Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Break

In my last post I listed what I hoped to find on the weekend. We enjoyed... early morning visit to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, the largest of its kind in the world with the Guinness record for the most maple syrup served in one day.

I found...

... lots of Skunk Cabbage blooms in the swampy ground beside a creek.

We watched...

...two Bluebirds in love, barely in sight with a camera, but fun to watch with binoculars.

Another single Bluebird sang a lovely spring song from an overhead wire.

I didn't find...

... any Great Blue Herons at the heronry and I think they may have relocated this year. There were none in the many ponds and streams we passed but my husband reported seeing one in the river early in the morning last week.

I am taking a short blogging break for this busy week and will be back here and visiting other blogs after Easter. It looks like March will enter and exit like a lamb this year in our part of the world. I hope everyone is having a wonderful spring season.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Flowers: Early Spring Tree Blossoms

Red Maple Tree

March is acting like the fickle month that it really is. Temperatures have plunged and we have bitter, below freezing temperatures today. But the sun is shining and the skies are clear.

Female flowers (and our dog in the background)

Red Maple trees are blooming and add subtle colour above the brown landscape. It will be a month before any other tree flowers around here and these maples will not have leaves before the end of April.

Male flowers

When the Red Maple blooms it is time for maple syrup festivals, skunk cabbage flowers, Great Blue Herons and Bluebirds. And I will spend time on the weekend looking for all of them.

Female and Male Red Maple flowers

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Prayer for Later Years

Happy faced moon- March 18, 2010

A while ago I talked to a young nurse who is now working at the hospital on our unit. We were discussing her co-workers and I mentioned a very capable older nurse who was working on her line.

The young nurse said, “ It isn’t nice working with someone who knows everything and makes sure things are done her way.”

I am about the same age as the older nurse and have worked long enough to know a lot about my job. I wondered if anyone thought my attitude toward less experienced staff was that of a “know-it-all”. Several of my co-workers are the age of my children and it is easy to act like a den mother around them.

Empress of Dirt blogger, Melissa (she inspires me weekly) did a recent post featuring framed quotes which are on her mother’s bathroom walls. (Bathroom walls are a good place to hang things you want to think about. We had a calendar hanging in front of the toilet when I was a child and I learned to count by 7’s just by looking at the numbers every day...)

One of the frames held this prayer which is found in several variations on the internet. Its source is unknown although in some places it is attributed to a 17th century nun in England. I don’t think Catholic nuns were very welcome in England in that century so doubt this is true. Whoever penned these works was very wise. I should hang them above my office desk or opposite the commode so I will think about them every day.

This was my favourite version.

A Prayer for Later Years

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old.
Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit
of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples' affairs.
With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom,
it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it.
But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others;
help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains --
they increase with the increasing years
and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn't agree with that of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint --
it is so hard to live with some of them --
but a harsh old person is one of the devil's masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy.
Let me discover merits where I had not expected them,
and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any.
And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Remember Whensday: South African Game Reserves

Sandland Brother and neighbour David Kennard at Hluhluwe Park

Blogger Gaelyn of Geogypsy is visiting South Africa this month and I have followed her posts with interest. She did a 30 km hike of the Drakensburgs, visited Kruger National Park, learned to drive on the left side of the road, and is continuing her adventures for another week. I am pretty sure I have been to Kruger as well, but I only remember going to Hluhluwe National Park in Zululand. (pronounced Shou-shloo-ee) We stayed in thatched-roofed cottages and during the day viewed wildlife from the safety of our car. I remember how cold it was at night and that Grandma, (who visited us for six months in 1960), would put a hot water bottle in the bed to warm it for us.

Dad taking a picture of rhinos

Besides the pictures he took, Dad also took home movies and my memories of the game parks are more from seeing the action from his 8 mm projector as we were growing up. He has given each of us a DVD conversion of these films but I don't know how to upload them in a digital file. One memorable clip was taken as he approached a cranky White Rhinoceros at the side of the road. These large animals can move quickly and Dad had to run back to safety of the car with his movie camera still running. As children we always knew the story had a good ending, but we liked to see the blur of ground as he ran away from the charging rhino.

Dad on an Ostrich

I wasn't along on the trip when Dad rode an ostrich, but the action is also captured in the old movies. He was about 28 years old when the pictures in this post were taken.

The term 'Big Five' refers to five of Africa's greatest wild animals;- the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros. I don't remember seeing a leopard but have seen the others. I think I was most impressed with giraffes and antelope though.

The big five were widely hunted in the past and are now vulnerable due to poaching and loss of habitat. If I were to return to South Africa for a visit, I would be more impressed with the animals on the game reserves. Isn't it odd that I remember the long car trip to get there, the cottages, beds and tea rooms the most?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tundra Swans and Blackbirds

Thousands of Tundra Swans rest in ponds near Alymer Ontario in mid to late March during their northern migration. I visited the area for the first time last year and wrote about it here.

