Music From Young Men to Lift Your Heart

Last weekend I was privileged to hear a program of  music at the First Presbyterian Church here in Winnipeg that featured four outstanding boys’ choirs. 

The first was Ecole Sisler Boys Choir conducted by Carolyn Boyes. I was moved by their beautiful rendition of He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother made popular in the 1970s by The Hollies and Neal Diamond. The lyrics apply to each one of us no matter what stage we are at on our life’s journey.

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way there
Why not share?

The second male music group was the Pembina Trails Boys Choir conducted by my talented daughter-in-law Alisa Wiebe.  What a full rich sound those ten little fellows made! One of their selections was called Walking in the Air.  It was a piece of music from the film version of Raymond Briggs’  classic children’s book The Snowman. The beautiful sound of the choir had me closing my eyes and  floating in the moonlight sky with the flying snowman and his young friend as they surveyed the ground below.  

A Stopping by Woods mural done by some of my elementary students in Mitchell

Next up was the Kelvin Boys Choir conducted by Kimberly Brown. Their outstanding selection had to be the piece by Randall Thompson which set to music the words of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. It is a poem I memorized as a child and have introduced to nearly every class of students I have taught from nursery school to grade twelve.  As the choir sang I imagined the mural a group of my grade two students once created to illustrate the poem. 

We always sang Ubi Caritas at the end of our meals at Tao Fong Shan our church in Hong Kong

The final group to sing was The Winnipeg Boys Choir conducted by Spencer Duncanson. One of their numbers was Ubi Caritas, a piece that is special to me because our church in Hong Kong always ended our Sunday gatherings with it.  The Winnipeg Boys Choir sang a version by Ola Gjeilo in Latin. The phrase that repeats itself over and over is Ubi caritas et amour, Deus ibi est.Where love and charity are, God is there

My Mom and Dad at Christmas with children from a refugee family from Sierra Leone they sponsored

Those words speak to the true message of the season. God is present wherever and whenever people act in a kind and helpful way. It doesn’t matter if we are Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims or Christians. Whenever we care for others God is present and real.  Regardless of our cultural background or racial identity we invoke God’s presence whenever we open our hearts to those in need.  Regardless of our sexual orientation or gender we are the embodiment of God’s spirit when we touch the lives of others in a positive way. Regardless of our social or economic class when we share our resources with others, God’s love as it is illustrated in the story of the baby born two thousand years ago becomes a reality in 2018. 

Near the end of November I wrote about how a choir of young women had inspired me.  Last weekend it was choirs of young men who did.  The message of their music has infused a real sense of hope and joy into the holiday.
Other posts………

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My Own Personal Travel Agent

dave planning our day in australiaI’m sorting through my photo libraries deleting thousands of pictures and I came across this gem taken one morning on a trip to Australia in 2010. Dave is planning our route for the day, pouring over maps, guidebooks and brochures to figure out what we want to see and where we want to go.  On this trip as on all our other travel adventures he had made all the arrangements for accommodations, rental cars, flights, and excursions.  He had done his research so we would spend time in three very different parts of Australia during our two weeks there. 

I know how very lucky I am to have my own personal trip planner who has organized the adventures that have taken us all over the world.  

Other posts……..

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Australian Inspiration

Christmas Down Under


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A President’s Funeral And A Statue in Hong Kong

 Rev. Russell Levenson gave the homily at President George Bush’s state funeral on Wednesday.   The Bush family pastor described how just before the former president died his good friend James Baker who had been his Secretary of State and his White House Chief of Staff stood at the foot of the President’s bed and rubbed his feet for about half an hour.  “The president smiled at the comfort of his dear friend,” Levenson noted. The pastor then went on to say that as he witnessed Mr. Baker serving the former president in such a practical and caring way what came to mind was Jesus washing his friends’ feet just before his own death.  Jesus told his friends that he was setting an example for them.  He was serving them the way they needed to serve others. 

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Esther Augsburger

The pastor’s remarks reminded me of a beautiful statue at the International Christian School in Hong Kong where I was a teacher for six years.  It was created by Virginia artist Esther Augsburger. The statue shows Jesus washing his friend Peter’s feet. It stood on a podium just above the main entrance to our school to remind all who entered that serving others with care and compassion was the most important mandate Jesus gave to his followers. What a different world we would have if that was the top priority of all government leaders. 

Other posts………

Mennonite Nuns

I Want to Be Like Anna

Thoughts on Refugees

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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 Christmas Tree For Readers

christmas book tree

Our church Christmas tree made of books. The baskets at the side are for mitts and hats to be donated to charities who distribute clothing to needy people.

