Thursday, March 31, 2011

Farewell to March

I cannot decide if March is exiting like a lamb or a lion, but I do know the month was not very spring-like. It was more like January with lots of snow, sunny skies and very cold temperatures. We had our largest snowfall of the year one week ago and it has not melted under the arctic high pressure mass. But a full week of sunshine is always welcome, even if winter coats and mittens are needed.
Mrs. Northern Cardinal looking for handouts
I walked along a trail in a city park when I got out of work the day after the big storm. People put generous amounts of bird seed on platforms and feeders along the boardwalk each day and the birds are used to their human benefactors.

No food for Mr. Cardinal
 I usually have seeds in my coat pocket but had put on a warmer coat this day with empty pockets. Surprisingly, all the bird feeders were empty and either no one had come out in the snow, or the birds had eaten everything in an effort to keep warm.

My first Song Sparrow of the season
I was literally mobbed by Chickadees and even the more cautious birds watched me expectantly from nearby shrubs. I had nothing to offer them and felt like I had invited guests but had not prepared a meal. The park has plenty of natural food sources but these birds are accustomed to finer fare.

American Tree Sparrow
I returned on Friday afternoon and again, the feeders were empty. This time I was prepared with plenty of peanuts and black sunflower seeds. Now here is a happy group of birds!

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Song Sparrow
We have American Robins all over the neighbourhood and the cold weather has kept them from digging in lawns for worms and grubs. They gather in groups around crabapple and mountain ash trees which still have frozen fruit hanging from bare branches and clean them off in a few hours. These Robins were looking for fallen fruit in the snow.

Daffodil shoots in the foreground
From a bird's point of view, March has been a lion for most of the month. But they greet each cold dawn with spring songs because winter will not last forever.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Water, water everywhere

World Water Day was observed earlier this week on March 22nd. Water- so essential to life yet so abundant in Canada that we take it for granted. According to Nature Canada "each (Canadian) uses about 57 gallons (260 litres) of water each day - about 10 times the global average."

This month we have had days of rain, warnings about dangerously swollen creeks and rivers, and our largest snowfall of the season. My tap water is safe to drink and our water pressure is always good.

I downloaded Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to my Kindle. Most everyone has heard the line,
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink.

The parched Mariner, cursed by Night-mare Life-in-death, lived on after all his ship mates died. He survived the harshness of the ocean's 'too much-too little water' and went on to roam the countryside telling others his story of death and redemption.

This wetland is located adjacent to one of our city's water treatment facilities. I come here often to look for birds who are drawn to the shallow swamp during migration or as a home to raise their young. A city subdivision surrounds it and a few irresponsible people use it as a trash dump. But local schools teach students about the life these waters bring to fish, birds, amphibians, mammals and people.

I am certain our family does not use 57 gallons of water per person a day. But heavy water users in our community add to our daily average.

Industry, agriculture, energy production, car washes, supermarket produce sprays, hospitals...

We wash our hands 100 times or more a day at the hospital. Infection control monitors stand in the halls with clipboards checking staff compliance with hand cleansing each time we enter and leave a patient's room. Now we use alcohol foam rather than soap and water but large amounts of water are used in health facilities daily. I watch a patient, hands feeble, mind dulled by dementia as she cleans her dentures at the sink. The tap runs for 10 minutes. I say nothing as she goes through one of the few rituals she remembers.

Some patients I see can no longer swallow water, their throat muscles weakened by strokes and degenerative disease. We scoop sweet flavoured and thickened goo into their mouths when they ask for a drink.
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink. 

It is good to be reminded of things we take for granted. I am grateful for health. I am grateful for the abundance of fresh water in Canada, the beauty of our lakes and rivers, and will be a responsible steward of our resources.

Here is Nature Canada's website with more information on water supply and conservation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

Vermilion Flycatcher- Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico
This is the only time of year when people in the north get excited about seeing Crows, Canada Geese, Blackbirds, and Grackles as they return for the spring season. I saw my first three Turkey Vultures this week, beautiful in the air yet so homely up close.

My dad has shared pictures of colourful birds he has seen on their property in western Mexico over the winter. This week he sent me another beautiful photo, this time a Vermilion Flycatcher. Our flycatchers here are feathered in brown, olive and pale yellow at their brightest.

My best bird picture of the week looks sinister in comparison, but I was strangely happy to see this noisy pair on the bare branches of the tree.

Common Grackles- Southern Ontario, Canada

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Miracle or Providence?

There are several definitions of the word miracle, but it usually brings to mind a supernatural, inexplicable occurrence that is divine in nature. We all want a miracle to make up for our human shortfalls or perhaps to show we have special favour with God. The word is often over-used to describe what are really natural events.