I stopped by again last Friday and took this 45 second video clip to capture the sound of the birds. (The video has vanished twice, so I will just post the link to my YouTube upload). There are four platforms available which provide good views of birds.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the blackbirds have returned in large numbers including the cocky Common Grackles. I like their attitude and swagger and that bright yellow eye.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Health Care Musings

I have worked in the Canadian health care system since 1975 and even longer if you count my unpaid hours while training to be a physiotherapist. I presently work in chronic continuing care with patients who are generally the elderly with multiple chronic medical conditions. Most of them have worked, raised families and lived productive and independent lives. I try to remember this when they are confused or unable to help themselves perform the most basic human functions. I like to listen to their stories and laugh at their jokes. I once walked into the room of a lady in her mid-nineties who was struggling to roll over in bed. Her bare legs were waving in the air above her diapered bottom. She told me,

"I feel like a hooker who is not getting paid."

I laughed and she laughed as I helped her get up. I asked her if she wanted to get into her chair and she responded,

"As long as it is not electric!"

The queen of one liners even when confused, she was likely the life of the party in her younger years.

A wheelchair covered with a sheet is stored in an alcove by the stairs. Some creative person with a sense of humour added the facial features seen in the picture above. Perhaps they were trying to intimidate Francine, our favourite in-house ghost.

Very few people leave this unit to go home. Some are too ill to move to a nursing home and will die here. But they receive compassionate and ethical medical care at the end of their lives. Which brings me to my point...

The Canadian health care system is not perfect, nor does it cover everything. Primary health care (family doctors) and hospitalization costs are covered but we pay for dental care, optometry, prescriptions (except for people over 65 years old), medical equipment and other extended health benefits. We have wait lists for non-urgent procedures such as joint replacements and other elective surgery. We do not euthanize the sick and elderly. Some areas of the country are under-serviced, especially more remote and sparsely populated communities. But we do not have to worry about receiving hospital bills which would bankrupt a family. And people can opt out of the system as it is not compulsory to have a health card.

I do not understand the strong resistance to universal health care in America. I have read outrageous claims on forwarded emails and some blogs which have made me angry, particularly those which spread exaggerations and lies about Canada's health care system. Many evangelical religious organizations in particular are zealous in resisting both Obama and his reforms. I wonder how many churches pay insurance and hospital bills for members (or non-members) who are in need? The Old Order Mennonites in Canada opt out of our health care system but their community covers costs when they are hospitalized.

Change is not easy and paradigm shifts can be very stressful. Health care reform is a big undertaking for any government. It will take a creative and unified effort to make a new system work well. And I don't want to receive hate-filled email forwards or see caricatures of Obama looking like Hitler or a monkey, especially from people who call themselves christians.

First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all,
and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God.
This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior.
1 Timothy 2:1-3

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Flowers: Snowdrops

Snowdrops are winter flowers which bloom before March equinox in the northern hemisphere. I don't remember seeing them and this year I asked my Facebook friends for leads on finding some. We have had exceptionally warm weather in March and the snow was pretty much gone by last weekend. While we have enjoyed sunny days, the nights have not been cold enough for the maple trees and sap runs are very low this year. I hoped I was not too late in searching for these early flowers.

My friend Cheryl let me know that a house in her neighbourhood had Snowdrops in bloom in the borders. I stopped by yesterday and the flower beds at the front and side of the corner property were covered in dainty white blooms. I really have to remember to get some bulbs in the fall and plant them in my garden!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire

An interesting note about the tea cup in the picture for Ann...

I inherited a tea set of Belleek China from Ireland and this is one cup and saucer. From their website;-"Belleek China was founded by John Caldwell Bloomfield in 1857. He founded his company with the ethos of perfection and the persuit of high standards. Each piece is handmade and handpainted by the most skilled craftsmen in County Fermanagh, Ireland."

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Template Options for Blogger

Local blogger Melissa of Empress of Dirt has a regular feature on her blog called Linky Dinks. I look forward to checking out her internet gleanings and always find something new and interesting. This week she linked to the Blogger in Draft template creator. It is very easy to use and I had fun playing with it. I created new templates for this blog and Come Home for Supper. If you have a Blogger blog you may want to check it out. Blogger in Draft has a number of newer features including the ability to add pages to your blog.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Today is the 20th anniversary of Grandma Devins' death. I think of her every day and realize that she really does live on in me. She taught me many things and the decisions I make, the things I say, the hobbies I enjoy are greatly influenced by her example.

Years ago my aunt dropped by to see Grandma and I said to her, "Do you ever look tired!" Grandma gently scolded me later and told me that my comment made my aunt visibly sag and even look more fatigued. I never forgot that and usually try to say things which are positive and uplifting.

