Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Each New Year, Britain's Poet Laureate is supposed to write an official verse of commemoration and celebration. Many famous poets have held this royal post, including Lord Alfred Tennyson from 1850 to 1892. One stanza of his very long poem In Memoriam, is the well known "Ring out, wild bells..."
Church bells rang regularly in years past, signaling the time and passage of important events. Our old city hall had a large clock and bell tower that gave a sense of history to our community. In the early 1970's, "progressive" planners had the city hall torn down, ripping the heart out of the downtown core. The clock tower was placed in a downtown park several years later, where it stands as a decapitated monument in a field. I took a photograph of it this weekend, and noticed that the clock stands still shortly after 3 o'clock, and the bell no longer rings.
Ringing out the old each New Year is like a purifying ritual. New goals and resolutions are recorded and people look forward to a fresh start in life. However, the old also has value and lessons that have been learned, perhaps the hard way.
This New Year, let us ring out the sorrow and darkness of the old and ring in the hope and light of the new.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Global warming?

According to today's edition of our local paper, this December was the warmest in the 35 years of record keeping in our region. The average temperature was 0.5 C which explains the lack of ice and snow. In my last post, I mentioned the downtown lake which was used for skating each winter until very recently. This picture from today's newspaper was taken the year I was born. When I moved here in 1970, we spent many hours skating on the lake. I took this picture of the same body of water very recently, and this is what it looks like tonight. You had better rent a canoe at the boat house rather than lace up your skates.

Last winter, the local ski club was open from the first of December until the end of March. There was sufficient natural and man made snow to keep the skiers and snowboarders happy every day in this period of time. Ski resorts rely on Christmas and spring break customers for profits, but it looks as if this winter break will continue without a significant snowfall. The ski club is a short walk from the hospital, and this sign shows the frustration of the management. They have made snow on cold nights, but rain and warm temperatures in the daytime have melted it quickly.

The last exceptionally warm winter I remember was in 1982, and we have had some very cold, long winters since then. I prefer good cold weather with plenty of snow rather than temperatures near freezing that increase the risk of ice storms. If it does not get colder soon, my daffodils will be up. I noticed iris shoots and spring lettuce growing this week in the garden.

So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Road salt and winter driving

For a number of years, I worked full time in the community, travelling in a mainly rural area of the region. I was expected to do at least eight visits a day and would sometimes travel 125 km in the process. In good weather this was a pleasure, but when winter snow was whipped by the wind, it was downright hazardous on the country roads. Home care providers are paid per visit, and do not get reimbursed on snow days. My contract employer didn't make money if the weather was inclement, so there was always pressure to do visits in spite of poor driving conditions. This is one of the reasons I returned to working at the hospital, but I have maintained a small community caseload because I love doing home visits.
Today, I travelled to some small, outlying communities. It was hard to believe it was December 28th. Snow fences have been erected in fields adjacent to roads and lanes to curb drifting snow. Orange roadside markers are in the ground to help the snow plows avoid the ditches.
But there is no snow.
I took these photos of some ponds I passed today on my travels. The largest pond is in the centre of a small village and it should be frozen over now, perfect for skating. There are signs posted warning skaters to stay off ice at all times. Even when the weather is cold enough, ice has been increasingly unsafe in recent years due to rising salination of streams and ponds from the heavy use of road salt. For many decades, there has been outdoor skating at a small downtown lake in our city. A couple of years ago, skating was permanently forbidden as the ice had given way, even in cold weather, the cause...salt.
Yesterday, an overnight freeze in Toronto caused black ice, and there there were multiple pileups throughout the city during the early morning rush hour. I have ended up in the ditch on an icy road, thankfully with no injuries or damage to my vehicle.
Road salt is essential in maintaining safe roadways when there is ice and snow. In the year 2000, 5,000,000 tons of road salt were used on Canadian roads in the winter. Salt leaches into lakes, streams, and groundwater and its effects are the object of ongoing study. Year upon year of road salt use has to have a cumulative effect on the environment.
Global warming has been a fact since the end of the ice age. Its cause and long term impact continues to be debated by scientists. There is no argument though when it comes to the immediate effects of road salt on vegetation, automobiles, road surfaces, streams, rivers and lakes.
I want to travel safely in the winter time, but at what cost?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Outside the door of my hospital office is a full length wall mirror that may one day turn me into a thief. Reflected images are distorted in such a way to make a person appear twenty pounds thinner than they really are. It is always a pleasant surprise to view yourself in it as you walk by. During my initial orientation to the floor, the departing therapist extolled its virtues and felt she would really miss this wall hanging when she left.

