In 2012, yoga master, entrepreneur and U of R alumnus Janel Phillips BEd'07 and her husband left everything behind in Canada and headed for Panama. Their dream? To build a world class yoga and surf resort. Today, Sansara Resort is rated as one of the best wellness hotels on the globe by Condé Nast Traveller.

Connecting via video chat with the owners of the highly successful Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort in Cambutal, Panama is like taking a mini retreat from the stressors of everyday life. One can’t help but slow down and breathe.

Vibrant, lush-green foliage from the tropical rainforest provides a perfect canopy backdrop for the interview, while a symphony of tanagers and toucans chirp happily in the background.

Yoga master and entrepreneur Janel Phillips, 37, radiates warmth and a sense of purpose – one that comes from years of living a mind-body-spirit connection while building a world-class yoga shala in South America, ranked one of the top five in the world. The University of Regina alum and special education teacher yearned to travel after graduation and make a difference beyond Saskatchewan’s borders.

She found her life’s purpose with her husband and soulmate, Mike Phillips, 43, blessed with the same sense of idealism and altruism to match. The salt-and-pepper-bearded stone mason from Regina is the Ying to Janel’s Yang. As a surf fanatic and fellow yoga devotee, he travelled the world in search of the perfect wave but wound up building a life and community with Janel as founders and owners of Sansara, located at the end of the road in a small village where the jungle meets the sea in Los Santos, Panama.

Janel Phillips went from a special education teacher in Saskatchewan to building and operating Sansara Yoga and Surf Resort in Los Santos Panama.
Janel Phillips went from a special education teacher in Saskatchewan to building and operating Sansara Yoga and Surf Resort in Los Santos Panama.

“We both had this burning desire to travel the world in our 20s, so when we met, it was an instant connection,” Janel enthuses. “There was this incredible alignment of where we wanted our lives to go. Our path was driven by faith in the possible – not debilitated by fear.” Janel looks lovingly at Mike, and the couple, parents to son, Asher, 5, and daughter, Ocean, 3, easily finish each other’s sentences.

Running a multi-million-dollar, world class yoga retreat takes courage, commitment, drive and determination. But it also takes capital. Mike and Janel found that support back home in Saskatchewan.

“We took a trip to Panama and loved it and decided to spend six months getting to know the people and the land before making any moves. We didn’t want to be a bunch of gringos who came in and took over,” Mike says, before Janel continues: “We took a very holistic approach, filled with light and intention. We got to know the community first and hand-picked these incredible people to join our team and help make our dream a reality. Everything just fell into place.”

The beginning

Running a multi-million-dollar, world class yoga retreat takes courage, commitment, drive and determination. But it also takes capital. Mike and Janel found that support back home in Saskatchewan.

It’s been said that Regina is a small community with only six degrees of separation between people. Love may have brought Janel and Mike together, but it was serendipity and fate that connected them with their mentor, friend, and Sansara business partner, Tim Young, the quiet, understated CEO of Young’s Equipment, one of Saskatchewan’s preeminent farm implement dealerships.

The Phillips and their two children Asher (right) and Ocean on a Panamanian beach.
The Phillips and their two children Asher (right) and Ocean on a Panamanian beach.

“I first met Mike when he was 15. I lost touch with him until he met Janel, and then he came back into my life,” Tim begins. “I first met Janel when she ran a mobile Yoga studio called Awaken Your Yoga. Back in 2010, I made a bucket list goal with my sons to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I had a lot of work to do to get in shape. My hip flexors and hamstrings were weak, and I knew I’d have to work on them. I was working with a personal trainer (Leslie Genoway, a friend of Janel’s and fellow U of R grad), and she recommended that yoga might help. So, she put me in touch with Janel and the rest is history.”

There are bodies of all shapes and sizes at Sansara, with a multi-generational mix of Boomers to Millennials sharing laughs over exquisitely prepared local cuisine at a long, well-appointed wooden table.

Tim says he was immediately drawn to Janel’s warmth and willingness to help. “It wasn’t long before I noticed real changes to my physical abilities. She’d come over to our house three times a week to do private sessions with me and my wife Judy. Sometimes it was a family affair, and the boys would join in. Thanks in part to her training, I was able to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro with my sons on May 9, 2011.”

Tim says when Janel and Mike first got together, he knew they had dreams beyond Regina. “Mike worked in construction for his father, an experienced bricklayer. Mike would spend the warmer months working hard, and then travel the world and surf for three months during the winters. When he and Janel got engaged and began traveling together, we were a little sad we couldn’t see them all the time, but also excited they were living their dreams.”

