April, April . . .

Welcome to winter. Three or four inches of snow cover everything. Of course. It’s April in Winnipeg, so we’re not surprised. The German’s have a word for this fickleness of nature. Actually, a few words . . . it’s a poem. 

I didn’t teach my kids German. I know, it’s a shame. But . . . I did teach them this poem and I think it should be mandatory for any Winnipeger.

April, April, kann machen was er will. Bald Regen und bald Sonnenschein, bald ist die Luft voll Schnee.   (April, April, does want it wants. There’s rain and then sunshine, and then the air fills up with snow.) It’s by Heinrich Seidel from Mecklenburg (1842-1906). In German, there's a catchy cadence to it. 

Seidel was an interesting fellow. During the day, as an engineer, he designed the roof of the Anhalter train station in Berlin. He was also a sort of guerilla gardener (if I understand that term correctly), scattering seeds he collected on various trips, throughout his hometown of Berlin. Theodor Storm was one of his critique partners, and Seidel’s most popular book Leberecht Hünchen, a light-hearted series released between 1880 and 1893, is still available today. 

Seidel’s sense of humour and appreciation of nature comes through loud and clear in this simple April poem that any child, once they hear it, remembers for life (even my second-generation kids here in Canada).  

Experiencing weather invites a sort of a universal language, wouldn’t you agree? 

Simple Things

Grateful. Grateful for the constancy of this old enamelled teapot (bought in downtown Winnipeg, in the Hudson’s Bay basement back when that was still around).  I’ve poured green tea from this aqua teapot (made in Poland) almost every morning for more than four decades now. On occasion, I’ve traded it in with pretty glass pots, but they never last. So it’s back to this good old standby. 

My aqua pot has come along on many a camping trip and at times gets charred black by flames. It’s tough and now has enough character that I suppose I’ll be pouring tea from it for a few more mornings yet. 

I’m also grateful for the plants that have chosen to thrive in my space. I don’t consider myself a gardener. A plant has to be tough to hang out with me. But the English ivy is actually climbing and the humble spider plant loves it here.

The trick to my in-house garden? Only grow what works. That’s an insight I can pass onto real life. Find the right growing conditions: the right light, soil and water and stop trying to be somebody I can’t sustain. 

In Tainted Amber, my protagonist, Katya, is more of a shade-loving violet, but she yearns to be a sun-loving rose like her friend, Minna. Me? Perhaps I’m more of a carefree spider plant, able to adapt to almost any growing condition, preferably surrounded by books and good light. 

Learning to Write Better through Reading

I finished reading The White Rose Resists by Amanda Barrett this past week. The novel, based on the actual White Rose resistant group whose young leaders were tragically executed, via guillotine, in 1943, piqued my interest because of the extreme reviews it had on Goodreads. I’d only had a vague knowledge of the real event which involved Munich university student siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl, along with fellow students, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, among others. These five were convicted of treason and immediately killed. Their crime? Sending out propaganda leaflets suggesting that the war was a lost cause. 

I was moved by the actual events behind the novel, but I found the structure of this novel confusing.  When a narrative is written from different points of view, there needs to be a corresponding change in ‘voice’. This can be done through dialogue, thought processes and interactions. Merely defining a viewpoint with a name at the beginning of each chapter left me constantly turning back to the chapter beginning, wondering who the I had morphed into now. Who was doing the actual talking? The author never let me forget that she was telling the story, even though she no doubt meant the opposite. I get what she was trying to do. I’m guilty as charged, writing fiction in first person, present-tense to create the least amount of distance between the reader and the action. But when that first person is constantly changing, the reader can’t develop any empathy towards the character—only confusion.

Another irritant, which I put in the editor’s court, was the constant reference to vater and mutter, ja and nein, etc.. We get it, it’s a German story. But the words here seemed gratuitous and jarring. As well, by inserting the fictional characters, Kirk and Annelise, into the plot, she creates an artificial love story and only weakens the historical fact. I'm grateful to other reviewers who articulated much better than I can some of the issues of this mostly five-starred book. (Go to Goodreads to follow the discussion).

Enough of my criticisms. While the re-telling by Barrett might be flawed, there’s no weakening of the actual tragic incident.  I found the narrative most compelling when it shared the final hours of Sophie Scholl’s life. 

