The perils of public choices, contests & taking a stand.

This weekend, the Grammies are up for grabs (figuratively speaking- perhaps more literal in the football world) and the Oscars will be in March.  Not surprisingly, I’m not a contender.  I’m okay with that.

None of my NFL teams made it to last weekend’s Super Bowl, so, that was, well, a so-so game for me.  Plus…defence is under appreciated…because… inside baseball. Not so okay with that.

Deciding who makes the cut or is on the list is often subjective, a popularity contest, an opinion.  (Yes, even in football…because Rams v New Orleans…don’t get me started.)

Sometimes, lists are actually objective.  For example, each year, Manitoba’s Vital Statistics branch posts the 10 most popular boys’ and 10 most popular girls’ names.  This is based on birth name registration numbers, not merely opinion, and, unlike many top ten lists, factually accurate.

Recently, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, and person who ought to be thoughtful, politically aware and old enough to know better, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, came under fire for his calendar choices of 12 notable Canadians.  Where to begin on the idiocy of this move?  (Not rhetorical.) Three things:

Thing one:

Know that whomever you are and however you made the choices, you will be criticized.

Thing two:

Unless you love controversy, are ready for rigorous debate, and welcome opposing views, never publicly choose a favourite, or the top three, five, ten, whatever, of anything.  My top ice-cream flavour is vanilla.  Bring it, peeps!

Thing three:

Think before you act.  Of all the “bone-headed” (Thanks for the perfect word, Kelly Saunders, BrandonU) moves a public figure and politician (and, not just any politician, but a member of a political party that operates under a much publicized banner of gender equality) could make, omitting women from almost any list of notables demonstrates a tone-deafness and ridiculously narrow view of the world, and is a faux pas of the highest order.

Now– and I thought you’d never ask- here are some of my contenders for notable Canadians from Winnipeg:

Nellie McClung:  Social and human rights activist

Hannah Taylor: Founder, Lady Bug Foundation

Anne Ross:  Social activist and long-time director of Mount Carmel Clinic

Kathleen Richardson:  Philanthropist

Carol Shields:  Author

Muriel Smith: Politician

Evelyn Hart: Dancer

Sr. Geraldine McNamara:  Founder, Rossbrook House

I’ve thrown down the gauntlet.  Debate and opposing views?

Bring it. I’m okay with that.

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Photo by Somben Chea on

Making Christmas (and New Year’s) Dreams Come True


The tickets are booked, the hotels are too; this mother of a son is taking le fils to Paris (and London) for Christmas (and New Year’s.)

What began as a little thought, une bonne idée, a Could I? Should I? Would I? is becoming reality:  we leave in two weeks.  Family is surprised. Some friends wonder, too.  You’re going away at Xmas?  fullsizeoutput_84

Yes! This is a once-in-a-life-time experience, bringing my son to his ancestral homeland: Paris, during its most beautiful time of the  year: Christmas. Visiting ancestral neighbourhoods: the 6e and 11e Arrondisssments will be intrinsic, along with food:  Oh, hello Anthony Bourdain’s Paris, and wine: Salut, Reims, home of Champagne. London was added due to travel logistics, and brings another amazing opportunity to share holiday traditions, along with ballet and theatre, in the land of Dickens and Shakespeare. 

Come along for the adventure; I’ll blog all holiday season long.

Allez-vous en!  Et Joyeux Noël.

The last time I saw Jan

The last time I saw Jan, she made me avocado toast and John made tea. We sat in the living room of her City Home, a suburban gallery of glassware and ceramics; bold abstracts, fine china and vintage silverware and curled into conversation.

What did we talk about? What we always talked about, I’d think: movies- especially period pieces with fabulous costumes, the Lake House, gardens, the purpose of of art, her ceramic vessels and my plan – my ongoing appeal to her – to have a show of her art.

I can do the work I said. You just tell me what to do.

It’s nothing. .

It’s beautiful stuff.

Art must be useful, she reminded me.They’re just things to use.

Next summer, I said.

We’ll see, she said.

Jan was a skillful and talented ceramic artist, a lover of clay, of form, with what used to be called – B. I. (Before Internet) an encyclopaedic knowledge of ceramics, art history and technique. She made beautiful things, and gave them away. She collected beautiful things, and and gave those things away too. Thanks to Jan, I have a gorgeous vintage silver martini shaker on my bar cart. What was teetotaler Jan doing with a cocktail shaker? Because… beautiful things.