When serendipity meets hard work

Taking a video-guided tour of the lush and spacious surroundings of Sansara is a chance to experience paradise. The holistic beachfront resort features a small collection of private, oceanfront suites and garden cabanas, and a spacious, open-air yoga shala nestled in greenery. One can almost smell the rich, wet earth, salt-filled air, and boost of pure oxygen generated from all the trees and shrubs in this tropical oasis. A saltwater pool and onsite spa complete the perfect surroundings.

Los Santos makes up the southeastern chunk of a huge peninsula in the central Pacific part of Panama. Its eastern coastline is fairly sheltered most of the year, facing into the Gulf of Panama, while its southern shores face the Pacific winds—hence the surfing.
Los Santos makes up the southeastern chunk of a huge peninsula in the central Pacific part of Panama. Its eastern coastline is fairly sheltered most of the year, facing into the Gulf of Panama, while its southern shores face the Pacific winds—hence the surfing.

While some guests are tentatively standing on their boards in the morning surf at dawn, lit by an amber glow as they experience the sheer exhilaration of catching their first wave, others are in contemplative poses, finding a meditative calm with their sun salutations and downward facing dogs. The atmosphere is supportive and relaxed.

There are bodies of all shapes and sizes at Sansara, with a multi-generational mix of Boomers to Millennials sharing laughs over exquisitely prepared local cuisine at a long, well-appointed wooden table. The Buddha Bar offers guests daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, utilizing local fish, farm-raised poultry, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and even home baked bread.

Before Mike and Janel arrived to build their dream resort, the land was thick with shrubs and nearly inaccessible.

“Right from the get-go, Janel brought this beautiful intention to Sansara, which guided everything we did and every relationship we built. I get teary just thinking about it…”

“When we booked a ticket to Panama in July of 2012, we wanted to see if it was for us, without any rose-coloured glasses that you often have when you first arrive in a hot location. We said if nothing was available, we’d go back to Regina in January – but who wants to that?” Mike laughs, before continuing. “At the end of our six-month stay in December, we literally knocked on doors, when one day, a friend down the street overheard someone talking that they had beachfront property they needed to sell. Two hours later, we had a handshake deal, and a week after that, we closed on the property.”

“We had to stretch and grow on so many fronts, including expanding our vocabulary,” adds Janel. “We didn’t speak Spanish, but we kept being open and were guided to continue moving forward. The universe provided for us with this land, the partnerships with the local people, and all the community support we received.”

Before Mike and Janel left on their life-changing journey, Tim Young offered them some help devising a business plan. “I told them, when you’re ready, I’ll give you a week of my time to help write up your plan. I got there in February of 2013, and realized they needed more capital. Suddenly, I put my hand up, and I think Mike and Janel were surprised,” he chuckles.

Janel recalls being somewhat flabbergasted at Tim’s generous offer. “I mean, who does that? I kept asking Tim why?”

Sansara investor Tim Young (right) and his son, Sean. Photo by Shane Luhning
Sansara investor Tim Young (right) and his son, Sean. Photo by Shane Luhning

Tim remembers that moment quite clearly. “I told Janel: ‘Remember that first day we met, and you asked me what my goals were? And I told you I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Well, I did it, thanks to you. This is the same kind of thing.’”

Janel says she’ll never forget Tim’s response, and his openness and kindness in that moment. “It literally changed our lives forever.”

Armed with much needed capital, a professional business plan, and a partner with a proven track record in running a multi-million-dollar business, Mike and Janell got to work.

“I grew up in construction, and knew how to build in tropical countries,” Mike begins. “When I was 19, I took over an old Italian stone mason business in Fernie, B.C. when the owner retired. When I was skiing, I wound up breaking my back and went to the Grand Caymans to recuperate and ended up working for an eco-adventure company. There was this huge hurricane that literally devastated the island – the same system that became Hurricane Katrina. My boss knew my background in construction, and we just got to work rebuilding.”

"We felt this need to build trust and build relationships, because with trust, you help build longevity. We were creating a forever with no expiry date – literally creating the life we wanted to live.”

Mike says that experience helped him plan and devise a stormproof resort using locally made materials. “You can’t use pine because the termites will get it,” he explains. “Galvanized nails also don’t work because they’ll rust, and your roof will fly off in a storm. It was my experience rebuilding in the Caymans that really helped me with Sansara. We arrived and the place was an overgrown jungle, but we didn’t mind the hard work – we looked at it like a clean slate. We hired the best crew in Cambutal. At first, I communicated through sign language, and I think my first phrase in Spanish was ‘I need a tool.’”

