Sunday, April 15, 2018

Raising Children

I’ve been a child, a parent and a grandmother. Early on in my life I started developing a philosophy of childrearing, though I didn’t initially call it that.

I observed the things my parents did and decided what I liked and what I didn’t. I thought that if I ever had children there were certain things I wouldn’t do – e.g. corporal punishment.

As I grew older, I watched other people with children and made some judgements again. A friend’s hassles with getting her children up for school in the morning made me determined to find other ways than nagging. Parents scolding their children in grocery stores and other public places suggested to me that kids needed fun things to occupy them when they were dragged along with adults.

When I had my own child, one of the things I decided was to treat him with respect from the start so that he would treat others that way. That involved knocking before entering his room and giving him opportunities to make decisions. I also read a lot about child rearing, took some workshops, and continued to observe others.

I didn’t like seeing hassles over food. It seems to me that if a child says he or she is full that should be respected. How else will they learn to trust themselves and their own decisions if they aren’t given the opportunity? If there are certain foods we don’t want children to indulge or over indulge in why have them in the house? Make desserts healthy and good so that a child can eat either the dessert or the main course and still get nutrition.

I learned that actions with children are more effective than words - constant nagging is useless. I also liked the idea of logical consequences – if a child doesn’t want to wear mittens on a cold day, let him or her feel the cold. Let a child dress him or herself if they like and what does it matter if a shirt is inside out?

The fewer rules the better is what I came to believe. Children can’t remember a lot of rules, neither can adults, and then it’s hard to be consistent. It there’s behaviour you don’t like, try to determine why it’s happening and be consistent in dealing with it. Children act the way we expect and allow them to act.

Allow children responsibility – if they want to butter their own bread or pour their own milk, let them, even if it means a spill or a bit of mess. Give them a smaller container to start. Nurture them rather than control them. And expose them to lots of creative experiences. Too much television or computer time is not particularly helpful to creativity, though it’s an easy way to keep kids quiet. Do you want a quiet, zombie-like child or a thinking, creative one?

It takes a village to raise a child, says a proverb common in many African cultures. Use the resources around you, observe, read, learn – rearing a child takes commitment, thought and creativity.

And then they grow up and move out and make their own decisions that may or may not be ones you would have made. That’s when you really have to let go no matter what.

The Lebanese writer and artist Khalil Gibran wrote:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Companion of Eagles (excerpt, draft)

(Book 3 in The Leather Book Tales Series)
©Copyright Regine Haensel


The last thing I remember is going to bed in my room in Aquila, the house Papa and I share, drifting off to the distant drumming of the Lord’s Militia signalling day’s end. And now my eyes are open wide seeing nothing but dark. No strip of moonlight through the gaps of my window shutters, no sliver of stars. When I press my eyelids down briefly there’s not even the weird lines of light that usually show up. I turn my head this way and that. It’s like a sandstorm at night hiding moon and stars, except there’s no stinging grit against my skin, no song of sand and wind.
I stretch out my arms; groping hands touch nothing, no bed covers, no wooden bed frame. A chill breeze lifts the hair from my neck. My naked feet stand on a rough surface. Not a wood floor, maybe rock or cobblestones? I could be sleep walking, standing out in the street in front of our house. It’s unbelievably quiet – no trees hissing in a breeze, no creaking branches or the squeaky wheels of a late night cart, no footsteps. I squint at a speck of brightness off to one side that slowly grows larger. Hope to see the outline of my window or the walls of a familiar house, but instead, dark shapes stand against an indistinct and slightly lighter background. None of the shapes look like anything I recognize.

A whispering voice: “Samel.”

I take a step forward. “Who’s there?”

A sudden flare obliterates everything and my eyes swim. Quick as a darting fish, my fist knuckles the wet away. I’m just seeing clear again when icy liquid gushes over my feet, making me jump and almost slip, but I spread my legs and get balanced. Fire blazes and steam rises as water meets fire. I flail at the mist, can’t see, heat presses, wetness drips from my skin. Open and shut my eyes, take deep breaths. What is happening? Where am I?