Last spring, Lorraine one of the creative and talented women who decorates our church building for the various seasons asked me if I knew where she could get some old books.  I am the church librarian and I told her each year I weed our library collection pulling books off the shelves that are no longer being taken out by patrons to make room for new ones.  She asked me to save the books I was withdrawing from circulation.  In church last Sunday I saw the reason why!

lorraine with her tree

The very talented Lorraine with the tree she created.

Lorraine has taken all those old books and turned them into a beautiful Christmas tree for our church foyer. manger scene book christmas treeShe has thoughtfully arranged children’s books near the bottom of the tree and included a manger scene. 

The tree is outside the door of the church library and it has already drawn any number of new readers into the library because they have questions about the tree.  We celebrate Christmas because of a very special story.  How appropriate to recognize the season with a tree full of stories. 

Other posts…….

A Flood of Books

Children’s Christmas Books – The Classics



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Write Don’t Whine!

“Do you believe our world will always have wars? Put up your hand if you believe that.”  

 About half the audience raised their hands. Canadian children’s author Deborah Ellis surveyed the two hundred writers and illustrators of children’s books gathered in front of her and said bluntly, “Those of you who have your hands raised have no business writing books for children. If you believe we can’t end war in our world you should not  be creating books for children. And you also shouldn’t be teachers.”

I was attending a conference for children’s writers and illustrators in Toronto on the Remembrance Day weekend and Deborah Ellis was delivering the final keynote address. She certainly didn’t pull any punches. She told us what we believe in our hearts will come through in our writing and our writing needs to reflect a hope that our world can be a better place; that the sins of the past do not have to be the sins of the future.  

Deborah told us the books of our childhood are the ones we read over and over and over again and those childhood books are the ones our children will remember long into the future. We need to make sure those books encourage kids to be kind, to care for our planet, to act in a peaceful way, to be better people. 

Deborah Ellis

Deborah also had little sympathy for how incredibly difficult it is to get a children’s book published these days. Getting published shouldn’t be our motivation for writing. Deborah referred to a scene from the movie Julia where two authors Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman are in conversation about writing and Lillian is complaining about the difficulty of finishing a manuscript.  Hammett tells her to stop whining.  If she wants to quit writing she should quit but if she doesn’t want to quit she should just write.  

Deborah said we should be writing because we need to and want to. If we truly want to write we should just write, with or without affirmation.  “Don’t be an ass about it!”  she chastized us. She reminded us that not everyone has an opportunity or the ability to write.  We do.  So we should be grateful and not whine. 

Deborah has spent her career writing books about children in the most difficult of circumstances.  Books like……….The Cat At the Wall- about a Palestinian boy living in a small house on the West Bank in Israeli occupied territory, The Breadwinner about a young girl who impersonates a boy to help her family survive in war torn Afghanistan, No Ordinary Day about an orphan on the streets of Jharia India and No Safe Place about an illegal immigrant teenager from Baghdad in a refugee community in Calais France. Deborah has donated over a million dollars in royalities from her books to organizations that help children in crisis around the world. 

Deborah practices what she preaches so it is pretty hard to criticize her.  She gave us a ‘kick in the butt’  at the end of the conference. I for one needed it and appreciated it and it made me leave the conference even more determined to keep on writing !

Other posts about the CANSCAIP conference in Toronto………

What’s the Answer?

Relentless Persistence?

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Writer


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Butterflies in Nunavut?

Chasing Butterflies by Mary Yuusipik Singaqti

I was preparing to give a tour of the Mary Yuusipik exhibit that just opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  The exhibit includes twenty-six drawings that show what artist Mary Yuusipik’s life was like growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in the interior Back River area of Nunavut. I was reading about each of Mary’s drawings and studying them and when I came to this one called Chasing Butterflies I said to myself, “Butterflies in Nunavut? Wouldn’t it be way too cold for butterflies there?” Turns out according to this beautiful and interesting book by Carolyn Mallory The Common Insects of Nunavut there are eight kinds of butterflies and moths in Nunavut  including the Brush Footed Butterfly, the Gossamer Winged Butterfly and the White and Sulphur Butterfly. 

Brush Footed Butterfly- photo by Carolyn Mallory

Carolyn includes traditional stories she heard from people about the various insects in her book. Several older women in Baker Lake told Carolyn that if you placed a butterfly on newborn girls they would grow up to make beautiful designs on the things they sewed. 

Untitled wall hanging by Mary Yuusipik -2013

Looking at a gorgeous wall hanging like this one which is part of the current Mary Yuusipik exhibit  one might speculate that Mary herself may have had a butterfly alight on her as a newborn. 

Other posts……….

Stitching a Story

Cut in Stone

Transferring the Real to the Unreal

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