Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas Eve Day

The sun is still below the horizon as I come to work on Christmas Eve day. A tree shines in the dark dining room as our patients on this unit get ready for breakfast. In spite of festive decorations there is no disguising the fact that this is a hospital.

A lady clutches a teddy bear given to her by a volunteer earlier in the month and asks me where she is and what she is supposed to do. I take her by the hand and we walk to breakfast.

Later in the morning another lady asks me for a cup of tea. This is a special day so I pour her tea in a nice mug rather than a styrofoam cup. A well worn seasonal sweater envelops her thin arms and I ask her about Christmases past. "Christmas makes me so sad," she says. "My daughter died on Christmas Day." I steer the conversation to a less distressing topic and she tells me about her childhood in England. There are people who care about her and she looks forward to visitors later in the day.

I arrange for the delivery of a new walker for another patient who will be leaving soon for a nursing home. She tries out her new wheels, a gift in part from our provincial health care plan. A child somewhere will get a bicycle or toy car tonight. Is is just as exciting to get a wheeled walker for Christmas?

Last week another lady came to my 4th floor office door with a card and gift. Five years and another employer ago I had treated her husband in the final months of his life. I used to sit in their kitchen and have a cup of King Cole tea, a favourite of Canadians from the East Coast. This lady is now in a wheelchair herself, yet she found out where I was and made the effort to bring me two boxes of tea after all these years. We chatted about her husband and how things have changed in her life. She told me she was going to walk again, and I gave her a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas. A lady who has suffered much gave me the best Christmas memory this year.

After work I went for a walk along a nearby creek and watched the birds puffed up in the cold as they chirped in the bushes. I am grateful for the abundance of life and the joy of sharing with others in need.

 I want to wish a special Merry Christmas to those who have suffered loss
 and to those who work these holidays to protect and serve those in need.

To friends and family, those far and near, I wish you a blessed Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent's Mourning Light

Christkind at Christkindl Market, Kitchener ON -December 2012

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more." 
Matt. 2:18

Charlotte, 6; Daniel, 7; Rachel Davino, 29; Olivia, 6; Josephine, 7; 
Ana, 6; Dylan, 6; Dawn Hocksprung, 47; Madeleine, 6; Catherine, 6; 
Chase, 7; Jesse, 6; James, 6; Grace, 7; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; 
Emilie Parker, 6; Jack, 6; Noah, 6; Caroline, 6; Jessica, 6; 
Avielle, 6; Lauren Russeau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; 
Victoria Soto, 27; Benjamin, 6; Allison, 6. 

Still the earth in darkness lies.
Up from death’s dark vale arise
Voices of a world in grief...

The third Advent candle shines as many tears are shed after the violent mass murder at a Connecticut school this week. Anyone who is a parent, teacher, student, or caring citizen of the world is saddened by the senseless slaughter of innocent children and their caregivers. Our pastor spoke last week about the evil and violent rule of Herod the Great and reminded us that preoccupation with power, possessions, prestige and paranoia is still the way of many in the world. This same evil would cause us to live in fear and raise our children in a culture of fear. History repeats itself over and over again. It is easy to ignore suffering in the world until evil is close to home. Our feeble efforts to protect ourselves from the overwhelming darkness are futile.

And we wait for the Light,  for our Saviour and Redeemer.

Jesus taught the crowds on the hillside.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 
and it gives light to all in the house. 
In the same way, let your light shine before others, 
so that they may see your good works and 
give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 
(Matthew 5)

We stand boldly and brighten the darkness with the light he has given. His Spirit burns within as we 

watch, wait, 
serve, suffer, 
love, give, 
rejoice, mourn 
never lose hope.