That bright afternoon, the sun dabbed its rosy glow on rows of glass art pieces on the window sill, a line of Robert Held snails snaking their way across the border of the living room, Jan’s hair soft fur on her perfect skull. She cut off her hair determinately, sassily, before the chemo – a decision she had deliberated for some time. This hair was new, a second batch coming in after treatment- treatment that didn’t take, didn’t work, didn’t do any of the things cancer treatments should do. She wore tights and a tunic. She looked elegant, perhaps a little tired but radiant and peaceful. She was not looking as she said she sometimes felt: Like a frog.

A frog? I repeated? What is that about?

You know. Unsocial. Awkward. Strange.

You don’t seem unsocial to me.

I am. In groups.

You just wait until you have something to say. You listen. When you have something to say you say it.

She smiled.

That dimpled smile.

Dimples you could fall into and you’d never have a chance of getting out.

Jan Dehod’s quiet sparkle.

When I last saw Jan, who had come down the stairs slowly and headed straight to the kitchen with calls of: “Have you eaten? Are you hungry?” the world looked hopeful.

Saying good-byes at the door, a selection of Robert Held was presented to me. Take one.

I chose a luminescent teal blue snail, which sits beside me now as I write this story and think about my friend, Jan Dehod.

Just before I left that day, the last time I saw Jan, I said: We could bring a selection of your work to the Kenora market. It would be perfect.

She smiled her soft, warm dimpled smile.

I’ll check in with you to see how you’re feeling, and I’ll come out to the Lake House. You can tell me what to do.

Maybe someone else will have to do it, she said, and smiled again.

I think of that smile now, and I fall.

What international students taught me about being Canadian

Pride and belonging… O Canadaimagemeet…geet…deep…Zheng…Zhang… Du…I knew I was in trouble when I looked at the class list.  I was familiar with Singh…I’d met a Tran, knew a Ma…but the list of almost 100 international names — more precisely, the pronunciation of those names- uncovered a formidable human terror:  the fear of embarrassment.

I apologized to the class as I warned them I’d do my best, yet feared I would horribly mispronounce their names. I asked for their patience and assistance.  “Help me,” I pleaded.  “Help me learn to say your names properly.”  Then, I wrote my own name, my full name on the black board. (Oh, ancient school days!)

Lorraine.  Nadine.  Maria.  De Lisle.

Lorraine was my mother’s name and she gave it to me.  I don’t use that name, and if you call me that, I’ll think you’re asking for my late mother.

Nadine.  The name I use.

Maria.  As in Mary, mother of Jesus.  In my French Roman Catholic parents’ day, all girls were named after Mary. The boys, Joseph.

De Lisle or Delisle…from a great quantities of variations…meaning, of the islands.

Say it for us.

Lor- raine. Na deen.  Ma ree a.  De Le isle – well in English phonetics, at least.

I practiced each of their names…roll the r… say every letter.  So many variations…Singh – “King”…for males…Kaur, prounounced “core” “Princess” for the females. Harpreet can be male or female- Singh or Kaur – often added as a middle name- provides that info. My son tells me I try to pronounce these international names with a French accent.  I admit I am struggling with the sounds and spelling.  My students, who seem to be comfortable with a Canadian accent, tell me they can’t understand Chris Anderson, curator of TED who speaks with a soft British accent.  Ah, the evolution of our language and our language sounds:  Chris Anderson was born in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India and  Pakistan before attending boarding school in Bath and graduating in Oxford.

We all have a lot to learn from one another . That’s part of what Canada is.

From a group of Punjabi women, I learn “Kida”- how are you…vadiya- good….thanwad-thank you.  And, I learn much more from the Hindu, Sikh, Brazilian, Colombian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and  Vietnamese students who have come to Canada in search of something better for themselves and their families.

We talk about the experience of coming to Canada.  I listen to their stories:  I thought I was going to die (arriving in Winnipeg in January 2017 when we were at -30 with the most snow fall in decades) plans for a new life, capsizing in Lake Winnipeg.  I talk about the expanse of Canada; the diversity in Winnipeg and ask my son to come and talk about places to go; things to see – from a younger person’s perspective.  I remember what I love about Canada; what I love about being Canadian;  what I love about being at the centre- the very centre- of North America.

