Thursday, August 31, 2006

End of summer canning
It is the last day of August and fall is pushing summer aside with changing colours and skies and the abundance of harvest. Tropical storm Ernesto is promising us a soggy long weekend...a perfect time to make my yearly batch of chili sauce. My mother did plenty of large batch canning for our family of seven. The amount of work involved in the family chili sauce recipe was daunting. Blanching and chopping a bushel of tomatoes was not an "after work" task . I found a book called The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp. The recipes could be easily completed in a couple of hours. As a bonus, I found the family chili sauce recipe, cut down to size. I love the mix of tomatoes, peppers, onions, peaches, pears, apples and spices in the Fruit Chili Sauce. I have tried several other jams and chutneys in this book, and they were all delicious. An early visit to the farmers' market, rain or shine, will start the day, and then the pop, pop, pop of properly sealed jars should be the successful ending.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Grandma's Bird Club

Aurora Ontario Bird Club

I have been going through boxes of pictures and books that came from Grandma’s house and happened to find her birding scrapbook.

On May 3, 1937, Grandma and a few of her friends took the inaugural hike of their newly formed bird club. She recorded that they saw a purple grackle, king fisher, and red winged blackbird. This was the beginning of a long list of bird sightings that were written in her journal over her lifetime.

The local paper reported on some of their adventures and on January 11, 1942, local and Toronto members of the Field Naturalists Club banded a Canada Jay or whisky jack at the family farm. These birds are not commonly seen in Southern Ontario.

In an age of instant information and internet access, this aging, yellowed scrapbook is a meticulous and loving record of a favourite hobby.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Trees with

Travelling in Mexico involves a lot of altitude adjustment. Getting from point A to point B can mean a journey on tortuous roads, up and down mountains, or a more gentle ascent on straight highways across the plateaus.
Altitude change gives opportunity for micro
ecosystems to exist that support some unusual vegetation. Going south from Torreon to Zacatecas, the elevation rises from 3700' to 8200'. Between 6500' and 7500', Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) stand as sentinels in the desert, tall and dramatic compared to the cactus and mesquite scrub. Going from Zacatecas to Aguascalientes, the road descends from 8200' to 6100' and once again you pass several miles of Joshua tree "forest" at the specified altitude. These trees grow exceedingly slowly. They require cold winter temperatures that dip below freezing, and hot, dry summers. If these conditions are not met, the tree will not grow or bloom that year. The Yucca moth is essential for pollinating the flowers and the sharp, spiny leaves provide protective havens for several species of birds and lizards.
In a previous post, I described a hike we took to the top of the Ceboruco Volcano in the
southwest Mexican province of Nayarit. At the base of the mountain, mango and avocado groves flourish. Sugar cane and cactus grow in cultivated fields. On the mountain top (7600'), close to the active crater, the temperature is 10-15 C cooler and pine trees grow on the fertile volcanic soil. Large pine cones up to 10" in height were plentiful on the ground. It was a far different world than at the base...a refreshing change from the heat for my northern acclimatized body!

Friday, August 25, 2006

"The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence." Denis Waitley
....why am I crying?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

About 24 hours after the caterpillar started to pupate, it shed its skin and now we have this beautiful chrysalis. In a couple of weeks I hope to see a monarch butterfly emerge.
Much more interesting than reality TV!
Monarch Update....
The caterpillar I photographed in my Aug 20th entry has begun to pupate. I found a great blog called Burning Silo. If you like photography and nature, you will enjoy the site. There is a great little movie at this link that shows the transformation occurring. It is well worth the minute it takes to view it. I have to go to work and will likely miss this event.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

We stayed in a small fishing town on Mexico’s west coast one January. The fishing boats went out and came back each day. People and pelicans lined up for their share of the catch at the beach.
I was most intrigued by a man with lower extremity paralysis who was living next door to where we were staying. He moved along the ground, pushing himself along with his arms, his toneless legs folded underneath him. In the evening I would hear him playing his guitar and singing as his wife and children moved about the house. He had no wheelchair or other adaptive aids and in our culture he would be considered very disabled.
The World Health Organization has defined a disability as “any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being”. Activists in the disability movement disagree and state that “disability refers to socially imposed restrictions, that is, the system of social constraints that are imposed on those with impairments by the discriminatory practices of society”.