Janel quickly adds: “It was special because most investors fly in their own workers and their own experts, and here we were, building alongside the Panamanian people. We felt this need to build trust and build relationships, because with trust, you help build longevity. We were creating a forever with no expiry date – literally creating the life we wanted to live.”

Practice yoga every day, learn to surf, enjoy fresh, delicious cuisine and build rewarding connections with other like-minded people as you immerse yourself in the Sansara Experience.
Practice yoga every day, learn to surf, enjoy fresh, delicious cuisine and build rewarding connections with other like-minded people as you immerse yourself in the Sansara Experience.

Adds Mike: “Right from the get-go, Janel brought this beautiful intention to Sansara, which guided everything we did and every relationship we built. I get teary just thinking about it…” At that moment, Mike’s voice cracks and he takes a second before continuing. “We were surrounded by family and friends, and we’d just accomplished something we’d worked so hard to achieve.

On April 15 of 2015, we hosted our first retreat. I remember we had paint under our fingernails, but we were ready, and 18 guests showed up. It was magical.”

I kept thinking, ‘Holy sh--! We’re a hotel now! What do we do? We’ve never done this before!” Janel quickly adds: “We just knew we’d conduct our business using the golden rule, treating people the way we wanted to be treated. So we created the kind of get-away experience we’d want for ourselves.”

Janel recalls selling retreat spaces even before the resort was finished. “I remember in January of 2015, people kept asking us to send photos of the cabanas and the pool, and I had to say, ‘Well…we don’t have photos just yet – no artist renderings. You’re going to have to trust us.’ We worked like crazy over the next four months building two new cabanas and the restaurant and the pool. On April 15 of 2015, we hosted our first retreat. I remember we had paint under our fingernails, but we were ready, and 18 guests showed up. It was magical.”

The arrival of COVID

Then, in March of 2020, COVID made an unwelcome appearance, and the world went into lockdown. “Mike’s such a glass-half-full kind of guy. This was our high season, but we packed up the resort, emptied the fridge and donated the food to the community, and emptied the pool. And we took this very long pause.”

"We couldn’t charge much, but people wound up giving us thousands of dollars in cash donations that we were able to use to pay our staff and keep them afloat during the pandemic. It was never about being a money-maker – it always about keeping the community we’d built going.”

But rather than get depressed or upset over the situation, the couple decided to use their creativity and ingenuity to make Sansara that much better. “Janel decided to offer virtual, weekend retreats, where people could log onto Zoom and take a Friday night yoga class, experience an online cocktail making class, then a Saturday morning yoga class, followed by a cooking demonstration with our executive chef.”

Janel adds: “We set up lights and made things happen over Zoom where I would play host, almost like a Top Chef cooking show,” she beams. “Mike offered surfing lessons for people from all over the world in their own living rooms. It was so much fun! Then on Sunday, we’d offer a virtual meditation class. We couldn’t charge much, but people wound up giving us thousands of dollars in cash donations that we were able to use to pay our staff and keep them afloat during the pandemic. It was never about being a money-maker – it always about keeping the community we’d built going.”

Sansara is a special and sacred place created for the wellness-inspired traveler.
Sansara is a special and sacred place created for the wellness-inspired traveler.

Janel adds that they also used the downtime as an opportunity to clean, repair, and enhance the resort from top to bottom. “It was almost like a place of worship. We had 38 employees and we wanted to give space and energy for their needs. Everyone came together in this spirit of collaboration. We wanted to make sure Sansara was pristine for the return of guests when the world re-opened.”

Janel says they also used the downtime to build their local clientele. “We had visitors from all over the world, but not from Panama City just five hours away. With travel limited, we thought it was a great opportunity to do something for Panamanians. We used the catchphrase ‘Escape the City’ and it worked. A lot of people in Panama now know we exist.”

“They arrive with this metaphorical parka, wound tightly, wanting to know the Wi-Fi password. We let them know that nature will take care of them, and that by being open, they’ll receive exactly what they need."

Mike says the forced pause allowed them to step back as owners and operators and build an even better resort than before. “We were always so hurried in getting things up and running at the start. When we slowed down, we could really analyze our business operations and make some slight changes in the right direction. Now, we’re more profitable than ever.” Adds Janel: “Everything happens for a reason, and this was our chance to regroup and move forward on an even better footing.”