It was a miracle that our team won the game
We keep in touch through the miracle of the internet.
Conception and life are miracles.

Miracle drugs, vitamins, foods and lotions are supposed to erase the effects of age and disease. It doesn’t matter if you have smoked for 50 years or if you have a lifestyle related illness. People will rush out to buy a “miracle” ingredient to compensate for the abuse of their body. Those in need may be quick to ask others to pray for a miracle on their behalf. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive a request like that online or from people I am in contact with each day.

For a long time I have observed that miracles are very rare events. While I believe they can occur, I cannot say I have ever seen one even though I have heard many people claim them. Within my faith background it is pretty much a heresy to say that. A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. It is a visible demonstration of supernatural power that reveals or confirms God’s will. The Bible records many miracles in the Old and New Testaments and believers are told that if they have faith as a grain of mustard seed, they can move mountains.

Working in a hospital I see disease at work every day. People get sick, some get better and others die. We all experience age related decline. Some cancers grow quickly, others respond well to treatment or go into spontaneous remission. Other diseases such as multiple sclerosis are characterized by relapses and remissions. Disease follows a natural course and has the same effect on those with faith or those without faith. The laws of nature explain earthquakes and other natural disasters which have claimed many lives in recorded history. 

While I may not observe miracles around me, I am aware of the providence of God on a daily basis. Divine providence is defined as "the divine intervention in the affairs of man within the confines of natural law," or "the foreseeing and guardianship of God which shows itself in a manifestation of His divine care or direction." What we may consider a coincidence, beating the odds or a lucky break, may be seen in retrospect to be God’s provision and guidance in our lives. There are many scriptures which speak of this such as Proverbs 3:5-6.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Psalm 23 also conveys this same idea. Our path in life will inevitably lead us through difficult, trying experiences. There may not be a divine miracle no matter how much faith we have. Our goal should not be deliverance, but acceptance of God’s work and direction through natural events in our lives. He does not dole out miracles as a reward for good behaviour and that kind of thinking can lead to spiritual pride. But he is God, the provider of all that we need. Often he uses people around us to meet our need and we in turn can bless others in the same way.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? 
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  
As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, 
nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  
nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, 
shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 35-39 

The words of Fanny Crosby's hymn All the Way My Saviour Leads Me come to my mind as expressing the truth of what I believe..."For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well."

HaPpY SpRiNg!!

The super full moon arrived just before the spring equinox which is the reason Easter is so late this year. Our skies were mainly cloudy on Saturday and I was disappointed that I could not see the full moon rise at dusk. Anvilcloud wrote from the Ottawa area,
"Just saw it very low over the horizon on our way home. Very big and orange. Hope you get to see it too." 

My husband stepped out around 10 PM and noticed the skies had cleared and the moon was finally visible. By this time it was high in the sky but it was large and bright. There really is no way to show that this moon is closer to earth than it has been in 18 years.

I am happy that the spring is here with each day bringing more light and new life. A couple of weeks ago I brought some pussywillow and forsythia twigs indoors and forced them to open in the warmth of the house. They sit in an arrangement beside me as a prelude to the season ahead.

"Come, gentle Spring!  Ethereal Mildness!  Come."
  James Thomson  

Here are some amazing pictures of the Super Full Moon from around the world.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Make Greek Yogurt

Plain yogurt has been a favourite food of mine for many years. It was about 1970 when a friend gave Mom some bacterial culture and taught her how to make yogurt in a thermos with sterilized milk. Later, I bought an electric yogurt maker which was used for years until the plastic exterior deteriorated. I visited Israel around 1977 and remember the delicious pots of thick, white, creamy yogurt which were staples at the breakfast buffets we enjoyed. I never developed a taste for sweetened versions, many of which are thickened with other starches. My dairy consumption is down to a minimum in recent years but I do eat cultured milk products from time to time.

There is a Greek yogurt craze at the moment. Containers of no fat Greek yogurt boast 20g of protein per 175 g portion and grocery stores cannot keep them in stock. We used to call Greek yogurt “yogurt cheese” and I made it as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese. Yesterday I ran into a friend at the grocery store who was looking for Greek yogurt as it was recommended at her Weight Watchers group. There was one 500 ml container on the dairy shelf and it cost over $5.00.

So I decided to make some for myself and it was well worth the effort and was considerable cheaper too.

A 750g container of plain no fat yogurt cost me $2.99 at a discount grocery store. This plain yogurt is better tasting than similar products sold by our major dairy companies.

I lined a fine sieve with 3 thicknesses of cheesecloth, placed it over a bowl and dumped the plain yogurt into the sieve.

