Canada Day and vacation memories

I have just returned from a delightful first visit to Canada, besides the quick drives through Vancouver as the start-stop of Alaskan cruises. Today, July 1, is Canada Day, celebrating not the independence of Canada from Britain (peacefully on March 25, 1982) but the joining in 1867 of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (now Ontario & Quebec) to form a more united front in case of any attack. I am ready to celebrate Canada – in summer, at least – as a respite from Midwestern heat and humidity.

My dream has been to return to the Colorado Rockies, where I have fond childhood camping memories, including the one of chipmunks reaching into our hamster’s cage to steal his food, but I was happy to check out the Canadian Rockies instead, thanks to my husband attending a conference in Calgary nearby. We flew to Calgary and drove to the mountains by way of the Trans-Canada Highway which runs alongside the historic Canadian Pacific Railway. The imposing mountains, many cradling glaciers, are glorious even when moody with rain clouds. We did not see any animals but a few chipmunks and ravens, but bears were sighted by others during our stay. With so few roads and such expanse of wilderness, animals can easily stay far from humans.

My Dutch great-grandfather and his two sons came to North America on a freighter that landed in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. The younger son, my grandfather, was almost washed overboard during a storm. He was able to keep hold of the railing as his feet were pulled out from under him. Immigrants were crammed below deck, many from Poland. My uncle said it cost $40 to get to North America, and no permits were needed back in 1913.

My great-grandfather thought about settling in Winnipeg, thanks to an agent friend trying to persuade him to take up Canada’s offer to farm there for seven years and then get sixty acres free. But it was all wild land, and the agent mentioned winter snow was so high people had to dig tunnels to get out of their houses. No thanks – they knew people in Chicago so they would go there. There was a “Dutch Chicago” in those days. So my father – and eventually I – were born in Chicago instead of refreshing Canada.

My weather forecast today is 95 degrees, heat index up to 107. Canada, O Canada, I miss your wild mountains and the cool, fresh air scented with pine. Thanks for the great memories!


Bow Summit

Peyto Lake and mountain pass, from Bow Summit

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Memoir – Betrayal and how personal do you need to be?

When writing memoir, how to work with your family members and/or friends is always a consideration. Should you even tell them you are writing? If you do, how much should you let them influence you? I saw the following post on a Facebook memoir writers group I am in:

How to Tell Your Family That You’re Writing a Memoir┬áby Neal Thompson

This is a perennially big topic. If you are writing controversial elements or exposing personal details about others, you need to determine why you want to include those parts. Are they necessary to the story? Do you really need to get graphic or will general statements do? If you really need to tell that information, how willing are you to be shunned by family or friends who might be offended or even horrified by your invasion of their privacy?

When you really need to tell unpleasant stories about others, do make them well-rounded characters. Consider what made them behave that way, and consider they are not all bad and that maybe you were not completely innocent. Revenge memoirs can easily backfire and reflect badly on you instead of the other.

If you need to include uncomfortable private details involving others, think about how you can avoid TMI (too much information). “Need” means this information is integral to the reason you are writing the memoir, and leaving it out would affect the story line. How much do you really “need” to tell? Are you being gratuitous or salacious? Some readers might love that, but will your family? Maybe you want to change the names or create composite characters (note this in the front matter). Will you write under a fictitious name and never tell your family? Also consider the readership – do you want your present and future family (including teens and the elders) to read it?

If you are writing a memoir to include stories your family or friends might not like, how are you handling it? Are you even going to tell them?


How much do you need to show?

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Honoring mothers by asking for stories


from Nathaniel Reid Bakery

Hope today was wonderful for mothers everywhere, and for anyone who is like a mother to someone. We all want to buy presents for our moms and cook them dinner or take them out to eat to celebrate all they are to us, but have you honored your mother yet by embracing her whole being, not just her mom self? Once upon a time she was a child, a teen, a young married woman. She has thoughts and dreams apart from mom thoughts and dreams. What made her the person she is, and that helped make you the person you are, and will influence who your children will be?

My mother was a storyteller, but only about her childhood. I enjoyed listening to stories of hunting tadpoles in the rice paddies, of the games she played, about the time she got lost, and how she was a daddy’s girl. Only much later as an adult, when I wanted to write these stories down, did I ask about her teen years and then uncovered the big stories of surviving WWII in Japan and then losing her beloved father, of the difficulties she had with her mother and brother, of the cultural expectations especially for Japanese women. All of these experiences made her the person I had trouble understanding and dealing with. If only I had known about those stories earlier, it might have saved a lot of frustration, or at least made me more patient and understanding.

I hope you will take the time sooner than later to ask your mother (and father) about their early lives. This is a truly meaningful way to honor them, by taking the time and caring to hear about their experiences and thoughts. Now that my mother is gone from this earth, her stories captured in the Cherry Blossoms memoir are worth more than gold to me.

Cherry Blossoms Twilight



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