Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Winter playground

There are many winter activities to enjoy now that the snow and ice have established themselves here in our part of Canada. Many people pay for seasonal ski passes and they must be relieved that their money was not wasted with the late winter arrival. Today I drove by many snowmobile trails north of the city. They were well used as they wound through meadows, bush and farms. Downhill skiing and snowmobiling require expensive equipment and club fees. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing equipment is pricey, but these activities can be done free in public land.
Skating is an affordable sport if done outdoors, but renting ice time in an arena for figure skating and hockey is expensive. Many families spend hours each week in arenas watching their children on the ice playing hockey or taking skating lessons.

There are plenty of free and fun things to do in the snow. We have a large hill near our home that is very popular with young tobogganers. It is a long climb to the top and the descent gets rough and icy from multiple users. For light weight sledders with good backs, it is a great way to spend an afternoon. Watch your pockets though! I have found two sets of car keys on the slopes of the tobogganing hill in the springtime.
The target pictured above is for snowball practice. It may be fun, but I think most children would prefer a good old fashioned snowball fight, preferably from behind the protection of a well built snow fort. A moving target is much more challenging than a painted bulls eye.

We saw this young sculptor in Toronto as she used a chisel to transform a chunk of ice into a human form. There a several winter carnivals in Ontario that feature ice carving, from basic to very elaborate. Ottawa, our nation's capital city, has a big winter carnival each February called Winterlude. The Rideau Canal is partially drained and the ice is surfaced to provide a skating rink that is 8 kilometers long.
Our seasonal changes are extreme but invigourating. I don't skate or toboggan any more and seldom throw snowballs. But I enjoy being outdoors, walking and watching others participate in winter fun. I don't want to spend four months indoors waiting for spring to come.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Birthday Blessings

"The love of a family is life's greatest blessing."

Here I am with my father shortly after my birth on January 30, 1955. (You can do the math!)
I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in the middle of a summer thunderstorm as my mother recalls. And I do believe mothers vividly remember every detail of their child's birth.
It was my good fortune to be born to parents who wanted me, loved me, encouraged me, and taught me good moral values. We travelled a lot and my early experiences have influenced my perspective on life to this day. My brothers and I were close and are still good friends, even though some of us live half a world apart. I know they will all make an effort to contact me on this birthday, to tease me about my age as I am the eldest, but also to share their love.

Here I am on my first birthday as my mother is reaching out to rescue my birthday cake. I have many great birthday memories over the years. Musical Aunt had a surprise party for me on my 14th birthday when I went to her house for my usual piano lesson. Mom pulled off another surprise on my 16th birthday after we had moved to another city. She arranged for the friends I missed to drive to our new home to celebrate with me. Two years ago, my sister-in-law, along with my husband and daughters, really shocked me with a surprise 50th birthday party. Tonight, some of my friends from work honoured me with a meal, cake, card and best wishes.
Do I wish I was 18, or 25, or even 30? I wouldn't want to give up the experiences and the life lessons I have learned if it was possible to turn the clock back. I wouldn't want to return the confidence and wisdom I have gained with getting older.
At the Ontario Science Centre, we each sat in a time machine that took our photograph and then aged us 50 years. We received 5 pictures, one for each decade of aging. I have an image that is supposed to be my likeness when I am 102 years old! I won't be posting that here any time soon.
I am thankful for my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who influenced me as a child. It is my turn to be the mentor, carer, and encourager to the generations behind me. We will never be too old if we are willing to embrace change and keep on learning and sharing with enthusiasm and joy.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