We use mirrors a lot in therapy as they provide feedback to patients that is often more effective than a verbal reminder. It is easy to recognize stooped posture, and patients who lean to a weak side after a stroke can usually straighten up when they see themselves. They give an accurate "biofeedback" message that is great for the retraining of muscles.

Most adults tend to avoid mirrors and reflective windows as they get older. Somehow we hold on to a youthful image of ourselves in our minds and find it difficult to reconcile what we believe we look like with what we really see. We adjust lighting and wall colours in our bathrooms to soften the reflection that stares back at us. Wrinkles, greying hair, receding hairlines, paunchiness, are what identify other people, not ourselves.

I took a good look at myself today in this magic mirror and tried to look past the illusion. The bathroom scale and my waistband reminded me of too many Christmas indulgences. But if I believed the mirror....
It is best for me to use this mirror as a crystal ball which portrays what I will look like if I return to healthy eating and exercise.
Did I tell you how much I love this mirror?!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gifts that keep giving

I received lovely gifts this Christmas from my family, thoughtfully selected and sure to give me pleasure for a long time. The truffles and other sweets that were enjoyed will likely be with me for a long time too, especially if I do not get back to my usual walking routine soon!

It is always special to spend time with family and friends, even by telephone. I couldn’t reach my parents in Mexico because of busy circuits, and I missed Sandland Brother’s call in the early evening when we were out. Time differences can make it challenging to connect at times.

I was absolutely delighted with my sister-in-law’s gift because it was something I wanted and is close to my heart. She made a donation to the Mennonite Central Committee for me and gave me this card in receipt. As I prepare a turkey dinner today for family who were not with us yesterday, I realize how much we have here in North America and how little effort we exert to feed ourselves abundantly. No, I do not want a goat in my yard, or chickens on my deck, but am happy to provide some to those who do need these gifts to live richer lives. The best gifts keep on giving and giving.

Off I go to set the table, peel potatoes and whip the cream for the pumpkin pie. And after the guests are gone, I will enjoy one of my new books and lovely lighted decorations in the living room.

Monday, December 25, 2006

My Christmas Card to You

Here in Canada, it is six o'clock on Christmas Eve, but my family in Europe and the Middle East have already welcomed Christmas Day. This prayer is from Grandma's Christmas scrapbook.

Dear Lord, at this holy Christmas open our hearts to all that is good.
Turn our eyes to the star of Bethlehem which casts its radiance down the long corridor of the centuries and let us see in it a promise of peace and eternal hope. Above all, give us grace to be truly thankful for the many bounties granted us...

to live in a land of plenty

to walk without fear

to love and be loved...

to worship with freedom

to see the miracles of the changing seasons, the forest, fields and waters

For these and more, we thank you.