Looking ahead

Everything Janel and Mike do is grounded in love, intention and gratitude. That’s reflected in the way they embrace each guest, meet them on their own terms, and provide them with exactly what they’re looking for during their stay. “Almost 99 per cent of the guests who arrive are depleted of self-love and self-care,” says Janel. “They arrive with this metaphorical parka, wound tightly, wanting to know the Wi-Fi password. We let them know that nature will take care of them, and that by being open, they’ll receive exactly what they need. Everyone becomes aligned and a transformation takes place. Once they get rid of the security blanket and become vulnerable, trust and love become accessible.”

Janel Phillips and some of her staff take time out for a photo.
Janel Phillips and some of her staff take time out for a photo.

Janel says that gratitude is reflected during roundtable discussions in the evenings. “People sit together and tell their fellow guests things like ‘I’m proud of you. You took a risk by going in the ocean even though you were afraid.’ Acknowledging people in that way allows them to be seen and heard, and it really has a profound effect on their lives.”

Tim Young couldn’t agree more and says he feels blessed to be part of the Sansara experience, quietly supporting the couple and the business from 7,400 km away. Tim feels a sense of wonder and appreciation for all this couple has given to him and the hundreds of guests they’ve served over the years. “These are two of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet!”

As the video chat with Mike and Janel ends, one is left with an incredible sense of calm and hope for the world, especially during this time of great unease and uncertainty. The picturesque images of Sansara won’t soon be forgotten, nor will the sounds of chirping birds and crashing waves, or the goodwill and positive energy generated from Mike and Janel Philips. The ocean is calling…Namaste.

The peaceful Panamanian village of Cambutal is located in the province of Los Santos in the Azuero Peninsula. It is about a five-hour drive away from the capital Panama City, and is situated in the southernmost point of Panama.
The peaceful Panamanian village of Cambutal is located in the province of Los Santos in the Azuero Peninsula. It is about a five-hour drive away from the capital Panama City, and is situated in the southernmost point of Panama.

 

For more information about Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort, click https://www.sansararesort.com/

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Coffee has long been a beverage of choice for writers struggling to meet a deadline. For Regina creative Rolli (a.k.a. Charles Anderson), it's more than fuel: it's inspiration.

"There's an idea in every cup. Different beans trigger different flavours of ideas. You have to rummage through hundreds of ideas to find one good one," he explains. Rolli is never at a loss for ideas, as he drinks 25 cups a day. "I think more than 25 would be excessive."

Once coffee companies got wind of his obsession through a feature in New York Magazine, samples started pouring in, including the notoriously caffeine-rich Death Wish Coffee, a literary-themed roast called Edgar Allan Joe, and what was, at the time, the most expensive coffee on the globe, which sold at auction for $1,000 US per pound. "I make an espresso shot of that on special occasions only."

Fortunately, the influx of coffee samples has now slowed down to a manageable pace: "It was too much coffee for even me to drink." One of Rolli's prized possessions is a portrait of himself drinking a cup of coffee, which was created in latte foam by a Tokyo artist who follows him on Twitter. "That was the biggest thrill of my life," he says.

Rolli sits on couch From his self-described strange and solitary childhood, Rolli (Charles Anderson) has gone on to artistic success.

Where it all began

Rolli learned to write by being a voracious reader. He describes himself as a "strange and solitary child" whose asthma often prevented him from being able to play outdoors. His mother was a teacher, so there were always books in the house. He pored over anthologies and other tomes that were over his head at the time, falling in love with Edgar Allan Poe's work.

From there, he progressed to being "a moody teenager who wrote moody teenage poetry, which wasn't any good."

"It was Sam Johnson who said, 'A man will turn over half a library to make one book.' Read enough and you'll inevitably pick up the mechanics of writing, the physics of it." From there, he progressed to being "a moody teenager who wrote moody teenage poetry, which wasn't any good." That phase was short-lived, fortunately, as he went on to study English at the University of Regina.

And then there's Shakespeare

"I hated Shakespeare as a teenager. His plays are inflicted onto high school students like an archaic punishment. Having instructors who actually enjoy teaching makes all the difference in the world, though. Now Shakespeare is my favourite poet."

He also took classes on children's literature. "I'm a whimsical person and a child at heart," he notes. The children's writer who appealed to him most was Louis Carroll, with his trademark British wit. "I see that a lot in my own work. Humour is always present in some way, though it can be quite dark at times," Rolli says.

