Sunday, 17 March 2013

Apple Brings Bite of Disappointment

My mother and her siblings were Canadians born on a cotton and peanut plantation in Paraguay. They grew up eating a variety of delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, native to the country. However, they only tasted apples, a Canadian staple, once during their years in Paraguay.

In the 1950’s my mother, Margaret, attended a one-room school house. The school year ended at the end of October and didn’t start up again until beginning of March. This was their summer season in Paraguay and it was a scorching heat.

A Christmas Surprise

During Margaret’s school years, the students would return to school during the first two weeks of December in order to prepare a Christmas program. In 1953 the students experienced an unusual event. On the last day of their December school class, the students arrived at school to find a very strong aroma wafting throughout the school house. This aroma brought mixed reactions. Some of the students thought it smelled delicious, while others found it overwhelmingly distasteful. The teacher was quite excited to present a Christmas surprise to the students. A package had arrived from North America. Each child was receiving an apple, wrapped in purple paper, as a Christmas present.

Margaret was eight years old at the time and had five other siblings attending school with her. They were quite excited to bring their apples home to the family and looked forward to tasting something that wasn’t able to be grown in Paraguay and which the teacher insisted was delicious.

Christmas Apples

Once at home, the siblings shared their apples with their parents. Margaret’s parents were especially pleased. They remembered eating apples in their childhood and hadn’t tasted them since they arrived in Paraguay many years ago. Margaret found the smell unpleasant and didn’t want to taste her apple. In total, the family had six apples to share, one for each school-age child.

The Tasting Begins

Margaret’s parents cut the apples into slices and handed them around to each child. Margaret was sure the apples weren’t ripe – after all, they were still hard and all white on the inside. Her parents insisted these apples were ripe and the children would find the apples delicious once they tasted them. As Margaret bit into the apple, she was surprised at the hard texture and the lack of juice. The only fruit she had ever tasted was soft and very juicy. She felt this could not be a real fruit. It was more like a raw potato! YUK!

The Apple is Spit Out

Each child, after tasting the apple slice, immediately spit it out. They were all disgusted and couldn’t understand how the school thought this would be a good Christmas gift for them. One of the boys mentioned that something that smelled so good shouldn’t be allowed to taste so bad.

The Parents Have a Treat

Margaret’s parents were surprised and disappointed at their children’s reactions. They grew up in Canada appreciating the taste of apples, so for them this was truly a very special treat. It had been twenty years since they had tasted apples. They enjoyed every bite of the six apples that their children refused to eat. Unfortunately, it would be another twenty years before they tasted another apple.

No More Apples in Paraguay

The school never repeated this Christmas ‘gift’ for the students. It was overwhelmingly a bust. Apples were not seen in Paraguay again for many decades. Margaret and her family returned to Canada in the 1970’s where they quickly learned to appreciate and love the taste of apples. Today you will find apples in many Paraguayan stores. However, most of our relatives that have remained there rarely purchase apples, since they prefer eating fruit such as papayas, mangoes, guava and citrus fruits which they grow on their properties.
Margaret's childhood home in Paraguay, surrounded with fruit trees - no apple trees

I Love Apples

I have grown up in Canada, although I was born abroad. I grew up eating apples and love everything apple to this day, so the thought of my parents finding their first taste of apples disgusting, has always fascinated me. It's been a lesson for me to give different foods a first and even a second or third try. Many times it's taken a few attempts to discover a food I first found distasteful become something I now eat with relish.


St. Patrick's Day, Spring, and Going Green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Actually, my blog today has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day, but everything to do with going green.
This post is a reflection on my part as to what I can do better in terms of being environmentally responsible, although I hope it will motivate my readers as well.

Our family has taken to heart many of the ‘green’ suggestions that abound and there has been ‘green-growth’ in our family in the past decade.

