Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Teacher's Pet

"The Chancellor and Senate of McMaster University admit Linda Lee Tufts to the degree Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with all the rights and privileges pertaining to that degree. Dated this 31st day of May 1990 at Hamilton, Ontario."

It's been 21 years since I, dressed in a cap and gown, walked across the floor of that giant gymnasium to collect my diploma. Packed in like sardines, our bodies really raised the temperature of the building. It was so hot that day that one of the guests passed out and had to be taken away by ambulance. I was relieved to be graduating. Eventhough I had had a successful four years of university, I was tired of writing essays and exams. I was ready to complete a year of Teacher's College and then get out into the "real world".

However, as time goes by, I find myself missing school more and more. I was always a conscientious student. I gave 110% in every subject I studied. Being a people pleaser, I was always ready to participate in class, to finish my homework on time and to do whatever the teacher asked. In turn, most of my teachers recognized my hard work and enthusiasm and rewarded me with praise.

I was born to be a student. When I am learning, I feel alive. Writing an essay used to be a rewarding experience for me. Eventhough it would require a lot of work, especially since most of my essays were written in my second language (French), when I completed them I would usually feel really good about the finished product. There's something about creating which makes you feel alive. Whether it's writing an essay, composing a song, planting a garden, baking a cake or painting a picture, creating can be such a fulfilling experience. You put your mark on something. You are able to express yourself and at the same time hopefully grow as a person through the experience.

Yes, I would love to go back to school. I would love to be back in the classroom. I miss the positive reinforcement I received from my teachers. I miss the "high" that you get from creating. You're never too old to learn. In the meantime, I am content to take a summer course every year. This year, rather than signing up for a course, I have signed up for the Christian Writers' Conference which will take place from June 16 to 18 at the Guelph Bible Conference Centre. I look foward to it!

Picture courtesy http://s3.amazonaws.com

Monday, 30 May 2011

Reading Magic

One of the most powerful books I ever read is called Reading Magic by the Australian children's book author Mem Fox. Everyone knows how important it is to read to your children as they are growing up. However, unfortunately not everyone does it.  My sister, a high school teacher in Hamilton, estimates that most of her students were not read to on a regular basis at home.  Some parents just can't be bothered. Other parents feel overwhelmed by the demands of their job. For some, reading has become "passe". Technological gadgets have taken the place of good old fashioned books.

If they only knew what an impact regular exposure to literature can do to a young child. Mem Fox recommends that parents start reading to their children from the moment they are born. Of course, newborns don't understand most of the vocabulary, but they will at least be exposed to the rhythm and patterns of speech. In those early months, a mother can pick up a magazine and start reading to her child and the child will reap some benefits. I can remember holding my baby girl in my arms and talking on the phone and often she would fall asleep. It's the lilting rhythm of the convesation which soothes the child. Of course, as children grow, the type of literature that you read becomes more important.

Now here is what stands out for me the most about Mem Fox's book. She recommends that parents read at least 1000 books to their child before he or she reaches school age. Many people think that a child's education begins at school, but Mem trys to impress on her readers that the education begins long before that first day of Kindergarten. A thousand books is a lot of books. However, the Australian author suggests that if parents read three books per night, their child will have been exposed to 1000 books by the time he or she starts school. This is a good way of transforming your toddler into a reader before they even set foot in a classroom, she claims.

Some parents complain that their child requests the same book night after night. Mem Fox says that's not necessarily a bad thing. Reading aloud a favourite book to a child is a reassuring experience, especially at bedtime. She says that a favourite book, along with two new books is a good balance for a child's daily reading schedule.