After graduating with his BA, Rolli spent four years working part-time jobs to finance his passion for writing. Despite a fear of heights, he worked as a roofer. There was also a brief stint as an erotic greeting card writer, which provided fodder for a humourous personal essay that reads like straight-up fiction.

Although he hated Shakespeare as a teenager, Rolli now loves the Bard's poetry.
Although he hated Shakespeare as a teenager, Rolli now loves the Bard's poetry.

Variety is the spice of life

As he diversified into a variety of genres - poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction and children's literature - he sought out new markets and connections, which meant he could taper off the odd jobs and focus solely on his creative work.

Alongside his writing, he started cartooning, developing his distinctive, quirky style. He had always been a doodler and saw this as a great way to supplement his income. "Writing is very competitive, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. I needed to make more money and faster, because I'm not a fast writer. You can do a cartoon in a day and make good money as long as you sell it to the right place." The right place ended up being Reader's Digest, which bought his first cartoon.

Rolli's cartoons have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and The Harvard Business Review, and his short stories, poems, essays and flash fiction have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post and The Walrus.

He learned to be an aggressive submitter, sending out 50 submissions per month, which was key to breaking into the industry. Today, he sends less than half that, because publications often solicit him:

"I have some main clients that will buy pretty much whatever I send them now," he says. Rolli's cartoons have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and The Harvard Business Review, and his short stories, poems, essays and flash fiction have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post and The Walrus. He also does regular commissions for people from Twitter asking him to draw their portraits and for bands wanting him to create album covers.

Rolli gets an agent

Rolli has published numerous books: fiction and poetry include Plumstuff, a recently published reinvention of his out-of-print debut Plum Stuff; The Sea-Wave, which was longlisted for the 2017 Saboteur Award; and Mavor's Bones: A Gothic Novel-in-Poems, shortlisted for the 2015 ReLit Award. His children's book, Kabungo, won the Joan Betty Stuchner - Oy Vey! - Funniest Children's Book Award.

It was also the manuscript that first caught his agent's attention eight years ago:

 

Rolli's recently published book of poetry, Plumstuff, a reinvention of his out-of-print Plum Stuff.
Rolli's recently published book of poetry, Plumstuff, a reinvention of his out-of-print Plum Stuff.

 

"When I read that, it was something that took me back immediately to reading my favourite books as a kid. It had that sense of whimsy and magic and fun and adventure," says Olga Filina. She signed him soon after. "I think he has a very interesting perspective on the world, and that also comes across in his writing. To me, he feels like he has the best of the incredible classic authors like Louis Carroll or Roald Dahl and something special and unique that is just his.

Rolli with his agent Olga Filina. Rolli with his agent Olga Filina.

Any work of his I read feels a tiny bit familiar, because of that amazing connection that stands the test of time."

Filina enjoys promoting Rolli's diverse body of work. "It's quite fun, because I get to have exposure to a lot of different audiences and publishing sectors. I like to introduce people to his work; if they focus on children's publishing, they also find out about his poetry and prose, in addition to his children's literature projects, and the other way around," she notes.

"I've had lots of feedback from editors who might have considered a children's project but went on and acquired an adult piece of work from him and have just been so impressed and enamoured by his writing and his style. He can have such a broad and varied career because he works in so many spaces and touches so many categories."

A key to Rolli's success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers. A key to Rolli's success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers.

Less is more

A landmark of Rolli's writing is an economy of words. "I try to be as efficient as possible. As attention spans decrease, people don't have the time or patience for wordiness. I don't want to be skimmed. An efficient style forces readers to take in every word-or they'd be lost," he says.

"Time is precious. I try to bring something enjoyable to every sentence and paragraph and want people to feel the time they spent perusing my work wasn't wasted." Critics appreciate his brevity. Of Plumstuff, Caprice Hogg of Cloud Lake Literary writes, "This is a book for those who truly love words. The words chosen are descriptive and lyrical and to the point. This shows the talent of the author, because it is no easy feat to bring about emotion with only a few syllables. In good writing and in good art, it is far easier to express oneself in lengthy diatribes; to use words and lines sparingly is an achievement."

Rolli the early adopter

A key to Rolli's success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers. "It's a lot easier to sell something when you have a built-in audience that's interested in your work. You can promote anything you publish, sharing links and attracting new readers and fans," he points out. Social media has been invaluable to the artist during the pandemic: "If I post a little video of a reading, for example, I get thousands of views-and sell books, too. You'd never get that many people (or sales) at an in-person event. I hardly ever bother with the latter anymore."