          When I open my eyes again early morning light fills my bedroom, familiar, ordinary. Another dream, but not about my sister this time. My fist pounds the mattress. What am I supposed to get from this? It doesn’t make sense.

Bedding tangles around my waist and legs; my body’s slick with sweat. I push at the scratchy blanket but it’s twisted into knots, won’t budge. I stretch a leg, my toe rips a hole in the sheet.

          “Arrgh! Talons and beaks!” My voice cracks the way it’s been doing lately. Good thing I’m not wanting to be a singer. Voice going, skin itchy, toenails too long, almost like an eagle’s. Making a mess and not fitting.

In my head I can hear the other drum apprentices snickering. Yesterday one of them muttered to another, “Clumsy as a new born camel.” Knew they were talking about me. Turned to glare at them, don’t know what I’d have said or done, but Tamtan, the drum master, walked in just then and we all bent to our work.

          I glare at my knobby-kneed legs. They do make me think of camel legs. Except their toes don’t look like mine. I can hear Papa now: “If you’d pay more attention you’d notice your toenails are too long. Cut them!”

          The sheets are old, though, too thin. That’ll be my excuse when I ask Papa for coin to buy new bedding. Still, he won’t be happy about it. It’s not like we’re poor, though. Papa’s stipend as a Lord’s musician has always been enough to take good care of us. I’m sure Tamtan apprentices resent me partly because of that. None of their fathers are musicians.

I shove all the bedding away. Too hot. The dry season is usually scorching in Aquila, but this is the worst I remember. Good thing Rowan isn’t here – she’d find it harder to take than me. Sister, where are you now? I should have defied Papal, snuck away and joined the caravan with you.

Most of my life I’ve done what Papa wanted or argued him round to my side. We didn’t always agree, but worked things out and I was happy enough. That changed after Rowan came. And now she’s gone again, who knows for how long? Life should be easier, but it isn’t.

The dream. Was it about Rowan after all? Maybe she’s in danger. I scramble out of bed, dragging the bedding to the floor and leaving it. Rummage in the wooden chest at the foot of my bed and pull out the silver bracelet of linked ivy leaves, slip it onto my wrist. Mysterious, magical bracelets that came from our parents, one each. I thump to the floor, struggle like a new born camel with my unruly legs, then settle. Close my eyes and think of my sister; picture her long hair, dark like Papa’s, her grey eyes that I’ve been told are like our mother’s. My concentration slips.

I’ll never see Mother again, can’t even remember her. Did I call her Mama? Did she ever sing to me? Maybe I got my musical abilities from her as well as Papa. I was too young when Papa and I left her and Rowan. And Mother’s been dead for over a year now.

Tailfeathers! Better cut my toe nails before they do more damage, and get dressed. The house is quiet though I can tell by the angle of the sun shining through my window that it’s still early. Papa’s either asleep or gone already to the river bank. The old barracks there of the Lord’s Militia have been mostly empty for years, the grounds allowed to grow wild. Papa and his musician friends along with other artists of Aquila are changing that. They’ve joined designers, stone masons, carpenters and labourers to turn the dilapidated buildings into an arts school.

I sneak across the landing and peek into his room. No Papa, bed made neatly, bedding stretched tight as a drum head. It was under that bed I found my bracelet. Papa’s really, but it had abandoned him. He wasn’t happy about that.

I rattle down the stairs. No Papa anywhere. Why didn’t he wake me this morning as he’s been doing ever since Rowan left? Drag me along as usual with him to the school. Not that I’m sorry to be left at home. At the building site I’d just be hanging around waiting for someone to find work for me: carrying tools, cutting grass, cutting brush. Scut work is no fun and not that good for my hands.

I search for a note. Today is supposed to be my day for working with him – composing, playing the flutes, cleaning and repairing them if necessary. If he doesn’t come back for that’ll be the third lesson we’ve missed since Rowan went. The arts school is important, but so am I!