Light of light, we humbly pray,
Shine upon Thy world today;
Break the gloom of our dark night,
Fill our souls with love and light,
Send Thy blessed Word again,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”
Douglas L. Rights
Flame Tree in bloom, Mexico

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Darkness to Light

The Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

The Christmas tree is up and the Nacimiento adorns the back of the piano. I play the songs in the carol book and listen to seasonal tunes as I drive here and there in my car. Gifts are bought and baking is done. I watch Christmas movies as I pedal the stationary bicycle. I am not a “Christmas is my favourite time of year” person, yet the “Christmas spirit”, whatever that is, completely eludes me this year as I go through the usual motions and routines. I am happy and content, yet indifferent to the season.

Perhaps the commercialization and politicalization of Christmas has brought me to the edge. People bicker over holiday trees, seasons greetings, and whether the whole country celebrates December in a uniform Christian way. After all, the roots of our holiday celebration are pagan. I truly think Jesus would decline an invitation to most of our seasonal events. “Jesus is the reason for the season” just does not ring true in my ears. 

We visited our daughter in Ottawa this week and enjoyed the city very much. On Thursday we attended the Christmas Lights Across Canada celebration on Parliament Hill. Standing in the cold darkness we waited for the promised hundreds of thousands of  lights to be turned on in the downtown area. Carols were sung, greetings from across the country broadcast and then the countdown to the light began. I wasn’t expecting fireworks and the sudden brightness startled me and others in the crowd. 

The night was still dark and cold but the lights shone on the hill. Advent is not a time of celebration, but a time of waiting and yearning for the promised light. We contemplate the darkness in our world and in our lives and wait for the Saviour who illuminates the path to eternal peace and joy.

Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay

Veiled in darkness Judah lay,
Waiting for the promised day,
While across the shadowy night
Streamed a flood of glorious light,
Heav’nly voices chanting then,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Still the earth in darkness lies.
Up from death’s dark vale arise
Voices of a world in grief,
Prayers of men who seek relief:
Now our darkness pierce again,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Light of light, we humbly pray,
Shine upon Thy world today;
Break the gloom of our dark night,
Fill our souls with love and light,
Send Thy blessed Word again,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Douglas L. Rights

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Los Niños de México

The young doctor came to visit my parent's home one evening last month. Her husband drove and looked after their four year old daughter during the consultation with my mother. I sat at the other end of the chesterfield as Abril clung shyly to her father, barely looking at the English speaking stranger. Pulling out my iPad, I focused the camera on her and she smiled, then laughed, then stood on her head in front of the device. My daughter called on Skype and Abril saw our dog and home two countries and thousands of miles away. The language barrier was overcome with technology and I had a new friend. A few minutes later I got up to peel some hard-boiled eggs and tried my very rudimentary Spanish. "Huevo," I said to Abril. She looked up brightly and said, "Egg, yellow egg." Her kindergarten English topped my Spanish.

Earlier in the week I went to a small town with my brother and sister-in-law for a children's Bible class. The children met at 6:00 PM in the front yard of a very modest house. An unconscious man, drunk or stoned, lay on the sidewalk beside us as the full moon shone down on very dark streets. The children were delightful and wanted me to take pictures and listen to the English words they learned in school. They sang, listened to the story and did their lesson in the poor light. A couple of young teenagers used the light from a cell phone to illuminate the pages.

The waiting room at the cancer centre was exactly that;- a place to wait and wait. A little boy sat with his father while his mother entered the chemotherapy suite. A priest prepared to give the daily mass for the sick and the boy became restless. His dad gave him a cell phone and the child sat on the floor happily playing a game. Medical technology at this hospital was on par with hospitals in Canada and the staff members were knowledgable and efficient.

I walked around the school on my brother's property during classes. The uniformed children arrive at  7:00 AM when the day is still relatively cool (for me) and then leave by 2:00 PM. I looked at a display of pictures of famous people including Christopher Columbus and Steve Jobs. Christopher Columbus changed this part of the world forever but to this generation, Steve Jobs and other technology giants are the explorers of new horizons.

