Category Archives: History

Why Is That Lake Pink And Have You Tried Oranges With Chili?

I’d heard about the pink salt flats in the Yucatan and wanted to visit them.  So that’s just what we did!  

An illustration on a board near the salt flats shows ancient Mayans harvesting salt 

Apparently these lakes were a source of salt for the Mayans more than 2500 years ago.   From what I can figure out the Mayans created these lagoons and they were flooded with salty ocean water that eventually evaporated in the sun leaving natural sea salt behind.

pink lakes of progresso

Our friend Rudy takes a photo of the pink salt lake

The pigment of microbes in the water gave the salt lakes their beautiful pink tone. At the little food stand beside the salt flats they were selling bags of salt but also another treat…. oranges with chili.  You bought fresh oranges that were peeled and cut in half for you.There was a bag of hot chili to sprinkle on your orange with a spoon.  Both Dave and I tried it and found the sweet taste of the orange with the spicy taste of the chili a nice contrast. Visiting the pink salt flats was an interesting experience both visually and tastefully.  

Other posts………

You Wouldn’t Believe What You Can See On A Golf Course in Mexico

Finding Flamingos

Friend For A Moment

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Filed under Food, History, Mexico

Who Writes History?

It took us more than twelve hours to get from our Winnipeg home to our home here in Mexico near the city of Merida. The hours flew by because I was reading a riveting memoir called educated by Tara Westover.  I marked a whole bunch of quotes I wanted to think about after I finished the book.  One was……..

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

Tara has been raised by a father who believes in all kinds of right-wing conspiracy theories and interprets history through their lens. She doesn’t attend school till she is an older teenager but once she gets to college and starts reading various historians she sees how they can have very different views of historical events.  Tara finally comes to the realization that we all write/interpret history in different ways depending on our world view, our personal experiences and the things we’ve read and studied.

I know from experience that people in the same family can have very different views and memories of their joint history. After reading Hans Werner’s The Constructed Mennonite I started thinking more about how we create and interpret our own version of our personal histories so we can live with them.

In recent decades we have begun to gain a greater appreciation for the fact that hearing about the same historical events through the eyes of different participants is valuable.  When I was in school I mainly learned about the events of Canada’s history through a British colonial lens.

I remember as a young girl being fascinated when I discovered the poems of Emily Pauline Johnson and realized that looking at my country’s history through the eyes of a Mohawk chief’s daughter might offer an alternate perspective.  I remember first hearing the story of Laura Secord and realizing that viewing the war of 1812 from a woman’s perspective might make it far more interesting to me. 

Looking at the home page of Fox News and CNN on any given day will offer proof that history can be seen through polar opposite lenses.  Completely different events are considered newsworthy by each media outlet and are reported from totally different perspectives.  It is up to us, the reader and consumer of news  to be thoughtful and open minded and try to formulate our own view on what is happening in history right now.  

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

I had planned to write a blog post about at least three of the many thought-provoking quotes I bookmarked while reading Educated.  But it seems one is enough for now. I recommend you read Tara Westover’s book and find quotes of your own to ponder. 

Other posts……….

The Constructed Mennonite

The Song My Paddle Sings

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Filed under Books, History

Sketching The Baker and Her Husband

On my latest sketching outing with my friend Esther I decided to try to do my own version of a work of art called Portrait of Terentius Neo or The Baker and His Wife.  It is from a fresco found in Pompeii in the home of Terentius Neo who we know was a baker because his home had been modified to include a bakery.

canadian tourists in pompeii

Visiting Pompeii with my husband Dave

1700 years after Mount Vesuvius erupted the city of Pompeii was discovered, a kind of frozen time capsule that tells us much about life in the first century AD. The Baker and his Wife was an important find by the archeologists exploring Pompeii. 

baker and his wifeThe famous fresco which now resides in an archeology museum in Naples shows a pair of middle-class Pompeii residents probably a husband and wife. The man and woman have large almond-shaped eyes.  They look like prosperous and confident merchants. The man has a wispy beard, and is wearing a toga, the mark of a Roman citizen. He holds a scroll of sorts with a wax seal.  The woman has fashionable ringlets in her hair and wears pearl earrings. She has just a hint of smile on her face.  She holds a stylus or writing implement to her chin and has a wax tablet to write on  indicating that she is educated and literate.

Paul Roberts from the British Museum who curated an exhibit which included The Baker and His Wife claims the most important thing about the fresco is that the couple in it appear to be equal business partners.  The woman who clearly keeps track of the finances for the business is not subservient at all and in fact is standing slightly forward from her husband. 

sketch the baker and his wifeMakes me wonder if the famous fresco shouldn’t have been called The Baker and Her Husband. 

Other posts………….

Visiting Pompei

The Catacombs- Myth and Reality

Channeling Norval Morrisseau

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Filed under Art, History, Italy

Sacagawea, Pocahontas and Elizabeth Warren

President Trump has been sarcastically calling Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas for a long time now. This references the senator’s possible Native American ancestry.

wikipedia image of pocahontas

Wikipedia Image of Pocahontas

Pocahontas is an Algonquian woman who saved the life of John Smith the founder of a colonial settlement in Virginia in the early 1600s.

