Sunday, May 26, 2024


 We’ve had several days of rain, which we needed for our dry land. I also like having a rainy, cool spring because it’s a nice transition from the cold of winter to the heat of summer. Some years it seems as if we go from winter to summer without a real spring. My plants are doing well, though I lost one cucumber plant even though I covered it on the coldest night.

Rain renews and nurtures the soil and all things that grow in it. It may symbolize spiritual cleansing, rebirth, and new beginnings. Many cultures have worshiped deities of rain or water, sometimes associated with a particular river or lake. We all need water to live so this type of symbolism isn’t surprising.

Walking in rain can be wonderful, carrying an umbrella, perhaps of bright colours or wearing bright raingear.

Of course, grey clouds and rain, especially if they last several days may cause melancholy and gloomy feelings, even depression.

Along with rain we often get rainbows, which have their own symbolism. The rainbow bridge was considered by some a way to transfer from earth to the realms of deities. The seven colours of the rainbow may connect with the veils of goddesses, or the rainbow may have represented a goddess’s necklace. In the Christian Bible, the rainbow that Noah sees when the flood is over represents God’s promise that he won’t destroy the earth in a flood again.

Scientifically, rainbows appear when sunlight passes through raindrops, as prisms split white light into its component colours, from longest (at the top) to shortest wave lengths (at the bottom). Double rainbows occur when light is reflected twice within raindrops.

I have memories of walking in rain as a child in Germany. On one memorable day there was a strong wind along with the rain and my small umbrella turned inside out. Luckily, when I turned the other direction my umbrella turned back.

I still have a few German children’s books and one has a short poem called Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert – The Story of Flying Robert. It tells of a boy who decides that it will be wonderful to walk in a windy rainstorm, unlike other boys and girls who are staying home. Robert’s umbrella is caught by the wind and he goes flying off, no one knows where. It’s supposed to be a cautionary tale as are others in the book, but what if Robert had a wonderful adventure?

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Spring, le Printemps, der Frühling

Here in Saskatchewan most of us are impatiently awaiting spring. We’ve had a relatively decent winter but a huge late snowfall in early March extended winter. Though we’ve had some recent very nice days, cooler days and even snow are predicted.

Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn) said, “In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours.”

Being a writer also, I’m always fascinated by words and names. The word spring apparently comes from Old English sprinc or spryng, meaning a beginning, and springing forth.

Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) wrote, “Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart; I breathe at this hour the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets, and the roses, as at twenty years ago.”

The French le printemps originates from the Latin primum tempus, later Old French printans from prime tans, meaning first time.

I love Rainer Maria Rilke’s (Letters to a Young Poet, The Book of Images) take on the season: “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”

In German, der Frühling comes from the German word for early – Früh.

L.M. Montgomery (the Anne books) wrote, “Everything is new in the spring. Springs themselves are always so new, too. No spring is ever just like any other spring. It always has something of its own to be its own peculiar sweetness.”

I’ll end with a quote from singer songwriter Connie Kaldor: “Spring in the prairies comes like a surprise. One minute there’s snow on the ground, the next there’s sun in your eyes.”

Note that this photo is not the current view outside my window. The snow is actually gone.

Spring will come.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo …’ – my strange adventures in travel

The quote, as many of you will know, is Bilbo speaking in The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien:

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

A birthday and an enjoyable week, then several cancelled flights, some delayed, fog and snowstorms, a couple of ambulance rides, two nights in emergency, surgery, hospital visits, meeting interesting people, and so on – all within twenty-three days and some hours.


It began with a visit to Edmonton on February 13 of this year, to celebrate my 76th birthday with my son and grandson. A few wonderful days. Scheduled to return on February 21. My son drove me to the airport, and I noticed fog, thought nothing of it.

My plane arrived a little late, and we would be delayed starting. Finally, we were asked to line up so they could get us loaded and on our way as soon as possible. We stood. And waited. Then the dreaded announcement: the plane is cancelled (I’ve never experienced a cancelled flight before – a bit of a new adventure), and you should get an email within half an hour of your rebooked flight. Nope, not in half an hour, but an email that said rescheduling in about an hour. Nope. So, I called the WestJet number and got a real live agent who was very helpful and was finally able to book me on a very early flight to Calgary and thence to Saskatoon, leaving on February 24. By this time it was dark and late so I didn’t want to take the airport bus, LRT, and one more bus, so my son agreed to come pick me up. He said he was off work Saturday and wouldn’t mind taking me to the airport and getting an early start to his day.

