with a samovar in playwright Anton Checkhov’ house in Yalta Ukraine. The house called White Dacha has been turned into a museum.
With Aphrodite at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City
With a statue of dissident artist Ai Wei Wei at the Art Gallery of Ontario

It was fun to go through old photos to find these museum and art gallery images. At a time when travelling is difficult if not impossible it made me glad we saw so much of the world while we still could and made me realize the important role museums and art galleries play in perserving the history and culture of places.

Other posts…….

Getting Up Close and Personal With A Famous Inventor

Remembering Yalta

All in the Family


Filed under Culture, Travel

Have You Played Wordle?

I read about the online word puzzle Wordle from an article in the New York Times on Monday. It was created by an engineer from Brooklyn named Josh Wardle for his partner Palak Shah. Palak loves word games so during one of the pandemic lockdowns, Josh set this one up for her. Palak enjoyed it so much Josh decided to share it online so others could play.

You get six tries to figure out a five-letter word and after each try, you are told which of the letters you guessed are in the word and whether or not they are in the correct position.

I’m not great at word games. I’ve never beat my husband Dave at Scrabble in almost fifty years of marriage and as he flies through the New York Times crossword puzzle every Saturday I struggle to finish the simpler one the Winnipeg Free Press carries on the same page.

So…….. I wasn’t sure Wordle would be for me. I tried it on Monday and Tuesday and didn’t even come close to guessing the word of the day. But…….when I tried it this morning I SOLVED IT !!

Part of the appeal of Wordle is you only get to play it once a day. When you are done a timer tells you how many hours it will be till a new puzzle is posted.

There are 12,000 five-letter words in the English language but Josh and Palak have figured out which are the 2,500 most common ones and those are the words being used on Wordle.

During this new pandemic phase when I am not socializing and spending most of my time at home WORDLE is going to be a neat way to start my day!

I did take a screenshot of my winning solution to today’s puzzle but then I realized if I inserted it into this post that would mean you couldn’t play it. So give it a try and let me know if you solved it!

Other posts………..

A Puzzling Achievement

Learning A New Word

Extra Crispy

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Culture

Aunt Olly

Olly Penner

We didn’t have Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or Blues Clues when I was a kid. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood.

Like many families in the late 1950s and early 1960s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red or Johnny Appleseed and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and There’s a Hole in the Bucket. If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present.

I remember hurrying home from school and sitting down at the table with the snack Mom had ready for me and listening to Aunt Olly.

Photo from the CFAM radio website of Aunt Olly and her sidekick Gus

In 1989 I was on the staff of the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and was assigned to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine. I was excited to have the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had Olly done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show, and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years.

Remember this was a time when most women did not work outside the home, something Olly Penner was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was the editor of the Altona newspaper The Red River Valley Echo but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cookbook, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

Children’s Party souvenir from Greg Lindenbach

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings and I recognized some of the names. But Olly also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her, and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a clergyman who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly Penner

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and was enjoying traveling with her husband, and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner died in 2015 at the age of 86. She had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity.

The full original article I wrote for the Mennonite Mirror can be accessed on page 4 of the May/June 1989 issue here.

Other posts………

Radios Good and Evil

What a Woman!

My Childhood Reading Heaven


Filed under Canada, Childhood, Culture, Media

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.

If you enjoyed this blog post you might also like………

My Mom’s Button Box

Earrings and Tombstones

Among the Birch and Pine






Filed under Culture, Reflections

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


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

A Bizzare Museum in Florence 


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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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Filed under Culture, Reflections