Bob Turnbull
Toronto Globe and Mail

To my dear family, friends, and fellow bloggers,
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas day!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Advent Peace

His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Susanna is a 93 year old patient of mine who retains a sparkle in her eyes and an optimism for the future, even though her body is increasingly frail and weak. As she shared her life story with me, I was taken to a place of unimaginable horror and loss. She lived in Romania with her baby girl and her husband's family. Her husband was in the German army and eventually died of tuberculosis in a prisoner of war camp.
Word came that the Russian army was approaching their village and the rumours of their atrocities compelled the family to leave their home quickly. Susanna walked with their cow and her baby towards Hungary. When they reached a train, she left the cow by the tracks and continued on to Austria.
She was a refugee for seven years and witnessed much suffering and death. After she was sponsored to come to Canada, she worked for decades sewing button holes on the cuffs of shirts at a local factory. She takes pride in the fact that she was able to provide a new life for herself and her daughter.
A devout lady, she told me that every night she prays for only one thing, and that is peace. "Nothing else matters if you do not have peace," she told me.

I found an editorial in Grandma's Christmas scrapbook, taken from a medical journal, The Canadian Doctor, (vol xiii, no.12) in December 1947. The author's name is absent, but the message deserves to be heard again.

Christmas 1947

Twice in our generation we have fought a war to end all wars. We know now that victory does not produce lasting peace. Yet today, with the armaments of the last conflict scarce laid aside, we openly discuss the possibility of a third world war, impotently anticipating the blotting out of civilization.

With diminishing hope and expectancy, we have observed the efforts of well-intentioned men to banish war and the fear of war...but we can observe little result save greater rivalry, growing distrust, increasing tension.

We are becoming ever more cynical of the ability of humanity to get together and establish a peaceful way of living. We tend to lose faith in man and his confidence to bring in the millennium. We look backward and forward and find small ground for hope.

But the situation for each of us personally is not desperate. Where collective man fails, the individual can succeed. In world chaos and universal disharmony one can be at peace. Bewildered and helpless among the myriad problems which beset the cosmos, he can find in the humble stable in Bethlehem that peace which the world cannot give.

Christmas is a time of reassessment and dedication. Let us then seize the opportunity afforded by the recurrence of the sacred season to rediscover true values, to seek reality beneath world confusion, national strife and the materialism in which our daily living is commonly immersed. Kneeling humbly beside the Child in the crib we will feel inclined to cast off our fears, renew our hopes , reaffirm our faith.

Today, world conflicts continue and many families are separated from their sons, daughters, fathers and mothers by war. A family in our neighbourhood has this ribbon tied around their tree as a reminder of their love for a member serving in the armed forces.
This Christmas Eve, may God's peace fill our hearts and may we in turn share his peace with those around us.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Advent post 1
Advent post 2
Advent post 3

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Christmas Meme

This is a modified version of a meme has been circulating in the blogosphere. Here goes...

1.Eggnog or hot chocolate? Tea. I am not a fan of sweet drinks.

2. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house. She served Christmas beef, and lots of special treats. We always had to “perform” by reciting a poem, singing, or playing an instrument. Then we played games and opened one gift.

3. Do you open gifts Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Both. As a child we opened one gift on Christmas Eve, opened our stockings at about 4 AM (!), and then opened our other gifts after breakfast and after my dad read the Christmas story from the Bible. My husband’s family exchange their gifts on Christmas Eve, and we open gifts as a family on Christmas morning.

4. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? This is the first year I have done it in a long time. Our daughters have decorated it in recent years, but we have only one at home this year :-(

5. Snow- Love it or dread it? It is usually inevitable, so I have decided to enjoy it. It looks like a green Christmas this year though. (Santa, I would love to have a pair of snowshoes)

6. Can you ice skate? I can skate if I hold on to something or someone. I cannot stop unless there are boards. My husband plays hockey three times a week and our daughters are good skaters as well.

7. Do you remember your favorite gift? (as a child) The doll and doll clothes I received as a child in South Africa. (featured in a recent post)

8. What's the most exciting thing about the holidays for you? I have worked many Christmas days at the hospital. The most exciting thing about Christmas is that you can take it with you and share it anywhere.