So while I’d been warned by other Goodreaders not to bother reading, I’m grateful I did, after all. Sometimes reading what doesn’t work can be as useful to a writer as reading what does. Here’s what I will try to apply to my own writing:  I will be careful with my use of foreign words; I will try to establish credible points of view; and I will not insert characters that don’t add to the overall plot. I don’t mean to disparage this novel. The author told a deeply felt version of an important event and she includes great references at the end which can lead readers to find the true story in between the fiction, if they, in fact, care. Writing historical fiction deserves truth. But in the end, as authors, we can only try our best. Editors, we need you!

Photo: Creative Commons, Bust of Sophie Scholl by Wolfgang Eckert 

Reading Landscape

I very much enjoyed Jessica Lee's memoir, Turning, about swimming over the course of a year in fifty-two lakes in the Berlin area.  Having visited the city for too brief a time back in 2019, I didn’t see much beyond the historic downtown, where I'd tried to retrace some of my dad's steps at the Luftwaffe headquarters and the Tiergarten. I'd tried to imagine him eighteen and in love with the promises of the Third Reich. But Berlin is more than the Second World War.

I'd been aware that the city had many lakes but had not realized how huge Berlin in fact is. (Population: 3.6 million and about 900 square km. That's about five times more people than Winnipeg and twice as spread out.)  During (yet another!) covid-March, by googling the fifty-two lakes that the memoirist swam throughout all four seasons, I've extended my experience of Berlin.

I appreciated how Jessica Lee interwove her personal life, environmental issues, and history with the actions of cycling and swimming.  While I love swimming, I’m quite certain I could never break ice to swim in cold water. Lee is a much tougher swimmer than I could ever be, but I understood her need to prove something by swimming, having myself almost drowned as a youngster. I look forward to reading her newest book, Two Trees Make a Forest, which was on the Canada Reads list this past year and received the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Nonfiction. Maybe if, or when, I visit Berlin again, I'd like to check out some of the lakes in Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg area.  She refers to a hiking trail, called 66 Seen Wanderung, that demands more research, too. 

The book offered up a personal connection for me when her friend, Anne, starts singing, “Pack die Badehose ein.” (page 245).  It’s a 1950s hit about swimming in the Wannsee, and was my dad’s favourite tune as we headed out to beaches here in Manitoba back when I was young. Such a nostalgic earwig!

A memorable line comes near the end when she heads to a forest area filled with war memories: “But in Halbe I’m reminded that the landscape remembers even as it grows over.” (page 260). Travel. I remember it fondly, but I’m determined to appreciate the opportunity of not travelling, too. Reading is a great travel substitute.

Immigrant Story

Josepha, a picture book (written by Jim McGugan and illustrated by Murray Kimber), is a 1994 Governor General award winner. (Originally published by Red Deer in 1992 and republished in 2012). It's a poignant story of a fourteen-year-old immigrant's shaming back in 1900 and it struck a chord with me. Even though I started school as a kindergartner, a full sixty years later, I still remember being shamed because of language and culture. I'd never considered how much more difficult it would have been for a fourteen-year-old. 

The illustrations in this book, set on the prairies are full of deep, rich colours, always highlighting that 'land of the living sky' . . . so aptly expressed on Saskatchewan’s vehicle license plates. 

The spread with the British flag on the schoolhouse especially resonates with me. What a British-influenced education it was for Canadian immigrant children, even in the more recent sixties. Along with the images, the actual words are emotive and insightful. My favourite ones: "But Josepha's face darkened. Lightless as the window in his family's sod shack . . . " and then, "This was the way for all of them, those older ones. One year, shamed. Maybe two. And then they'd be gone from class. They'd be gone forever."  I should pay more attention to picture books. Why should they be only for kids?

Volunteering with EAL students helps me appreciate the vulnerabilities of current immigrants and this picture book reminded me that shaming is current and that it can be crippling. No doubt shame has also impacted the Residential School survivors . . . with a history of being outcasts in their own country and it continues to be felt by newcomers who are, on the one hand, grateful to Canada for a safe life, but then shamed by their ‘otherness.’  Now, with the pandemic, there is a subtle shaming and discriminating against Asians, even here. Our country has opened its door to immigrants but we, as individuals, must be on guard not to let misguided fear close our hearts. The subtleness of shaming makes it a powerful and painful weapon. Some royal watchers might agree. 

Epilepsy Awareness Month

March is Epilepsy Awareness Month in Manitoba and across Canada and I thought this would be a good time to post a bit about this condition that affects one out of one hundred people (and three out of five in my immediate family). Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures. It is not a mental illness and it can be controlled with medication and in extreme situations, through surgery. Seizures can be the result of TBI (traumatic brain injury), tumours, stroke or infections like meningitis. Epilepsy also runs in families and up to forty per cent of cases are genetic. 