On Friday (23) afternoon, I got a call from my son’s girlfriend. She’d just had a call from his workplace – he’d had a bad stomach ache, and fainted so they called an ambulance to take him to hospital (St. Albert). She was coming to pick me up. In hospital emergency, he was in fairly good spirits but some pain and had a slight fever. Eventually he got pain meds (he’d initially refused them, worried they’d upset his stomach), but these were IV. Later a CT scan, determination that the fever didn’t mean he was contagious (for a while we had to mask, gown and glove when going into his room, that he finally got). By the time they diagnosed him and gave him prescriptions it was 3:30 am. Oh yes, he wasn’t allowed food or drink this whole time, just ice chips. Early on in the evening I called and cancelled my early morning flight.

About two and a half days at home, soft foods and liquids. I rebooked a flight for March 2. Tuesday afternoon my son is in severe pain and his prescription pain killers are not working. “I’m calling and ambulance,” I said. “No,” he responded, “I don’t want to go back to emergency.”

After watching him writhe in pain for a little while, I called an ambulance. It took a while, but they finally arrived, got him loaded and gave him IV pain meds which began to work. I rode in the ambulance. His girlfriend reaches the hospital later, brings me tea and a sandwich.

More hours in emergency as they took blood, vitals, gave pain meds, more ice chips, and eventually an x-ray. He’s admitted to the hospital. His girlfriend has to leave, go home to take care of her children as her mother has to leave. By this time it’s about 2:30 am. I decided to stay in a nearby hotel, so I could stay with my son until he got admitted and then I could easily return the next day. Checking in at the hotel, I couldn’t remember my PIN number of my credit card, couldn’t remember where in my wallet I had secreted it for situations such as this. The receptionist was kind and checked my card in manually. Gave me the compassionate rate for people visiting the hospital.

Next morning a lovely buffet breakfast, included with the room. Taxi back to the hotel. I don’t remember how long but my son’s girlfriend came, and we eventually went back to Edmonton.

Hospital visits when we could, including my grandson when we could. They gave my son IV pain meds and antibiotics, no food or drink allowed, only ice chips to wet his mouth. They were hoping this regime would result in healing.

Thursday afternoon my son’s girlfriend phoned me, my son had phoned her, they were going to do surgery, didn’t know the time. I called the hospital, surgery scheduled about 5 pm, could be earlier, could be later, but if I wanted to visit, I should come soon. Phoned his girlfriend back, she had her daycare kids and her own kids, couldn’t leave right then. I said I’d take a cab; she could come whenever possible. I was able to be with my son in preop, right until they took him in for surgery, both of us fairly calm.

The indispensable and  wonderful girlfriend came, lots of hugs, some tears. We decided to go out to eat, nearby fast food. I needed to get out of the hospital for a while.

My son got out of surgery and post op a bit late, but all had gone well.

Next day we are back, and so on. My son is up and walking, but still no food.

My son’s father is scheduled to arrive by bus on the evening of March 2 and I’m scheduled to fly out that afternoon. No dice for me: one plane cancelled, another booked, that one cancelled, too. Snowstorm in Saskatoon. They rebooked me for March 6 – this time the rebooking was quicker, and by email (maybe the airline has learned something?). I took the airport bus, LRT, and one more bus, then walked the couple of blocks to my son’s house. My X is already there – the bus ride had been scary but he made it. The house is big enough to have our space. I haven't had much conversation with him in years. He talks a lot, catches me up on his life. I'm somewhat interested. He has characteristics of my son - they both forget where they put things, for example.

My son makes progress, is allowed gum to chew, candies to suck, then popsicles.

I leave for the airport on March 6, having cancelled a dentist appointment for March 5 in Saskatoon.

I have a carryon bag, as I have had all the time and previously going through security on my other attempts to get back to Saskatoon, no problems. This time when I get through the screening my suitcase isn’t there. I see it has been set aside with a couple of security people who have other suitcases. I’m told my bag must be searched. Fine. My son had given me a wonderful, zippered artist case with pencils, erasers, etc. for my birthday. What I’ve forgotten or didn’t notice is that there is a small xacto type knife to sharpen pencils. (Note that this has not been a problem in my previous times through security). I’m told I have 3 choices – leave the knife with relatives (no one is at the airport with me), give it up (no way am I giving up part of this present from my son!), or check my bag. Easy decision. I am escorted out of security and pointed to the WestJet desk where I check my bag and it’s sent onto the plane. Back through security. I’m puzzled by this incident, wonder later in a sort of paranoid way if the reason they targeted me this time is that I’m wearing my hamsa hand earrings – they are also called the hand of Fatima (Islamic tradition) hand of Miriam (Jewish tradition) and hand of Mary (Christian tradition). Who knows.