9. What is your favorite holiday desert? Three essential Christmas treats…shortbread, fruitcake, gingerbread…all have to be homemade with the best ingredients…

10. What is your favorite holiday tradition? These keep changing. My husband is a great traditionalist, but I love to try new things.

11. What is your favorite Christmas song? I love Christmas carols and enjoy many old and new songs. I had a special treat last week when one daughter came home and went through the Christmas song book from front to back playing them all on the piano.

12. What is your favorite Christmas movie? The Best Christmas Pageant Ever with Loretta Swit and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (cartoon please!)

Samtzmom featured a 123:5 book meme this week. The book nearest me was on the piano bench...the Reader's Digest Merry Christmas 123, fifth sentence...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Soon the bells will start.
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

(end of song...out of sentences!)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter solstice

The dark of winter wraps around us tight.
The lamps are fired, and flickering light
beats time to the fiddle as notes float softly down,
like the years' first snow.
While outside the window a blast of late December wind
whistles harmony to the drone of the pipes.
We push the old year back against the wall
so we can dance a jig for Christmas
and welcome in the new.

Johnny Cunningham*

Today is winter solstice in the northern hemisphere when we note the end of darkening days and the gradual return of the sun's light. The artificial light pollution of the modern world has decreased the awareness of our dependence on the sun to provide life on earth. Solstice literally means "sun stands still" and it is celebrated as a time when light triumphs over darkness. Ancient cultures had a variety of light celebrations at this time of year and some of their traditions continue on today.

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, features the eight candles of the menorah. It celebrates a lighting miracle when one night's worth of oil lit candles for eight days.

In A.D. 354, the birth of Jesus Christ was designated to be celebrated on December 25 even though the date is not accurate. The darkness that came as a result of the sin of mankind is dispersed by the light of the newborn Saviour. The lighting of advent candles is part of our Christmas pageantry.

Yule traditions continue to be observed, and carols such as The Holly and the Ivy, and Deck the Halls speak of their influence in the celebration of Yule and Christmas.These and other customs all give us hope in a time of darkness. Let us celebrate the emerging light of a new season and share its warmth and glow with others!

*For a selection of lovely winter poems, visit the web site of Aine Minogue, an Irish musician who now lives in New England.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christkindl Market

"Christmas markets have been part of this festive time for centuries in Germany. They were usually held in front of churches and were looked at as part of a church visit. It was an opportunity for farmers to come to town, do some shopping and at the same time, offer their wares."

The reformation of the church in the 16th century brought changes to the Christmas markets. Nikolaus was replaced by the Christkindl (Christchild) as the gift giver and the Nikolaus markets became Christkindl markets.

Our city has hosted a Christkindl Market at the city hall for the past ten years. It begins each year with a candlelight procession through the streets, with Mary, Joseph, a couple of donkeys and the Christkindl, or Christchild. A living nativity is set up outdoors for the duration of the market. It was bitterly cold this year, and perhaps this was the first time Mary and Joseph drank coffee from styrofoam cups.There is carol singing outdoors during the opening ceremony, and many vendors set up to sell their wares during the next four days. We love going to this traditional European market, especially to try the delicious foods that are offered. Being outdoors in the cold does stimulate the appetite. You can choose from hot chocolate, hot goulash soup, potato pancakes, smoked fish, and of course an assortment of European baked goods such as stollen, tortes, and nut tarts. There is a skating rink where you can work off the food you ate or work up an appetite for more.
Indoors you find a large selection of crafts, from candles and soap, to jewellery, carved nativities, advent trees, hand made toys, nutcrackers, and embroidered tableware.
This colourful musician was there, with a stuffed monkey, playing his accordian and singing traditional songs of the season.Throughout the day and evening, various singers, choirs, and dancers perform in the rotunda of the city hall. There is no admission charge, so we go down a couple of times on the weekend just to watch the crowds, and soak up the festive atmosphere and try another delicious treat.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Mondays and missed routines

