Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One Year Later

It is a year today that Mom left this world in the dark hour before dawn. It is true that life goes on but each event is coloured by her absence. She lives on in each of her children, their children and in our hearts and memories. On Easter weekend we watched a DVD of Dad’s home movies from 1954-1960. Mom and Dad were so young when they boarded a plane to London England and then took a ship through the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal and down the east coast of Africa to South Africa. Travel was a big part of their lives.

Blogger Larry also said goodbye to his mother last year. He posted an excerpt of a poem by Henry Van Dyke that is found widely on the internet, but was very meaningful to me. Mom crossed oceans four times by ship in her lifetime and then she headed for another shore in 2013. I miss her every day but know I will see her again. 

Mom starting ocean crossing #3 with my brother Nathan and myself

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying…

Henry Van Dyke

Monday, April 21, 2014

Season Opening

My blogging hiatus lasted almost half a year which is about the length of the winter that just ended. Early December brought a damaging ice storm and then we were visited with interminable snow, deep cold and no January thaw. I went birding once and got a flat tire half an hour from home on a very cold day. No winter hawks or owls swooped by as I waited for a tow truck. I even stopped feeding our yard birds when the squirrels destroyed my “squirrel-proof” feeders and Costco ran out of black sunflower seeds. 

The Mallard Duck and I were both prepared for muddy pathways
Winter finally ended in Narnia and spring arrived here in due course. Mother Nature has flicked the fast forward switch to make up for lost time. I walked outdoors for several hours today and felt more like myself than I have in a year. City crews started working last week to clear local trails of downed branches and trees from the December storm. 

Brown Thrasher, Skunk Cabbage, Spring Trail, Hermit Thrush

My bird count was most impressive! Birds are very vocal right now and there is no vegetation to hide them on the ground or trees. 

Bald Eagles, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows (leaving), White-throated Sparrows (coming) Song Sparrows, Belted Kingfishers, Tree Swallows, American Robins plus our usual year round Black-capped Chickadees, American Crows, House Finches, Goldfinches, Nuthatches...about 30 species in all. 

The sweetest spring song belongs to the White-throated Sparrow. The Becka heard one earlier this week and I was surrounded by them on the trail today with the help of some hulled sunflower seeds.

Oh Sweet Canada Canada Canada....

Yes, spring is sweet and life is good!

White-throated Sparrow

Sunday, November 03, 2013


With the switch to Standard Time last night along with November days which shorten quickly, the opportunities to enjoy sunshine outside of work hours are now limited. This autumn has been very wet and a day like today was a treat indeed. Perhaps this was my last opportunity for a bike ride and the switch to an indoor stationary bike for exercise is almost here.

My life over the past several months has been out of sync in many ways. One year ago today I was on a plane returning to Canada from Mexico. I made two more trips south earlier this year to be with my family. Just over a year ago my work schedule increased from four to five days a week with a weekend rotation every seven weeks. This week I work seven days in a row which is not as easy physically as it might have been twenty years ago. The balance between work, home, leisure, rest and social activities has been hard to find at times. Time has accelerated as days and weeks turn into months at break neck speed. 

Northern Shovelers perform a synchronized swim
I sauntered around the neighbourhood on my bicycle in the sunshine until my hands and feet felt like blocks of ice. The air is cold! There are patches of lingering fall colour but signs of winter are here. I saw my first flock of Juncos although I am sure they have been around for a while now. I enjoyed the balance and synchrony around me today and hope to incorporate more in my life again.

Great Blue Heron roosting high in the trees

Thursday, September 05, 2013

This Market is NOT Destroyed!

A devastating fire early Labour Day morning levelled the main building of the St. Jacobs market just north of Waterloo, Ontario. Sixty vendors occupied the two storey wood building which was packed with local shoppers and tourists on market days. I have visited many markets and very few in North America compare with this one. Tuesday's sensational newspaper headline informed us the market was destroyed and the picture appeared to confirm the announcement.

We moved to Kitchener in December 1970. My mother was a very industrious homemaker and rode her bicycle to the Kitchener Stockyards market near the railway tracks at River Rd and Hwy 7 to buy produce. At that time Kitchener had a thriving downtown outdoor market but in the early 1970s the old city hall was demolished and the market was moved to the basement of a new mall and parking garage. The soul of the Kitchener Market withered and many vendors, including Old Order Mennonites stopped selling their goods at the new market. The Kitchener Stockyard merged with the Waterloo Stockyard near St. Jacobs and a new outdoor market started to grow north of the city. A few years later the main market building was constructed and the market expanded quickly becoming a major tourist attraction.

