Category Archives: Reflections

Five Years Ago

One of the neat things about keeping a blog is being able to go back and see what you were doing in the past. This morning I went on a little trip down memory lane to see what I was doing five years ago in September 2017. It struck me that almost all the things I was doing I couldn’t be doing now during the pandemic at least not in the same way.

obi kahn

We enjoyed Burger week in Winnipeg. Our favorite burger was at the Schwarma Kahn restaurant run by former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Obi Kahn. Here he kindly agrees to pose with me after I’ve enjoyed my burger.

My friend Esther and I had one of our sketching afternoons at the Folio Cafe.

I hosted a huge celebration for my husband Dave’s 65th birthday.

We attended the art show opening of our friend Les.

I was super busy giving tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery of a new exhibit called Insurgence- Resurgence featuring Canadian Indigenous artists.

We visited Iceland with my sister and her husband.

We also did a cycling trip around Lake Konstanz in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

September five years later has been much different. No travel abroad. No large gatherings in people’s homes. No tours at the art gallery. Worries about social distancing. Anxious about whether the people around me are vaccinated.

Many good things have happened this September too and I am grateful for them, but I look forward to a year when my September will look more like it did five years ago.

Other posts……..

Glacier Hike

56 Kilometers Under Our Tires

Meet You At The Folio

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To notice the beauty in things left behind is to see the soul of a life once lived. – Heather Durren

I photographed this truck yesterday on a friend’s farm near Lowe Farm

A graveyard is overgrown with weeds. I photographed it in Bangkok Thailand.

I photographed this boat while exploring Stykkishólmur Iceland.

Funeral pots I discovered and photographed on a hike in the hills in Hong Kong

A barn I photographed on a tour near Herschel Saskatchewan.

Military vehicle photographed while hiking on a friend’s property near Steinbach

I photographed this unfinished abandoned home in Runaway Bay Jamaica.

Dead abandoned duck in a plastic bag I photographed while on a walk to have breakfast in Merida Mexico.

Cupboard and umbrella I photographed on the beach after the tsunami in Phuket Thailand.

House photographed while I was on a walk through Savannah, Georgia

Pair of shoes I photographed on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg while I was on my way to work.

I photographed Dave looking at a tree that had grown to become part of an abandoned temple in Angkor Wat Cambodia.

I photographed this plate left on a table at an outdoor restaurant we ate at in Vientiane Laos.

I photographed this house while biking around Yangshou China

Our guide Victor Penner photographed Dave and me finding the abandoned tombstones of Dave’s great uncles in an overgrown orchard in Ukraine.

Cliff dwellings of the Salado people I photographed while driving through the Tonto Forest in Arizona

To notice the beauty in things left behind is to see the soul of a life once lived. – Heather Durren

Other posts……….

She Painted Battlefields and Helped to Start An Art Gallery

My Father-In-Law Was Born In A School For the Deaf

A Walk to Have Breakfast in Mexico

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The Big Picture and Finding Your Own Happiness

Earlier this month Dave and I had dinner with a married couple we have known for over twenty years. Two decades ago when they were preparing for their wedding they asked to interview us so we could give them some marriage advice. At the time Dave and I had been married for a little over twenty-five years ourselves.

Dave and I at the start of our relationship

The first thing they asked us to provide was a key phrase for success based on our marriage experience. 

Dave said, look at the big picture. It is easy to get so caught up with the immediate problems in your marriage, you lose sight of its long-term value. Over time perhaps conflicts can be resolved, hurt feelings eased, and difficulties worked through. Don’t act rashly when you feel overwhelmed. Later, you might wish you had looked ahead at the big picture and considered more carefully how your actions could impact your family’s future.

Dave and I are in one of Merida Mexico’s famous You and Me chairs. You have your own chair which faces its own direction but you are joined together.

I said, don’t expect your partner to make you happy. Happiness is an individual responsibility so pursue interests of your own. If there are times when your marriage is going through a difficult period, perhaps it will be career satisfaction, your children, your friendships, your hobbies, or your volunteer work in the community which will provide a sense of well-being. We place too great a burden on our significant other if we expect them to be responsible for the happiness in our life.