When Death Comes

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

My desk at the hospital is in front of a large bay window. I have a lovely view of the back of the property and the tree-lined lane that winds towards the road. I also face the morgue and frequently see a hearse coming to pick up the body of a recently deceased patient. For most people, death is an infrequent visitor and serious thoughts and discussions on the subject are avoided.
My husband and I went to a funeral home this afternoon to visit with the family of a man who died this week. Mahlon was 96 years old and had a long, happy life with the respect of his family and friends. His faith was strong and he shared his hope of eternal life with those who visited with him in his last frail days. He knew my husband's family in his youth and loved to tell us about his relationship with them in the early part of the 20th century. He witnessed many changes in the world in his lifetime. Today was a celebration of a life well lived, more than the grieving that comes with an untimely passing.
I have been reading the poetry of Mary Oliver this month and have enjoyed her poems that deal with subjects related to death, both of human kind and also of the "circle of life" as seen in the natural world. This was my favourite as it speaks so eloquently of living life to the fullest each day and facing death preparedly and fearlessly.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Nature in the Big City

My daughter wanted to visit her favourite Thai restaurant in downtown Toronto today, so we had an excuse for an outing, (as if I really needed one). I lived in Toronto for several years and enjoy visiting the city, even though, from a commuter's point of view, I am happy to live in a smaller centre. Several rivers flow into Lake Ontario in this area including the Don River. Steep ravines cut through the suburbs and city centre. As children, my brothers and I spent a lot of time in the Don Valley near our home exploring the river and its banks.

Today we visited the Ontario Science Centre which is in the geographical middle of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, North America, Northern Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System "Sol", Orion Arm, Milky Way Galaxy, Andromeda Group, Virgo Supercluster, The Universe. (really!)
It is built into the ravine and has several levels to explore. There are hands on exhibits, from environmental and natural science to physics and chemistry. Twice a day there is a bird walk in the ravine, and a number of feeders attract the birds that winter here. Exhibits demonstrated how the numbers of song birds are decreasing in this area. Part of the problem is that forests in central and South America are being destroyed and the birds are not surviving after their winter migration. Our cities here are sprawling and the natural habitat for birds and animals is shrinking.

The ravine was steep and slippery and I had difficulty getting a steady foot hold for pictures. I saw a white-breasted nuthatch, but its quick movements evaded my camera shutter. The downy woodpecker was content to stay at the suet bar, and the cardinals were obviously used to spectators.I wondered if an owl would make its home in this tree. In a couple of weeks there is an evening owl walk in a local conservation area and perhaps I will be lucky enough to see one then.
We went downtown, had our spicy Pad Thai, and browsed in the busy shops on Yonge Street. The snow on the city streets was ugly, brown slush and the dampness near the lake very chilling. It is good to know that city dwellers can visit the many parks and river valleys near by and experience nature first hand if they want to.
I am afraid that most people are too busy with their houses, jobs, malls and social networks to care that we are part of a very complex, interconnected and changing universe.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thoughts of spring

I just finished shoveling the driveway and sidewalks on our corner lot, and am warming up indoors with a cup of tea. Looking through pictures taken in the past year, I am also warmed by images of spring.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the most beautiful towns anywhere in Canada. If you are coming to the Niagara region, forget the Falls, and visit this place instead. (The Falls are just a short drive up the Niagara Parkway, a beautiful scenic route along the Niagara River that is lined with orchards and vineyards). The flowers in the spring, summer and fall are spectacular and the old homes , many of them bed and breakfasts, are well maintained.Here I am with some of the wonderful people I work with at the hospital. We went to the Shaw Festival one afternoon to see a play. The play was good, but walking the town was even better.
I have enough cold, snowy posts for this week. It's time to think about some spring warmth and colour!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winter arrived here late this year, but it is trying to make up for lost time with persistent snow and cold temperatures. There have been light flurries every day this week, and the accumulation is significant as the thermometer stays well below freezing.
On Tuesday, I noticed that the river was freezing over, and when I went to the trail after work, there was only a small amount of open water around the concrete pillars of the bridge. It was so strange to walk along the banks and hear no running water, no birds, no squirrels, just deep winter silence. A lone hawk flew above the ice, and I had a good view of him when he landed on a treetop. I took a photo using the digital zoom on my little pocket-sized camera, and it was good enough to identify a juvenile Cooper's hawk, but not good enough to post here. This is the extreme northern range of their winter habitat and the dinner menu did not look very promising. There were plenty of rabbit tracks though and beneath his tree perch I found a pile of feathers from a small bird.
This is a hard time for animals and birds. My pampered pet has no idea how easy his life is compared to his wild cousins. To him, snow is for tunneling, rolling, and frolicking and he does not tire of playing in it. The only thing that bothers him at this time of year is road salt. We try to avoid walks on sidewalks as the salt gets in his paws and causes him to limp after a few blocks. I see some little dogs wearing boots to protect their feet, but I am sure Dakota would be quite insulted if we tried to dress him up.
If I knew for sure that the snow was going to stay like this for another six weeks, I would be tempted to invest in a pair of snowshoes. The new light weight models are much smaller and sleeker than the large traditional ones made of wood and leather. Even with snowshoes, I wouldn't be venturing out on the river. The ice is not very thick and the current still runs swiftly below the surface.
I enjoyed being out today, but am glad that this is not Narnia, "always winter, and never Christmas". Spring is around the corner.

