Sunday, January 21, 2018


white sky, white ground

she walks in a bubble

muffled in down, fur and denim

only a bit of face bare

frozen breath puffing out

black tree skeletons rise along the river

she remembers colours –

red lilies, blue iris, so many shades of green

far beyond the stratosphere hangs the blazing sun

a star that warms this pallid world

Note: I mostly write prose, but do dabble in poetry now and then. It's been a long, cold winter already. This came to me on a not so cold, but drab day. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

An Immigrant Christmas in Canada, 1950’s

(excerpt from ‘Braids’ in the short story collection The Other Place, published 2012, ©Regine Haensel)

 I wondered what we were going to do about a Christmas tree. I knew we didn’t have money to buy one from the place in town where they had the trees stacked up. In the Bradley’s garden there were some evergreen trees, but I was sure they would notice if Papa cut down one of those. Maybe we could cut a few branches and make a tree out of that.

Then, after the Christmas concert, Mrs. Knowles asked if I wanted to take our classroom tree home on the last day before Christmas holidays. She said that it would just get thrown out and someone might as well have the use of it for another week or two. When Papa came to pick me up, he loaded the tree into the back of the truck. Mrs. Knowles and I had already taken all of the decorations off and put them away. Mutti and I had been making paper chains and other decorations at home to add to the few special ornaments we’d brought from Germany, and the tree looked wonderful.

On December twenty-third Papa went to town and brought home a parcel. Tante Dorothea had sent a nut cracker and a big bag of nuts: hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and walnuts, my favourite. Onkel Hans had sent a box of marzipan. With the oranges and apples Papa had bought in town, the pfefferkuchen cookies Mutti had baked, we had Christmas plates almost like we used to have in Germany. Mutti said the only thing missing was liqueur-filled chocolates, but I saw her looking at Opa’s picture when she said it and I knew she missed him and all our relatives and friends. There were only the three of us in Canada.

On Christmas Eve when we opened the presents I found out that Opa had sent me the mottled yellow and brown tortoise shell combs. I knew it as soon as I took the paper off and saw the small worn box. I didn’t want to open it, but Papa and Mutti were sitting right there watching me. In Germany it had been all right to have braids, but in Canada things were different. I sighed.

Mutti came and sat beside me as I lifted the lid of the box. The red velvet inside seemed worn to me, the combs a little shabby. I picked them up.

“They were a present from her grandmother,” Mutti said.

So old, I thought. My great grandmother and my grandmother had both worn these combs. I rubbed a thumb over one edge; it slid smoothly, the combs felt warm.

“Did Great Grandmother have braids, too?”

“Yes, beautiful long braids all her life.”

“And they both wore the combs.” My fingers were still rubbing; the tortoise shell seemed to shine a little.


“Did you ever wear them?”

“Yes, I wore them for my confirmation and for special occasions.”

Mutti put my hair up with the combs, in a coronet like Grandmother’s in the picture and I wore it that way for the late supper we always had on Christmas Eve. I felt strange wearing them, thinking of the women who had worn them before me. I peeked in the mirror and was surprised how much like Grandmother I looked. It gave me a funny feeling. I wondered why Mutti had cut her hair and when. My memories of her were all with short hair.

With the presents from Germany, the goose for supper, and the candles on the tree, I felt as if, for a brief time, we were back there again. I knew, though, that just a few miles away Susie and her brother were hanging up Christmas stockings. Tomorrow they would eat turkey and cranberries and their tree would have electric lights instead of candles.

Then Mutti started singing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht in her high, clear voice and even though I knew Susie’s family would sing Silent Night, I couldn’t help but feel good. As Papa and I joined in on the carol that I remembered so well, I thought of Opa, Tante Dorothea, Onkel Hans, my cousin Willie, and Lotte. I noticed that Mutti’s eyes were very shiny and Papa had to stop singing to blow his nose.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

On Re-reading the Classics

Recently at a second hand book sale, I bought a copy of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. I’d read it many years ago when I was in high school during a period where I tried to read as many of the classic books as I could. Don Quixote, Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, The Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick, Little Women, Huckleberry Finn, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and others. At that time I wasn’t as aware that many good and great books continued to be written and I’d never get to the end of any list!

What makes a book a classic and who determines that? There are lists like the best 100 novels. Books that continue to be read and sold in bookstores, taught in literature courses, approved of by critics. But not everyone likes the same books, and some of the older ones don’t necessarily appeal as they once might have. Times do change and so do some of the titles that are read.

Still, certain books stand the test of time and continue to entertain and to provoke thought.

I still find Dickens absorbing. Re-reading David Copperfield some years ago reminded me of what a good story teller Dickens was. I love most of his, though found Bleak House, which I read for the first time recently, too long and quite a chore to get through. Interestingly, Dickens was a mentor for Collins and they remained friends.