Rolli and fellow coffee aficionado Annabel Townend (aka Dr. Coffee), the owner of The Penny University Bookstore. Townsend's PhD thesis was about ideas of quality in the coffee industry. 
Rolli and fellow coffee aficionado Annabel Townend (aka Dr. Coffee), the owner of The Penny University Bookstore. Townsend's PhD thesis was about ideas of quality in the coffee industry.

How do you define success?

He doesn't stop too often to think about his success, though. "Success is relative. Compared to some, I'm an abject failure," Rolli remarks. His main goal is constant improvement: "I've always been thoroughly unimpressed with myself. That may not be a bad thing, as it pushes me to do better and be better and keep refining my craft," he says. "I've produced a large body of work, but I've only just begun. I have a million ideas and ambitions." Another goal is standing out from the crowd. Throughout his career, he has developed a distinct style in writing and cartoons. He explains, "People can look at it right away and say, 'That's a Rolli piece.' That's something I really strove for. I try to be as distinctive as I can, so I don't get lost in the shuffle. If your work doesn't stick out, you might as well pack it in."

Randomness allows one to discovers not only new authors but entire fields of knowledge one otherwise wouldn't encounter," he reasons. "Randomness is my mantra. It's the only way I find new books, music, artwork and even friends. Life is random, so one might as well follow suit."

A people person too

Coffee is not the only thing that inspires Rolli: "People inspire me. I'm a people watcher, an eavesdropper. That's half the fun of going to cafes or rambling downtown. All the ideas you could ever use in a hundred lifetimes are right there waiting for you - and ripe for the picking," he says. Rolli also believes randomness is important to inspiration.

"I'll wander into a shop or library, run my hand along the book spines, and pluck a volume. I don't follow prize culture. Grown adults with heads on their shoulders don't need to be told what to read. Randomness allows one to discovers not only new authors but entire fields of knowledge one otherwise wouldn't encounter," he reasons. "Randomness is my mantra. It's the only way I find new books, music, artwork and even friends. Life is random, so one might as well follow suit."

 With nowhere to go to find good coffee during the pandemic lockdowns, Rolli taught himself "to crudely play the keyboard" and started writing songs, releasing three EPs - Cahoots, Cahoots II and Cahoots III - with collaborator Duke Sims, lead singer of the legendary Brooklyn band Shinobi Ninja. While Sims plays everything on the records, the albums are credited to both artists. "I'm taking a stand for songwriters, who generally get booted to the sidelines. A songwriter ought to be in the band and have his picture on the cover. Songwriting is, after all, the most important instrument. There's no music without it." On his process, he says, "I hear the melody first, then the bass line. Once I've figured out the chords, I write up the sheet music and send it to my collaborators, who do the rest. It's great fun and a change from my usual work. I routinely get drunk off it."

Rolli says anything more than 25 cups a coffee a day is excessive. Rolli says anything more than 25 cups a coffee a day is excessive.

What's next for Rolli?

He's finishing up a number of projects, including a humourous, illustrated autobiography, and a collection of his most popular cartoons and drawings. A Canadian production company has acquired the rights to his short story "The Ashtray" and is currently developing it into a feature-length film to be directed by Vancouver's Jennesia Pedri. "I'm looking forward to that. I'd like to get a cameo in it - drinking coffee in the background, perhaps," he muses.

Follow Rolli on Twitter @rolliwrites and pick up his books on his website at rollistuff.com or at The Penny University Bookstore in Regina. Check out his cartoons here.

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The letter is dated Nov. 14, 1951 and advises Miss Lydia Winkler that her leave of absence from Dec. 8 until Dec. 22 was not granted by the Regina School Board because she had not followed the secretary-treasurer's advice and resigned.

She'd asked for the leave in order to get married and, once married, it was necessary that she resign "to conform to the regulations of the Board." Only two years earlier, trustees had praised Miss Winkler for her "excellent work" and appointed her to the permanent staff.

Whether Miss Winkler had merely neglected to write the resignation letter or whether it was a small act of defiance, I'll never know.

What I do know is that she complied. On a wickedly cold December day, she became the beautiful bride of a handsome chiropractor, Donald Bramham. Lydia would later become an extraordinary mother, an elementary school principal, a member of the University of Regina's first graduating class, founding president of the University of Regina's alumni association and a member of the University of Saskatchewan Senate.