Mostly I have to thank my European ancestors who were very frugal and actually very environmentally responsible. My own parents brought us up in a ‘waste-not-want-not’ environment. Growing up, my siblings and I never ate pre-packaged food. Not even cookies or bread! I never even tasted any  Kraft dinner until I was in my twenties (never learned to like it). Our mother baked bread, Zweiback, pastries, cookies, etc. She had a juicer and instead of buying juice, she made it from scratch. We drank a lot of fruit and vegetable juice which always included carrots and apples. It was delicious! Another benefit is the health we all enjoy because of the clean eating we ‘endured/enjoyed’ as children.

My mother sewed and repaired our clothing, shoes, etc. Our dad was a fixer. Everyone knew him as the Fix-it Magician. If someone had given up on an appliance, vehicle or machinery, they would pass it on to ‘Rudy’ knowing he could fix it and either re-use it or give it away. To this day I struggle with throwing something away, preferring to pass it on to someone who can make use of it. I figure almost everything must have a second (or third, fourth. . . .) life. As children we sometimes felt embarrassed by the frugal and responsible environmental approach of our parents, but as adults we greatly appreciate this upbringing.
Having my own family meant that I continued many of the values I had been taught. But it also meant joining the mass of convenient methods and items for purchase that appear to make life easier. It's just too easy to buy cheap, buy packaged, buy convenience - much to the harm of our health and the health of our earth.

As I pondered this topic, I figured I would make a list of seven virtues and seven sins of the Gerhard household environmental efforts.
Seven Environmental Virtues:

·         In my home we use a geothermal heating and cooling, well-to-well system.

·         We survive on home-made meals and snacks for the most part, therefore purchasing less pre-made meals and snacks. My mother (as do I and my husbnad) still makes us food from scratch.

·         We have our own water filtration system – no need for plastic water bottles. We also use well-water.

·         Food is rarely wasted in our home. We are very efficient with left-over food. The chickens next door get our scraps and peels (and no, we never give them left-over chicken). We have a dog, but she rarely gets left-overs.

·         Our home and appliances are highly-efficient; We built with tri-pane, gas-filled windows and doors to keep heating costs down. My dad still repairs anything that requires repairs.

·         I used cloth diapers and did early toilet-training. (In all honesty, I did end up using disposable as well.)

·         Much of our laundry is hung up, rather than put in the dryer.

Seven Environmental Sins:

·         Living on an acreage means that we drive a lot, using a lot of gas for our vehicles.

·         With a household of six people, multiple long showers are taken on a daily basis.

·         We buy WAY too many clothes and way too many shoes (amongst other things).

·         We are electricity hogs – lights, multiple media items, large appliances, etc.

·         We wash loads and loads of laundry per week.

·         We mow our much-too-large lawn with a gas-dependent garden tractor.

·         We like to use our wood-stove and gas fireplace for atmosphere during winter, on top of our geothermal heating.

Obviously our household still has a lot of room for improvements. First on my list is cutting back on electricity use, shorter showers and definitely trying to purchase less 'stuff.'

Let’s Go Greener! as we get ready for Spring in just a few days.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

An Unexpected Visual Sermon


A few months ago I took a group of tourists to Branson, Missouri. On the way we stopped at the Redlin Art Center in Watertown, South Dakota. I may not have chosen to visit this art gallery if it hadn’t been on the itinerary, which would have truly been my loss.
                                                                   Terry Redlin art gallery

Once inside, our group scattered throughout the three-storied building. I found myself alone in the beautiful second floor gallery. The atmosphere was meditative; soft instrumental music played over the intercom; the lighting was done in such a way that your eyes were drawn into the artwork; the oil paintings glowed from within. It was here that I had an experience which caught me off guard. I became emotionally moved, to the point of tearing up, as I strolled through the gallery, caught up in the beautiful artwork.


I became immersed in the scenes painted by Terry Redlin. I felt I was able to step back in time, to the small town life depicted in many of his paintings. I felt the stillness. I felt calm. I felt content.

