Category Archives: History

Gertrude Inspires Me

I have this sepia colored photograph on my bedroom dresser.  It was taken in Moscow during World War I. The beautiful brown-eyed  young woman in it with her fashionable dress and hair piled high is my husband’s maternal grandmother Gertrude. She was married to Heinrich Enns who sits to her immediate right in his military uniform.
Heinrich’s family owned a large estate in Kowalicha, Ukraine and while the men of the family were away serving in the Russian army’s medical corps Gertrude was left alone to run the family’s massive land holdings and deal with her irascible mother-in-law who objected to her son’s marriage to Gertrude because Gertrude’s family wasn’t rich enough. Gertrude came from a small village where her family had a modest farm. Her wealthy husband had met her while on a visit to the village with a friend.  I believe the man to the far right is Gertrude’s brother-in-law who ran the family’s land holdings in other parts of Ukraine.

Gertrude with her four sons. 

Gertrude had four little boys and with her husband far away working on the trains transporting the wounded from the battlefront to Moscow, Gertrude was single parenting and making all the decisions about the education and upbringing of her children.
There were labor shortages as estate servants left their jobs to join the army. Weather had damaged some crops, and roving bandits had been seen on the estates’ far flung properties. Gertrude decided she needed to go to Moscow and meet with Heinrich and his brothers to get some advice about what to do. That’s when the photo of Gertrude at a family business meeting was taken.
I never met my husband’s grandmother Gertrude but whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities I look at Gertrude’s photo and think about how a girl from a small village farm ran a huge business all on her own while the men in her family were away at war and times were incredibly tough. Getrude inspires me!

Other posts………

Gertrude and Heinrich Enns

Luxury Car- A Family Story


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Filed under Family, History

Get Smart, Crokinole And Ping Pong

Recently Canadian Mennonite University published this photo on social media of students hanging out in a lounge  playing video games together. My how times have changed I thought. But……… then I remembered the shared screen time and games that were popular when I was a student at the same university/college in the early 1970s.

CMU students watching Get Smart 1970s

Many of us would congregate in front of the television screen just before supper to watch reruns of the popular comedy Get Smart. In the show a bumbling detective named Maxwell Smart also known as Agent 99 and a smart savvy female investigator Agent 86 tried to protect the world from the evil KAOS organization. 

Guys watching TV in CMU lounge 1973

My husband playing ping-pong with a CMU classmate in 1974

We didn’t play video games in the early 1970s but ping-pong and crokinole matches consumed endless hours of students’ time.

My husband’s most competitive crokinole opponent was one of his professors

By the way I noticed in this photo that current CMU students are sporting fairly long hair and that is something that was also popular in the early 1970s as my husband’s 1973 yearbook photo illustrates. 

Maybe times haven’t changed that much. 

Other posts………

Doc Schroeder

And A Baby Cried

Meet You At the Folio

A Chat With My Old Professor


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Filed under Education, History

Lost on My Kindle

Last year my daughter-in-law borrowed my Kindle to take on a holiday.  When she returned she said one of the books on my Kindle she had enjoyed reading was The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.  

I couldn’t remember reading it. I looked through the notes in my journal.  No reference to The Boston Girl  there.  I must have downloaded it and then forgotten to read it.  It got lost on my Kindle!

I rectified things on my recent Mexican holiday when I read The Boston Girl .  The story takes you on a walk through history with a young Jewish woman living in one of my favourite American cities.  As you hear Addie Baum’s life story you learn about the Boston tenements where new immigrants lived in deplorable conditions. You come to understand the devastation and grief wrought by the Spanish influenza epidemic and World War I.  You also are witness to the way political and social activists worked to better the lives of women and children in the 1920s.  The main action in the story is centered on the years between 1915-1927.

The Boston Girl did not receive overwhelmingly stellar reviews but I liked it because I could connect with it in three ways.  