I am glad that I have no major hardships to deal with in life right now, but it is often the "little things" that determine whether the day will go smoothly or not. My daily schedule has some flexibility, but I count on certain things being in certain places to jog my memory as to their importance. A missing salt shaker may mean that I forget this essential ingredient in my oatmeal, a tasteless way to start my day. Substituting the small custard cup that works best for poaching my egg in the microwave may result in a yolk explosion that I scarcely have time to clean up. (poaching eggs in the microwave is not recommended)

At the hospital, we all are required to wear lanyards with our name tags attached at all times. The magnetized strip on the back and my key allow access to several important areas of the workplace. Recently, we had to start using them to enter and exit the parking lot, and on the locked unit where I work, it provides access to offices, treatment and conference rooms. I need this card more than my credit card, and if I misplace it, I pay the price for my carelessness all day long.
It means I have to sneak into the administrative lot, or go to the security office to beg for a parking token. All day I have to borrow someone's tag and key to access the areas I need to go, which probably becomes annoying to my co-workers.

This month, my little routines are all messed up. Christmas decorations are in the places where everyday items would be placed, and tidying the house for company means that some of my essential clutter has been removed. I may have to wear my name tag all the time this month to keep track of it.

My daughter said to me last night, when she couldn't find the ear buds for her IPod, "Mom, I wish you wouldn't tidy up!"
What a good idea! Maybe I won't.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent Love

I caught this candid moment showing a good friend with his little granddaughter at our church. I love the tenderness and trust that is portrayed in their pose.

Those of us, who have been blessed with a loving earthly father, have a first hand lesson regarding the way God loves us. Our fathers gave us life, provision, care, and protection. God is not just a father living far away in a heavenly place, but a father who is here, holding me in his arms, just like in the picture. He is involved with the daily concerns of my life.

I found this poem online and felt the ache of the poet’s broken heart. Yet her experience is shared by many who are without father or mother or family.

A Father's Love

I am searching for the love I never had
A love which I deserve
And have been denied for too long
A father's love
A father's love, unconditional and never ending
A father's love, longed for by a child
Big or small the love never fades
But grows with each day
Regardless of past, present and future
Regardless of what we think is right or wrong
No one can replace a father's love
But a father

Lisa Teres Fraser

God would be our parent, mother or father, and longs to provide the love and security that might not be found in our earthly situation.

Isaiah 49:14-16 gives a beautiful picture of God’s love. I frequent scribble an important message on the palm of my hand as a sure reminder that will not be misplaced. The image of my name inscribed in the palm of God’s hand is a reassuring symbol of his constant care.

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me."
Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

Many people struggle with understanding the unconditional love of God. None of us are good enough to earn his love, yet we turn from him when we feel we have messed things up. Others ask why a loving God allows so much pain and suffering in the world. A good parent does not exert total control on his children, but allows them certain freedom to choose their own way. God's love is not dependent on our behaviour, as is so beautifully illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He is always there looking and waiting for us as we seek him with all our heart.

On this third Sunday of Advent, the Everlasting Father wants us to receive his life, comfort, love and peace, graciously offered and ever present in our lives.

…and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Advent post-1
Advent post-2

Advent post-4

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Birding in December

Saturday was a beautiful day, not typical of December 16th in Canada. The temperature was 5C and all the snow we had last week had melted. The Becka and I took the dog to my favourite river trail near the hospital for a long walk, armed with 2 cameras and binoculars. The river was higher than I have seen it all year from the snow melt in the watershed, and the current was very fast. I kept away from the banks as the dog loves to wade in the water, and it looked dangerous even for him. We saw ducks hurtling downstream looking as if they were on a wild ride at an amusement park. The sun was shining, there are no leaves on the trees, and no one else was on the trail.

Susan would have added 10 birds to her list and Laura would have found some unusual water bird or obscure sparrow. Bev would have had spectacular photos of National Geographic quality. I was determined to see some birds…. and I did.