Another point that Mem touches on is that reading is not only an excellent way to raise a strong reader, but also an excellent way for parent and child to bond. My daughter still enjoys climbing up into my lap to read a book with me at bedtime eventhough she is far past the toddler stage. Besides the physical bond that happens when we read to our children, we can also experience an emotional connection. Books can be stepping stones to real life experiences. For instance, I like to bake and I love to find storybooks at the library that include recipes. One year my brother Bill bought a picture book for my son called The Night that Santa Ate Too Many Cookies by David Carruthers. Tucked into the book was a recipe for "Chocolate Softies for Santa". We proceeded to buy the ingredients and bake the cookies. Now we make them every Christmas and they are my son's favourite cookies. My husband's father used to read him an old German anthology of stories with children who misbehave and get into mishaps called Der Strubelpeter. Rob, his sister Ingrid and their dad would often act out the scenes from the book. Now the tradition has been passed to the next generation as Rob re-enacts the skits with our children. As my son got older and became a strong reader, he started reading to my daughter. Their signature story was a board book called Barnyard Dance. My son would stomp out the beat as he read the book, sounding much like an announcer shouting out the steps at a folk dance festival.

Yes, reading aloud is a great way to connect with your child. And it can lead to so much more. If your child can read, then there is a much greater chance that they will be a strong student since they will understand the material more readily. Their natural curiosity will take over. Set the stage for a little reader by filling your home with books. And don't just let them collect dust on the bookshelf, but open them up and read. Read storybooks to your children. Have your children read books to you. Read chapter books to them as they mature. And let your children see you reading your own books as well. Readers raise readers. I notice that when I open a book, that's often when my children go to their bookshelf to find themselves a story. Reading truly is magic.

I should mention that I read this book long after my son started school. However, I did read aloud daily with my son. Sure enough, when he turned 3 years old, he started reading my grocery lists and signs in the grocery store. By his first day of Junior Kindergarten, at 3 1/2 years old, he read an entire book to the teacher. It works!

Photo below taken from http://us.123rf.com

Sunday, 29 May 2011


I was never a haggler. In fact, I am a people pleaser and therefore I usually don't question cashiers or salesmen -- I just buy the product. I do, however, look for items on sale. In fact, if my son sees a new item in our grocery bag, he says: "Let me guess. It was on sale."

This past week that all changed. I made it my mission this week to find a new van. I visited our local Chrysler dealer and asked for a quote. The salesman, a nice enough fellow, gave me a quote. He took down my name and number. Urging me to take the car for a test drive, I considered doing so but decided I better play it cool. I told him I would get back to him in a couple of days.

In the meantime, I checked out a Hamilton Chrysler dealership to compare prices. It turned out their prices were the same and I later discovered that they were owned by the same person. Then, I went to the bank and one of the workers there gave me the name of a Mississauga dealership with the slogan "You can't beat a deal at Peel". So, I e-mailed the dealer. He responded with the news that he had no basic vans, but that he had the next step up model and would give it to me for the same price.

I was all set to drive to Mississauga. However, my husband is on the road 3 hours a day for his job and was not relishing the thought of driving on his day off. I decided I'd go on my own and even printed out a map with directions, but at the last minute I decided to give Brantford another shot. The salesman, happy to see me, started crunching numbers. I said that I would take the van if he could keep the price under a certain amount. He nodded his head. He excused himself to consult with the manager. After a lengthy wait, he returned with an offer for $500 over my figure. Fighting the urge to agree, I politely reminded him of the original figure and suggested that he wave the administrative fee which was $525. He asked me to work with him but I reminded him that I could still get a better deal in Mississauga. He again talked to the manager who quickly returned and said that I had myself a deal. I was thrilled!

We pick up our new van this week. There's no better feeling than to know you have gotten a good deal. Perseverance pays off. Comparison shopping pays off. And not acting desperate pays off. This will be good practice for the next big item we purchase. And in the end, instead of pleasing the salesman, I pleased my pocketbook.