The Moonstone, first published in 1868, is often cited as the first great English detective story. There are, however, earlier instances of the mystery and crime genre in Arabic fiction (in The Thousand and One Nights), and Chinese fiction. As well, there are other examples of English language crime fiction, including such stories as ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, by Edgar Allan Poe, published in a magazine in 1841.

Getting back to re-reading The Moonstone, I was first impressed by the several pages of notes at the end that highlighted the origins of some of Collins’ ideas. In other words, he did his research, from drawing on real life crimes, to using historical events, as well as theories of disease and treatments, and personal experience of the effects of opium. The notes are nearly as fascinating reading as the novel itself.

Once into the book, I was charmed and delighted by the humour of one of the narrators, the house-steward where the incidents take place. Collins used several narrators, and Gabriel Betteredge, with his reliance on Robinson Crusoe, “I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life,” is my favourite.

The story draws the reader quickly into the action and along the twisted paths of possible motives, with plenty of false leads and a variety of plausible villains.

Along with the mystery, Collins presents social tensions of the class system, pokes fun and certain kinds of philanthropy, and touches on British Imperialism in India.

I had no trouble at all in reading this book, and thoroughly enjoying it, though it was published nearly 150 years ago. To me that’s a classic!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Solitary Art

Virginia Woolf wrote:  -- a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

Though writing can be done simply – all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper for the very basics – starvation and homelessness are not conducive to work of any kind! Even if your necessities – food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, money worries (e.g. the roof is leaking, part of the house is collapsing) are not helpful when trying to do creative work.

Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down.

Still writers write, and can manage on surprisingly small incomes if required, and motivated. It helps if you can focus on the writing and set other concerns aside for periods of time.

For most writers work is solitary. It may require quiet and uninterrupted time as well as space to write. Hence the room where, for at least part of the time, you can shut the door, spread out papers and reference works if needed.

Which is not to say that some people can’t and don’t write in coffee shops, at a kitchen table, on the bank of a river, in a public park, on a bus or while lying on a couch and appearing to sleep. The location may be public, at times even noisy, but the act of writing, whether on a piece of paper, a computer, or in your head, is solitary for most writers.

Some of us do collaborate, others share their work in a writing group, with a mentor or editor and get feedback that we may or may not use. Again, it’s up to the individual.

Actually getting the words down on paper or computer can be a struggle at times. There may be a rush of ideas initially and then comes the hard work of making your ideas a reality. Hurray, you have a first draft! Leave it for a while and come back with fresh eyes. Oh no, it’s awful! Or not bad, but not right either. What now? Another draft, the opinion of another writer? Perhaps.

Does a structure of writing at certain times of the day for a certain number of hours help? Some do it this way. Others set a goal of a certain number of pages that have to be done in a day, but can be done at any time – more flexibility. Some are morning people, other night owls.

Of course it gets easier the more you do it, right? Not necessarily. Each story, poem or book offers its own challenges. As do the changing circumstances of life that have nothing to do with writing.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.

At times I’ve worked on several projects in a week, setting aside different days for each project. In other situations I’ve focused on one project until I completed a draft, then worked on another project while the draft rested. I’ve preferred the flexibility of setting goals of a certain number of pages.

Recently, though, I’ve had a more difficult time. Yes, I got some work done, completed a draft and a revision. But then, I had a hard time getting motivated to work on yet another revision. I felt tired, I wanted a holiday, or just wanted to goof off and do a lot of reading. A break can be useful, but this one seemed to be going on too long. It wasn’t what I’d call writers’ bloc (I’m not sure I really know what that is; I’m certainly never short of ideas, though I do at times lack the motivation or energy to actually sit down and write.) So I made myself do a little writing and felt OK about that, but not completely happy.

Aha! An idea. Where did it come from? I don’t know – probably the same mysterious source where all creative ideas germinate. What occurred to me was something I hadn’t done for a really long time. I would set a fairly rigid schedule and apply it to each week day, working in my activities such as yoga, walks, meals, reading and goof-off time as well as ample writing time. Weekends will be flexible. Yes! It appealed to me.

After some days of the above schedule I found that the writing was going well again, and I could also be flexible within the schedule if need be.

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Autumn

It seems to me that September this year in Saskatoon has been unusually green even into the end of the month. There are a number of factors that cause deciduous trees to change colour, including shorter days and longer nights, colder temperatures, soil moisture and sunlight. We had a very hot summer and recent weather hasn’t been cold enough to start the colour changes, though we also haven’t had much rain. Nature can still be mysterious.

I may have to cut my grass once more and I’ve still got annuals blooming this year. My garden notebook from the past shows the variety in the season over a number of years, and it seems that we have had long falls before. Still, I remember snow and frost in September, though I’m glad to see that holding off this year,

Sept. 6, 1998

I’ve been preparing for spring by taking out some more grass at the back and planting pink tulips in front of the anemones, and a couple of white iris in front of the chrysanthemums.