The first group was lined up on the high tension wires above the river, looking like they were at a baby shower. Every so often, they would fly in a circle, return and change seats. I had no idea what they were, but used the maximum zoom my camera had to take a close up of…pigeons. Well, they are kind of pretty.

Further down the trail was a large gaggle of geese, at least 50 by my count. The dog started a chase, and they flew en masse into the river….Canada geese.

Both of these bird species have a bad reputation, mostly because they poop in the wrong places. Their numbers are prolific and they have become very urbanized. Our Canadian geese have forgotten that they are supposed to go to the States for the winter. They fly in “V” shapes around the city all winter with loud honks, and return to the same place they started. If young goslings are not shown how to go south, they will never do it themselves, and then they cannot teach their offspring anything but city cruises. Geese love parks and golf courses and leave trails of slippery excrement in places where people may slip and break an ankle. But they are a protected species here and in many states, and cannot be shot or poisoned.

My daughter visited Europe this year and while there were large crowds in the tourist areas, the pigeons far outnumbered the people. Pigeon excrement is corrosive to cement and metal, and therefore a concern in the preservation of Europe’s old buildings and statues. In one city in Italy, tourists are encouraged to buy feed for the pigeons that is laced with contraceptive drugs. I like listening to the mourning doves around our house in the spring and summer, but as cousins to these pigeons, they are also very messy birds.

I guess if you are rare, beautiful, and neat in your habits, you are a good “birder’s bird”.

If I were a bird, I would likely be a common one, maybe even considered a pest by some. The media prefers to track the movements and habits of people like Oprah, George Clooney and other “interesting” celebrities. They must be the rare birds.

So I will enjoy the geese and pigeons as they are probably more my kind.

“Two birds added to my list!” ha ha

Friday, December 15, 2006

Potluck pressures

Mary, at Mary's View did a post yesterday that gave me a good laugh early this morning. There are various lunches and dinners in December to attend and I always struggle making the decision of what dish to bring. Somehow I feel a pressure to show off my culinary "skills", which are really very basic. I always take very healthy lunches to work, walk regularly, and generally can resist treats that end up in the nursing stations. My co-workers may not realize how much I love sweets and rich desserts.
We had a potluck lunch today with the therapy staff from our unit. I signed my name under "munchies", whatever that is supposed to be. The guys usually sign up under paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils. So last night, before I read Mary's post, I peeled carrots, chopped and cleaned celery and cauliflower to go with hummus dip. I made little bite-sized sandwiches with wraps. What a healthy looking tray of munchies... not a chip in sight. The Becka was working alongside me preparing these items for another pot luck with her friends who still have youthful metabolic rates.
Well, there was a generous spread on the table with something for everyone to enjoy and we all had a good time.
Little Jonathan came with his mom and ate his obligatory vegetables before he settled down to enjoy, guilt free, the chocolate oreo cake.
I don't know if I will follow the tips that Mary gave, or continue to munch on my carrot sticks. Perhaps I will compromise and grate the left over carrots to make carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Click here to see the recipes The Becka and I used.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What lives in your backyard?

Backyards in suburbia contain a variety of yard wildlife, some whose visits are encouraged, and others that may cause some distress and calls for an exterminator. On the whole, my Canadian backyard is host to a variety of friendly, fuzzy, furry and feathered critters that provide inspiration for the makers of Gund toys and Beanie Babies. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, even the mice that take refuge in our gas barbeque are little cause for concern or fear. Occasionally a bold skunk is seen waddling down the road early in the morning. One of our dogs had a face first encounter with a startled skunk on a predawn walk a few years ago causing significant inconvenience, but no threat to his life.

