Saturday, April 22, 2017

Four Years

I went to Mexico in January to stay with my father while my brother and his family were away. Some things are different, but many things in the house are still the same since Mom died. The kitchen was her domain and the drawers and cupboards are mostly unchanged. My teapot still sits on top of the fridge and pots, utensils and containers are in their rightful places. Her handwritten inspirational sayings remain attached to the fridge door with magnets.

Grandma Devins took a trip to Scotland in the late 1960s or early 1970s. She brought back a spurtle which is a wooden stirrer for making creamy porridge. Porridge was a served every morning in our home except for Saturdays when we had Shreddies. On Sundays, raisins were added to the gruel. Mom used the spurtle for years and the wood finally cracked. One of the last things she asked me to bring her from Canada before she died was another spurtle. I never found one and the old cracked one is still in the kitchen. Each morning I made porridge for Dad and myself and stirred the grains to perfect creaminess with the old kitchen tool…and thought of Mom. I almost brought it home, but left it where it belonged.

The kitchen is still the heart of the home. I squeezed orange juice while Mom’s old dog Inge, who is now 11 years old, slept in the corner. Her great-grandson who was born a couple of weeks after her death, played hide and seek at the kitchen counter. Family photos remain on top of the grand piano and I saw my mother in my face. It upsets my father to speak much about her, but he continues in routines they set together and "sees" her often.

I watched the Vermillion Flycatcher outside the kitchen window in the mornings and admired the vermillion sunset over the mountains in the evening. The swallows returned to their nest outside the door and hummingbirds hovered around the flowers in the garden as they did when she was here.

Today marks four years since she left. I made porridge for breakfast and reminisced with some family members who called. Dad is not well and seems to decline step-wise at this time of year. Here are some verses from Psalm 90 that I love.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendour to their children.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Circles of Control, Influence and Concern

I like to think of myself as a calm and rational person, and people who see me may believe that to be true. What they do not see is the turmoil I sometimes internalize which leads to distraction, fatigue, insomnia, inner turmoil, stress and anger. The amount of information we have to process in real time is often overwhelming and our responses can be emotional “knee-jerk” reactions. Complaining is a popular past-time at work and elsewhere, and too much whining is done about things that are not in our control

Stephen R. Covey described circles of concern and influence in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He wrote,

”Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control."

In response to some stressors in my life this year, I drew three circles;-

Control, Influence and Concern. 

There are things in my life that I can control
There are circumstances and people that I can influence
There are areas of concern that I have no control or influence over at all. 

I have tried to manage my time based on what I wrote in my circle of control. An over-reaction to events we cannot control- 
a bad driver, a long check-out line, negative behaviour of other people, the weather report, the value of the dollar, and so on
drains our energy and darkens our mood. We have influence over people in close and casual relationships, but it is important to resist controlling others who are capable of being responsible for their own decisions, particularly our children and spouses. 

I recently returned from Mexico where I spent time caring for my father who is dependent in all aspects of his care. His inability to do things for himself due to advanced Parkinson’s Disease causes frustration and anger at times. We discussed this topic and talked about how his circle of control has become much, much smaller.


Like a child, he is increasingly controlled by his caregivers, leading him to ask what purpose there is in living with such a disability. He still has control of his words and reactions. He can influence the people he interacts with in a positive or negative way. It is within our power to control our attitudes, even in circumstances that are not ideal.

My three year old great-nephew came to visit while Dad was walking around the house for exercise. I watched as Great-Grandson pushed his scooter at the same pace that Great-Grandfather walked with his walker. Youth and old age, both with limited control but with significant influence on each other.

Here is the template for the circles I filled in with very personal situations and concerns. The exercise brought increased awareness of what things are most important for me to "centre" on.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Deep Winter

Northern Cardinal (m)

Winter arrived suddenly after a hot summer and long autumn season. We have received a lot of lake effect snow from the relatively warm, open waters of Lake Huron along with days of dreaded "mixed precipitation". Just before Christmas I bought snow tires for my 4 wheel drive vehicle and I have been thankful for them several times in the past month. I also bought "snow tires" for my feet in the form of vibram-soled Sperry winter boots. I prefer driving on ice to walking on ice and the new boots have eased a lot of anxiety about falling. (Here is a link to an Ontario study about the best winter boots for staying upright) 

There has been little time for birding and trail walking this month but I have been out on a couple of occasions. American Tree Sparrows, with their bi-coloured beaks and distinctive chest spot look for handouts along with Juncos, Chickadees and Nuthatches.

American Tree Sparrow (banded)

The river is home to "snowbirds" from the near and far north. Bufflehead ducks, Goldeneyes, Mergansers of all types, and other small diving ducks fish in fast-flowing open waters of the Grand River. I haven't made it down to Lake Ontario yet this winter where many other water birds over-winter.

Bufflehead (m) Duck

One afternoon I heard a lot of anxious bird chatter and looked up to see this Cooper's Hawk patiently waiting for his next meal, or, perhaps he was just sunning at the top of the tree. No songbird would dare fly in close proximity to this swift hunter.

The same day, we found a couple of American Robins on our neighbourhood digging in the dirt close to houses where the snow had receded. I usually see a few Robins in January but they are often by the river in berry thickets. 

The pictures below were taken last week. The first was after a beautiful snowfall and the second was taken the next morning as people were rushing to work. Our region has built multiple roundabouts to replace traditional intersections. I have mixed feelings about them as some people are still confused about how to navigate multi-lane versions. The car in the picture left the road at a roundabout near our home, accelerated up a sloped yard right into the townhouse. It took a day to extract the vehicle because of the structural damage to the building. I don't mind winter driving myself, but I am wary of other people who are not comfortable driving on ice and snow.

In spite of winter hazards, there is still time for fun. Our dog loves to chase a sled down the nearby slopes of the old city dump, affectionately known as Mount Trashmore. We are expecting a January thaw this week but hopefully it is short-lived so winter sport venues can enjoy a profitable season. Winter is not my favourite time of year, but I will make the best of it, especially as I see the days getting longer and pointing to spring.

Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year's Welcome

Whatever this year may bring I will remember
that it started in perfect harmony, with a bubbling
brook that sang as it rushed over rocks, 
and chickadees who chortled before 
taking seeds from my hand.

Whatever this year may bring I will remember
sunshine on fresh unmarked snow, a
crescent moon beside Venus 
in the twilight sky, and the 
exhilaration of a walk in crisp, cold air. 

Whatever this year may bring I will remember
to find joy in simple things, and take time 
to dream, and learn, and give thanks, and smile 
even when life seems overwhelming 
and the future is uncertain.