The engaged couple also asked us to comment on some of the things which had caused conflict in our marriage.

Deciding how our money should be spent has often been contentious for us. Giving our partner the freedom to splurge at times, on things we might not think are necessary, has made a difference.

family photo
Our family in the early 1990s

We talked about raising children. Respecting our divergent opinions and recognizing how we’d been influenced by the child-rearing practices in our own childhood homes was helpful.

We talked about a balance of power and the importance of ensuring both spouses feel equal responsibility as well as equal opportunity.

Tubing on Moose Lake together

Finally, the couple asked what things were the most important to us in a marriage partner. Trust and faithfulness were vital for me. Fun and a sense of humour were Dave’s top criteria.

It is nice to know the couple we gave this advice to twenty years ago is still together but each marriage is so different. Any two people who want to have a life-long relationship must find their own unique way to make things work.

Other posts………..

Can Your Marriage Survive Lollygagging

Is Marriage A Good Thing For Women?

Marriage Statistics and Bible Verses

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12 Reasons To Wear A Hat

Having a drink in Fiji
  1. To protect you from the sun.
With my daughter-in-law, in a hat she knit for me.

2. To honour its maker.

Celebrating our son’s university graduation.

3. To show you have attained a certain academic status.

My mom and her good friend Selma dressed up in sombreros in Mexico

4. As a souvenir from visiting a country.

In Benjaminson Park in St. James in Winnipeg

5. To help you blend in with your natural surroundings.

My grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt signing a wedding guest book in an elegant hat

6. To mark a special occasion.

Riding on a motorcycle in Taiwan with my cousin

7. To protect you

Our son at age six ready for a Tigers game.

8. To advertise your favourite sports team.

Our younger son dressed up in his Halloween costume.

9. To disguise you.

Our daughter-in-law when she worked as a physician in Nunavut

10. To keep you warm.

My Aunt Mary in her cap when she graduated from nursing school. Posing with my parents.

11. As part of the uniform for your job.

Our son in a beaver hat at Lower Fort Garry near Winnipeg

12. To learn about history.

Other posts…………

Fashion Statement

My Favourite Necklace

My Grandmother’s Shoes

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The Five Minute Rule

Visiting the Colosseum in Rome

After we moved to Asia in 2003 my husband and I began to travel extensively. We were teachers in Hong Kong and every vacation or long weekend we hopped on a plane somewhere and explored another part of the world. The people we worked with at the international school where we taught, were almost all avid globe trotters as well, and so we loved to chat about our various holidays and travel adventures with one another.

I noticed however when we returned home to Canada that most people were interested in hearing us talk about our travels for about 5 minutes in a conversation. Unless they were avid travelers too or had actually been to the same destination their eyes started to glaze over after about 5 minutes. I soon learned to watch for the signals and then cut off stories about travel escapades as quickly as possible.

Opening the box with the first copies of my book

I am finding it is kind of the same thing when you have a book published. Of course, you are terribly excited about it and want to talk about it but soon realize there are many people you know or meet who don’t have any idea you’ve written a book, haven’t read your book, didn’t think your book was that great, or have no clue about all the years of work that goes into writing a book or how slim your chances were of getting it published.

If I talk about my novel too much, even if someone has asked me a question about my book, their eyes soon glaze over, their attention is diverted by something going on around us, or they start an alternate conversation. Of course, the exception is other writers who know all about the process of writing and publishing a book and are eager to hear and share information and ideas. I am realizing when it comes to my book it is a good idea to not bring up the topic, but wait for someone else to introduce it, and then use the same 5-minute rule that I use for travel stories.

If you aren’t visiting with other educators its best to limit your descriptions of your teaching experiences in conversation

I think this isn’t only true when it comes to the topics of travel or book publishing. I have also found if you are with people who aren’t grandparents it’s best to keep your comments about your own grandchildren to a five-minute limit. If you are with people who aren’t teachers it is best to keep your wisdom about schools and education and your own teaching experiences to five minutes. If you are with people who don’t attend church it is best to keep talking about your church down to a five-minute quota. When I worked at the art gallery I noticed that waxing eloquent about some exhibit just made people who weren’t interested or familiar with art decidedly bored after 5 minutes.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always stick to the five-minute rule nor am I always as sensitive as I should be to situations where I need to use it, but I’m trying.