This man had an occupation, a home and family and appeared to be well integrated into his community. What fascinated me was that he hardly seemed disabled at all.
Our culture places a very high value on physical perfection and intelligence. My job involves helping impaired people regain independence and function. If we are unsuccessful in their rehabilitation, they risk being segregated and undervalued in spite of what they are still able to do. Unconditional acceptance of those with physical and cognitive impairments can be difficult and finding a useful role for them in society a challenge… but we can do better.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Luke 14:13

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Monarch Butterflies
As children we used to collect monarch butterfly caterpillars in August at our uncle’s farm. We nurtured them through the process of becoming mature butterflies, feeding them fresh milkweed leaves and watching them create beautiful green chrysalises. Both butterflies and caterpillars were plentiful. Sandland brother used to collect butterflies along with other creepy things like snakes and spiders in the Don Valley, right in metropolitan Toronto. Since the 1960’s, with suburbs paving over meadows and farmland and extensive use of herbicides and pesticides, the population of monarchs has decreased dramatically. Add to that the deforestation of their winter habitat in Mexico and the species is definitely at risk.
We have acres of milkweed in fields around our home. The Becka and I went out this evening in search of caterpillars. We looked over hundreds of milkweed plants and didn’t find evidence of any larvae at all. Finally, we found a single caterpillar actively munching on a leaf and one adult monarch butterfly flying by too quickly for a picture. The caterpillars are not supposed to have predators as their exclusive milkweed diet makes them toxic to birds. They are susceptible to parasitic infections. I wonder what the chance this lone caterpillar has of wintering in Mexico?
(visit and for some great photos of the monarch cycle)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Vietnamese Soup
We love to try various ethnic foods. My daughters get frustrated with friends who like the same, bland North American restaurants all the time. In our city were have great eateries serving a variety of cuisines.
Between 1978 and 1980 Canada accepted more than 60,000 refugees from Indo-China. Various church groups and individuals sponsored these “boat people” and helped them adjust to life in a new, peaceful country. Our daughter became friends with a nursing classmate whose family had come to Canada at that time. She introduced us to this restaurant which has become one of our favourites.
Pho is a delicious meat broth served with rice noodles, fresh Thai basil, bean sprouts and lime. Hot chili pepper sauce can be added to taste. The small order costs a modest $5.00 and is at least a 4 cup serving. The green tea is complementary. It is eaten with chopsticks and a small spoon, but you will be given more standard utensils if you ask. If I feel the slightest hint of a head cold coming on, a bowl of Pho is a certain cure. There are many Viet-Thai restaurants in southern Ontario now and it is no surprise that they are so popular…tasty and healthy food service…modest price.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

About 20 years ago I sent this telegram to my parents in Mexico. They had been living in Guadalajara for six years, and were still on a waiting list for a telephone. It took one week for the news of their grandchildrens' birth to reach them. Now we are able to instant message family in Mexico with high speed internet. Cell phones are available, even though they often don't work in the mountainous regions. The communication revolution of the past quarter century has brought a degree of paranoia to some. Personal information is readily available if you want to look for it. On the other hand, it brings a sense of community and connectivity in a different way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hospital Haiku
Recently we were asked to make our charting at the hospital less wordy and more succinct. Some people feel they must describe every patient intervention in excessive detail. These entries are so long that important facts are lost in the prose.
I believe that teachers can do disservice by assigning essays of 1000, 2000, 5000 words. The quality is undermined by quantity and the student spends more time counting and adding unnecessary words than learning to write simply and clearly.
A columnist in our local paper wrote a series of Haiku poems on the eve of his 30th birthday. It was great fun to read his thoughts and word pictures in 5/7/5 syllables.
I decided to take Haiku notes of our weekly rounds today.

Diagnosis,treatment and outcome

Abdominal pain.
Laxative to be given
Relief is obtained

Progress Note

Walked the length of hall
Oxygen at two litres
Sats stayed at ninety

Prescription for back ache

Complaint is back pain
Lie prone for thirty minutes
Then stay off your butt.

Discharge Summary

Use it or lose it
There is no passive fix here
Therapy is done.

Send me some of your creative ideas.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Without power!
On August 14, 2003, 50 million people in North America were plunged into the biggest blackout in modern history. To commemorate this day, our city suggested that on Sunday August 13, we turn off lights, air conditioners, and other electrical devices, and live without power for one day.

So we took the challenge.

The temperature here is very comfortable, so the lack of air conditioning was not a problem. I did leave the fridge and freezer plugged in. We have a gas BBQ, and it wasn’t a regular work day, so we were barely inconvenienced at all. I was surprised at the number of times I reflexively switched on the light in our windowless bathroom. My brain and hand were disengaged by years of conditioning.

The true definition of fasting is abstinence from food. However, it can also mean abstaining from normal daily life activities, in order to devote more prime time to reflection, meditation and relationships. Denying the body its accustomed pleasures and habits increases awareness of emotional and spiritual needs of us and others.

Turning off the electricity was a kind of fast. Our normally plugged-in lives had a new perspective for a few hours and we were challenged to look for different ways to do everyday things. It was like a mini vacation…a true day of rest.

Friday, August 11, 2006

We visited Mexico during the FIFA World Cup this June. Canada is not a soccer country, but there was a fever-pitched enthusiasm for this game in Mexico. Green shirts were being worn by all fans, including 18 month old Daniel. Here he is in the cool of dusk outside my brother Estaban’s house, practicing to be a next generation soccer star.