Our direct flight plane is a little late getting in (we’re supposed to leave at 4:40 pm, arrive Saskatoon 6:55), but it arrives, people disembark. Usual announcement, the plane needs to be cleaned, they’ll get us on as soon as possible. Next announcement, a mechanical issue they have to deal with, plane will leave somewhat later. Soon I see that the screens that usually show the gate, destination and departure time is now showing airport announcements/ads. I say to the woman sitting beside me, “That looks rather ominous.” Shortly thereafter, the plane is cancelled due to a mechanical problem. People who need to make connections should come up to the desk and they’ll see what they can do. For those of us waiting to go to Saskatoon, there is soon an announcement that another plane will fly to Saskatoon at 6:15 pm at a different gate. However, this plane is smaller and won’t hold all of us so they ask for volunteers to take a later plane. Those who do volunteer will get $150. What the H, I might as well because if this plane also gets cancelled, I could use the $150 to take the bus home. The later plane leaves at 8:30 pm, via Calgary to arrive in Saskatoon after 1 am.

Chatting in the line waiting to take this deal, what exactly is happening, what is the schedule? I’m one of the first to get mine done (they promise to move my baggage from the old plane to the late plane), so I explain to others. We also get emailed a meal voucher for $30 from WestJet. Lots of time before my plane leaves so I go to the Belgian Bar Café (Edmonton airport has lots of good stores and eateries), because they advertise Stella Artois beer, I’ve never had it, have read about it in books, and by now I really need a beer! So, I have that (it’s good) and some cheese croquettes, tasty.

I have books to read, a crossword book, to occupy my time until departure. Take another trip to the washroom before flight time. The toilet flushes twice before I even sit down. I’ve been texting to various people all this time, who want to know where I am and what’s happening. One of them, after I mention the toilet incident, texts back, “Get out of there now!” Still, I’m staying pretty calm through all this, not convinced yet that I will get home this time.

Finally, we are boarding and as we walk out, I’m chatting with one of the women who’d also been in line and it turns out we are sharing two seats at the back of the plane. Waiting for take off, we chat with another woman across the aisle, as well as one of the flight attendants. My seat companion tells me she is a nervous flyer. I say, “You can hold my hand if you like, I’ve been holding me son’s hand a lot lately.” It just feels natural and as we take off she does. We chat on the flight, good conversation about ourselves, life. Of minor interest, the place where she works (she’s a legal secretary) has toilets that flush surprisingly with small motions as well.

Calgary airport. It seems huger than Edmonton’s, and I do a search, find out it is and also busier, but not so busy tonight. Hang out with my seat companion, get tea and a cold drink at Starbucks. She says, you should text people a picture of palm trees, say, guess where I am. Instead I text a picture of a cardboard tree, and owl and a beaver in the airport. Could be classified a sculpture perhaps. Back to hang out with the other woman we met and other Saskatoon people. I say, “This feels like some kind of weird pyjama party.” “Without the pyjamas,” says the other woman.

Finally, we board. My former seat companion is across the aisle from me – this is a bigger plane, 3 seats per side. At take off, she reaches over and we clasp hands.

Finally, Saskatoon. Did they transfer my suitcase? I wait to the end. It’s not there. I’ve never had a lost bag before (this is an adventure I can do without!), and my son’s wonderful present is in it. I have to get it back! The young woman at the lost baggage claims desk is friendly. I hand her my original baggage claim tag, don’t know if it’s still good as I’ve changed planes. She immediately says, “Oh I remember this bag, it came on the earlier flight from Edmonton. She calls a woman to take me around the airport, the woman goes and brings back a red suitcase. It’s mine!

It feels like I’m the last passenger at the airport, no more planes are coming, though there are a couple of people with suitcases, must be planning on waiting for a connecting flight or someone to pick them up. I go out, 3 cabs are still there.

I get home at 3:20 am on March 7. I’m supposed to go for minor surgery to have a cyst removed on Friday, March 8. Decide I can’t face it, call and leave a message to cancel.

My neighbours have kept the snow cleared from the front and one side of my house – amazing people.