Within two hours, a little over 250 ml of whey was in the bowl and 500 ml of delicious Greek yogurt was in the sieve. It tasted even better after sitting overnight in the refrigerator and in my opinion, was superior to the container of Greek yogurt I did purchase.

What can you make with Greek yogurt? It is delicious as a parfait with fruit and granola. It can be used as a base for dips like tzatziki or raita. Or you can eat it in a traditional fashion, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with fresh nutmeats. A little goes a long way. Yummy!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Neighbourhoods- Our Global Village

This past Sunday the children's lesson was the familiar story of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke. The definition of neighbour in the parable Jesus told included all people, particularly those with whom we have nothing in common. A neighbour is anyone in need of compassion and assistance. I introduced the Bible lesson with a few pages from Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who* with the repeated line, "A person's a person, no matter how small." Horton the elephant took responsibility for needs of the tiny Whos even when he was ridiculed and persecuted for doing so.

The attention of the world in on Japan and the devastation caused by last week's major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Humanitarian aid has been offered from many governments and individuals as people reach around the world to assist those in great need. Some students in my class had not seen any pictures from Japan and young children should be shielded from graphic media images. But I wanted to share something about the country, its people and culture so the children could identify with their global neighbours who are suffering at this time.  

We made onigiri which is a simple rice ball with or without a filling. Each child took a triangle of sticky rice and garnished it with their choice of nori, sprouts, vegetable and fruit cutouts and edamame. They ate the bento rice balls and asked for more. I was pleasantly surprised with their acceptance of new foods and their interest in people beyond themselves.

We prayed for those in need and talked about ways we can help neighbours close to home and far away. Problems in our world are ever present and it is hard to know how our small contribution will make a difference. We cannot help everyone but that should not stop us from helping someone. As technology shrinks the world, we feel the impact almost immediately when a global neighbour is in trouble. Doing to others as we would have them do for us if we were the ones in need is the golden rule we must practice.

*Dr. Seuss dedicated this book to a Japanese friend and apparently wrote it as an allegory for the American post WW2 occupation of Japan.

Donations for Japan and other needy areas of the world can be made through:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Neighbourhoods- Within the big city

We celebrated the Becka's March birthday with a trip to Toronto on a sunny but very cold and windy day. I used to live in Toronto and have been within an easy drive of the city for forty years, but had never been to Kensington Market. Toronto has several ethnic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Greek Town, Little Italy, Portugal Village and Little India. As the city grew, it incorporated smaller communities which remain unique in the metropolitan area giving Toronto the distinction of being "the city of neighbourhoods."

Kensington Market is pedestrian friendly and streetcars run on the main roads which mark its boundaries. I believe you could purchase anything you wanted in the many small shops and businesses crowded together here. La Tortilleria sold the first fresh, hot authentic corn tortillas I have found outside Mexico. We bought half a kilo along with fresh green salsa and ate them for lunch.

I recognized streets featured in TV shows such as Sharon, Lois and Bram, The Rick Mercer Report and the 1970's sitcom, The King of Kensington. In keeping with its history, several shops sell vintage clothing that would undoubtedly be one-of-a-kind for the wearers.

The many restaurants and specialty food stops make a supermarket boring in comparison. I found great variety and reasonable prices in the fruit and vegetable markets, bakeries and bulk stores.

This isn't Amsterdam and street marijuana is not legal in Canada. But I think there are baby boomers here who have never moved out of the flower child era of the 1960's and 70's.

I like things colourful and interesting and a return trip to Kensington Market will be on my agenda on a warmer day. I am not sure I would want to live in a tiny apartment above a store here but I do like the idea of an urban neighbourhood where a car is not needed. The personal connections would not be as close as in the Paris Plains Church community but it would be possible to intersect with some people on a daily basis.

In these days of rising fuel prices we have to consider ways to decrease our dependence on the automobile. My life would be very inconvenienced without my vehicle because we live in an area of suburban sprawl and conduct all our daily business away from our neighbourhood. There is no easy solution for us at this time in our lives.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Neighbourhoods- Monuments in Stone

This historic church is a thirty minute drive from our home. I came across it on a cold Saturday afternoon last month while looking for Horned Larks along the gravel road. The cobblestone structure was completed in 1845. The congregation gathered stones from nearby fields and gave freely of their time in its construction. I walked around the building admiring the fine workmanship and thought about the amount of cooperative labour involved in such a project.

The West Dumfries Chapel, now known as the the Paris Plains Church, was part of the Methodist Conference until services were discontinued in 1921. A run down school house stands on the same large property and I imagined the picnics, concerts, weddings, funerals, church, school and social events that were held here for the farming community. Everyone was known by name and made a contribution to the local social scene.