Photo courtesy www.CartoonStock.com

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Piano Recital

The blue-eyed little girl skipped up to the school in her black, white and pink peasant blouse and black tights. A little blonde girl, her hazel eyes wide with excitement, met her at the door and motioned her to come in. Inside the gym, a small group of parents, grandparents and siblings had gathered. The piano teacher welcomed everyone. She introduced the first pianist who played her piece. Then, a young girl played "Indian Boot Camp", showing poise beyond her years followed by a small boy who played "Russian Sailor Dance". To switch it up, the teacher told a joke about "playing by ear". A couple of other students played their pieces. Then it was the girl with the peasant blouse's turn. She walked up to the piano with her head held high, sat down and opened her piano book to "Come See the Parade". Her older brother hastily turned on the video camera and pressed record. His subject carefully found her starting note and began to play. Her little fingers deliberately located each note. Her chestnut-coloured bun bobbed as she counted out the rhythm. Her composure never faltered. As quickly as it started, the parade came to an end. The little girl stood up, closed her book and walked back to her seat, a pleased smile spreading across her face. Her brother turned off the cumbersome video camera and quickly put it back in it's case, embarrassed to be using such a dinosaur-like model. I, her mother, breathed a sigh of relief, glad that she was finished and had made no mistakes. Many other pianists followed. Towards the end of the recital, the pieces became more complicated. We, the guests, were treated to a duet. The final piece, performed by a tall slender teen, was not just played, but delivered with gusto. To end the evening, the teacher invited all of her students up to the front and they took a bow, albeit at different times. Heartfelt applause followed. How far they've come in such a short time. Bravo!

Photo below courtesy www.istockphoto.com

Friday, 27 May 2011

To the Memory of my Mother-in-Law

It was 18 years ago today. I was teaching fulltime in Paris and had just come home from a busy but successful day. The sun was shining. Summer was in the air. My husband and I were newlyweds living in an apartment at the Delta in Hamilton, where King and Main Streets cross paths. I arrived at the triplex, opened the front door and walked past the first floor apartment where my husband's Oma lived and climbed the steps to the second floor. I put the key in the lock to open our apartment when I saw Mrs. Hunt, the second floor tenant, approach me out of the corner of my eye. I thought: I wonder what gossip Mrs. Hunt has to share today. However, today she did not have gossip.

"I'm sorry to hear about your mother-in-law," she offered. Eventhough my mother-in-law was really sick, I was still shocked to hear the words. "Did something happen?" I asked. Mrs. Hunt, said "Yes, didn't you hear? She passed away this morning." "Oh no!" I exclaimed. I thanked her for her condolences and then climbed the stairs to my apartment, waiting for my husband to return.

While we were all sad to see Rob's Mom pass away, at the same time I know that Rob felt a certain sense of relief knowing that she wasn't suffering anymore. She had endured a long bout with cancer. A year previously she had first been diagnosed. We thought that she might not make it to our wedding and even toyed with the idea of getting married in the hospital just so Rob's Mom could be a part of the ceremony. However, the Wednesday before we got married, we arrived at the hospital for a visit, only to find that her bed was empty! Worried, we inquired about her whereabouts and were told she had been released.

Later, we found out that Rob's Mom's surgeon had felt that it was more important for her to attend our wedding than for her to have surgery that day; he wanted her spirits to be up and postponed her operation until two days after the ceremony. Sure enough, Rob's Mom not only attended our wedding, but really enjoyed herself. I'll never forget the shiny blue dress she wore and the smile that she flashed everyone. She was a woman that was happy to be alive and thanked God for the blessing of family.

Right after our wedding, my mother-in-law had successful surgery and the doctor was optimistic that he cut out all of the cancer. She had a new lease on life. She had energy again. More than ever before she realized what mattered most in life. She did not let little problems get her down. And she focussed on her family. I am so glad that I was able to spend a lot of time with Rob's Mom during the last year of her life. I got to know her even better than before and discovered again and again what an amazing human being she was. I lived with my future in-laws the year before Rob and I married. During this time, Rob's Mom would do my laundry. She would buy the special crackers that I liked to snack on. She would listen to me when I had a hard day at work. And she would always include me in family activities. I already felt like part of the family.