I also felt convicted. With my main child-rearing years just ending, I was in a new place. For more than a decade I had been a stay-at-home mom for my four young boys. We had learned to live comfortably as a one-income family. But now I was ready to take on the world. I was attending university, preparing for new career options, hoping to bring in a dual-income. Life was entering warp-speed for me.

Terry Redlin’s art spoke to me:

1.    Slow down

2.    Don`t lose the joys of simple living

3.    Don`t sacrifice your sleep, your health and your comfort for the sake of the mighty dollar or trying to climb up corporate ladders

4.    Be content; live with less

5.    Treasure peace

6.    Remain family-focused

7.    Keep your Faith in the forefront

8.    Don`t complain

9.    Count your blessings

10. Inspire others to live simply and be content

The paintings preached a long sermon to me. I was moved and almost raised my arms out to shout Amen! and Hallelujah! -  but I remembered in time that I’m a conservative German, and not a charismatic.

I did purchase a book of paintings as a reminder of my experience that day. It is the collective group of paintings that speak to me, not any one particular painting. Seeing Redlin's art in miniature definitely doesn’t provide the same impact.  However, it does remind me of what I experienced on that November day. Keeping life simple, being content with less, taking the time for family, friends, faith, rest and relaxation – this is my new life. I must make this choice on a daily basis and I pray that I will never lose sight of this.

For copyright reasons I haven't posted  any of Terry's paintings. However, please google images and take a bit of time to look at his paintings. Imagine yourself in each scene. Feel the peace. Learn to be content and to slow down your busy pace. That is the sermon I preach to you, courtesy of Terry Redlin.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A Bullied Teacher Became My Inspiration

He was the first teacher I had that wasn’t Caucasian. By the time I met him I was age 13 and our school student body had quite an influx of immigrants from around the world. Mr. P was from Pakistan and he was our math teacher. I had school friends from India and I'm ashamed to say that I didn’t quite know the difference between Pakistan and India at the time. It didn’t take long to discover that not everyone liked having a teacher from Pakistan.
Mr. P was a math and science teacher. He was a gentle man and tried to be friendly. Because of the way he was treated, he tended to have a stern expression on his face. He was determined to produce educated students. He was obviously intelligent, but that didn’t matter much to Junior High students. He was different; he looked different; he spoke quickly and sometimes we had some difficulty understanding his speech. We mocked his pronunciations. I joined in with the other students, although since my parents spoke with a thick German accent, I was no stranger to accented English. No one really knew where Pakistan was and no one knew anything about the people, but Mr. P seemed to be disliked by the students because he was different and he was from Pakistan.
The students had certain names they called Mr. P. Whenever his back was turned (after all, in those days teachers still wrote on chalkboards) kids shot spit balls at him. They threw crumpled wads of paper at his back. He would often turn around and wait for the class to settle down. He had a very stern look on his face, yet the students kept giggling and muttering degrading comments. The whole process was somewhat puzzling to me, yet I joined in with the giggling, although not usually when he was looking. I was weak – I wanted to fit in with the class, yet I wanted my teachers to think well of me and give me good grades.
Looking back, I’m sure teaching Junior High students was a challenge for him. As hall or cafeteria monitor he received the same kind of treatment. I don’t recall in all my years of schooling that any other teacher was treated in this way. I have no idea how the other teaching staff treated him or whether anyone befriended him. We didn’t think of it as bullying at the time, but Mr. P was bullied by his students every day of his teaching career at our school. And I didn’t do anything about it.
Mr. P stayed a teacher at our school for many years. I was his student again during my high school Biology class. He was a very gifted teacher. Biology became one of my favourite subjects and produced one of my highest grades ever. He was very knowledgeable and his teaching was extremely detailed. Unfortunately, the immature/bullying behaviour towards him continued, even in high school. This time I didn’t partake in any of it, yet I don’t recall ever challenging the other students about their behaviour. I knew Mr. P was too much of an academic to be teaching Junior High and High School students. I remember thinking he should be a university instructor – teaching students who were mature and wanted to learn. Of course that was before I discovered university students aren’t always all that mature.
Mr. P was an intelligent man. He was also a man who demonstrated incredible patience and long suffering, although at times it was a bit much for him and he tried speaking to the class about it. That just made it worse, unfortunately. The bullying he had to endure from his students was appalling. I stood idly by, at times even joining in the laughing. It was something I’ve always regretted.
Before Mr. P and I parted ways, I wrote him a personal letter during my Biology final exam. After completing the exam early, I wrote a long letter of appreciation for all that he had taught me. I also apologized that I hadn’t behaved more maturely and that I hadn’t shown him gratefulness during the years that I was his student. My letter was heartfelt and is one of the best things I did during high school. I do regret not standing up to the bullying that poor Mr. P had to endure at the hands of immature students.
Although I have attempted to find Mr. P, I haven’t had any luck. I wish I could let him know that he ended up being one of my favourite and most memorable teachers and that he taught me more than just Math and Science. He taught me about compassion; he taught me to stand up for those being bullied, whether child or adult; he taught me that you need extra grace and patience for the stupidity of bullies; he taught me to be more kind, to apologize when needed and to see beauty in every person.
Thank you Mr. P. May you continue to be blessed in your life, and if you are not with us anymore, may you rest in peace.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Creative Communicator Gillian, Puts Spotlight on Winnipeg