Other posts………..

No Christians Fed to Lions and Other Things You Might Not Know About the Colosseum

It’s Not Vanity

Five Things I Believe About Learning


Filed under Reflections, Travel

Turbulent Times

Nearly 900 wildfires are burning in Canada right now.

It’s easy to let panic get the upper hand when we consider what is going on in the world. Rapidly transmitted variants of COVID-19 are continuing to spread and cause illness and death. It is scary to think about how many people won’t believe scientific evidence and refuse to get a miraculous vaccine that could save their lives. Wildfires and heatwaves are stark reminders of an impending environmental catastrophe that climatologists have been warning us about for decades. A whole string of events has provided proof that racism is still alive and well in North America. What turbulent times we live in.

President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963

I am working on a new novel set in the 1960s. Those were my childhood and teen years. Possible topics I might cover are the Cuban missile crisis that easily could have ended in an all-out nuclear war. Americans witnessed the assassinations of President John F.Kennedy, his Attorney General brother Robert Kennedy and civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Then there were the events that would lead up to the FLQ crisis in Canada, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the construction of the Berlin Wall in Germany. Violent race riots occurred regularly in the United States and the sixties scoop was going on here in Canada. Thousands of Indigenous children were being taken from their homes by welfare workers and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families.  What a turbulent time!

My parents survived the turbulent years of the great depression and World War II.

My grandparents survived the turbulence of the Russian Revolution and famine and World War I.

We are almost always living in turbulent times. Perhaps our current times seem more turbulent than in the past because of the way we have such comprehensive coverage of them in the media now.

It is important to keep our perspective and remember that turbulent as our times may seem those who came before us have survived turbulent times and we will too.

Other posts…………

They Wore Masks Too

The Berlin Wall in Toronto

A Where Were You Moment

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Life is Messy

With my Advanced Composition class in Hong Kong

Before I first started teaching high school English I was in regular e-mail communication with one of my future colleagues. He was trying to help me understand what teaching high school English was like. He concluded one of his letters with the phrase “Teaching English is messy!”

And he was right! Juggling as many as a hundred students a semester all at different places in the creative process, all with different writing skills and different reading levels and different literary tastes, all with unique personal challenges and different attitudes towards learning, made for an extremely messy classroom hubris that I grew to love over a six-year period.

Life is a lot like English class too. Relationships are usually messy. They rarely run the course described in fairy tales.  While the people we love often make us feel whole and cherished…… sometimes as they negotiate their way through joy or pain they can tax our resources of support and care and we can easily wear their affection thin with our overt enthusiasm or droning complaints.

Farewell party for us thrown by friends when we left Hong Kong. We have managed to keep in touch with some of these people whose friendship meant so much to us during our six years in the city.

Friendships don’t just begin and end, they taper off, can change because of distance and time, go through rough patches, be rejuvenated but most often, bless us richly.  

Goals and plans are messy. We seldom reach milestones or walk through a charted journey in the manner we’d anticipated but how great a feeling when we arrive! The path of our work life is almost certain to be winding and messy and full of detours yet our careers can be incredibly rewarding.  

Daily life is messy too- full of grungy toilets to be cleaned, sweet children to hug, dreaded appointments to keep, lovely gifts to open, cracked toenails to cut, inspiring books to read, necessary shopping trips to endure, exciting new skills to learn and sometimes the need to spend a day in your nightgown.

Becoming a parent opens us up to lots of messiness- much of it joyous but lots of it also exhausting and full of anxiety

The beginning of different stages of life open up so many messy possibilities and we delight in the exciting maze of them. The end of life leaves a myriad of messy loose ends that need tending and tidying.

The messiness of life is challenging and rewarding and interesting and at this point at least for me definitely worth waking up for each day.

Other posts……..

Three Actions for a Good Life

The Beatles As A Soundtrack for Life

Life Symbols

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To Pay Attention

In her beautiful and important poem Yes! No! Mary Oliver asks us to remember……..

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly, looking at everything

She tells us that ………..

To pay attention. This is our endless and proper work.