An old cemetery which predates the church building is also on the property. The tombstones in the first row were erected in memory of five children from the same family, none of them living to see their first birthday. They are still part of the neighbourhood one and a half centuries later. I walked through the snow reading the names on the markers noting names, relationships and epitaphs of people who had settled in this new land from Europe in the early 19th century.

We had a heavy snowfall last Sunday and my husband was away in Ottawa. I started to shovel the driveway and two neighbours I had never met came over, started our snowblower and cleared the snow from our large corner lot. I knew the previous owners of the houses they now live in but in the two or more years they have lived on our street, I never had the opportunity to meet them. There are more strangers on our small street than acquaintances. We back out of our driveways each day going our separate ways, our paths in the city never crossing.

No wonder I marvel at the workmanship of a church in a windswept, icy field and dream of the cemented connections represented by each field stone.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Sing a Song of Spring!

The sun shone bright and warm over the snow and ice yesterday. A cold north wind blew across open fields so I chose a sheltered trail near the river for an afternoon walk. I was greeted by robin songs as I got out of the car and followed the sound into a nearby bush. A tangle of berry bushes attracted the songsters. I threw some bird seed on the snow and stood still while I counted.

30 Robins, 3 Cedar Waxwings,

A different angle on a Cedar Waxwing

many friendly Chickadees and Nuthatches, a Brown Creeper,

singing Cardinals, exuberant House Finches, 3 Downy and 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 
Tree Sparrows, Juncos...all in one spot, singing the same song.... 


I count my first spring robins as the entrance to the spring season. Peterson Field Guides published this on their Facebook page yesterday.

"Though the American Robin has become widely recognized as a harbinger of spring, in southern Canada and most of the US the species resides year-round. Individuals usually gather in flocks during the winter months, feeding primarily on frozen berries and other fruit. Some of these flocks can be quite sizable, numbering in the hundreds of birds. Our perception of the robin's return in spring is oftentimes actually the disbanding of the winter flocks and return of individuals to their summer territories. The only fully migratory populations are those of the boreal and subarctic. Have your local birds come back yet?"

I know this flock of robins was likely one of the groups I saw locally in January, but their behaviour in March is very different than in mid-winter. Their migrating cousins will be hopping on our lawns in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Greetings from the "Village"

Click the picture to enlarge, or follow this link to Geekologie where this map is posted in an eye-friendly size. I like geography and challenged myself to name as many countries as possible. The meanings of the country names provided several helpful hints but I am glad it was not a test.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

In Hiding

A Northern Cardinal sat motionless in a tangle of red dogwood branches as yet another snow fall blanketed the trees and ground last weekend. I walked along a beautiful trail which wound around eskers, drumlins and kettles created by retreating glaciers eons ago when global warming began.
Seasonal warmth is slow in coming this year, but March is often a drawn out farewell to winter like a guest you wish would leave at the end of a long evening.

February was a short but eventful month. The hospital is busier during winter months and the past few weeks have been no exception. My online time has decreased to the point where my mother wondered if I was unwell as I was absent from Skype and Blogger for days at a time. No, I haven't been hiding, but in semi-hibernation at times with ...

my new Kindle. I had a hard time deciding between a Kindle and an iPad as an eReader. Overall, I am pleased with my choice as it would be easy to get distracted by all the other applications on the iPad. I read more books in February than I have in a long time. The Kindle has a very poor and unnecessary web browser, but it is almost too fast and easy to purchase and download books from Amazon. I like the font size options, the highlighting and note making features, and the portability of the unit. Like other electronic devices it can freeze. I took it into work one day as a co-worker was interested in getting one for his wife. Wouldn't you know, the screen froze and I could not access the help menu to figure out a fix. I had to wait until I got home to look up the problem on the internet. A hard reboot was required and there have been no further glitches. But my friend decided it was too complicated to give as a gift. A large number of books are available for download, many of them free of charge. Not every author has agreed to e-versions of their books so some recent best sellers are not available in this format.

We went to Toronto yesterday and spent time in the World's Largest Bookstore and a BMV shop. Both bookstores are near the Eaton Centre just north of Young and Dundas. I left without a single purchase and questioned the future of large book sellers like this. The Kindle has a grey scale screen so books which rely on graphics, colour charts or photos cannot be viewed properly. So I will still be tempted to buy hard copies of birding guides such as The Crossley ID Guide.

Thanks to all who commented on the last post concerning our dog Dakota. His mouth and face have healed nicely and he is doing well for his age. I will end this rather random rambling with a picture of a bird feeder found hanging along the winter trail. The childish paint job and message reminded me of what is really important in our busy, busy world.