Gillian Leschasin has a career in media relations which combines the best of many worlds. She is able to work in the tourism industry, able to meet interesting people and able to share her love of Winnipeg through another passion of hers – writing. And what better topic to write about than the beautiful city of Winnipeg?! Her job at Tourism Winnipeg allows her to do just that.

Gillian’s office is located in the magnificent, iconic Paris Building on Portage Avenue. Gillian takes pride in the style of architecture found in Winnipeg’s downtown area and Exchange District. She appreciates and admires the beauty and history of the 99 year old Paris building every time she steps into it.
Every morning as she makes her way into her office, Gillian is greeted by the friendly staff employed by Tourism Winnipeg. She receives a stack of newspaper clippings that her receptionist has clipped for her and which might be relevant to Winnipeg’s tourism industry. Once at her desk, she skims through the news articles and browses through online news links and social media sites. It’s imperative that she pays particular attention to any economic developments occurring in Winnipeg that could affect the tourism industry.
The city’s economic developments are an important part to the local tourism industry. The addition of Ikea, the return of the Winnipeg Jets, the upcoming opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Journey to Churchill Exhibit are just some of the positive developments increasing Winnipeg’s tourism industry. These types of projects are followed very closely by the staff at Tourism Winnipeg as the potential for tourism increases with successful economic projects.
Gillian also fields media calls relating to Winnipeg. She is a liaison for local media, helping prepare statements, media releases, arranging spokespeople and answering questions relating to travel and tourism.
Throughout the year Gillian is busy writing, updating and editing travel brochures, booklets and events guides. She writes introductions and descriptions, editorials and advertorials and Winnipeg factoids. This is one of her favourite parts of her job, and she does it with a lot of creativity and passion.
Gillian started her writing career at the Red River College Creative Communications program. She worked as a features reporter and editor with The Manitoban, the University of Manitoba student newspaper. She was fortunate to receive a work placement with A Channel Breakfast Television which led to two years at CBC, working with television, radio, the music library, and the lifestyle television program. She became the point person for “Guide to Best Things in Winnipeg,” doing research and setting up interviews. On top of that she was editor of “Where” magazine and “Ciao!” magazine, two local magazines catering to hotels and restaurants. Gillian’s love and passion for all things Winnipeg shone through in every one of her endeavours.
Gillian is fortunate in that she isn’t always office-bound. She has opportunity to travel throughout Manitoba with travel writers from around the world. These journalists come to Manitoba to familiarize themselves with the tourism possibilities found in Manitoba and Gillian travels along as their guide. These trips are called “Group Familiarization Trips” or “Fam-Trips” for short.