Sept. 14, 1999

I have brought in all my tomatoes, left out carrots, beets, some lettuce and peppers. Will see how they do.

Sept. 16, 2000

Yesterday and today were incredible days for September – hot, sunny, no wind. Sat in the yard a lot and just basked in it.

Oct. 14, 2001

Dug the last of my carrots, drained the hoses and cleaned up the yard a bit. My pink chrysanthemums are blooming in gay profusion in the back yard. (These have since died out, but I miss them. Have to look for more in 2018).

Sept. 21, 2002

A long fall – still have roses blooming, cosmos, golden Marguerite, and delphiniums for the second time.

Sept. 15, 2003

Cut some lavender, which is blooming for the first time ever.

Oct. 9, 2004

Malva still blooming, chrysanthemums in full flood with butterflies, white delphiniums having a second bloom.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Space Grabbers, Culture, Personal Space, Introverts and Extroverts

Advertising in some form is as old as our human ability to make marks. It could be on cave walls, carved on rocks and trees, printed in a newspaper or magazine, broadcast on radio or television and so on. Some of us need to let others know quite publically what we are doing or want to do.

In the 1920s and 30s press agents and publicists began to use print media to publish stories about their clients or products. So rather than straight ads readers would find what looked like newspaper stories or magazine articles that were in reality a new form of advertising. Apparently media owners really disliked this and called them space grabbers.

I’ve begun using the term space grabbers for other situations. The group that spreads out across a sidewalk and ambles along paying no attention to who might be behind them. The truck owners who take up two parking units, the motorcyclists who make as much noise as possible driving down the street, the people who park for days and weeks in one place on the street despite a parking bylaw that prohibits it. Those who scatter garbage in their wake and never pick up after themselves. The companies who use all the resources (e.g. water) they can without thinking about future generations. Those who pollute. Those who bully and harass others.

Why is it that these things bug me so much? It would be easy to say because those people’s behaviours are wrong; they pay little attention to the needs of others. And perhaps that’s so, but I think there are other elements at work as well.

Is it true as someone said to me recently that we are becoming less kindly in the way we live with each other? What bugs you most that might relate to space grabbers – the noisy concert many blocks away? The clouds of acrid smoke from a fire pit?


As cities grow larger they develop more problems just from the sheer mass of humanity and all its complexities. To a certain extent we have to put up with each other, be somewhat flexible about the things that bug us. Still, for each of us there seems to be a place where we hold the line.

In the end it may come down to something basic – how we feel about incursions into our close environment. And it’s not only our visual sense that notices incursions on personal space.
Edward T. Hall (1914 – 2009) was an anthropologist and cultural researcher born in the United States. In the 1930s Hall lived and worked on reservations in the southwestern United States. This was an area where several cultures existed – Navaho, Hopi, Hispanic, and Anglo. As he explored worlds strange and new to him Hall began to see how culture affected each individual’s behaviour.
Subsequently he traveled in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Eventually he worked for the U.S. State Department, teaching intercultural communications skills to foreign service personnel. He continued to observe and study how humans behave in a variety of cultures and situations. His books range from The Silent Language (the ways that we communicate without the use of words) to The Fourth Dimension in Architecture (the impact of buildings on behaviour) and to The Hidden Dimension, which is about proxemics, or humans’ use of space and the effects that population density has on social interactions and communication.
It should be noted that Edward Hall is not the only person to study these topics.
In the Authors Preface to The Hidden Dimension (first published in 1966, but still very relevant and not only in the United States) Hall writes:
It is increasingly apparent that clashes between cultural systems are not restricted to international relations. Such clashes are assuming significant proportions within our own country and are exacerbated by the overcrowding in cities. Contrary to popular belief, the many diverse groups that make up our country have proved to be surprisingly persistent in maintaining their separate identities. Superficially, these groups may all look alike and sound somewhat alike, but beneath the surface are manifold unstated, unformulated differences in their structuring of time, space, materials, and relationships. It is these very differences that often result in the distortion of meaning, regardless of good intentions, when people of different cultures interact.
I began my life in a small city in Germany, living in an apartment block with a shared playground and other shared outdoor space. Later, my family moved to a farm in Canada with fewer amenities, a different language and much more outdoor space. Huge changes in culture. My earliest life, however, impacted me most for I still prefer to live in a small city rather than on a farm, though I do like visiting wilderness areas. And yet, in that city I am very aware (if only subconsciously at times) of the space around me.
Among animals, territoriality helps to prevent overpopulation and is a way to protect breeding grounds and raising of young. In our cities, have we been paying enough attention to the effects that crowding can have on the human psyche? Does it have the same effect on us all? Hall would say, No.
There are contact and non-contact species of animals. Halls list of the former includes walruses (showing a picture in his book of them sleeping crammed together), pigs, brown bats; his lists of the latter includes horses, swans, hawks. Though Hall does say that all species begin as contact types, but change as they grow and leave their parents.
According to Hall there is also a relationship between aggression and display – aggressive animals display more vigorously. So do some humans view vigorous display in others as aggressive?
People from different cultures, says Hall, not only speak different languages, but what is possibly more important, inhabit different sensory worlds.  Each world has its own set of sensory inputs, so that what crowds people of one culture does not necessarily crowd another. In addition, social animals need to stay in contact with each other.
Most of us are familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert. These are terms that attempt to define how individuals interact socially. Each of us generally knows where we fit.
I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert. That means I enjoy spending time with others in moderation and like a lot of time to myself. I prefer quieter activities though I do enjoy a noisy spectacle on occasion. Because I’m a quieter person who doesn’t often make a fuss, it seems to me that people don’t always notice that I’m
Extroverts are more out there, showing themselves, making themselves noticed. So they push their boundaries out quite visibly. Introverts who come into the orbit of some extroverts have to push back hard in order not to feel run over. 
Certain characteristics are born or created in us perhaps through culture, and are difficult to change. From all I’ve read you can’t change your tendency toward introversion or extroversion, though you can perhaps engage in various activities that stretch your preferences. Neither introversion nor extroversion is wrong. However, by being more aware of peoples’ tendency for one or the other we may be able to be more tolerant of differences. We need to remember that each of us comes from our own traditions and may have diverse needs in terms of personal space. At the same time, it seems to me that city planners and architects can do more to avoid overcrowding in cities and make them gentler, more livable places.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Summer