In their zeal to create a perfect nation, the Nazis not only wanted to control race, but they also wanted to control hereditary diseases. In January, 1934, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases came into effect, with amendments made in 1935, forcing doctors to expose any patients with reportable conditions. A court would then order sterilization.

People with possibly inherited deafness, homosexuality, anxiety and depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and a variety of other 'deviations', including epilepsy, were “to be rendered incapable of procreation.” But Nazi Germany was not the only country intent on forced sterilization. Eugenics was popular throughout the twentieth century in many parts of the world and it has always been the most vulnerable who’ve been at risk.

The consequence of an ill-timed seizure becomes a turning point in Tainted Amber, but it didn’t have to be. After all, the seizures in my family members have not prevented them from living full lives. During Epilepsy Awareness Month, I hope more people stop stigmatizing anyone who’s had seizures. We’re all worthy of life and love, and procreation should be a personal decision, not mandated by the zeal of a government focused on their idea of perfection. 

Like a Virus

I’ve got a young adult in the house studying advertising and she’s made me aware of how ubiquitous slogans are. The right slogan is marketing gold. I grew up with The Pepsi Generation and its main competitor, It’s the Real Thing. Then there were a variety of catchy phrases for breakfast cereals like Snap, Crackle, Pop and the sexual ones like Strong Enough for a Man, but made for a Woman (deodorant). 

Politicians and social movements know the power of slogans too. Obama: Yes We Can; Trump: Make America Great Again; 20th Century communists: Workers of the World, Unite; War Veterans: Lest We Forget;  Hippies: Make love, not war;  People of colour:  Black Lives Matter

A good slogan can unite and give momentum. Hitler knew this. (Of course, you knew I would somehow segue to those times!) The Nazis loved slogans and we’re all familiar with the insidious nature of most of them. Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer (One people, one nation, one leader) or Sieg Heil (Hail Victory). The Nazis also promoted positive vibes with the holiday slogan of Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy).

Other slogans were simply cruel. There was the sarcastic: Arbeit Macht Frei (work gives freedom) in most of the death and labour camps or the Jedem das Seine (to each his own) at the Buchenwald camp. 

Back in the thirties, Hitler rallied the German people at massive gatherings with pomp, ceremony and with catchy slogans.  Can we even remember the energy of a crowd in these isolating pandemic times? Our current slogan is Stay Home if you’re Sick! Still, ideas continue to spread, now through social media.   In Tainted Amber, I explore how people became contaminated by the power of the Nazi slogans . . . almost like a virus. 

Photo:  Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-04481B / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Sound of Music

The recent death of the great actor, Christopher Plummer—may he rest in peace—reminded film-goers all over the world of The Sound of Music. For me, the movie’s up there with Dr. Zhivago as an all-time favourite. I was at the impressionable age of ten and eleven when The Sound of Music played for more than two years at the Kings Theatre in sunny St. James. Movies were not part of my growing up years . . . they were considered too worldly by my church . . . but after a year of begging, I finally got to see this one. The sinful pleasure was worth the long line-up.

Over the years, I’ve re-watched The Sound of Music as a school musical (one daughter got to know and love the songs), as a dress-up, sing-a-long at the old Globe Theatre in downtown Winnipeg, and as a performance at Rainbow Stage . . . where I got to bring a carload of seniors, excited like teenagers at the evening out. I think that’s what I loved so much about the musical . . . it was for all ages. 

I suppose the most powerful Sound of Music experience for me was during the time I waited on tables in the Berchtesgaden area (half an hour from Salzburg) and regularly hiked the hills that the film opens up with. I turned twenty out there during a student work program and spent the afternoon of my birthday walking in Maria’s footsteps, traipsing through alpine meadows and feeling on top of the world. 

Hitler’s mountain wasn’t far away. I could see it when the clouds weren’t hanging too low. Back then, I was still too young, too inexperienced, to have more than a glimmer of understanding about how the war had scarred the world and also my own family. But even then, I was quite aware that evil minds appreciate beauty as much as good minds do. In that perfect landscape, where “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” Nazis nurtured plots of world domination and destruction. If evil can lurk in such beauty, the reverse must be true. Goodness can be found in the ugliest corners of our world. 

I never found any edelweiss on my meanderings, nor the blue alpine flower called enzian—although I often served the Enzian Schnapps made from its roots. I’d like to go back. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just listen to Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss.  Wait, he didn’t actually sing it, did he? That makes him and the song even more endearing. 