Living in the tropics, we were more vigilant when outdoors in the garden. I have always loved to plant things, and remember my first garden in Durban where I had a little plot of radishes and beans. We lived within the city limits, and my parents kept the yard trimmed and neat, but we had two encounters at home with poisonous snakes, one a mamba, and the other a puff adder. To this day, I have a serpent phobia. My family insists that the only time I can run is when I see a snake. I have tried to desensitize myself by looking at pictures of snakes, but my negative childhood conditioning is likely permanent. For some reason, our home in South Africa did not have any screens. We had dutch doors, and the top half was left open during the day when we were home. In the mango grove behind our house lived a number of black-faced monkeys. These bold creatures would enter the house and were inclined to steal fruit from the kitchen counter. I also remember a chameleon that lived on the kitchen curtains for a period of time.

Speaking of lizards, The Becka stayed in Mexico for a few months earlier this year and took these pictures of critters she encountered. Lizards are as common there as squirrels are here, but they are timid, skittish and not very fearsome. The scorpion pictured is more sinister and its camouflage would discourage my usual barefoot stroll through the yard.

As man claims more and more natural habitat, covering it with concrete and buildings, displaced creatures will either adapt to the urban environment, or face reduction. Last month, a media uproar was created in our city when the local university ordered the “execution” of four beavers that had the audacity to topple trees adjacent to a walkway near their stream. They were considered a threat to human safety on the university property.

In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught. Baba Dioum

I am continuing to receive emails indicating that it is difficult to post comments on this blog. I have been on the beta version almost since its inception, but recently it seems that non-beta users cannot log on to post on beta blogs. Feel free to comment by email, and then I can post it. (body_soul_spirit(at)rogers(dot)com) I have switched to Firefox as a web browser this week, after much prodding by my daughter, and am impressed with the features. It works very well with Blogger.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What Christmas Means to Me - circa 1946 - Part Two

Here is the last half of Mom's description of Christmas celebrations in their small Ontario town.

Christmas Eve, the stepping stone to the great day, has its usual program. At supper the Christmas beef is cut into for the first time. The twenty-one days of seasoning and turning in the crock have left it a deep red, and as Dad’s knife penetrates its spicy surface the fragrance of spices fills the room. Immediately after supper, extra leaves are inserted in the table to support the great dinner and to make room for the fifteen people who will be present the next day.

At nine, all the last minute jobs are completed and the family is sitting around the tree reading. In Dad’s hand is “The Other Wiseman” by Van Dyke. Mother is reading “Why the Chimes Rang”, and Bill is reviewing the immortal “Christmas Carol”. I am saying from memory the well known lines,

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…”

The silence is broken only by the occasional visits of carolers until Christmas Eve visitors arrive to view our tree and decorations. Everyone who enters must have a piece of Christmas cake for good luck, some shortbread and then some coffee. From ten to midnight there is a continual flow of visitors in and out of the house. Everyone is in bed by twelve in order to be asleep when Santa comes.

At last, the long awaited day is here. Sharp at eight, everyone goes downstairs to look on while my brother and I open our stockings. Although we are both past the infant stage, Santa Claus has never ceased to exist. The only change is that we now know him as the spirit of Christmas, not as one particular person who sits in Eaton’s toy land.

After spending considerable time looking at our things, the family scurries around to their particular tasks. Mother and Grandmother rush to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the enormous turkey. Bill and I tidy up and make the beds, and Dad and Uncle Perc try as much as possible to keep out of the general confusion. By ten we are all seated at the radio listening to the King give his Christmas message to his people all over the world. As the final notes of “God Save the King” are resounding through the room, a general rush is made to the tree where Bill takes up his usual occupation of giving out the gifts. There are exclamations of surprise as someone receives a beautiful or unexpected gift and the floor is soon covered with papers of all shapes and sizes. The gifts are then neatly arranged on the beds upstairs in preparation for the day’s visitors. New ski jackets are donned and Uncle Perc and I take the dog for a walk to try out a new collar or leash.