Gillian’s days are never boring. There are always new things to showcase in Manitoba, new tours to take, new people to meet and always new items to write about. Gillian treasures her career with Tourism Winnipeg and she especially treasures her beautiful hometown – Winnipeg.

Journalist Anthony Mascarenhas: Shaping and Molding Public Opinion

In 1971 Bangladesh was born amidst much agony and bloodshed. The Bangladesh Liberation War resulted in East Pakistan splitting from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. And it very well may not have been possible without the first-hand report from Anthony Mascarenhas.

     Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan in 1971. Pakistan had been formed as an independent state from British India in 1947, allowing Muslim interests to dominate within its borders. Pakistan was divided into an eastern and western state separated by the larger nation of India. Although both East and West Pakistan considered themselves an Islamic republic, they still had distinct differences. They had cultural, economical and geographical differences, and spoke different languages. East Pakistan had a larger population in a smaller geographical area, yet West Pakistan had the political and economical power. It came as a surprise to all of Pakistan when East Pakistan secured the majority of seats in the 1970 election.  West Pakistan chose to use force to protect its own political interests rather than accept the results of the vote, and attacked East Pakistan with “Operation Searchlight” in March, 1971. The plan was to eliminate all of their opposition within one month. They started with the killing of hundreds of university students and professors and continued the bloodshed with the killing of political and intellectual leadership in East Pakistan. General Tika Khan, in charge of this operation earned the title ‘Butcher of Bengal.’  Accurate estimates are hard to come by, but some sources say that possibly up to 3 million Bengalis were killed, although the actual number is in dispute. Another ten million fled to India and other neighbouring nations. The situation was brutal and India finally took notice sending in military assistance for the Bengalis. The rest of the world didn’t sit up and take notice until a first-hand account from Anthony Mascarenhas was published in the UK’s Sunday Times on June 13, 1971.

     Anthony Mascarenhas was a journalist from West Pakistan. He was one of the journalists chosen by the Pakistan military to observe and report the positive aspects of the war against East Pakistan. It was obvious that Pakistan’s intention was that the reporters provide propaganda that would vilify the Bengalis, who also had done their share of brutality, and give credence to the Pakistan army’s annihilation. Mascarenhas couldn’t do it. The horrors he observed couldn’t be reported in a positive light. As he traveled with the army and observed the senseless killings, sometimes attempting to stop them, his horror grew and he knew that he needed to share the true story with the rest of the world. He was observing first-hand one of the worst cases of genocide in the twentieth century. The Pakistan army’s intention was to  “cleanse east Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing 2 million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years,” as a senior officer told Mascarenhas. He knew that these words needed to be reported and his story needed to be published for all the world to read. His account would obviously not be allowed to be published in the newspaper that employed him or in any other paper in Pakistan. Mascarenhas took his family and made a bold move. He evacuated the entire family from Pakistan knowing they would never be able to return after his story came out. He moved his family to Great Britain and it was here in the Sunday Times, on June 13, 1971, that his article was published under the heading “Genocide”. It was a long article by today’s standards. The story ran across two pages and his testimony was riveting.

     The article was written as a first-hand account describing in great detail the author’s personal experience and observations. His article read almost like a story or a series of stories. He used simple language so that everyone would be able to read and understand the stories. His intent was to open the eyes of the world to the atrocities committed by his own country of Pakistan. He was seen as sincere and credible; a Pakistani national who could not help but expose the truth even at the expense of his own national loss, being forced into exile. His story touched the hearts of people, including world leaders, creating compassion and change towards a future better hope for the people of Bengali.