  • It tells the story of an immigrant family from Russia.  I am from a Russian immigrant family.
  • It uses the story of a young woman to illustrate a specific historical period.  I am currently working on a series of short stories that chronicle the life of a young woman during the 1960s. 
  • It is written in a straight forward and easy to read style that could almost make it a middle grade or teen historical novel.  I am currently trying to get a middle grade historical novel I have written published. 

I think The Boston Girl is an important book because it shows us what life was like for women before they could use birth control,  before abortions were legal, before there were laws to protect women from domestic violence, before there were no fault divorce laws, before women had equal opportunities in the workplace, before they could vote.  At a time when women are still fighting for justice and equality I think a reminder of how far we’ve come is crucial if we don’t want to return to those dark times for women. 

I am glad my daughter-in-law helped me find The Boston Girl otherwise it might have remained lost on my Kindle and I would have missed a good read. 

Other posts………..

Learning How To Write Historical Fiction

What Makes a Best Seller? 

Brides of New France

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Filed under Books, History

Happy Belated International Women’s Day Again

In 2018 I forgot to post about International Women’s Day on March 8,  and so I did a post that proved very popular on March 9 instead where I looked at some of the women I had featured on my blog in the past year.  I forgot again yesterday and once again I’m following up a day late with descriptions and links to a dozen posts I’ve done about amazing women in this last year on my blog.  


I was truly fascinated to learn about Helena Penner Hiebert who was the first Mennonite woman to graduate from a university in Canada and the first Mennonite woman to teach at a university in Canada! Some say she was the first Mennonite baby born in Canada. 

Christine_Elliott public domain

Christine Elliot has nearly a decade of experience as a member of the Ontario Legislature, served as the auditor for one of Canada’s largest banks and has an international award for being an outstanding citizen because of her pro bono legal work.

In a post called Women in Politics I reflect on why two very capable and competent and experienced women were passed over for the leadership of the Ontario Conservative party in favour of a much less capable, competent and experienced man. Ontario isn’t the only place where this happens. 

anna arnold hedgemanIn a post called The Matilda Effect I wrote about a woman named Anna Arnold Hedgeman who was a key person in the successful organization of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington in 1963 even though only the efforts of the male organizers were publicly recognized. My post looked at other women whose inventions, discoveries and creative work was falsely attributed to men.

marion t

Marion Tuuluq in a jacket she designed

Creating Beauty was the name of a post I published about Inuit artist Marion Tuuluq who fashioned true works of art with needle and thread.  

simeon and Anna Dutch artist Jan Van't HoffIn my post I Want To Be  Like Anna I looked at a hundred year old woman from the New Testament who is a role model for how I want to live the last season of my life. 

ruth bader ginsberg public domainA post I titled The Audience Applauded For Her  talks about five interesting things I learned about American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after watching the documentary film RGB. 

she persistedI introduced a new children’s picture book by Chelsea Clinton in my post She Persisted. Clinton’s book profiles women around the world who have broken gender barriers to excel. 


Marie Laurencin in 1912

Marie Laurencin is a relatively unknown French artist who created intriguing works of art. She also  illustrated Alice in Wonderland and painted portraits of some well-known people. I explored her life in a post called Who Is She? 


 Priscilla by Houston artist Sarah Beth Baca 

In my post Meet Priscilla I look at the life and legacy of an accomplished New Testament woman.

door to jacob hamblin home

In the doorway of the Jacob Hamblin House in St. George Utah.

In a post called It’s The Women Who Impress Me I make the point that the Jacob Hamblin  home in Utah named after a famous Mormon pioneer should really be named after his wives since they kept his home and farm running. 

the daughters of Zelophehad by Glenda Thomas

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Glenda Thomas

Five Sisters is a post that tells a story from the Old Testament about five sisters who manage to change a law to make things fairer for women. 

It’s Harder to Hate Up Close is what I titled my review of former first lady Michelle Obama’s book Becoming.  This accomplished woman has some important things to teach us. 

Last year’s Belated International Women’s Day Post

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Filed under History, Holidays

Green Gold

Henequen fields on the Don Peón  plantation. Henequen is a hardy plant resistant to most diseases and pests and decay.  Note the spiky leaves which were harvested for henequen fibre. Plants take five to seven years to mature and continue to produce leaves for about 20 years. 