In a recent Fox interview a Republican congressmen named Matt Gaetz used the name of another First Nations woman to refer derisively to Senator Warren just after she announced she was exploring a possible run for the American presidency.  Mr. Gaetz called her Sacagawea. 

I learned about Sacagawea in Woodbury County Iowa a few years ago when we stopped at a travel rest area which also housed a History Discovery center Iowa tribute to lewis and clarkThe centre was a tribute to Lewis and Clark. It told the story of these adventuresome explorers and extraordinary journal keepers who were sent out by President Jefferson to map the Missouri River and evaluate its feasibility as a commerce route. The floor of the Iowa history centre was designed to look like the Missouri River.

sacagawea and son mural iowaThere was a mural of a woman and her baby on the wall of the centre. A brochure I picked up informed me her name was Sacagawea and she was a sixteen year old mother who traveled with Lewis and Clark. The daughter of a Shoshone chief, she was captured by Hidatsa Indians when she was twelve.  They sold her to a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau who made her one of his wives. She and her husband were hired as interpreters by Lewis and Clark. Her son Jean Baptiste was born on the expedition and was later adopted and educated by Clark. 

keel boat replica lewis and clark expedition history center iowaThe benches outside the Iowa rest stop were designed to look like the birchbark keel boats the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled in. One of these boats capsized on the trip and it was Sacagawea who jumped into the water to rescue the precious journals that contained Lewis and Clark’s detailed  notes and drawings of the wildlife, plants and First Nations tribes they encountered as well as maps of the river and regular entries about all their adventures. william clark's journal

Thanks to the Clark and Lewis journals we know about Sacagawea’s other contributions to the expedition. She served as an interpreter, was skilled at finding edible plants, helped choose good spots to camp and her presence and that of her child served as a symbol of peace with the various First Nations tribes the expedition encountered. sacagawea

Sacagawea has been immortalized on an American stamp and her image is on a dollar coin issued in 2000. There are American rivers, lakes and mountains named after her. Dozens of statues of Sacagawea can be found in various American cities. 

It is somewhat ironic that members of the Republican Party are trying to poke fun at Senator Warren by referring to her using the names of brave women of native ancestry who helped shape American history.   Perhaps their sarcasm serves only to mask the fact that they are scared of the way Ms. Warren might shape American history too should she be elected President of the United States in 2020. 

Other posts…….

She Persisted

A Beautiful Woman



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Filed under History, Politics

You Will Be Charmed and Enlightened

“Here’s a comb,”  says Ethel kindly. She picks up a comb from on her hospital nightstand and hands it to her son Raymond. Ethel is on her death-bed but true to form she can’t help expressing her discomfort with the longer, rather messy hairstyle of her middle- aged artist son. 

ethel and ernestThat is just one of the rather charming incidents in an utterly charming movie on Netflix called Ethel and Ernest.  You have probably heard of Raymond Briggs the British artist responsible for such children’s classics as The Snowman.  The movie Ethel and Ernest is based on a graphic novel Raymond Briggs wrote about his parents’ lives. 

Ethel and Ernest are ordinary, hardworking Londoners but through their eyes we see how World War II impacted normal everyday people in devastating ways. sending raymond offSome of the most heartbreaking scenes occur when Ethel and Ernest must send their five- year -old off to live in the country with strangers because of the bombing in London.

ernest and ethelWe also see political events of the 60s and 70s through Ethel and Ernest’s eyes, the rise of socialism and feminism. We watch as they cope with a son who is something of a hippie and becomes an artist instead of having the solid kind of professional job his parents dreamed of for him. 

ethel and ernest movieThe animated movie Ethel and Ernest reveals a slice of world history in the most intimate way by opening the doors to a snug working class home in London and letting the viewer inside to see a family’s everyday life.  It’s charming and enlightening.  Thanks to my friend Esther for recommending it!

Other posts…….

What’s A Bonus Family? 

Warms Your Heart and Makes You Laugh Out Loud

That’s Not My Kind of God Either


Filed under History, Movies

A Utah Massacre Remembered

In an old courthouse in St. George Utah I saw this beautiful quilt hanging on the wall. It is called A Remembrance and Reconciliation quilt.  It tells the story of a horrific incident in Utah history referred to as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In a New York Times article Sally Denton calls it “the darkest stain” on the history of the Mormon religion. On September 11, 1857 in a meadow in southwest Utah militiamen from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints attacked a wagon train of Arkansas families on their way to set up new homes in California. They killed 140 men, women and older children, saving only seventeen children under the age of eight. The head of the Mormon militia was a man named John D. Lee  who was the adopted son of Mormon prophet Brigham Young.  The church has labeled Lee a renegade zealot. He felt he needed get rid of infidels who might want to hurt the Mormons or infiltrate their territory. To this day there continues to be a great deal of controversy about exactly what transpired. How much did Mormon church authorities know about the massacre both before and after it happened? Did they try to cover up evidence or unfairly place blame elsewhere, including on a local group of First Nations people?