Hot apple fritters were worth the drive to the market
When our children were young I took them to the Stockyard Market most Thursdays. They loved to walk the catwalk above the livestock pens in the auction building (no longer possible) and we bought apple fritters or mini donuts for a treat. The lineup for apple fritters usually extended far out the doorway in the middle picture.

Inside the building after the fire and before the fire
The open concept two storey market building had food vendors downstairs and craft vendors upstairs. It was a challenge to move through the aisles on Saturday mornings as people crowded around counters waiting for their turn to be served.
Outside the building before and after the fire
Vendors selling food, clothing, and household goods had stalls under the porches of the market building. There is an extensive outdoor market and the auction building houses a flea market, general merchandise and another food court.

Today the market re-opened just three days after the fire and I arrived early before work. Some vendors were still unpacking but I quickly found the fresh apples and tomatoes I wanted.

The heat of the fire damaged a nearby Conestoga wagon and signs at the entrance to the auction building. The firemen did a good job of keeping the fire from spreading to other structures.

Today's market was a celebration of harvest, of life and perseverance. The community came out to support the three hundred remaining vendors. The sixty vendors affected by the fire suffered significant losses but people are rallying to help them through this crisis.

This market is not a building. It is made up of people who sell and buy and meet with friends. Burned posts stand in the background but life goes on in the foreground.

Don't believe the newspaper headline. It was written by someone who does not feel the heartbeat of this community. This market is NOT destroyed! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Three Months

What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, 
for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us. 
Helen Keller

Monday April 22, 2013 
Monday July 22, 2013

Exactly three months ago I sat at the bedside of my mother as she slipped from this life just before dawn. Life goes on as usual in many ways but I still miss our nightly conversations on Skype and her rounds on Facebook. Social media was important as her physical world became smaller and smaller. I see her in the faces of my patients, in books I read and in movies I watch. A friend recommended the classic movie Tokyo Story and I viewed it on a hot evening last week. The  family’s story transcended time and culture and left me in tears at the end in shared loss. Grief does not leave us suddenly. 

I brought home a little devotional book Mom used every morning. She marked a couple of  special pages with bits of tissue in the painful months before she died. One was entitled, “Anticipating a Glorious Future” and the scripture was from Romans 8:18.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing 
with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

There has been a slate of deaths amongst our friends since my mother’s passing, three of them very prematurely and tragically. It is impossible to feel the depth of another’s pain but the acknowledgement of loss by others is comforting. Friends gave us the Hibiscus plant pictured above that is now blooming heavily and beautifully. My co-workers gave me a gift certificate from a local nursery and I am planning a butterfly garden in Mom’s memory. As soon as it is a little cooler I will put in perennials that will bloom next year. 

Like a seed or root in the ground, death gives way to life and hope eternal. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Caught With My Mouth Full

We spend a week at a cottage or cabin most summers. Planning and shopping ahead for all our meals takes time and effort as we never stay close to a grocery store. When our three children were young, food was the biggest consideration when packing. Lately I keep lists of what we take and what we bring home unused but the task still seems daunting. Although my husband is a good fisherman we never count on fish meals just in case he is skunked. The last couple of years we stopped at a discount grocery store in Espanola ON, just an hour from our destination, in order to buy fruit, vegetables and perishable items. That gives me a final chance to go over lists and menus while we are driving. No one wants to be hungry while on vacation.

Last week most of the birds I observed were very busy feeding their young families from dawn to dusk. The insects were plentiful this year due to the wet weather and mosquitoes were a nuisance which is unusual on the shores of the big lake. It was a good year to be a flycatcher or warbler,

or a Bobolink taking food to her nest in the tall meadow grass,

or a Robin looking for grubs in the wet ground,

or a Sandhill Crane foraging in the freshly mown hay field,

or a bumblebee with overfull pollen sacks visiting the many wildflowers along the roadside.

A pair of Eastern Phoebes lived under the little bridge over the creek where the boats were docked. I think this one was just waiting for a mosquito to fly in its mouth.