Brotlose Kunst

Canada is a country of immigrants and so on I Read Canadian Day, I think it’s important to ask what we’re reading. I know that I sorely missed my own ‘Canadian’ reflection in the books I read as a child. Now, when I volunteer with immigrants, I recognize that there’s an inevitable lag in reading one’s own story in mainstream literature. After all, many immigrants come here seeking economic improvement and becoming an author is no guarantee of financial stability. Others come to Canada as refugees . . . like my parents did in the 1950s.  Writing memoirs wasn’t on the top of their to-do list either. They had a language to learn and travel debts to pay off. (Yes, refugees coming to Canada had to repay the boat trip.)

Immigrant parents like mine, regarded literature as ‘brotlose kunst’ (bread-less art). It was beyond my family’s comprehension that I would study literature for eight years at university. 

When it comes to reading Canadian there might be a necessary generation gap before telling the stories of the immigrant population that makes up modern Canada. And, the First Nations of this land, robbed of their very identity, have also only just begun to use our book-method of telling stories. I appreciate that I Read Canadian Day is more about the struggling publishing world than it is about the empowerment of readers through stories. Balanced financial books are a prerequisite for a thriving publishing scene. But on this I Read Canadian Day, I want to reach out to those still unpublished, perhaps unwritten or even untold, stories that lurk in our diverse population. 

By the way, this week I’ve been reading Marsha Skrypuch’s book, Don’t Tell the Enemy. It’s about how  Ukrainians were murdered by Germans. Marsha comes from the Ukrainian background, I come from the German background. Here we are, in Canada, on I Read Canadian Day, telling the stories that our extended families handed down to us. I've also recently read two other books telling stories written by children of post-Second World War immigrant Canadians. Michelle Barker's My Long List of Impossible Things and Secrets in the Shadows by fellow Ronsdale author, Heige Boehm. 


This is what Canada has given us . . . on I Read Canadian Day . . . I am grateful for international, intergenerational Canadian stories. 

Book Cover Connection

I shared a book once with my mom and serendipity tingled through me when she recognized a face on its cover. “That’s Sofie!” she’d exclaimed, pointing at the pretty little girl in the middle. “She’s my cousin!”  That was back in 2004.

Sofie and my mom had last seen each other in 1930 when the collectivization process tore their young lives apart. Long story short, the two cousins reconnected through an exchange of letters more than seventy years later. 

Sofie had spent years in Siberian exile and finally made Omsk her home and that’s where she died a couple of years after their reunion. By then the two women had caught up on each other’s amazing lives. 

My mom had me send her a castoff fur coat and in one of the letters that my mom dictated and I wrote, she said, 

 “Tell her I have running water—right here in the house. Write that.” 

 “Mom? Really?” I hesitated. Doesn’t everyone have water?

 “Tell her that,” Mom repeated. “Tell her I have hot and cold water. And tell her that I have a warm bed. Write that down!"

  So I did. 


Now we have a pandemic and we’re grumbling about all the restrictions. And it's cold! Really cold. But hey, we still have hot and cold water. (At least here in the cities . . . First Nations might still struggle for this basic need.) And I’m always grateful for a warm bed. Winters are cold here after all . . . just like in Siberia. Right, Mom? I'm grateful not to be homeless here in Canada.

When those cousins were little girls they had no idea that they’d reconnect through books. Don Miller wrote about the kulak repression in Soviet Ukraine and I wrote a children’s story about a kulak orphan. 

Without those photos, I might never have understood my own family history.             


Flying High

For ten years now, I’ve been privileged to belong to a talented, dynamic and diverse writing group. We’ve been a nest of fledglings, each trying to find our writing wings. Until the pandemic, we’d meet in person at our favourite local bookstore, McNally Robinson on Grant Avenue, here in Winnipeg. Now we meet twice a month via zoom. From fledglings to soaring eagles and everything in between we have supported each other as we practice becoming the writers we want to be. 

And to carry this bird metaphor a bit farther, if I dare, we’re each turning into unique birds with different strengths, interests and directions. While the early bird might get the worm, we’re not all into eating worms and so we don’t judge or compare. We appreciate how fragile and sensitive birds and writers are to the elements of life and watch out for the sly, bad cat of doubt and defeatism that sometimes likes to stalk us. 