The quilt I saw in St. George has forty eight squares contributed by descendants of both the militiamen who helped Lee carry out the massacre as well as descendants of the Arkansas settlers whose ancestors were killed.  A similar quilt is on display in Arkansas. It is a way to remember those who died and to express sorrow over what happened as well as provide an avenue for healing. 

Green leaves on the quilt record the names of people killed. Red flowers record the names of the seventeen children who were spared.

I visited the home of Rachel Hamblin which was close to the massacre.The seventeen children whose lives were spared were first taken to Rachel’s house. She writes of that experience saying…“in the darkness of night, two of the children cruelly mangled and most of them with their parents’ blood still wet upon their clothes, and all of them shrieking with terror and grief and anguish” 

The quilt tells a tragic and damning story but I have to give credit to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for having it on display where thousands of visitors can see it. As is the case with so many religious groups who must now confront the atrocities committed by their clergy and membership in the past, there is hopefully a growing realization that only transparency and honesty, admission of guilt and request of forgiveness, can help pave the way to a more peaceful future where no religious group believes it has a corner on the truth so all are accepted with love and are never seen as enemies. 

Both wisdom from Buddhist and Hindu sources are included on the quilt


Filed under History, Religion, Utah

Finding Helena

She 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. Who was she?

A few weeks ago we attended a cultural day in Neubergthal, Manitoba and listened to an interesting lecture by Dr. Royden Loewen, Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg.  Although he covered a wide range of interesting topics during his lecture I was most intrigued by a brief description of a woman named Helena Penner Hiebert whose memoirs Dr. Loewen referenced. I wanted to know more!

Helena Penner Hiebert- 1902- Photo from Preservings Magazine

An entry in the Global Anabaptist Encyclopedia Online   and two articles in Preservings magazine one by John Dyck in the June 1997 issue and another by Royden Loewen in a 2012 issue  provided a wealth of information about Helena. 

Helena’s parents Edmann Penner and Mary Eitzen in a photo from Preservings

Helena’s parents Erdman Penner and Maria Eitze immigrated to Canada from the Bergthal colony in Russia in August of 1874 and just a few months later in October Helena was born.  Her father, a wealthy man, came to Manitoba with more than $30,000, and quickly established a  hardware business in Winnipeg. In 1878 the family decided to relocate to Tannenau a small village not far from the present day community of Mitchell and Helena’s father opened up a hardware store there. 

Helena attended elementary school in three Manitoba villages and later went to study in Mountain Lake Minnesota where her grandmother lived. In 1899 Helena graduated as a silver medallist from Wesley College which would become the University of Winnipeg. She was also a member of the faculty there. She organized the Modern Languages Club which later became the University Women’s Club. In her retirement years she wrote her “Granny Stories” in which she describes life in early Manitoba settlements. 

Those stories which John Dyck highlights in his Preservings article provide an intimate look at Helena’s childhood. Helena describes a diptheria epidemic during which she lost three siblings.  She talks about the neighbor girl who was her best friend and a local farmer who froze in a blizzard.  There’s a story about the day her father stopped a turkey from attacking her by cutting off its’ head and the day she burned herself on a hot stove.  She and her siblings learned why their mother had warned them to stay away from the bog near their property when one of the family’s cows nearly drowned in it. Helena describes the many English and German magazines and newspapers her family subscribed to. They may have helped to foster her interest in higher education. 

There is charming story about a blind fiddler who gets everyone dancing when he comes to Helena’s  village. After describing her older sister’s wedding and her family’s home and furniture in great detail Helena tells her readers how her mother faithfully put a candle in her window at night to guide wanderers.  Often people caught in a blizzard or having no where else to go would find shelter for the night in Helena’s parents’ home. Her mother never let them leave in the morning without first serving them a good breakfast. 

Helena’s family home in Gretna. Photo from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

In 1882 Helena’s family moved to Gretna where they built a rather ornate Victorian home and her father began to establish a retail empire that would have him open hardware stores in ten different Manitoba communities.  Helena’s parents arranged for a Mr. H.H. Ewert to tutor her in Gretna and she was taken to Winnipeg for music lessons. Her father was a strong supporter of the Mennnonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna which opened its doors in 1889.   Helena’s growing up years were influenced by a variety of important and influential visitors to her parents’ home and her father’s frequent trips to places like Montreal, Chicago, Russia and New Orleans. 

Helena married Dr. Gerhard Hiebert in Mountain Lake Minnesota in 1902 and her husband became a surgeon at the Winnipeg General Hospital and a teacher at Manitoba’s Medical College.  Helena and Gerhard had three daughters. Gerhard died in 1934.  After living many years in Winnipeg and serving her community as a school trustee Helena moved to Quebec to live with her daughter Catherine Brown and she died there in 1970 at age 95. 

A photo of Helena from the book Gretna, Window on the Northwest

Helena sounds like a fascinating woman.  I’d like to get to know her better. Her “Granny Stories” are at the Mennonite Heritage Center.  Finding them there and reading them might be my next step towards learning even more about Helena. 

Other posts……….

She Persisted

Octogenarian Story Teller Extraordinaire

She Always Found Time For Creativity


Filed under History