Mary’s words remind me that whatever I am doing if I pay attention I will find things.……

to surprise me,

to make me think

to humble me

to make me laugh

to engage me

to connect me

to awe me

to delight me

to challenge me

to restore me

to interest me

and inspire me

Mary Oliver has another poem Summer Day in which she says

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is

I do know how to pay attention.

To pay attention. This is our endless and proper work.”

Other posts………….

Wild Grasses- A Love Story

And That Led Me

When They Look Back

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Filed under Poetry, Reflections

The Trees of Rideau Hall

When Prince William and his wife Kate visited Canada in 2011 they planted a hemlock tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor-General in Ottawa. It is a tradition that when someone famous visits Rideau Hall they plant a tree.  On our visit to Ottawa, we took a tour of Rideau Hall and the park surrounding it and I made some notes about the trees I saw.

There are 150 trees planted by famous visitors on the Rideau Hall grounds.  Many of the trees have grown large and their boughs stretch wide and high.

One thing I noticed was many of the people who planted the trees at Rideau Hall had made a positive difference in our world. 

There is a brass marker at the base of each tree telling you who planted it, when it was planted, as well as what kind of tree it is.

I saw a sugar maple planted by Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president. The anti-apartheid activist spent twenty- seven years in prison and became a worldwide symbol of hope to those fighting for freedom and equality.

Diana, Princess of Wales has a tree in Rideau Hall Park. This popular British royal used her notoriety to draw the attention of the world to the needs of people with AIDS and the victims of land mines.

In July of 2011, when William her son and his wife Kate visited Rideau Hall, they stopped for a few moments of silence beside the tree Diana had planted, just after planting their own tree.  Following in the footsteps of Diana’s dedication to public service the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have established a foundation that promotes mental health and wellness.  

John F. Kennedy planted a flourishing red oak tree. Kennedy inspired the establishment of the United States Peace Corps. The organization has sent 200,000 volunteers to 140 countries to help those in need.

When Kofi Annan visited Canada Adrienne Clarkson was the Governor-General living at Rideau Hall.

There’s a tree planted by  Kofi Annan of Ghana, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to conflicts in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Libya, East Timor and the Middle East.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko greet Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall before planting their tree

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has a tree at Rideau Hall. In 2011 after a tsunami devastated his country he did something no Japanese royal has ever done before. He made a live television appearance to talk to his people to reassure them and give them hope and then he and his wife visited shelters for storm refugees. 

Many of the famous people who have planted trees at Rideau Hall have used their lives to serve others, and make a difference in the world. 

 Other posts……..

The Beginning And End of Life

I Sat in The Speaker’s Chair

Canada A Country For All Seasons

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Are You A Grown Up?

Author and poet Judith Viorst has just released her latest book called Nearing Ninety. It is another collection of poems marking a decade milestone in her life and follows her other poetry collections about turning 49,59,60,70 and 80. 

I have long been an admirer of Ms. Viorst’s children’s books like…….Alexander and the Horrible Terrible No Good Very Bad Day  and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney.  

More than thirty years ago I heard her speak at the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg. That night Ms. Viorst used a series of highly entertaining anecdotes to illustrate the signs we should look for if we wanted to determine whether we were truly a grown up.

According to Viorst being a grown up means………..

1. Realizing you aren’t necessarily everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. Some people will like you and some won’t. That’s natural and you accept it. 

2. Understanding you cannot be responsible for making sure all the people you love are always happy. Your friends and family need to bear some of the responsibility for their own happiness. 

3. Accepting the ‘dark’ side of your personality. Knowing you have faults but not being too judgemental of yourself. Admitting that despite your negative qualities you are still basically a good person. 

4.  Being firmly optimistic even when things go wrong in life. Always remembering that even when things appear catastrophic eventually healing will come and pain will diminish. 

5. Having the ability to comfort yourself and the grace to receive comfort from others. 

6. Committing yourself in some way to making the world a better place to live in before you die. 

Judith Viorst ended her talk by encouraging us not to worry if we hadn’t achieved her six marks of a grownup. She told us when we quit the ‘growing up process’ we may as well quit the living process as well. 

Other posts………..

A Role Model

Supporting Each Other

A Realistic Look At Aging?

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