Returning home, we are greeted by the fragrance of roasting turkey and plum pudding and we hasten upstairs to change into our best clothes for dinner. About four o’clock, the Knowles arrive and dinner is usually started after odd skirmishes under the mistletoe. After dinner we drag our stuffed guests upstairs to see the gifts, but the quietness is usually broken by the teenagers who start a wild game of touch tag or hide and seek, threatening the lives of innocent on-lookers. By and by, people wander downstairs where they break off into groups to play crokinole, Chinese checkers, or to listen to new records.
Finally, the tired but happy visitors return to their homes and we go to bed. Upstairs, we are all saying “Good night” and remarking “this has been the best Christmas yet”.

To me, Christmas is a season when it is impossible to be angry at anyone, a time when everyone is joining with the angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What Christmas Means to Me - circa 1946 - Part One

I found this essay that my mother wrote when she was a young teenager in the 1940’s. She describes the way Christmas was celebrated in her home with enthusiasm and warmth. Mom has always been a great communicator and is a gifted writer and speaker. She was a school teacher before raising the five of us. She still teaches at a school in Mexico even though she is well past “retirement age”. Mom is pictured on skates as a young girl in 1939. The backyard was flooded each winter to create an ice rink. The other picture is of Mom and her brother, Uncle Bill, taken about the time this was written.

Christmas- The very smell of the word makes my mouth water- turkey, cakes, cookies, candy and all the other things that go to make up this great festive feast in our home.

At the mention of the word there comes to my mind the beloved and familiar story of the Babe who was born to save the world, of the rude stable and manger where He was born, of Mary and Joseph, and how proud they must have been, of the wise men and of the shepherds who left their flocks on the hillside when they heard the angels’ glad “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”. I think of the White Gift Sunday at our church, of the beautiful and awesome candle light service in the evening, of the rich and melodious chimes that peal their joyous message over the countryside. I remember the Christmas Eve get-togethers, when groups of young people go from door to door singing the old familiar carols. To be without this sacred part of Christmas would be like leaving a doorway from a beautiful cathedral so no people could view the beauty of its interior.

To me, the next part of Christmas, and the part I love most, is the pageantry connected with the season. About five days before Christmas, my father, mother, brother and I go to our reforestation area to find our tree and to gather pine boughs for decorating both inside and outside. We are very particular about our tree. It must be red pine and ten feet high, as well as bushy;- none of these spare and half dead trees that are bought at the last minute in the city square for us. It must be floor to ceiling and it would never do to see the centre trunk.

The day after getting the tree is the most important time, for it is the day to turn our home into a Christmas fairyland. Out come the glaring white lights from their sockets and into their places go the Christmas ones of red and green. Down come unnecessary curtains and pictures to make room for the tree and evergreen boughs. Away go awkward chairs and tables that might hinder the joyous movements of people around the house. The oil painting above the fireplace is taken down and in its place is put a round mirror draped with boughs of pine. The mantle is also covered with pine set off with vivid red candles at each end. In the centre is set a miniature replica of the Nativity, which gives a finishing touch to that side of the room. Above the piano is hung a picture of the Madonna, also draped with fragrant pine boughs. Above the French doors, between the living room and the dining rooms, are more decorations. If luck is with us, a large box of holly and mistletoe has arrived from friends in Vancouver. It is in this prominent place, where everyone must pass, that we hang the mistletoe. Every year it is the cause of many embarrassing events. The most prominent place however, is between the two south windows, for it is here the tree is placed. The branches are draped with brightly coloured lights and hung with balls of ruby and silver. When all is completed the room smells like a pine grove after a spring rain. All this beauty was not achieved without suffering on our part. Our hands and clothes are sticky and stained by the pitch from the pine boughs, our fingers are cut by broken ornaments and the sharp holly leaves, our bodies have received various shocks while testing the tree lights. Now, after a long hard day’s work, come in to sit by the crackling wood fire in a room that is filled with the symbols of Christmas, even to the carols echoing through the still night from the United Church tower.