Now, I know that she loved Rob intensely and wanted nothing but the best for him. She would not have accepted just anyone as a wife for her son. He was the boy who,once a grown man, was still greeted with a coffee in the morning and sung "Guten Morgen Liebe Sonne". He was the teenage boy who got a summer job which involved climbing ladders. He felt uneasy and therefore she let him quit. He was the baby she held so lovingly, her first born. And now he was a man, about to get married. Early on, when Rob and I were dating, Rob's Mom questioned a couple of the decisions we made. Like a mother lion, she wanted to protect her little cub. She wanted to make sure that I had her son's best intentions at heart. Now that I am a Mom, I can understand her reasoning. Fortunately, in the end the wedding went smoothly and everyone had a good time. However, when we got home from our honeymoon, I really felt like a change had taken place. I wasn't Rob's fiance anymore, I was his wife. And even though Rob's mom had her own daughter, I felt like her daughter as well. This feeling was never more apparent than a couple of months later when Rob invited some of his high school friends over one evening. Unfortunately, Rob and I had words in front of his friends. I stormed up the stairs in tears. Rob's Mom took me aside and tried to comfort me. She quickly figured out what was wrong and explained that she knew exactly how I felt. She too had been a young bride surrounded by her husband's friends. She knew how it felt to be left out. Rather than defending Rob, she backed me up. She made me feel so much better. I'll never forget her kind words that day. I'll never forget her calm manner. And I'll never forget her gentle touch. She had a lot of class and I feel privileged to have known her and privileged to have called her "Mom". For a short time, I was blessed enough to have two Moms. In the meantime, she now has four grandchildren. I know she would have been so proud of them. I see her in my little girl with the smallest gestures, like when she sips out of a straw. I hope that we can keep her memory alive. May she rest in peace!

Painting of Royal Botanical Gardens courtesy

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Heaven is for Real

I read a book recently called Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo.  A few years ago Todd's son, at just under 4 years of age, was hospitalized due to a mysterious illness.  After a mistaken diagnosis, a second doctor diagnosed the boy with a ruptured appendix.  He was so sick he was close to death, but fortunately the doctor performed surgery, the boy rallied and survived.  A few months after his illness, the boy mentioned to his father that he saw Jesus when he was in the hospital.  Shocked, his dad asked more questions which revealed that the boy had also seen his great-grandfather, whom he'd never met, and his sister.  His dad reminded him that he had only one sister.  He corrected him, saying that this was the sister who had died in his "mummy's tummy".  Again, the boy did not know anything about his mom miscarrying a girl for it happened before he was born and they had never discussed it. 

When I read Heaven is for Real, I felt a renewed sense of hope.  I always believed in God; I always believed that Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins; I always believed in Heaven.  However, it was nice to hear it from someone who has actually experienced it first hand.  It was also nice to think of the possiblility that the four children that I miscarried years ago might be waiting for me when I go to Heaven.  What a comforting thought!

Now, some people claim that Todd Burpo has an ulterior motive by writing this book since he is a pastor.  However, you could argue that point for every book you read.  The details of the book seem genuine.  It was a trying time for the family.  You would wonder why they would want to conjure up such painful memories if their story was false.

One point that stands out in my mind is that the little boy emphasizes the fact that Jesus really loves children.  Remember the song we sang as children:  "Jesus loves me this I know"?  It's true.  And remember that we're all God's children.  Yes, Heaven is for real!

Picture courtesy wordpress.com

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Joplin Tornado

     Joplin, Missouri, a city of 50,000, is located on Route 66, the highway that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Nat King Cole performed a song written by Bobby Troup called "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" in which he mentions Joplin.

"...It winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than two thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66.

Now you go through Saint Louis
Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty..."

     Route 66 is the highway that my parents took to get to California on their honeymoon.  However, I'm sure they would not recognize in 2011 the Missouri community they drove through back in 1960.  I was shocked to see the images that CNN broadcast of the city yesterday that was devastated by a tornado.  The community looks like a war zone.  They say that one-tenth to one-fifth of the city has been destroyed by the twister and that up to 123 people died.

     I pray for the victims of the Joplin tornado along with the other tornadoes that have hit the Mid-Western and Southern states this Spring.  I pray that the survivors will be able to rebuild their communities.  I pray that this disaster will bring out the best in the citizens of Joplin and that something good will come out of it.

     When I was growing up, I remember two tornadoes hitting Ontario.  I remember collecting money at our summer church for the victims of the Woodstock tornado in 1979.  I also remember reading about the Barrie tornado of 1985.  Here is an inspiring story about the latter.