I wake up about 8:30 am, feeling all right. Soon after I get a call about the surgery, can’t I make it after all, after a day of rest (the surgery requires me to be at St. Paul’s Hospital by 6:45 am even though the surgery isn’t until 8:30 am)? I am tempted to yell and be rude, say, “I’m 76 years old!” but I keep my explanation short and calm: I’ve had numerous plane cancellations, am just too tired, am sorry, I know this will mean I’ll have to wait longer, but I can’t make it.

Another friend drops off milk, fresh veggies, buns and chili in my front porch!

In replies to my texts and WhatsApp family and friends have been so supportive.

That evening, I’m still thinking about the woman who wanted me to make the surgery, so I decide to leave a longer message of explanation. It relieves any lingering annoyance I have about that.

And when I look at my Facebook page, the woman who was my seat companion has found me! I love the photos of her and her family.

In the next couple of days two neighbours offer to drive me anywhere I need to go because my car is snowed in my garage in the back alley. Another neighbour across the alley gives me the name of someone who clears snow for a fee. I’ve left a message – if I don’t hear, other neighbours have offered to help shovel my garage doors clear.

Life is an adventure, is fascinating, and though I like the calm periods very much, I had many interesting, unexpected, and wonderful experiences on this trip. And I felt part of an incredible community of people.

I wish for the world that everyone could be supported and treated so well. I hope that’s not a totally impossible dream. I know that many people all over the world do what they can in small and large ways to help others, and I know many will continue to do that. Maybe someday the whole world can be a kinder place.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The King Arthur Legend

I’ve read many different novels that tell this story and after a while I got tired of them and decided I’d had enough. Recently, however, I decided to read ‘Sword at Sunset’ by Rosemary Sutcliff, because she is a writer I admire. I’d never read this book, which is a somewhat different take on the legend. It’s grittier, more rooted in a possible history of what living and fighting in the British Isles might have been like in post Roman Britain.

In this book, as in others I’ve read the characters talk about keeping the light alive for a while longer, believing that if the Saxon invasions (who were actually, Angles, Saxons and Jutes), the Sea Wolves, are allowed to continue, the dark will take over. These beliefs are based on thinking that the time of the Romans in Britain was good. Certainly, they built roads, cities, forts, and they carried with them their system of law.

However, the Romans were invaders, too, and they were not universally liked, nor were they kind and gentle. Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, and her daughters certainly experienced the worst of the Romans, which led to her uniting some of the native Britons in an uprising against the Romans around 60-61 AD. In the end she failed.

Even before the Romans, people from various places in what is now Europe travelled to and settled in the British Isles.

The Saxons did eventually settle throughout much of England and intermarried, forming such kingdoms as Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex. One of their most famous kings was Alfred the Great. Besides fighting the Danish invasions, he promoted literacy, and began the compilation of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. He also consolidated improvements in the laws.

When the Normans, from France invaded England in 1066 (William the Conquerer), there was resistance again in various parts of the island, which continued for several years. The Normans built castles, and William gave land to his Norman supporters, subordinating England to a Norman aristocracy.

The British Isles today contain people from many places of the world, as does Canada. We’ve all had ancestors who were invaders or who have lived in places that were invaded.

One of the things I like about ‘Sword at Sunset’ is that near the end Artos (Sutcliff’s Arthur character) after a meeting to make a kind of peace with some of the Saxons says (about the young son of one of his supporters and the son of one of the Saxons), “They shared the same broth bowl and spent the evening among the hounds by the fire, picking bramble thorns out of each other’s feet. … the longer we can hold off the Saxons, the more we can slow their advance … the more time there will be for other boys to pick thorns out of each other’s feet and learn the words for hearth and hound and honey cake in each other’s tongue …”

Time. If we can spend time with each other, recognize our common humanity, maybe we will have chances to make peace.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Gifts from My Father

 Our parents leave us with many gifts – from their DNA to their ways of bringing us up, habits, perhaps prejudices, philosophies, ethics, and sometimes property or money. Both my parents are dead now, but I think of them often, and I have come to recognize and appreciate the personal gifts they left me.

My parents both read a lot and encouraged their children to do the same by telling stories, reading to us, and buying books for us even when there wasn’t much money for extras. I confess to being a voracious reader and I loved it when my father suggested books to me even after I’d become an adult (Humboldt’s Cosmos; and a book about the matriarchal Mosou of China). I also loved to share books with him and my mother. I gave my dad one of Dick Francis’ books about a painter with connections to horse racing (To the Hilt). Dad went on to read more of Francis’ books and subsequently, at his request, he and I attended the races at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon a few years before its demise.