Our group fluctuates at eight or nine members—each of us with different backgrounds and writing ambitions. We’ve got a hodgepodge of birds in our nest . . . although we might have all once looked like similar eggs.  We’ve hatched, or are still hatching, into bold blue jays, noisy woodpeckers, chipper chickadees, or even shy sparrows. 

This February, the month celebrating Canadian books, I’d like to celebrate the birds in my local writing nest. They’ve produced dozens of excellent books . . . from nonfiction to middle grade, YA and picture books, The Anitas have flown high. And we’re still flying. Seems like when one’s down, another is just becoming airborne and so we continue to look out for each other. 

During February, this month of hearts, I’d like to share my appreciation to my writing support group. You’ve been there for me through the lows and the highs and I wish every writer the same kind of supporting nest that I’ve been graced to call my writing home.

During I Read Canadian Month, I want to highlight these books by some of my favourite Manitoba authors. Family of Spies, Coop the Great, Lost on the Prairie, Relationships Make the Difference, Enslavement, Hokey Dowa and the Snowflake Girl, Mr. Jacobson’s Window.  And a shout-out also to a former member's YA book, Empty Cup.

Reflections on the Holocaust

I’ve been reading When Time Stopped by Arianna Neumann this past week, coinciding with Holocaust Remembrance Day, quite by accident. 76 years since the Soviets liberated Ausschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The book is having a powerful effect on me. Arianna writes about a Jewish father she never really knew. After he dies, she sleuths together his war experiences with dogged determination . . .  not easy. After all, she grew up in Caracas, far from Europe and went to a Catholic school. 

I chose to read her book in part, because I’ve been working on a novel that’s mostly memoir about my own father. I workshopped it with Sage Hill last summer and while I’m letting it simmer on a back burner right now, its scent permeates my mind. 

Arianna’s father, using an assumed name, was able to survive the Holocaust—physically. But we all know that health is about more than just our bodies. 

Daughters and fathers often have complex but important relationships. Famous father/daughter pairings include Svetlana with her father, Stalin, in politics and Scout and Atticus in literature's To Kill a Mockingbird. My own father talked little about his war experiences and I’ve had to figure it out mostly on my own. 

Of course, I’ll never get it right. But I can try. Arianna Neumann’s memoir about her father, an innocent victim of the Nazis, makes me even more determined to understand my own father, one of that war's perpetrators. 

I know some people find evil too loathing to look at. But it’s my belief, that unless we study and understand the motivation for evil, it will continue to flourish. We are human beings, each capable for good and for evil. It’s not ‘the other’. It’s in my own reflection. I find this to be frightening, but also empowering, because I can do something about that reflection.

Arianna Neumann's book is well written and absolutely engaging. Great photos, too.

Of Owls and Cats

I fell asleep to the sound of two hoot owls last night—one close by, the other farther away. Were they establishing their territories or embracing supremacy over our sleeping suburb? 

Wikipedia jok2000
Twenty-five degrees on the minus side today. Minus thirty overnight. We have January weather in January. Feels right. When I delivered mail, I loved walking in the cold with the snow like concrete under my cleats and the Manitoba sun brilliant between the sundogs. I seriously liked it better than a muggy plus-thirty day in July. The trick was to keep moving and to stoke that furnace. That’s when my love affair with porridge began and when my relationship with coffee . . . changed. Too many layers to take off and on for a quick trip to the washroom. Oh, and the layers, yes. They are key to embracing any kind of weather. Sort of like life. Layers are a veil of protection, like masks—metaphorical and medical.

My mom never forgave me for earning a living delivering mail . . . said she never survived Siberia so that her daughter could freeze here in Canada. So I keep writing about her hard life, hoping somehow to make it up to her . . . so she can still sort of be proud of me. The child in me yearns for her approval. 

Tiberius, the cat, poked his head out into the cold this morning and growled at the blast of cold like it was some sort of invisible monster. Last week of January, I tell him. Enjoy it before it’s gone! Instead he hissed at me like it was all my fault and pattered back to the couch, snuggling into oblivion. 

Trakehner Horses

A little bit about Trakehner horses. The what, where, when and why. 


Alexander Kastler Wikipedia 

Trakehner horses are a multi-coloured, warmblood breed originating in the former East Prussia. (Warmblood means they have speed and endurance, cavalry material . . . as opposed to a drafthorse which is coldblooded and used for slower, heavier work.) They are identified through branding with the East Prussian moose antler.   