(For a great spring post, look here on Mary's View)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hand Made

In past generations, well educated young women learned languages, art, music and handwork from governesses at home or at finishing schools. My paternal grandmother, Eveline, was always knitting, crocheting or tatting something. She made a lovely handkerchief with a finely crocheted border for me to carry on my wedding day. My mother sewed nearly all our clothes when we were children, including pajamas, and coats. My sister-in-law has made numerous quilts over the years.

The first knitting I did was to earn a Brownie badge. I had to make a 50 by 50 stitch square which was added to an afghan that the entire group contributed to. In 7th grade, the girls in my home economics class were taught how to make a proper cup of tea and how to sew from a pattern. We all made shift dresses out of cotton that year, as they were the style in 1968. I have done crewel work, knitted slippers and scarves, crocheted a poncho (think granny squares, hippies) and have sewed a lot of clothes over the years.

When my daughters were in grade 7, the girls and boys were not separated for shop and home studies. The girls and boys made CD shelves and metal boxes, and they all sewed an apron of their own design. I never taught my girls to knit or do any kind of needlework, other than threading a needle to mend a button. Grandma T. would be horrified to see how little her great granddaughters know about domestic arts.

Most cultures have unique handwork and art with techniques that have been passed down for generations. When I first visited Mexico, there was hand painted pottery, embroidery, hand weaving, leather and wood crafts and more found in markets and on street corners. This past year, I went to a couple of markets and found that most things sold were “Made in China”. The merchandise was similar to what is seen in our local dollar stores. My daughter found the little embroidered “doll” that covers a bottle of hot chili sauce for sale from some indigenous Nayarit Indians in the town zocalo in Tepic. But that was a rare find.

In our instant world, taking time and effort to craft something by hand is quickly becoming a thing of the past. I rarely find time to sew, and may cut just one or two patterns a year. I still knit dishcloths from cotton yarn, so simple a pattern that I do not have to concentrate on them at all. (I cannot watch TV without doing something else with my hands).

There will always be crafters, but the average person is unlikely to practice and learn skills which were once common for most people in the recent past. It is important to nurture our creativity and there will always be new ways to do that. Whether I pick up my knitting needles, or my camera, I can create something I enjoy and can pass on to others.

(I had this post done as a draft a couple of weeks ago. See what Laura says about her latest handwork project. Must be the season that provides similar inspiration.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Great Game of Canada

Hockey is Canada’s national sport. Now that we have cold weather, outdoor rinks are flooded each night by hardy volunteers for those who want free outdoor ice time. Two large rinks are maintained by the city in the downtown park, one for hockey, the other for pleasure skating.