On a  late June night, I am driving home from the university.  It’s almost July 1, and I’ve decked out my red (orange burst, actually) Honda SI with Canadian flags.  I’ve been given the thumbs up from a few strangers.  I like it.

As the car and I idle at a red light, I see a young East Indian man in a turban walking across the big clover leaf intersection in front of me. He is carrying a basketball.  “Made in Canada” I think, and I remember that two of my international students have a particular fondness for the sport.  I look again, and I smile at him. He looks back, crosses in front of me, smiles back and calls:  “Happy Canada Day!”  I give my biggest return smile and a thumbs up.  When the light changes, I give my best Vtec acceleration. The flags whip in the wind. O Canada.

Comms peeps:  make a resolution to be authentic in 2017 — L. Ink Etcetera: Communications & Engagement

“I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains shielded in centimetre-thick skulls into communication.” Paul Kalanithi, WHEN BREATH BECOMES air WHEN BREATH BECOMES air, Paul Kalanithi’s elegant mémoire about death and dying, is not […]

via Comms peeps:  make a resolution to be authentic in 2017 — L. Ink Etcetera: Communications & Engagement

Fleurs-de-lis. Life and light. And poetry.


Which is enough

It took years of thinking about it, and a year of talking about it.  So, when — at my  birthday dinner at Hidden Tiger, while I was sipping a very fine martini– my son gave me a card and said:  “I’ll take care of it “,  it was time to get  it done.  A tattoo. The appointment was with local artist and co-founder of Graffiti Gallery, Pat Lazo.

The Fleurs-de-lis is for my French heritage.  My father’s family was from the area around Paris.  My mother’s mother’s family from Ardeche- in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in south-central France. It’s a symbol for light and life and French royalty.   And, how could I resist:   De Lis (le)

The line is translated from a poem by a young man I knew. My son has the same line:  Alive Which is Enough (in English) on his back.

The young man  died over ten years ago at the age of nineteen.  At home.  While his parents watched the World Series in the family room.  My son read a eulogy at the service.  

Another young man   – part of the same cohort of best friends and friends of best friends died just over a year ago.  At the Forks, while riding his bicycle with friends.  I was at that service too.  

And inbetween, so many in that circle of friends (and oh yes, I’m well aware- far beyond) have been lost to us. Young men, especially.  And here I am, Alive, with a damn fine life, people to love and be loved by and Lord knows that is enough.

Father’s Day is forever

Hug your dad this Father’s Day;  hug him especially hard.  For many (of us) this Father’s Day, there are no dads to hug, no fathers to fete, so for those who have a father here on this planet, hug him or both of them, or all of them – hug them hard and love them long. 

Hug your dad for everything he’s done for you and in spite of all the things you may have wished he had done, but he did not.

Hug your dad and give him a whole lot of slack this Father’s Day (and every day if you can) because he is doing his best, and some days that will be amazing, and some days, perhaps not so much.  

Mothers, give the father of your child(ren) love this Father’s Day and as much as you can every day, because, they – like you — and all of us — are imperfect humans, hoping and striving to do the best they can.  

And give a huge, big hug to fathers everywhere who see the world in a different way (the how many Cheerios can I stack on my poor, little defenseless  baby’s nose- kinda different way) and are going to make you laugh til you snort the tea/coffee/other right out of your nose and across the table.

My son- whom I know will be an amazing (almost all the time) father one day, has a good father to love.  He still misses the grandfathers, though, men we lost two decades ago, and grandfathers we still miss.

Grampa Herb- his father’s father, made me laugh, debated first year psych with me, and taught me how to ride a horse.  I will love him forever.

Grampa Rene – my dad- was mostly absent, but loved us a million percent, although it was just before he died that he was able to say “I love you.”  What an amazing gift is that!

Some days, I grieve the loss of fathers in my life.  And, Father’s Day is always a little tough.  But tough is good, sometimes, and it gives me a reason to take time.  Take time to think, remember and love the life I’ve had.  

And this Father’s Day, when my son is with his dad and we are both thinking of the grandfathers, I’ll take some time to sit by the garden– the Herb garden– and salute all that is good about Father’s Day.