Joachim Kohler Wikipedia

Trakehner hoses are named after the East Prussian town of Trakehnen. Now part of the Kaliningrad  Oblast, it was renamed Yasnaya Polyana after the war. Located north of the Rominter Forest, in the southeast corner of Kaliningrad Oblast, it’s about 150 kilometers east of Kaliningrad city. While a Russian museum retells the famous past, the town—like most of rural Kaliningrad Oblast— is run-down and neglected. 

Stud House in Trakehnen before the war.
(Public Domain)


The town of Trakehnen was established back in 1731 by the Prussian cavalry. On January 20th, 1945, the state-run stud farm was abandoned as the Soviets approached. Today, while almost completely destroyed at the end of the Second World, the Trakehner has once emerged as a strong horse, admired throughout the world. Now you can ride Trakehner horses even here in Canada


Because as I explored my mom’s ‘quiet’ years, I learned that as a young woman, she worked as a servant girl for East Prussian estate owners.  I soon discovered that East Prussia was well known not only for its idyllic countryside with pastures for grazing horses, but for a specific type of horse. Setting a novel against the background of breeding perfect horses was an opportunity to explore the Nazi obsession with bloodlines and the risks of imperfection. 

Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht

While my dad focused on a thoughtful game of chess, other family members sometimes played the most frustrating game in the world, Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht. The literal translation is, Man, Don’t Get Frustrated. English-speakers might know it as Trouble or Parcheesi. It’s a four-person game and works well when there are little kids around who can’t read, but know their colours and can count up to six. It’s a game focused almost completely on chance.  

Wikipedia. Vitavia.

Our own family edition, taped and re-taped, includes only an incomplete set of the wooden game pieces. I regret not buying one in pristine condition at a yard sale a couple of years ago because, as frustrating and boring as the game was, it represents many hours spent around the tables of my childhood. I looked online and was surprised to see that it’s still available—still looking the same.

The original German game came out in 1914 and has been the most popular board game in that country ever since. The German post office even issued a stamp in 2014 to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Other countries have games similar to this one with even older histories. 

I’m wondering why German families found this particular game so compelling? Was it because they identified with the frustrations of not achieving their goals?  Was is about the dice—that destiny changes with the roll of the dice? 

Wikipedia. myguitarzz
It’s sort of like that Serenity Prayer. Mensch, ärger Dich nicht.  Accept the things you cannot change . . . like the roll of the dice. No mention of guilt for kicking someone out of the way. There’s a variation of the game that addresses that potential guilt. We played it when I was older. It had a touch more strategy, too.  Sorry!—the game’s name says it all. You’re in my way, sorry. I guess we all feel a bit guilty when we push someone away from achieving their goals.  (Because I’m so involved with the domestics around Second World War research, I'm thinking of Hitler invading the rest of Europe. Sorry, you're in the wrong place.)

And then later, all those refugees. . . like my mom . . .  unable to get 'home' on the playing field. Maybe that's what she liked about Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht. It reflected her life. 

On the other hand, maybe that’s why my dad embraced chess. He had little control over the events of his life, but chess gave him back some control. Chess isn’t about rolling the dice and accepting one’s fate.  Chess is about anticipating your opponent’s next move. 

Still, there’s a time when rolling the dice seems like the ultimate way to abscond responsibility. Me? My favourite game has been Settlers of Catan. Hmm. I wonder what that means?


During 2020, while out walking and biking or gardening and decluttering, I was mostly alone (well, often with the grand-canine) and I loved it!  It gave me plenty of time to muddle about with words. Finding the right word is a thrill, sort of like finding a perfect stone. 

Back in January, pre-COVID, I'd chosen own it as my guiding words for the year. Later, I breathed those two little words in on the muddiest days—when I was stuck in a pandemic rut—and they recharged me. Own it were the right words, in the right year, for me.

For 2021, I’ve chosen the word opportunity and already I'm energized by its possibilities. 

To start the year off, I’m engaging in a new opportunity, offered through IBBY, of reading online with refugee children. The isolation of the pandemic is, no doubt, particularly hard on people who live on the fringes of our society and this includes newcomers, especially refugees,  already isolated because of language and culture.  I'm hoping I don't get zoomed out. Online and on-screen is not my favourite place to be. 

Last year we had an excavation on our property to repair a broken sewer line. Now that the ground has settled (it looked like a construction site all last summer), do I replace the broken lawn with more grass? Or . . . do I see it as an opportunity to grow something else? 

Pinch me! Why am I so privileged to have a home with a lawn, a steady retirement income, and, so far . . . good health? Here’s to 2021—each day full of opportunity . . . even if physically distanced.

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