     Bob Proctor tells about a vice-president of Telemedia Communications, Bob Templeton, who was driving down Highway 400 shortly after the Barrie tornado in 1985 and surveyed the damage.  He got an idea to raise 3 million dollars in 3 hours over 3 business days to help the citizens of Barrie.  He met with the Telemedia executives and one of them mentioned that his idea was crazy.  However, Bob refused to think of all the reasons he should not execute his plan and instead focussed on the reasons he should.  In the end, Bob and his executives held a radiothon anchored by Harvey Kirk and Lloyd Robertson which was broadcast in 3 hours over 3 business days and raised 3 million dollars!  All because Bob never thought of the phrase "I can't". (Chicken Soup for the Soul, "The 333 Story", Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen)

     "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28, New International Version Bible)

Photo below courtesy http://livefmg.net

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Dandelion

     Here is a blog that I posted four years ago when I took an online writing course at Mohawk College.  Since it is May, and dandelions dot the landscape, I thought it would be appropiate to post it again.

The Dandelion
(May 24, 2007.)

     Dandelions remind me of my daughter.  Rather than calling them dandelions, she calls them flowers.  She picked me a bouquet at the park; she picked me a bouquet at her daycare; she picked me a bouquet in a soccer field.  She picks them wherever she goes.  I saw dandelions in a new way this Spring thanks to my daughter.  Adults smell roses, but she smells dandelions.  She inhales them so deeply that she ends up with a yellow moustache.  She truly does take the time to smell the "roses".  It's amazing how children get such enjoyment from the simple things in life.  When I look at a dandelion, I think of picking up my daughter at the daycare and being greeted with a beaming smile and a bouquet of dandelions.

     In the Mediterranean countries, locals include dandelions as part of the cuisine in dishes such as soups and salads.  They are completely edible and contain a lot of Vitamins A and D.  And yet here in North America,  we douse them with weed killer.  Furthermore, dandelions can be used as a diuretic.  The French term for dandelion, "pissenlit", means to wet the bed.  Regardless of what you call it, the dandelion is a strong plant that is more useful than I realized.

     One dandelion is an eyesore.  However, a field of dandelions is quite pretty.  Imagine -- they don't even cost a penny and yet they provide children with hours of enjoyment.  I am glad that my daughter took the time to stop and pick the dandelions.  She reminds me everday of what matters most in life.  Most people long for roses, but I prefer dandelions.  I will forever see them in a different light, thanks to my daughter.  She is my "little dandelion".

Photo below taken from http://www.shutterstock.com/ (copyright BestPhoto1).

Monday, 23 May 2011

Happy Victoria Day!

When we think of Victoria Day, we think of cottages and tents and fireworks.  However, when we think of the Victorian era, we think of lace and long skirts with crinolins underneath.  We think of beautiful large brick homes with turrets.  We think of tea parties with crumpets.  We also think of the biggest city in the world, London, England, its skyline lined with smokestacks, its homes filled with common folk and its alleyways overflowing with street urchins a la Oliver Twist. 

Here are some facts about Queen Victoria that you may not know.*

1.  Canadians have celebrated Victoria Day since 1845 and the day achieved official holiday status with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

2.  Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and 216 days, the longest reigning British monarch ever.

3.  Born to an English father and a German mother, Victoria spoke German until the age of 3.

4.  She was the first member of the British Royal family to suffer from hemophelia.

5.  She married her first cousin, Prince Albert, after proposing herself since this was expected of a queen.

6.  She started the tradition of the bride wearing white.

7.  She became a mother at 19, a grandmother at 39 and a great-grandmother at 59.  Interestingly, one of her grandchildren later became Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

8.  She survived six assassination attempts, including one while she was pregnant with her first child.

9.  During her lifetime, Scottish author John Wilson said:  "The sun never sets on the British empire." (paraphrase)

10.  She outlived her husband as well as three of her nine children. 

*Partially taken from a City News article dated May 19, 2008 titled "20 Things You Didn't Know About Victoria Day".

So, the next time you watch fireworks on May 24th weekend, tell your children about Queen Victoria.