     The story was not only fascinating to read. It introduced the world to atrocities of Pakistan that they hadn’t been aware of. It affected world leaders such as Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister, who strengthened her resolve to put a stop to this, using the military backing she had at her disposal. US leadership put to a halt any assistance they were considering for Pakistan. Pakistan was defeated shortly after the article’s publication. By year’s end East Pakistan was an independent state with the name of Bangladesh.

     The country of Pakistan has never shown genuine regret or even acceptance of the act of genocide that they perpetrated. Once India got involved in the war, Pakistan lost territory to India which is Pakistan’s biggest regret. India’s military intervention was key in Bangladesh becoming a sovereign nation-state. By year’s end newspapers were reporting the story of Bangladesh’s struggles and new birth. The story made the cover of Time magazine – “The Bloody Birth of Bangladesh” - and many other publications in December. The Winnipeg Free Press wrote a number of articles in early 1972, about the story Mascarenhas brought to the world’s attention.
                      Here is an interview with Anthony Mascarenhas, found on YouTube 

     Mascarenhas went on to win numerous journalism awards for his reporting on the Bangladesh Liberation War, as it came to be called. It is accepted that his writing exposed the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign and helped to end the war and change world opinion against Pakistan. He is an example of courageous, bold journalism that swayed public opinion and helped to create a new nation. Mascarenhas is an example of why journalism is so very important, and how it can be a catalyst in bringing change when needed.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Winnipeg's the Bay Downtown: A Destination Worth Visiting

It's been a slice...this PR Fundamentals class. A slice of R and A and C and E. And finally we were able to put all the slices together and come up with a whole PR plan. My plan's focus was our downtown Bay store.

I am passionate about our country, about our province and beautiful city of Winnipeg. I truly enjoyed working on a PR plan for Winnipeg's downtown Bay store. It's a beautiful historic building built in 1926, but it is in need of some TLC. Hudson Bay Company (est. 1670) is a company that is part of Canadian history - a company I hope will be around forever.

Researching about the Bay made me fall in love with the department store. They have a wonderful website and great programs and products in place. I especially love their Hudson Bay Collection and wish I could afford to make a Genuine HBC Point Blanket Capote. The Bay offers opportunity to learn about the traditional art of making a capote in a workshop setting. How cool is that?!

I've visited the HBC gallery at our Manitoba Museum numerous times. The Nonsuch ship is a treasure and the HBC gallery is outstanding! We are fortunate to have the bulk of HBC historical items in Winnipeg, and there is so much of it that our museum only showcases about 5% of it. I highly recommend checking out our world-class museum.

Winnipeg is also headquarters for the $60 million worth of HBC archives. In fact, the Hudson's Bay Company Archives became part of the United Nations "Memory of the World" project in 2007 under UNESCO.
Photos provided by the Hudsons’ Bay Company Archives, Manitoba Archives

Earlier this year Winnipeg received yet another HBC treasure.
An HBC Heritage film returned from England. This film is part of a two-hour silent film called "Romance of the Far Fur Country" (that's us!). The film was commissioned in 1920 for the Hudson Bay Company's 250th anniversary. The first showing was in May 1920 in Winnipeg's Allen Theatre which we now know as the Metropolitan (another wonderful heritage building recently renovated and opened here in Winnipeg). It was then shown in movie theatres across Canada. Now it's been digitalized, and I am hoping to view it one day.

There is just so much more I could say! My PR plan only shows a small portion of the magnificent department store. I sure hope Winnipeg's Bay store is able to work some PR magic and keep the customers coming. After all, with so many stores coming from other countries (Ikea and Target), we need to support our uniquely Canadian businesses.

Here's the final Strategic PR Plan assignment.
Winnipeg's the Bay Downtown: A Destination Worth Visiting

Thanks for a wonderful 12 weeks, Samantha and all classmates.

(one more item on my wishlist -a 2012 limited edition stocking, handmade in Canada by a Metis Craftsperson - found on their facebook page, and here for $275)