Summer is the time in my garden when I can relax and enjoy it – flowers blooming, herbs ready to use, berries to eat, greens coming along and other veggies. Of course, there is weeding to do and grass cutting, although I have very little lawn now. Summer is also a time when I think about what I might do differently next year.

A while ago I wrote from a garden notebook I kept for a number of years about spring in my garden. Here follow some entries from the summers.

June 11, 1998

My cukes died so I need to get some more. (I haven’t had a lot of luck with cucumbers. I have started some from seed indoors and transplanted them. Mostly they died. I’ve had a bit more luck with buying plants, though my cukes have never been plentiful or large. Too much shade where I plant them. Should try a different spot, even if it is among the perennial flowers.)

June 21, 1999

My pink and red roses are blooming. (I still have a couple of the rose bushes I planted at the beginning – Hansa and Henry Hudson. Others have died and been replaced or not. Disappointingly this year a yellow Bill Reid rose that I had for a few years hasn’t come up. I’ll have to look for another yellow rose to replace it next year.) Anemones and irises are pretty much done.

August 29, 1999

I have harvested some things – tomatoes (more to come), a few carrots, beets, all my potatoes (only about 8 – I gave up on trying to grow potatoes), garlic.

June 17, 2000

I think I am done planting for this year. Harvested some rhubarb (my rhubarb gradually declined so last year I moved it. It has looked healthier this year, but hasn’t grown much), half of which I will freeze.

July 10, 2000

I want to start more basil this winter (I love growing herbs, particularly perennials or those that reseed themselves – cilantro, tarragon, oregano, thyme; but I also plant others – basil is a staple). Also a few tomatoes again. Flowers. Maybe peppers and cukes.

June 3, 2001

Very windy today and cloudy – rain would be good. Am sitting out in my sheltered spot beside the house.

July 3, 2001

California poppies (annuals in a pot) in bloom. Also my other poppies (perennials) out in the garden are starting to bloom (This year I seeded some Icelandic poppies in honour of having travelled to Iceland; I was late seeding them, so I hope at least a few come up). Eating strawberries.

 August 8, 2001

Gladiolus (I don’t grow gladiolus every year, some years I save the corms over winter and replant them in the spring; other years I just don’t bother.) have been in bloom for a week or so. Daylily has been blooming. Ligularia had one kind of sick-looking bloom.

June 15, 2002

Have my deck set up with pots now and my chairs out. (I didn’t have a deck for some years and then decided on a low, small deck without railings as I don’t have a very large back yard.)

June 29, 2002

Have too many purple and white irises, but will thin them out some. (It’s fun rearranging and moving, adding new plants.)

July 26, 2003

Next year— move white delphinium, light purple delphinium and buy a yellow peony (Hah, I have yet to do this!), some purple lupine? The yard is much like I want it.

July 18, 2004

Deep purple delphinium is in bloom, also heliopsis (yellow), and Swan River daisies in pots.

July 2, 2017

I get so much joy out of my yard. Exercise, the fun of creation, surprises, birds coming to the feeders, planning and anticipation.