The Irish game of Hurley was brought to Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. It was a type of field hockey and it moved to ice surfaces in the winter as the ground was too rough for play. The new game was called Hurley on Ice. Skates were strapped onto boots in the early years of the game and skates as we know them today did not appear until the early 20th century. The game became known as hockey in the later part of the 19th century and it spread across most regions of Canada. Over the years there were changes in equipment and rules, and various leagues were formed, the most famous being the National Hockey League in 1917.

Hockey at it best is a spontaneous pick up game, played by young and old together. In the Mennonite communities, nightly games are played on cleared ponds with energetic enthusiasm. Road hockey is popular on suburban streets as youngsters play with a net, ball, boots or inline skates. Wayne Gretzky, who grew up in a community close to here, practiced skating and stick handling for hours each day in a backyard rink. This spontaneity demonstrates the true heart and passion of the game.

My husband is a goalie and plays in an Old Timers’ league three times a week. (Old Timers starts at 40 years of age). He and other aging baby boomers hit the ice in the evenings and weekends and try to replay the game of their youth. Earlier this month, one player on his team had a heart attack and died on the ice. Too many of the men are out of shape, overweight, and smokers. They do not warm up properly and ignore warning signals such as breathlessness and chest pain. The quick energy required during intense peaks of activity followed by frequent bench breaks with no activity is very hard a deconditioned heart and body.

I do not enjoy big league hockey at all. The salaries paid to professional players in all sports are obscene, and the antics and behaviour of some players abhorrent. Hockey did not originate as a spectator sport, but as a sport of participation and community. It was not meant to be franchised in Florida, Phoenix or California. This is a game of the great white north.

After work I walked through the park and watched the skaters, a father with his son and friends, and young goalie trying out new equipment, all playing for the love of the game.

Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive. ~Stephen Leacock

March 12, 2007

I revently received this interesting email in response to this post. The link is interesting.

I enjoyed your hockey piece about what hockey is and where is really started. I like to think that it is found on all the backyard rinks and outdoor community ice rinks in Canada. The joy of kids lacing up and playing their heart out just for the fun of the game.
There's a lot to be said about watching kids take his/her first steps on the ice or watching 2-3 kids skate hours on end and come in with red cheeks to only head back out for more. I like to think that this is its purest form of hockey.
This is what I try to encourage and develop in our neighbourhood by holding a 3on3 backyard hockey league for kids ages 7-11. Looks like it's picking up....
Thanks for your article.
Orleans, Ontario

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Hand of an Artist

January is a beautiful midwinter month here in the north. The air is crisp and clear. The sun is higher in the sky and stays longer each day. It is still a harsh time for the birds and animals, but the artists of nature display their signature works in ever changing displays.

Sun casts the long shadow of a giant oak on a clean canvas of white snow.

North Wind teams with warming Sun and together they sculpt crystalline icicles on the edges of roofs, cliffs and tree branches.

Frost reaches out with fine fingers and paints intricate patterns of icy lace on cold, smooth surfaces.

No tree decorated by human hands can compare with the glistening beauty of Sun shining on the work of Hoar Frost.

The Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mystery of the Missing Suet

I have been putting a suet mixture out on the deck for the birds since the weather became colder. The recipe I have been using came from The Egret’s Nest. I mix the crunchy peanut butter and the lard together and it smells so good, just as if I am beginning to make peanut butter cookies. I LOVE peanut butter, and I could easily eat it at every meal. The oats and flour continue to add to the cookie like texture, but then I add a good amount of mixed bird seed to the mixture. I have been freezing it in 3 cup yogurt containers and putting it in a very makeshift basket, suspended by wire hangers on a hook. I am seldom home during the day, and have little opportunity to see any action at the feeders. On Thursday morning, I put 3 cups of fresh “bird suet” out before I went to work. The previous batch had lasted over a week. The juncos are quick to hop into the basket and they line up in the lilac bush for a turn at the tasty treat.