We all ate well this year but the birds and bees worked longer and harder at getting meals than I did!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brainy Breakfast

The internet has an abundance of readily available information that is often overwhelming and confusing. I subscribe to a variety of e-magazines, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds and receive a daily load of distracting glurge and health information. I work with patients who have dementia and a growing number of them are younger than me which is very disconcerting. This will only increase as my birthdays add up. So I look twice at any headline which gives advice on avoiding brain deterioration and there is a lot of advice targeting my baby boomer generation. Dr. Oz and other health gurus regularly promote top 10 superfood slide shows and the featured foods change every few months. My list of "good-for-me" foods is growing and now I have to figure out how to fit them all in my regular diet.

I decide to make a green smoothie for breakfast and pull out organic soy milk, hemp powder, moringa powder, raw honey, cinnamon, raw ginger, food yeast and blueberries. Moringa powder is the latest addition to my brain preserving arsenal. My brother has a couple of Moringa trees on his property in Mexico as their leaves are extremely nutritious. I cannot grow it in Canada but can buy powdered leaves and tea* readily on the internet. The ingredients are added to my blender along with a banana and soon a thick, greenish brown smoothie is waiting for a taste test. The cinnamon and honey help tame the strong taste of Moringa leaves but this is not a marketable recipe!

No, that is not chocolate
It takes me a while to finish the gooey drink and when it is gone I feel like a piece of buttered toast would be a good way to settle my stomach. I remember that butter will harden my arteries and perhaps increase my risk for vascular dementia so I do not indulge. My regular bowl of oatmeal is also appealing but I am too full of liquid right now. No wonder the supplement industry is booming because taking a pill or 5 would be easier than preparing this food. But supplements are expensive and after a few years we will find that they were bad for us all along just like vitamin E, betacarotene, calcium and lecithin.

For lunch I am having quinoa tabbouleh and I may finish that off with a piece of Dutch apple pie. My resolve weakens as the day progresses. I believe the road to good health is paved with moderation and that is hard to find in midst of information overload. A moderate amount of rest, exercise, whole fresh food, sunshine, fresh air, work, leisure, time with friends and a purpose in life sounds better than a superfood smoothy for my brain.

*Moringa tea is surprisingly tasty and easier to take than the dried leaf powder

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Planning for the Future

The Becka and I check out a light rail car
I watched the good looking older couple on the ferry on the way home from the island. You can do a lot of people watching on a two hour ride when your face is hidden by a hat and sunglasses. I thought they might be in their 40's as they sat with three children who were likely between ten and thirteen years old. Half an hour into the journey two more children appeared and I wondered how the couple had five children so close in age. They were a loving and happy group and I heard one of the girls call them "Nannie and Grandpa". When I had a better look, I realized the grandparents were likely in their early 60s, very fit and well preserved. They had taken the children to the island for a holiday and were returning home again.

I personally find age segregation is too prevalent in our society. From daycare settings to retirement homes, people are grouped according to their birth dates and interaction between generations is often limited. Other cultures have large households which include extended family members of various ages. Interacting with people of different ages can open our minds to other perspectives and opinions. Most of us want the best for our children and future generations but we have to look and plan ahead wisely.

Light Rail Car by Bombardier
Our region is growing steadily and we now have rush hour traffic headaches. A proposal for a light rail transit system was approved a couple of years ago and construction is starting on the project. There is much opposition to this transit upgrade due to the cost to taxpayers, especially among middle-aged and older residents. Most of them drive cars and have no plans to use public transportation in their lifetime. But a big project like this is not for the present but rather for the future of our regional cities. Toronto first proposed a subway system between 1909 and 1912 but the public strongly rejected the idea. By the time it was approved in 1946, it was badly needed and a public plebiscite gave overwhelming approval for the plan. The Toronto subway system is integral for moving people though the city efficiently.

Today we took a look at one of the rail cars which will run like an above ground "subway" system with transfer points to city buses. A similar transit line runs through the city of Calgary AB. I am glad to have my own car but recognize that the cost and environmental impact of my travel is significant. There are many people who cannot afford their own vehicle and the ION light rail system will be well used. Bicycles are mounted on the front of our city buses now and they will be accommodated on the rail system too.

City bus with bike rack
This hub for this transit system is to be shared with intercity bus and train terminals making travel to other areas of the province more convenient. Many countries in the world are far ahead of us in efficient public transportation. Approval for the light rail project is high among younger citizens as the future does belong to them. Whether it is a ferry link, a bus, train, subway or light rail system, we need to plan for sustainable and affordable transportation options that will serve generations to come.