Picture courtesy www.englishmonarchs.com

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker

     A few years ago an American professor named Randy Pausch, suffering from pancreatic cancer and knowing he might only have a short time left to live, penned an autobiography called The Last Lecture.  One chapter of his book was titled "The 100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker".  As a child, he visited Disney World with his family.  He and his sister purchased a $10.00 salt and pepper shaker set for their parents' wedding anniversary.  Rushing out of the gift shop, Randy dropped the set and it shattered in pieces.  Returning the broken purchase to the shop, the Disney staff immediately gave him a new set, no questions asked.  Randy's parents never forgot this kind gesture and proceeded to return every year for many years with underprivileged children from their church.  Mr. Pausch calculated that he spent at least $100,000 during those visits to Disney World.  All because of a $10.00 salt and pepper shaker.

     This kindness was also evident when my husband Rob visited Disney World with his family in the 1970's.  After a day at Magic Kingdom they climbed into their station wagon only to find that it would not start.  Within minutes a Disney worker was there to give them a boost, no questions asked.

     When my family and I visited Disney World in the 1970's and 1980's, we also remember the kindness we were shown.  There was a distinct difference between Disney World and other parts of Orlando.  In Disney World, you were treated as a guest.  In parts of Orlando, you were a dime a dozen.

     Recently, I visited Disney World with my own children for the third time.  At our cafeteria hotel, we purchased Mickey Mouse plastic mugs with lids.  However, we misplaced one of the lids.  I approached a young worker named Thittipong from Thailand who spent a few minutes asking cashiers if they had an extra blue lid in their till.  He found pink and yellow lids, but no blue lids.  I thanked the man anyway and walked away.  No more than five minutes later he found me at my table and gave me a blue lid.  I was very grateful and gave him a big smile. 

     Another day, we found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom.  We had experienced a full day and gone on twelve different rides.  We had just eaten supper at the Crystal Palace and were considering staying into the evening for the fireworks.  However, my husband suddenly discovered that he had misplaced one of our passes to the park.  Our waiter warned him that the passes can be used as credit cards as well and that we must cancel it immediately.  We hurried over to the Town Hall, weary now from all the walking we had done and ready to return to our hotel and flop into bed.  At the Town Hall, we received a warm greeting from a nice looking young man who reassured Rob that the card would be cancelled immediately and that he would issue us a new card free of charge.  Within minutes, the situation was rectified and all of a sudden Rob had energy to spare. 

     We decided to stick around, met up with a family from our church and went on a few more rides.  At sunset, our two families stood on the bridge and watched the fireworks fly over the Cinderella castle.  I turned to my friend and said:  "You get such a life affirming feeling when you're in Disney World."  After the fireworks, we said goodbye to our friends and to the Magic Kingdom, knowing that it likely wouldn't be our last visit. 

     Yes, I can relate to the $100,000 salt and pepper shaker because I have a $15,000 cup lid.

Photo courtesy disneyrevealed.com

Saturday, 21 May 2011

3 Sandwiches, 2 Canteens of Water & 451 Gallons of Gas

It was on this day in history that a mail pilot set out to win the Orteig Prize by making the first solo filght across the Atlantic Ocean.  In May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh climbed into a small plane complete with 3 sandwiches, 2 canteens of water and 451 gallons of gas.  He took off from Long Island, New York and landed in Paris, France on May 21, 1927.  During his flight, he often battled fatigue and flew so close to the ocean's surface that he could often feel the sea water spray his face.  When the sky was clear, he could see the icebergs jutting out of the ocean.  When visibility was poor, and he encountered storm clouds, he was forced to fly above or around them.  In total, he covered over 3500 miles and the trip took him 33 1/2 hours to complete.  Once over Europe, he passed Ireland, England and then hit France, circling around the Eiffel Tower at 4000 feet.  He landed his plane in a sea of people, all waiting to get a glimpse of the hero.  For his successful flight he received a cheque for $25,000.  According to Lindbergh, he "was astonished at the effect his successful landing had on the nations of the world.  It was like a match to [him] lighting a bonfire."  He went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He served as a technical advisor to the United States Air Force during World War II.  What an exciting life he led.  And it all started with 3 sandwiches, 2 canteens of water and 451 gallons of gas.

Photo below courtesy http://static.howstuffworks.com


Friday, 20 May 2011

The Power of the Pen

     Don’t let anyone ever tell you that one voice can’t make a difference.  Here’s a story of how powerful the written word can be.  One day back in 1983 a teenage boy bought a used book at the Toronto Library.  He took it home and devoured the words.  He immediately discovered that he had a lot in common with the writer of the book.  They were both Black, both from the New York City area, both from humble roots. 