The food cupboards hold bread, honey, butter, a bit of cheese, figs. I’m not really hungry yet. Why didn’t he leave me a note? Even to say, practise the flute or go get more food. “You’re old enough to figure that out for yourself.” That’s what he’d say, and it’s true. I’m not stupid and he’s never said that I am. But we used to talk more, spend more time together.

I wander into the living room. One of the big woven baskets the women from the Grasslands people brought sits there, full of sheet music. Papa copied some, but I did most of it. I leaf through a few sheets, put them back, finger the basket. It’s really well made. They could sell these in the market here.

The Grasslands People wanted help to find some missing children. That’s what Rowan’s gone to do, and I know they helped her when she was trying to find Papa and me so I guess she felt she owed them. Still, it seems odd that they couldn’t look for the children themselves. Would Rowan have gone if she’d been happier with us? Maybe its my fault.

I’ll try again to talk to my sister. Sit, breathe deeply, touch the bracelet, close my eyes and concentrate. Sometimes that will work and I get some kind of picture, but today I wait until my knees start to cramp and my arms itch. No visions. Weird that I had that dream and now nothing. Still so much to learn about how and why the bracelets work and why they don’t. Was my dream influenced by the bracelet even though I wasn’t touching it or was it just an ordinary strange dream? No answers just sitting here and now my belly’s rumbling.

I’m munching bread and cheese when there’s a rat-tat at the door. Hope its Ali from across the street. I haven’t seen her in a couple of days and she’s always working on something interesting; I could help, though I should practise the flute. But a boy stands outside, a messenger from Papa: he does want me at the river bank.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

25,553 Days Plus

I recently had a birthday, have lived through a lot of changes in my life, from just after the Second World War in Germany to the current year in Canada.

My young father had been a prisoner of war in Canada before he married my mother. I was born the year of the Berlin Airlift; my father grew up in that city, and although his mother wanted him to move back there, he declined. Both my parents feared another war in Europe, so when Canada began accepting German immigrants again, they chose to leave, partly because my father had good memories of Canada.

We left a small, modern city and moved to a not very modern farm where my father worked. Low pay and not very good housing, but milk and eggs for the children. Years later I wrote a fictionalized book of short stories about some of our experiences. My father found work at a better farm.

Our lives gradually improved to the point where, with help from locals, we bought our own house in a small town and both my parents worked. We never had a lot of money, but enough eventually for a second hand car and later a few return trips to Germany to visit relatives. During that time the world continued to change. The Canadian flag debate resulted in the red maple leaf flying over our public buildings. US president John Kennedy was assassinated while I was still in high school, and Martin Luther King when I was in university. The Vietnam War was on, students and other protested, hippies proliferated, and some of us talked about living in communes.

I married and taught school. We lived in southern Saskatchewan and in northern Saskatchewan. I had a child and we moved to the west coast for a while, then back to Saskatoon. The women’s movement was on (1970 a Royal Commission on the Status of Women tabled a report to eliminate sexual discrimination) and the War Measures Act was enforced in October 1970 with the FLQ crisis in Quebec. In August 1972 Rosemary Brown became the first black woman to be elected to a provincial legislature, in B.C.  She later (1975) ran for the leadership of the federal NDP and lost to Ed Broadbent. I wonder what would have happened if she’d won? In June 1976 MP’s voted not to reinstate the death penalty. In 1977 the Canadian Citizenship Act was amended to allow women to confer citizenship on their children. In 1979 Nellie Cournoyea became the first native/First Nations woman to lead a provincial territorial government.

I’ve had many different jobs in my life, from babysitting and waitressing, to teaching, working in advertising, arts administration, consulting, and writing. I’ve been enriched by working with and getting to know people from many different backgrounds and cultures.

In the 1980’s my marriage broke and I learned to live and prosper on my own. I’m lucky to have a wonderful son and grandson and their families. My brothers and their families are important to me as well, and my parents are still alive, in their nineties. I have great friends.

I continue to learn and grow through the ups and downs of life, and hope for a few more thousand days!

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.