Today is rainy and cold so I cleaned out a drawer. Grandma always said she was never bored and if there was nothing else to do, there was always a drawer to tidy. I found this picture of her taken in June 1899 when she was three years old.

Families are so important yet their influence is declining in Western nations. Birth rates have dropped precipitously since I was born, marriage is delayed and relationships are often casual and transitory. Children may have many blendings of siblings, grandparent figures and extended family as their parents move from relationship to relationship. I see elderly people at work who are lonely at the end of their lives as their families are separated by distance or are too busy to visit and assist with their care. Families are multi-generational units which work best when they are together.

Other cultures have maintained much stronger family ties (for now). I rarely see elderly parents of immigrant families waiting for nursing homes as their cultural norm is to care for their parents. I receive forwarded emails warning that Europe will be overtaken by Muslims in the next couple of decades. The truth is, European birthrates are low, Muslims have strong families and higher birthrates so their population will increase. The same is true in Canada where immigration is necessary to maintain our population.

Various pictures of four generations of my family including Grandma

I am not being critical of people placing parents in nursing homes, nor of increased immigration and a multi-cultural society. Our own family is not increasing exponentially, in fact its members are decreasing in number with each generation. One of my friends told me she is worried about being alone in her old age. She is far from her birth family, has no children or extended family, and has had a succession of failed relationships. Right now a career is keeping her occupied but what will happen if she becomes ill?

Moral, cultural and spiritual absolutes are dissolving. Some would argue that this is a good thing, but in my opinion, the erosion of the family unit is damaging and costly to society. Generations to come will be affected by decisions we make now. I am thankful for those in past generations who invested in my life and influenced me to be who I am today.

(Click image to enlarge)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pinniped Colonies and Human Mimicry

Sea Lions in San Francisco- October 2009

California is home to various seals and sea lions and we enjoyed viewing them when we visited last fall. There were many sea lions in San Francisco at Pier 39 but they suddenly left the area at the end of November for reasons unknown. Apparently a few are now returning. (source). They were smelly, noisy and amusing to watch and I am glad we got to see them.

Harbour Seals near Pebble Beach, California

We saw many Harbour Seals on the 17-mile Drive at Pebble Beach near Monterey, California. They sunned themselves on rocks near the shore while balanced on ledges and steep slopes. Brown Pelicans and Cormorants were their close neighbours.

Elephant Seals near Point Piedras Blancas, California

South of Big Sur along California Highway 1, we stopped at the beach near Point Piedras Blancas where many hundreds of Elephant Seals were lined up on the sand. They were mostly inert but every so often one would flick some sand on its back. In the picture above, a seal is sanding its back with a very subtle flick of its flipper. These seals are the largest pinnipeds and are much larger than Harbour Seals. Males can weigh up to two tons and reach a length of ten feet.

It was too cold in late October for the average person to sun themselves on the beach but humans can exhibit behaviour similar to these seals and sea lions. I was looking at pictures on the BBC website last week which showed 5000 naked humans supine on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Artist Spencer Tunick has done similar photo shoots in other parts of the world. His work is not erotic in nature, but reminds me of pinnipeds on rocks and beaches. Some poses are reminiscent of pictures taken in Nazi concentration camps. It does not take much to erase human individuality and make a group of homo sapiens look just like another herd of mammals.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Red-winged Blackbird Song

Male Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird is one of the commonest birds in North America and one of the earliest to arrive here in early spring. I usually see or hear them in the first few days of March, about ten days or so before Robins return.

The Becka phoned me at work to say she heard a RW Blackbird today. (she says she is not interested in birding!) So we took the dog out to the field at the end of our street and sure enough, two males were calling back and forth. One of them posed nicely right in front of me while he belted out his call...conk-a-reeeeeeeee!

Sad to say, this may be the last year the birds return to this old landfill site. A section of the park is now a sledding and biking hill, and the field above is to be developed further this year. Two soccer fields, a parking lot, picnic area and splash pad will be constructed.

Frogs sing and breed in the vernal ponds, Red-tailed hawks and Kestrels hunt for small rodents, ducks, Kildeer and blackbirds nest in the cattails and grass. Many other birds and animals are at home here in the middle of a subdivision. Thirty-five years ago this area was on the edge of the city and undeveloped but houses and malls now sprawl several kilometers beyond this point.

and the squeeze continues...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Winter is not over but...

Unseasonably warm temperatures and sunshine are fooling us into believing that spring arrived on the first of March. I prefer to call the weather a treat rather than a trick. I start work as early as possible in order to leave in time to enjoy some day time hours outdoors. The melting snow turned many trails into mudholes so I frequent this one with the dry boardwalk. A female Mallard duck thought it was a good place for a walk too.