Estaban has a local soccer team. We watched them practice their drills in a dusty field under the blazing sun. Over the years, Estaban has had many players on his team win university soccer scholarships that have allowed an otherwise impossible education.

My friend Parmjit, a psychology doctoral candidate, stopped by the hospital today. Her thesis research involves the testing of 50 players to determine the cognitive effect of concussions caused by head impact in soccer. She has found all her subjects, and I wish her all the best as she completes her study. I really hope that she discovers the benefits of the sport outweigh the risks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Most of us go to our grave with our music still
inside of us. Anon
Musical Aunt spent many patient years giving me piano lessons. I did not inherit her brilliant talent, but making my own music gives me much pleasure.
I frequently play the piano at a seniors’ home. The residents love to come and sing three chord melodies that they grew up with. I have seen people with advanced dementias, who are unable to carry on a conversation, sing entire songs with gusto.
Music truly is hidden in the soul.
I recently read that singing is on the decline in North America. I remember Mom singing as she worked around the house. I am more likely to turn on some recorded music. Each person can easily plug into their own little genre in a very passive way.
The Becka listens to music I do not understand. I could never reproduce it on the piano.
I asked her what she was going to sing at her nursing home on music night.
So she drew me some pictures…
(click on pictures for enlarged view)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I did a home visit today to do therapy with an elderly man recovering from hip replacement surgery. His wife is dying of cancer and is receiving palliative care. She is a fanatical and obsessive housekeeper.
We all know she is going to die face down in the dish water.
During my visit she "hovered" to make sure neither her husband or I left a footprint or fingerprint in a disallowed place. He is not allowed to use a cane or walker upstairs lest he mark the rugs. He is relegated to a corner of the basement recreation room and uses a cane with a rag tied over the end. He cannot walk much as he may create dust.
They have three children who seldom visit (surprise!) and grandchildren who never darken the door. Nothing will change her skewed values now.
What a pity! Who will keep her house clean when she is gone?
My house keeping motto is "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy."
Heaven forbid that my obituary should read, "She kept a perfect house."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Africa...past...present...? future
The Becka and I watched a library copy of The Flame Trees of Thika this weekend. Elspeth Huxley recounts her early childhood experiences in Kenya between 1912 and 1914. I was much the same age in this great picture taken by Grandma around 1960. These were the end days of British rule in South Africa. I remember the privileged status of being "European" as opposed to "Non European" under the apartheid system. The park benches, buses, neighbourhoods, schools, and beaches were respectively labeled. Recently I read Paul Theroux's book Dark Star Safari. He journeyed from Cairo to Capetown over a year, travelling as a non-tourist. His reflections are dark indeed. It is a story of poverty, despair, corruption, superstition, disease...and hope. Post colonial Africa has massive problems, the roots of which are difficult to divide.
On a lighter note, the book series by Alexander McCall Smith that begins with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency gives a delightful, optimistic picture of life in southern Africa. Precious Ramotswe is the fat, jolly Miss Marple of Botswana. If you have time for some great summer reading these books are highly recommended.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Stop and smell the roses… There is a beautiful rose garden at the back of the hospital. Patients will ask to have their therapy session in the rose garden and we comply as often as possible in the summertime. I walk in the back door each morning just so I can see and smell the roses before I start work.
One morning this week I saw Peter Rabbit relaxing comfortably in the garden while enjoying the view.

Dr. Edward Hallowell has a new book called Crazybusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone Add. He offers suggestions on how to “unsnarl frantic lives by teaching ourselves to move from the F-state–frenzied, flailing, fearful, forgetful, furious–to the C-state–cool, calm, clear, consistent, curious, courteous.” We see far too many people each day in the F-state...even ourselves.

One of Dad's favourite songs is In the Garden. Here is a picture I took "while the dew is still on the roses". Too bad I couldn't capture and share the scent as well.

Have a happy, C-state holiday weekend!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Durban , South Africa circa 1960
Sandland Brother has a post today about a sailing club on the Arabian Gulf. This photo shows Sandland and I as children playing in a tidal pool on the Indian Ocean. These types of early experiences really do influence you for a lifetime. This photo was taken by Grandma when she came to visit us in South Africa for six months. I am impressed with how the Kodachrome slides have stayed so colourful over the past 45 years. Dad has boxes of slides. I am begging him to give them to me so I can scan and share them!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Afternoon Tea

Ever since I learned to steep a pot in my seventh grade home economics class, tea has been my favourite beverage. I get up in the morning to have tea, and I come home from work to have tea. My tea is made strong with milk and no sugar. But in the hot weather, iced tea hits the spot. This is the best iced tea recipe from my friend, Elva.

Elva's Iced Tea
Put 9 teabags in a 6 cup teapot. Fill pot with boiling water and steep the tea overnight. In the morning add 16 cups of water, one tin (355 ml) of frozen lemonade concentrate, and one cup of sugar or Splenda to the tea. Makes a big batch that goes down quickly.