Mexico receives plenty of negative press related to drug violence and corruption. In the faces of the children I see hope and optimism for the future. Through technology they are connected to the global community. Through education and good mentors they hold the potential for change and a brighter tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Día de los Muertos

Flowers were for sale everywhere for the Day of the Dead
I spent two weeks in Mexico in October to be with my parents who are struggling with their health. The area they live in is beautiful and I am content being around the property. Our main outings were to the hospital and shops for food and medicine, but we went to a lovely restaurant for breakfast the last day I was there. The day was November 2nd, the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos which is a national holiday and a remembrance day of sorts.

A Catrina at the airport
Mexicans do not observe Halloween as we do but November 1st is the day they remember deceased children and the next day is a day to remember deceased adults. The celebrations are a mix of traditional Mexican culture with an injection of Catholicism. Similar observances were marked by the Aztecs centuries ago.

On the way home we stopped by the main cemetery in the city. The adjacent park was filled with elaborately decorated altars containing ofrendas of favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and personal items of the departed. Flowers, wreaths and food were for sale and the mood was celebratory. Marigolds are the flower of choice for this day.

Toward evening we walked to the local cemetery just outside the small village where my family lives. I was surprised to see buildings built over many of the graves, some very elaborate and others very modest. Families sat together visiting and eating. The graves are decorated and in some areas, people stay all night by candle light hoping to visit with the departed.

When I left the next day, I noticed an altar in the Guadalajara airport and a couple of  Catrinas stood in prominent places. I took a lot of pictures and the 2 minute slide show below combines images of the city celebration followed by photos of the village cemetery.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I pedalled my bike along roads and trails on this unseasonably warm November day. The trees are now bare and fallen leaves have lost their colour as they rustle dryly in the wind. November with its grey skies, cold winds, darkness and death aptly symbolizes Remembrance Day in the northern hemisphere. No month is drearier or more wearisome.

We visited The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa last month. Walking through the corridors, passing through time, we reviewed our country's military history in art and exhibits. I observed more than one young boy viewing weapons, tanks and other war machinery with keen interest and excitement. But war is not "cool". It is disturbing, disruptive, destabilizing and deadly.

Our pastor challenged us today with the question, "What will you do with what has been saved through the sacrifice of others?"

What will I do with the freedoms I enjoy as a citizen of this country?... freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

Gertrude Kearns- Dallaire #6

Today we remember those who have fallen in wars before I was born as well as those who lost their lives in conflicts during my life time. Canada's war history is brief compared to other nations and for that I am thankful. May we use our freedom to promote peace, prosperity and goodwill around the world, not for selfish ambition and divisive arguments.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Something Old, Something New

Pumpkin, Sweet Potato Squash, Turban Squash
I enjoy food. I like new recipes and prefer to visit restaurants with adventurous menus. But there are plenty of foods in markets and shops that are foreign to me. More than one aisle in the supermarket is devoted to ethnic foods from a number of regions in the world. So I decided to make an effort to learn about and try one new food a week. Here are a few of my recent "explorations".

My first purchase was from a local farm store. I buy pumpkins and butternut squash here but had not tried a turban or sweet potato squash.

Verdict: I cut the sweet potato squash in half, brushed it with olive oil and roasted it until tender. The flesh was sweet and the skin edible. I would buy it again.

The turban squash was the toughest gourd I have ever tried to cut open. I feared losing a finger in the process. Finally I just put the halves in a slow cooker and left it while I was at work. It was not as sweet as the sweet potato squash and due to the dangers in preparation, I will not get another one. They are pretty to look at though for a fall decoration.

We visited a farmers market in Carp, Ontario just outside Ottawa. I bought a fennel bulb and a small basket of patty pan squash. I don't recall seeing these tiny summer squash before.

Verdict: Fennel smells and tastes like licorice and I do not like that flavour. We cut it lengthwise in thin slices, brushed them with oil before roasted in a hot oven. The flavour is interesting in small amounts but I wouldn't buy it again.

We roasted the patty pan squash in a hot oven as well after cutting them in half. I popped one in my mouth when they were done and we ended up eating all of them right away. Delicious! They have sweet summer squash flavour but are not watery at all.