Recently, I have been working on a novel that partially takes place in the city of my father’s childhood and youth. The book also deals with the second world war and incorporates some of the stories my father told me. During much of the writing I have felt as if my father is standing at my shoulder.

Just prior to and during Christmas I took a break from writing and focused on painting and drawing, something I’ve taken up for fun and relaxation in the last couple of years. I love trying new media, different subjects. Again, this all makes me think of my father, who for part of his life also painted, though sadly he stopped. I have one of his paintings hanging on my wall. I like to think this urge to paint and draw is another gift he’s left me.

I like this quote:

It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives."

 - Mitch Albom

Sunday, December 10, 2023


This is an excerpt from ‘A Suitcase in Berlin’ the novel I’m currently working on.


Dark clouds of night still imprisoned the sky over the river and a quarter moon floated in a ring of mist. Leaves rustled in the wind as dawn gradually lightened the sky. The three women in the car, windows open, watched water foaming over the weir, white on cold silver. The clouds thinned to grey and bats darted between trees. Two pelicans coasted low over the water and landed near the row of others still asleep on a small sandbar.

(As they talk, one of the women starts telling a tale.)

“Once upon a time,” Anna interrupted, “three women sat by the river of life. One was a weaver, another a teller of tales and the third, a creator of magical symbols.”

            “That’s not strictly accurate,” Hanne protested.

            “Their lives,” Anna continued loudly, “over a matter of years, had become intertwined like the currents of the river. They shared stories, understood one another’s metaphors and each woman recorded the progress of the river in her own way. Some of the people who walked by the river noticed three odd-shaped rocks that they called the three sisters. Others claimed that late at night they had seen three women sitting under a tree and spinning.”

            At that moment the sun broke free of the horizon and a patch of the river reflected gold.

            “Still others said that on misty summer morning they had heard the sweet harmony of three voices floating over the river.”

            “She’s working everything in,” Hanne said.

            “Shh,” Phoebe whispered. “Look.”

            A dark shadow slipped from the bank of the river into the water with barely a ripple.”

            “Alberich, right on cue,” Anna said.

            “You’re naming beavers now?” Phoebe asked.

            “Poor Alberich,” Hanne said. “He was ugly, awkward, and obnoxious.”

            “It wasn’t all his fault,” insisted Anna. “If the Rhine maidens hadn’t been so nasty to him, and stupid, he probably would never have stolen their gold.”

“And Wagner wouldn’t have had a story.”

Sunday, November 12, 2023


 This month (November 9) it’s 34 years since the Berlin wall opened to free movement. The day after that ordinary citizens began dismantling the wall.

Various Americans have talked about building a wall between them and Mexico, between them and Canada.

Parts of the Great Wall of China were built as long ago as the 7th century BC to stop nomadic groups from invading.

Hadrian’s wall began to be built by the Romans in 122 AD.

Robert Frost has a poem called ‘Mending Wall’ and here’s a quote from that:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.

We build walls around ourselves in many ways, shutting out others whom we fear.

I believe that we need to respect boundaries e.g. I don’t want people to enter my house without permission, I don’t want to push for answers to personal questions if someone isn’t willing to talk about them.

However, I also think that we need to do all we can to break down artificial walls between individuals and countries – stereotypes, biases, hate and fear.

There are plenty of examples of people working to change attitudes and situations.

Because I’ve been working for a long time on a novel about Germany and have done a lot of research into recent history (e.g., WWI and WWII as well as the years after) I’m well aware of things such as the Marshall Plan, and the Berlin Airlift, which were both either initiated or greatly supported by the USA. Cynics may say that Americans benefited by creating markets for their goods, creating reliable trading partners, supporting the development of stable democratic governments and spreading their influence, but they also assisted European countries, including Germany, to recover more quickly from WWII. In a speech Secretary of State George Marshall said in part, “The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next 3 or 4 years of foreign food and other essential products – principally from America – are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character.”

I know that foreign aid can be a complex and loaded policy, but if carefully done, it can  be a way to break down walls and turn enemies into friends.

Here is a short excerpt from the novel I’m working on, which is a fictional account of some of the events I’ve experienced:

My parents are shaking their heads; my throat holds a lump, tears perilously close. I think all three of us are waiting for guns and bullets, but none of that happens. We’ve lived in Canada for more than thirty-five years and even here the wall has significance. Not only for us and others of German descent, but also for countless people who have seen it in reality, and for those who have known it only through photos and movies.

          “Not in my lifetime,” my father mumbles. “I never thought I’d see this.”

 Change can happen, the world situation can improve.

Along with many others, I continue to hope.