Green gold was the name given to the henequen plant in the Yucatan because this green member of the cactus family became a goldmine for local landowners in the late 1800s. In 1878 an American man named John Appleby patented a reaper/binder machine that could cut stalks of grain and bind them together. That invention made the Yucatan rich because the reaper/binder machine used twine. A cheap way of making twine was with the fiber of the henequen plant which grew in the Yucatan.

A bale of henequen fibre ready to be shipped. It takes about 9,000 henequen leaves to make a bale like this.

By 1915, 1.2 million bales of henequen was being exported from the Yucatan annually and nearly 70% of the cultivated land was planted in henequen.  Interestingly abroad henequen became known as sisal, because it was shipped out of a Yucatan port named Sisal and that name was stamped on all the containers holding the henequen.

Our friend Rudy talks to our tour guide Juan about the henequen industry in the Yucatan

We visited the former Sotutua de Peon plantation established by a man named Don Peón in the late 1800s near the village of Tecoh. It was one of thirteen plantations owned by the Peón family.

I have already blogged about the elegant hacienda on the plantation where the owner’s family spent their weekends.  Learning all about how the green gold or the henequen plant was processed was another aspect of our tour.

A henequen plant can only have thirteen leaves chopped from it a year- first seven and then at a later time six. Here the chopped and bundled leaves are waiting to be processed. 

First the henequen leaves were chopped with a macheteThen the stalks were fed into a machine that separated out the fibre inside and liquified the rest of the leaf to be used as fertilizer or animal feed.

Steam operated machine used to extract fibre from henequen plants in the past

The machine we saw was run by electricity but earlier versions were steam operated and before that operated by mules. The extracted fibre is dried on racks in the sun and finally packed into bales with another machine.   Then it was sent abroad.

Juan shows us one of the machines used in Europe to turn the bales of henequen fibre into rope

We also saw a whole variety of machines that were used in various European countries to turn the henequen fibre into twine or rope.

Our friend Rudy photographs some of the processed henequen fibre

The guys in our group talk about one of the machines used to turn henequen into twine

This machine could combine six strands of twine to make a strong rope but there were machines that could twist together up to 36 individual pieces of twine to make heavy duty ropes for ships

Some of this twine or rope was used for binding crops but also for many other purposes including making ropes to be used on ships, making burlap bags and weaving carpets.

Maya farmers would use a board with nails to comb the henequen fibre and then twist it into twine with their hands.

Our guide Juan showed us how before and after the great heyday of the henequen industry from 1880-1930 the Maya people continued to use a simple method they had devised to make the henequen fibre into twine and rope.

This machine twisted together lengths of twine to make a stronger rope

The Maya farmers had a machine that combined the twine lengths into ropes of various strengths for agricultural  use on their farms, and for making bags, sandals and hammocks.

The strength of your rope depended on how many strands of twine you had twisted together

Dave tests out the rope Juan made

The lucrative henequen trade ended in the late 1920s when plastic twine began to be used.  Interestingly henequen twine or rope has been making a comeback in recent years because it is so environmentally friendly and decomposes easily. I found several articles online advocating for a renewal of the henequen industry and one about a retired fashion designer who is trying to get Saks Avenue stores to sell henequen handbags made by local Maya women in the Yucatan. Who knows?  Maybe  in the future henequen or sisal will become green gold once again for the farmers of the Yucatan. 

Other posts………

A Day in the Cork Forest

The Way It Used To Be

Fair Trade Coffee and Hope For Laos

Happy About the USMCA?

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Filed under History, Mexico

A Bloody Violent History

Since I am spending two months in the Yucatan I wanted to learn a little more about the history of the area. What better way to do that than through art?  

Visiting Chichen Itza in 2007

On previous visits to Mexico I had been at two different Mayan archelogical sites and learned about the early history of the Yucatan.  Last Thursday I went to the Governor’s Palace in Merida and walked through a room full of huge murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco that provided a window into the country’s history from 1500-1900. It is a bloody and violent story indeed. 