Fennel and Patty Pan Squash
I pass through the Six Nations Reserve when I visit Ruthven Park for bird banding. Gasoline is taxed at a lower rate on the reserve so I always fill up on the way home. I saw a sign for lyed corn and cornbread at the gas bar and decided to buy this traditional native food. I asked the young woman at the counter how she would prepare the cornbread. She told me she was a picky eater and did not eat it but her father cut it in slices and boiled or fried it. 

Lyed corn is similar to Mexican nixtamal and the cornbread tastes like masa which is used to make corn tortillas. The Mohawk cornbread has added kidney beans and the round of dough is boiled in water until it floats to the top of the pot. While it may not win a blue ribbon for looks, it is surprisingly tasty when heated up.

The native American "three sisters" are corn, beans and squash and aboriginal people frequently planted them together. I served the Mohawk cornbread with turban squash and bean stew for a locally traditional meal.

Verdict: I would buy this again but would freeze half the loaf. I am interested in trying lyed corn soup which is much like Mexican posole.

All these foods were locally grown or produced. We have a few fall market days left before the snow comes and I will look for new local foods before trying some imported items.

Do you enjoy any unique or unusual foods?

Historic St. Paul's Anglican Church at Six Nations Reserve

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A New Place

The past few weeks have been full of activity and change, good and bad. We visited Ottawa last week and enjoyed breath-taking Canadian autumnal beauty. The entire five hour trip was along “streets of gold” but the view from the Gatineau hills in the province of Quebec across the Ottawa River valley was beyond description. 

We took our dog, Raven, for her first long road trip. She has outgrown her car-sick ways and adapted well to staying in our daughter’s new home. She is only a year and a half old but has grown very accustomed to our house and daily routines. Raven watched us closely day and night the first couple of days in Ottawa, never sure if we were going to pack up and go somewhere else. But she came to trust that we would not abandon her and we were able to leave her and visit The Canadian War Museum one afternoon. 

Today was my last vacation day and I got up early to visit Ruthven Park for fall bird banding. I arrived as the sun rose and was fortunate to see a Saw-whet Owl caught in the first net run of the morning. It was a fine fall day to walk the trails along the river, woods and meadows at the park. There have been record numbers of birds moving through the area over the weekend as shorter distance migrants are making the push south. It must be terrifying for the birds to be caught in nets not knowing they will be handled benevolently and then released.

Like Raven or birds in the mist net, we may find ourselves in a new place where we are not in control. Fear of abandonment and an unknown future bring anxiety and we may not recognize that someone is caring and watching out for us all the time.  

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? 
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from the will of your Father. 

Matthew 10:29

Sunday, September 30, 2012


I used to walk 5 km every evening until my knee surgery almost 4 years ago. Pounding pavement after work is not kind to my joints so I tend to meander along natural trails at a slow pace when I go for a walk. My aerobic fitness level took a big dive so this summer my husband and I each got a new bicycle. A co-worker recommended a certain bike shop and for the first time in my life I was fitted for a bike by people who really know and love bicycles. This Giant Suede is a cruiser with a slightly recumbent frame. I started slowly by going around the block a couple of times and then through the neighbourhood park. At the end of the first week, my knees were swollen and painful and I wondered if I had wasted money. But after another couple of weeks of gradual training, the pain was gone and my strength and endurance increased daily. I have worked up to 10 to 12 kilometer rides at this point.

I found the web tool where joggers, walkers and cyclists can plot their routes. I enter my postal code to zoom into my neighbourhood and all the local trails are well marked on the map. The bike allows me to explore linear trails like the one above that are too long to round-trip on foot. 

We are fortunate to have many kilometers of well groomed trails in our region. This one used to be a rail line along the Grand River. The scenery is beautiful and wild life is abundant. I saw many birds today and deer and other mammals are often about.

Northern Flicker
The days are getting shorter and cycling season will soon be over as winter approaches. We have a stationary bike but you cannot coast down a hill and feel the cooling breezes before you pump up the other side. And nothing on a television screen compares to the discoveries made on a trail.