Snowmen are melting, migrating Trumpeter Swans are on the river, and cyclists are in shirt sleeves and bare legs. Hardy Canadians start wearing shorts when the temperature rises to a balmy 5C. Birds are visible, very audible and busy with territorial pursuits and mating behaviour.

The little duck on the boardwalk came right up to my feet to greet me. Happy Spring to you! Winter will have a few more gasps but we know its days are numbered.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Happy Birthday Aunt Lois

If you want to understand today,
you have to search yesterday.

Pearl Buck

Today is a milestone birthday for Aunt Lois, but I won't say the number because you wouldn't believe me anyway. Aunt Lois is the eldest of my father's two sisters, sisters who are very different but are still very close.

Aunt Lois on her wedding day (I love the dresses!)

In the past few years, I have come to know Aunt Lois much better through on line correspondence and in person. We are alike in many ways, in looks, temperment and interests. She is the family historian and has worked to keep the extended family in touch with each other. She has scanned old photos and kept track of events in past generations. Recently she gave me a box of letters including several from her grandfather which were written when he worked on the Panama Canal project in the early 20th century. She understands that generational history lives on in each of us even though we may not always recognize its influence until we are older.

Aunt Ruth, me, Dad, Aunt Lois in 1976

Aunt Lois is wise, patient, honest and insightful. I appreciate the time I have spent with her and the things she has taught me. Her life has had its ups and downs but this has not made her bitter nor made her lose faith in God. She is a special lady indeed.

Happy Birthday!!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Spring's Gentle Entrance

"In the spring when gentle Sister South Wind
kissed away all the snow and ice..."

This line is taken from Thornton W. Burgess' book Mother West Wind's Children. ( I still love to read Burgess' books)

Our cloudy skies have opened up to beautiful, clear sunshine this week with cool northerly winds. This slow warming has prevented a rapid thaw which would cause ice jams and flooding of rivers and streams. We had about half the usual amount of snow this winter (taking note that winter is not yet over) but temperatures were cold and the Grand River near the hospital was frozen over most of the time. Last March I posted pictures of bus-sized ice chunks thrown up on the banks below the hospital. This year the ice is thinning and moving slowly downstream.

These are days when I can hardly wait to get out of work and soak up some sunlight on a local trail. Black ice is treacherous in the morning as melt water freezes on pavement, but by afternoon walking is easy and puddle jumping is necessary.

Goldeneye in foreground,
m. and f. Common Mergansers sleeping in background

Sister South Wind is forecasted to make an appearance on the weekend and she will likely encourage many birds to travel in a northerly direction. Common Mergansers, Goldeneye Ducks and American Tree Sparrows will be leaving us shortly and I predict that Red winged Blackbirds will be heard in these marshes in the next couple of days. Black-capped Chickadees are starting to pair off in preparation for their breeding season and spring songs of many birds fill the trees.

American Tree Sparrow...soon to leave

Have a wonderful weekend. I am looking forward to this one!!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Happy Birthday to The Becka

Becka and Pa in 1987

There is a large cluster of late February to mid-March birthdays in my husband's immediate and extended family. When the cousins were young, we used to have a joint party with their grandparents, aunts and uncles. The Becka, our youngest daughter, was one year old in these pictures. She was excited to see her grandparents' little poodle who was sitting on Pa's lap. Becka doesn't remember Pa as he passed away later the same year.

Becka and Mimi

And here is Becka on her grandmother Mimi's lap at the same party. Mimi watched Becka grow to a teenager before she also left us.

Today marks another birthday for The Becka. Her cousins are grown and we no longer have a group March birthday party. Perhaps we should...

Happy Birthday Becka!

(and Josh, Cindy, Trish, Tommy, T.J., and Pat...and that is just one side of the family!)

Follow this link for more Remember Whensday posts.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Goodbye February, Welcome March

Whoever decided to make February a short month must have lived in the Northern Hemisphere in a place where it was endlessly white and grey and cold. The word cloud above was created on Wordle using February's blog posts. I won't point out the most frequently used words as they have had enough use this season. February had its highlights such as our weekend at Algonquin Park and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

I am not a fan of professional sports but these games made me proud to be Canadian. American athletes excelled as well, but the gold medal hockey game was the final test of sibling rivalry between our country and our good neighbours to the south. Through the magic of Facebook, Yahoo messenger and telephone, we watched the game with my brother and nephew in the UAE, our daughter in Mexico and other family and friends in various cities in Ontario.

I put aside the lesson plan in Sunday School yesterday and allowed the children to cut out newspaper pictures of the Olympics. We talked about the verses in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 which make a comparison between athletic training and our lives as Christians. Here is a paraphrase from The Message.

You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race.
Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win.
All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

Welcome March! The weather might be sloppy it is time to live my life like an athlete, with discipline and a goal, but enjoying each day of the journey.