Lydia Bramham on the U of R campus in the 1970s. Photo by Bruce Pendlebury Lydia Bramham on the U of R campus in the 1970s. Photo by Bruce Pendlebury

This year -- more than 70 years and only a few days after Mom died at age 93 - I found that 1951 letter signed by secretary-treasurer Z.H. Hamilton and three copies of it tucked in books and jumbled amid photos and other papers.

Although Lydia gave every indication of being a feminist, she never described herself that way. For her, it belied how much she had loved being a stay-at-home mother when my older brother, Jack, and I were little. Throughout her life, she argued that a child's earliest experiences are crucial to their development.

The daughter of homesteaders, Lydia grew up on a hardscrabble, mixed farm during the Depression. Rosenfeld school - either two miles away or three depended on the telling -- had only one room with teachers barely older than some of the students.

"Children are a joy that never ends. Upon them and how they are taught rests the fate or fortune of tomorrow's world," she said at her retirement in 1993.

As for profession, "True teachers give not only of their wisdom, but also of their faith and lovingness."

The daughter of homesteaders, Lydia grew up on a hardscrabble, mixed farm during the Depression. Rosenfeld school - either two miles away or three depended on the telling -- had only one room with teachers barely older than some of the students.

According to her daughter, Daphne Bramham, Lydia was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo. According to her daughter, Daphne Bramham, Lydia was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo.

She was described on her final Grade 7 report grade in 1941 as a "clever student" who was "sometimes selfish. . . but cooperative." Frequently ill with pneumonia, Lydia had missed most of that school year and the year before.

My parents were each other's best friend. They worked hard together with few gendered divisions about his job or hers. They supported each other in their careers, complemented each other.

High school was a combination of in-room teaching and correspondence classes, followed by "Normal School" in Moose Jaw.

Every lesson and every experience that she'd missed as a farm kid was something she wanted for all children. For us, childhood was flurry of lessons - a mix of sports and culture that included swimming, skating, tap dancing, ballet, French and music.

We learned to swing hammers and not fall off the roof at ages that now might be considered inappropriate, as we 'helped' Mom and Dad build the cottage at Katepwa.

My parents were each other's best friend. They worked hard together with few gendered divisions about his job or hers. They supported each other in their careers, complemented each other. They revelled in the time they spent in Palm Springs after retirement. When Dad had a catastrophic stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak, Mom refused to leave his side. Although had never wanted to be a nurse, Lydia cared for him  at home until the final days of his life in 2007.

Lydia surveys an Alaskan glacier during a June 2010 cruise to the northern state. It was her first helicopter ride. Lydia surveys an Alaskan glacier during a June 2010 cruise to the northern state. It was her first helicopter ride.

My mother's generation is the one that Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique, post-war women who set aside dreams to raise families only to wonder as they fed the laundry through the wringer washer whether this was all their lives would be.

I don't know whether my Mom read Friedan, but by the time I was in school full days she needed more in her life that sewing sequins on costumes, modelling in local fashion shows, having tea parties, making ceramic figurines and learning to swim. (Her Red Cross Intermediate badge and certificate from 1964 were also among her papers when she died.)

In September 1974 - more than 25 years after she became the first among six siblings to go to post-secondary school -- the long-delayed letter arrived. Having completed her final requirements in August for a Bachelor of Education, Lydia Bramham was invited to receive her degree at the October convocation.

So, it was back to school first as a student taking correspondence classes through the University of Saskatchewan and later through what was then the Regina campus. We all did homework together at the dining room table.

Lydia also went back to work. By the 1960s, the Regina School Board was desperate for  teachers to meet the demands of the Baby Boom generation.

In September 1974 - more than 25 years after she became the first among six siblings to go to post-secondary school -- the long-delayed letter arrived. Having completed her final requirements in August for a Bachelor of Education, Lydia Bramham was invited to receive her degree at the October convocation.

Lydia relaxing at home. Lydia relaxing at home.

Her relief, excitement and pride in the accomplishment is unforgettable. So too is my own naivete and youthful conceit that day. She curtly rejected my suggestion that she wait until the spring convocation so that we could graduate together.

It is easy to sum up a person's life by listing their accomplishments and affiliations. For our parents, it's tempting to filter their lives mainly through that prism of our own relationship to them.

Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012. Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012.