I will have to use the indoor bike through the winter in order to avoid another painful initiation to pedalling in the spring. There are a few more weeks of beautiful fall weather to enjoy and I hope get out frequently before the snow comes. Toronto Island, the Niagara Parkway, the city of Ottawa... My list of places where I want to cycle is getting longer. It isn't hard to keep up something you love to do!

The other bike- A Giant Sedona- (distorted perspective)

Monday, September 03, 2012

On the Seventh Day...God Played Ball

Our society as a whole no longer observes a seventh day or first day of the week pause in commerce to focus on rest and worship. But members of our large Mennonite population who live in rural parts of our region will not sell you one brown egg on Sunday. Handwritten signs at the end of farm lanes advise customers of "No Sunday Sales". After morning chores are done, long lines of horse-drawn buggies drive to simple white meeting houses. By early afternoon long lines of horse-drawn buggies leave for dinner, perhaps at the home of friends or relatives. It is not unusual to see fifteen or more buggies parked at a farm on a Sunday afternoon.

In fine weather the men lounge outdoors in their Sunday clothes as they visit. During the summer you are sure to find several baseball games in progress in farm fields or village parks. Many men travel to the games on bicycle, black pants, white shirts and blue suspenders the uniform worn by both teams.

These young men, clean-shaven, strong and fit, sported fashionable sunglasses as well as the occasional cell phone. The game was was less competitive and more social in nature than organized sports in the city.

Around four o'clock the roads are lined with horse-drawn buggies and people walking or biking home for afternoon chores. Perhaps they will attend an evening hymn sing later or just rest in preparation for another week of hard work.

These pictures were taken yesterday along the Trans-Canada trail near St. Jacobs, Ontario. The trail winds through the heart of Mennonite country along the Conestoga River.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Summer Garden

Autumn Joy Sedum, a perfect poor soil succulent
This summer has been hard on our lawn and garden. We have poor, sandy soil that absorbs topsoil and compost causing it to sink and disappear from the surface. We had cooler, rainy summers for a few years in a row recently but last summer was hot and this summer was scorching for weeks on end. Our trees are stressed, several cedar shrubs are dead, and the perennials bloomed poorly. Hot summers, a big dog, a city watering ban, a scourge of earwigs, and time contraints require analysis of what works and what needs to be changed next year.

Squirrel leftovers
I planted a dozen tomato plants of various varieties. In spite of tender care, they did poorly. The neighbourhood squirrels ravaged whatever fruit was ripening. The patio tomatoes did better but the pesky rodents enjoyed them most of all. That is what I get for feeding critters in the backyard in the winter months.

Cascading Nasturtiums
Most of the patio pots with mixed annuals did well and provided colour that was lacking in the flower beds. The only plants that were eaten to skeletons by earwigs were the marigolds. I have not planted nasturtiums in years but bought six small plants in the spring. I did not know they were a cascading variety and that they thrive in poor conditions. There is only one plant in the pot in the picture above. Strangely though, none of the nasturtiums attracted aphids and none of the abundant flowers developed seed pods. It appears that some selective tampering happened when this variety was "created". This was my most promising food crop of the season even though we haven't added any flowers or leaves to our salads.

Many herbs grow well in poor soil. Basil, thyme, sage, tarragon, chives and cilantro grew well in sun. The cilantro bolted and flowered too quickly but basil is very forgiving when pinched back on a regular basis. A few basil leaves go a long way in flavouring a salad.

A late summer rain brought these to bloom although the Shasta Daisies failed earlier
Our lawn is the most expensive and time-consuming item we need to deal with. My husband is a perfectionist and works hard outside but there is nothing perfect about the grass after the drought, especially since herbicides and insecticides are prohibited in our area. As I ride around town I see  front yards gravelled or mulched over. It looks like a good idea except that we have a large corner lot to deal with and there is cost for materials. But maybe next year will be cool and wet again and we will forget the struggles of this season. I am happy I do not have to make a living from the land!