The Yucatan was ‘discovered’ in 1517 by a Spanish explorer named Cordova. A decade later a fellow named Fancisco de Montejo arrived to conquer the Yucatan but was sent packing after a bloody conflict with the local people. Fernando Castro Pacheco conquest of the yucatanHe would need to make two more military forays before he could successfully establish a capital city at the site of present day Merida in 1542.  

Of course once the military have established ground in a conquered country the religious folks are sure to follow close behind. Meet Franscican monk Fray Diego De Landa who build thirty convents in the Yucatan and tried to convert the Mayans to Christianity. In 1562 he ordered all Mayan books and artworks and statues destroyed.   The oppression of the Spanish caused starvation amongst the natives and the diseases the Spanish introduced to the Mayan population killed nearly two million of them by the mid 1600s.  The Mayans tried to fight back repeatedly. Jacinto Canek led an indigenous rebellion against the government in 1761. He and his supporters fought fiercely but were defeated and Canek was ordered quartered and burned with red hot knives and pokers in the center square of Merida.  A demand for inexpensive binder twine in the United States and Europe in the 1800s created a huge demand for the sisal plant which grows in the Yucatan.  Employing the Mayans as slave labourers Spanish families made fortunes.  During the 1800s  the Yucatan struggled to remain independent from Mexico and the native Mayans continued to revolt against the Spanish ruling class in a fifty year conflict known as the Caste Wars. In the 1900s reformers like Salvador Alvarado who was the governor of the Yucatan from 1915-1918 began to make important changes. Alvarado became known as the ‘liberator of the Mayan slaves’  and tired to bring about reforms in education, treatment of women and strict class distinctions. 

Visiting the governor’s palace and seeing the art there was a good way to get a crash course in some four hundred years of Yucatan history. 

Other posts…….

Ten Things About Tulum

Visiting Chichen Itza

Fish For Lunch

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Filed under Art, History, Mexico

Jaguars in the Bathroom

jaguar in a hotel lobby in merida

Jaguar vase and jaguar figurines in a hotel lobby in Merida

The jaguar is an important symbolic animal here in Mexico.  Archeologists have discovered stone and jade carvings of jaguars that are more than 3000 years old. Mayan rulers showed their power by wearing jaguar skins, claws and fangs.  Images of jaguars appear in ancient Mayan hieroglyphic texts and there is a Temple of the Jaguar at the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza.

jaguar in a gift shop merida

Jaguar art piece for sale in a gift shop in Merida

In Mayan mythology the jaguar was the ruler of the underworld. Mayan sorcerers could transform into jaguars to face their fears or confront their enemies.

jaguar folk art museum merida

Jaguar by Gabriel Perez Rajon at the Folk Art Museum in Merida

After the Spanish take over of Mexico the local Mayan people used the jaguar as a symbol of their fight against colonization.  Because of all that history and symbolism I see jaguar images everywhere here in the Yucatan and I mean everywhere!  In the last few days I have even found jaguars in bathrooms in two different places.

Alberto Bautista Gómez jaguars in the bathroom merida folk museum

Jaguars by Alberto Bautista Gomez

The Folk Art Museum in Merida is located in an old home.  Each room of the house features artists from different provinces of Mexico.  There happens to be a bathroom in the section of the house featuring artists from Chiapas and so two jaguars created by artist Alberto Bautista Gomez are on display there posed just in front of the urinal and toilet. jaguar in the bathroom meridaOn Friday I was on an art gallery walk in Merida and asked to use the washroom at the Soho Art Gallery.  I was sitting on the toilet and looked up and lo and behold there was another jaguar looking right at me!jaguar mural bathroom merida
If you visit the Yucatan province in Mexico be prepared to see jaguars everywhere! Including in the bathroom!

Other posts…………..

The Most Beautiful Bathroom in Winnipeg

Pop Up Toilet

Gender Neutral Bathrooms



Filed under Art, History, Mexico, Nature