But lives are so much more than that as I've learned sifting through my mother's boxes. She'd saved cards, letters and documents dating back more than 50 years. There were photos of her family that I'd never seen. And there were mementoes from hundreds of thousands of hours that I'm so grateful to have shared with her.

She was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo. She was fiercely protective and could also be fierce. She fought for me when my father didn't want me to go to Germany to work for the summer under a university-sponsored program. It wasn't the working time, he objected to, he feared for me travelling for six weeks alone on a continent he'd never visited and never really had much interest in seeing.

For the first time, Mom was often forced her to rely on me.

But Dad had no comeback when Mom said, "Fine, then I will go and travel with her."

Despite her German ancestry, Mom had never travelled abroad before even though she'd longed to. Travelling through Europe, we became and remained best friends.

For the first time, Mom was often forced her to rely on me. It was partly because I could speak German and my French was better than hers. But after two months working as a chambermaid at a resort on the island of Foehr, I knew more about the differences between Europeans and us and how strange Canadians often seemed to them.

Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012. Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012.

As a daughter, I knew little about her life in the classroom and as the voice of authority in the principal's office. But I came to know more about it once she moved from home to independent living and, later, to long-term care.

With each more, her life was distilled even further to those boxes of saved cards, documents, photos, scrapbooks and photo albums. They were snippets of a life lived with joy from green-face in a witch costume while she was a school principal to doubled-over with laughter when Mom, Dad and I celebrated one New Year's in Singapore to shrieking in terror at the monkeys in a Malaysian forest to walking on an Alaskan glacier after her first-ever helicopter ride.

There's a drawing of her - almost a caricature of my Mom who was renowned for her beautiful clothes, her earrings and her long hair swept up in a bun. They remembered the Mexican lunches, but most of the kids described her as kind, fair and funny.

Every time, I visited we'd go through some of them and, inevitably, there were mementoes from the various schools she'd been at and notes from students. She had an incredible memory and it was only in her final few years that she couldn't point to class photos from 30 or 40 years earlier and remember almost every child's name.

There's a scrapbook I've kept that was made by the teachers and students at McLeod School in 1981 when Mom was leaving her first posting as principal to go to a larger school. There's a drawing of her - almost a caricature of my Mom who was renowned for her beautiful clothes, her earrings and her long hair swept up in a bun. They remembered the Mexican lunches, but most of the kids described her as kind, fair and funny.

In our family, Mom was never really thought of as funny - that was one of Dad's strengths.

But I finally recognized that years later. Coincidentally, it was when the two of us were honoured to, together, be the masters (mistresses?) of ceremonies at the Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards.

For those of us blessed with wonderful parents, it is devastating when they die no matter what age we are.

Annoyingly, my mother had insisted us spending almost the entire day-of going over and over the script. And maybe it was that glass of wine that was talking, but once we got to the microphone, my Mom tossed it aside and was wonderfully funny as her unscripted self.

For those of us blessed with wonderful parents, it is devastating when they die no matter what age we are. My friend, Anne Giardini, was also deeply connected to her mother. She didn't know my mother but when I told her, she recounted the day after her own had died.

Anne and her sister went to buy extra copies of the newspaper to send to friends and relatives. Ahead of them in line, another woman was also buying the newspaper. With tears in her eyese, she turned to Anne and her sister, 'Did you know that Carol Shields has died.'

Lydia was a great Riders fan and she and her husband, Donald, had season tickets for close 60 years. Fandom is a family trait. This photo was taken July 25, 2009 - a day before her birthday - and the day of a Riders game that she went to with me, her grandson, Duncan (left) and son Jack. Both of whom are also UofR alumni. Lydia was a great Riders fan and she and her husband, Donald, had season tickets for close 60 years. Fandom is a family trait. This photo was taken July 25, 2009 - a day before her birthday - and the day of a Riders game that she went to with me, her grandson, Duncan (left) and son Jack. Both of whom are also UofR alumni.

Unlike Anne's mother, mine wasn't a Nobel Prize winner whose death was reported on the front page. And that was the point of Anne's story.

She said the death of every mother should be front page news because one of the greatest comfort a child can have is knowing that they don't grieve alone.

Daphne Bramham graduated from the University of Regina in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and German. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from the now renamed Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), a Master of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University and an honorary doctor of letters from Capilano University. She is a past recipient of the Alumni Crowning Achievement Award for her work as a journalist.

In addition to Lydia's longstanding association with the University of Regina, her husband Donald Bramham was a member of the University's Senate and both their son, Jack, and grandson, Duncan, are alumni.

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