     Lesra loved the book so much that he gave it to his housemates to read, including a lawyer.  He sat down and wrote a letter to the writer, introducing himself and commending him for his book.  Soon, Lesra took a train to New Jersey and met the writer who was serving time in jail.  It turned out that the writer was a former boxer who was convicted of a triple murder that he claimed he did not commit.  He had spent his early years in prison writing his life story to explain what had really happened.  However, the establishment did not believe him.  His case became a “cause celebre” for certain celebrities, though, including Bob Dylan who wrote a song about the conviction.  The boxer was front page news for a few months. 

     However, the headlines soon changed and the boxer was forgotten, languishing in prison.  He would sit in his jail cell, night after night, typing on his typewriter his life story, including the events that transpired the night of the murders.  When the jail guard came to inspect his cell, the boxer’s manuscript was off limits.  He had given up his freedom and he certainly wasn’t giving up that manuscript!  Page by page, chapter by chapter, he poured out his story.  Although he had little formal education, he was a great storyteller, something the reader quickly discovered upon reading his book.  A second trial brought a second conviction.  The boxer tried to resolve himself to the strong possibility that he might be in jail for life. 

     Then he got a letter from Lesra.  They struck up a friendship and before he knew it, Lesra and three of his housemates were on their way to New Jersey to help the boxer.  They moved into a hotel near the prison and set to work researching his case in the hope of securing another trail.  Despite intimidation from locals who wanted to preserve the status quo, the three Canadians worked tirelessly to seek justice for the boxer. 

     Incredibly, after several months, the do-gooders got their wish.  It had been almost twenty years since the original murders in 1966 and some witnesses had died in the meantime.  Fortunately, the boxer would have a new judge this time who seemed willing to listen.  In 1985, the boxer stood trial for a third time.  He received an innocent verdict!!!  The judge ruled that the original conviction had been based on racial prejudice. 

     That boxer’s name is Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter and his book is titled The Sixteenth Round.  His story was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington called “The Hurricane” in 1999.  Rubin Carter has gone on to champion the cause of other wrongfully convicted individuals.  He lives in Toronto and does speaking engagements in Southern Ontario.  He walks free now because he had the courage to tell his story.  Never underestimate the power of the pen.

P.S.  I should mention that the teenage boy, Lesra Martin, who bought the book at the Toronto Library went on to become a lawyer himself. 

Photo courtesy http://search.barnesandnoble.com

Thursday, 19 May 2011

He Did Not See the Flowers

Every Spring my husband, a university professor, starts teaching his intercession courses again.  One of the topics he discusses is Africville, a former black “ghetto” on the shores of Bedford Basin in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He shows a video to his students made by the National Film Board of Canada called “Remember Africville”, featuring a black man named Gus Wedderburn who was asked to investigate the ghetto in the 1950’s when the city planners were considering tearing it down.  The man, quite well spoken, described Halifax as being devoid of coloured people and said that “where the asphalt ended and the dirt road began, that is where Africville started.”  Although Africvillians paid taxes, they did not receive the modern amenities that the rest of Halifax did.  Africvillians tried hard to keep up the physical appearance of their village, and yet this outsider “did not see the flowers”.  Rather, he saw a ghetto.  He did not see the families that had toiled for over a hundred years to maintain their jobs and their homes.  He saw a ghetto.  He did not see Seaview Baptist Church, at the centre of their community, where parishioners gathered on Easter Sunday morning for baptism on the shores of Bedford Basin.  He saw a ghetto.  He did not see the students walking to the church, which doubled as a school, on a Monday morning with books tucked under their arm.  He saw a ghetto.  He did not see the flowers.  Unfortunately, in the mid-1960’s, the city planners razed Africville and turned the land into a park.  Africvillians were paid $500 for their land, an amount that was considered to be high by the elderly homeowners.  Most residents were relocated to tenements in the city of Halifax, as urban planners did in American cities like Detroit and Chicago.  Yes, now these residents had modern amenities like heat and running water, but they no longer owned anything.  Furthermore, they lost their sense of community.  It has been over forty years and they still miss that community.  In fact, “the hermit of Africville”, Eddie Carvery, now camps out in Seaview Park, where he once lived with his family.  Below is a sonnet I wrote about the community.  God Bless Africville!


Africville had no millionaires,
But it had Carvery's and Skinner's.
Africville had no billionaires,
But Seaview Church welcomed sinners.

Africville had not one street light,
But its sunsets lasted for hours.
In Africville we smelled garbage at night,
But we also smelled the flowers.

Africville roads were not on par,
But it sat on a pretty bay.
Africville had not one street car,
But the freedom train came one day.

They razed Africville; what's the fuss?
A "ghetto" to some; home to us.

Linda Jonasson

Photo courtesy hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


     Today, I am writing about rejection.  Normally, we see rejection as a bad experience, but that isn't always the case.  Here is a list of famous authors who received many rejection slips before their work was published.


Richard Hooker’s MASH – 21 publishers
Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 publishers
Louis L’Amour – 350 rejection slips
John Creasy – 774 rejection slips
Dr. Seuss’s And to Think They Saw it on Mulberry Street – 27 publishers
William Kennedy’s Ironweed – 13 publishers
Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth – 14 publishers
Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead – 12 publishers
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind – 25 publishers
Mary Higgins Clark – 40 publishers
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill – 15 publishers; 30 agents
Jack London – 600 rejection slips
Chicken Soup for the Soul (Volume 1) – 33 publishers
Alex Haley – once a week for four years; took nine years to write Roots
Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking – 2 rejections by same publisher (took eight years to write and edit)

*Taken from Chicken Soup for the Writers' Soul

     When I look at the number of rejections that these authors faced, I realize that what makes a published author isn't someone who doesn't fail, but someone who doesn't give up.  Perseverance is the name of the game.  If you think you have a good idea, keep writing and rewriting until you find a forum for your work.  If that forum is your family, that’s great.  If that forum is a library or a church or a school, that’s even better.  I just read today that John Steinbeck was told that his novel The Grapes of Wrath, based on a Depression-era migrant worker family who moves from Oklahoma to California, was too disturbing to print.  And yet that novel went on to be published on March 14, 1939, selling close to half a million copies by the end of the year and creating waiting lists months-long at libraries.  Although banned and burned in both Buffalo, New York and Kern County, California, The Grapes of Wrath went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.  It was adapted into a movie starring Henry Fonda, as well as a play, being performed at the Stratford Festival this summer.  It is inspiring to know that, despite past rejections, these authors went on to carve a niche in the literary world. 

Cartoon courtesy http://4.bp.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

My First Blog

Hi!  I am excited to be writing my first blog today.  Thank you, Karen, for helping me set up my blogspot.  I look forward to making entries every week.  Firstly, I am hoping my blog will give me the self-discipline I need to write.  Secondly, I am hoping it will be a good forum to showcase my writing.  Thirdly, I believe my blog will be a good way to network with other writers. 

I have always loved to write.  When I was a little girl, I started by writing poetry and kept a little scrapbook of my work.  I won first prize at the Caledonia Fair for the story I submitted in Grade 4.  Then in high school, I started writing essays.  In university, I wrote many more essays, usually in French, since that was my major.  Once I started teaching fulltime, I got away from writing.  Then, when my little girl turned 2, I decided to take an online college writing course and I loved it!  I spent 14 weeks writing poetry and ended up with a portfolio of 30 poems.  I won first prize in a haiku contest for a poem I wrote about my daughter called "My Blue-Eyed Beauty".  For the next three summers, I took more writing courses.  I was hooked.  In the meantime, I joined a writing group through my church.  We meet once a month and share ideas and critique each other's work.  Last summer, I took a week-long writing workshop with Marsha Skrypuch, a Brantford author, aimed at publication.  Yes, I have had an article published in the Brantford Expositor about adoption in 1997.  My poems have also been published in three different poetry anthologies.  However, I have never had a book published and that is my ultimate goal. 

I think of the Scripture verse "Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  I will persevere.

Photo courtesy www.decorativepackagingblog.com