When I returned home that afternoon, the basket was on the deck floor and all the suet was gone. I could hardly imagine that it could have been eaten that quickly by the birds, or even a gang of squirrels. The Becka and I dug through the snow to see if we could find even a trace of it, but there was nothing left at all.

This morning dawned bright and sunny. I went out in the yard with our dog and checked the feeders which were covered in a few inches of new fluffy snow. The dog had his constitutional and when I went to clean it up…well, it consisted of…birdseed.

We have been trying to watch our eight year old mixed breed’s weight, limiting his treats and making sure he has regular walks. And to think he gobbled down at least one cup of lard and peanut butter, along with a lot of fiber!

He knew he was in “the doghouse”, but likely didn’t relate our scolding to his indulgence two days ago. It was also fortunate that he digested it, rather than throwing it up on a rug. I really have to find a better way to put out the suet so it cannot be tipped by the squirrels or the dog.

I have copied the recipe onto my recipe blog just in case I ever lose the link to The Egret's Nest. The peanut butter is really popular with all kinds of feathered and furry critters, and with a few modifications, I think I could serve it to my friends as well!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bird Songs

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup

And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

George Meredith (1828-1909)

One of my favourite pieces of music is Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. The composer was inspired by the poem above and it was included along with the original published music. The beauty of the violin solo as it represents the ascending skylark represents a joyful freedom of spirit that I find very moving.
Bird songs are rare around here right now. Other than the chirping of sparrows near feeders, and the cheery chickadees in the bushes, the mornings are white and silent. Many musical composers were inspired to imitate bird melodies in their work. Vivaldi's The Four Seasons is a musical journey through the year. He wrote a sonnet to accompany each section. Spring's sonnet describes the music and each element can be heard by the listener.

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps,
his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds
lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Doves, cuckoos, and nightingales are well represented in classical music. Another favourite piece I have enjoyed from childhood is Peter and the Wolf. Sergei Prokofiev wrote this children's story which is spoken by a narrator and accompanied by the orchestra. Each character is represented by an instrument and a repeated melody. The flute sings the bird's song and the oboe is given the duck's tune.
The snow is falling and the wind is howling outside tonight as the temperature plummets below zero. I can listen to the songs of spring and birds on some of my favourite CDs and imagine the warmth and sounds of a coming season.

On another note...I found this recommended book Music of the Birds: A Celebration of Bird Song with CD.
From the description at Amazon...

The book examines bird song from two main perspectives: scientific and aesthetic. Elliott dispenses solid, basic science on why birds sing, the functions of specialized bird vocalizations, and other topics that have been examined by ornithologists. He also discusses how bird songs have influenced poets, with many examples from the writings of some of the greatest of all time. Indeed, it is not difficult to see how the songs of such great singers as thrushes, larks, or others inspired writers as diverse as Shelley, Whitman, and Thoreau.

Aside from the text, the book is graced with spectacular photos, virtually all of them taken by Elliott and in magnificent color, of singing birds. Any birder who knows the difficulty in spotting such songbirds as warblers will be astonished by Elliott's photos of these and many more, in the act of singing no less! As if this were not enough, tucked inside the back cover you will find a compact disc of bird songs also produced by Elliott and technically superb...

(Photo of lark-source unknown)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Gift of Fresh Water

Canada is blessed with an abundance of fresh water. Our community and others around here were built on waterways as they provided transportation, water supply and power. There are a number of interesting mills that stand today as monuments to the past.

Last weekend, I passed through this little town. The land here was purchased in 1832 by a Scottish immigrant. He built a dam across the creek and over the next twenty years established business with a saw mill, grist mill and distillery, all powered by water propelled wheels. The town is now a bedroom community for the nearby city, but the dam and pond remain, a home for swans and ducks and a small park.

One hundred years later, in 1932, people recognized the damage that had been done to the watershed by deforestation, alteration of water flow, and poor waste management. A local conservation authority was formed to address issues related to the health of all the creeks and rivers that formed the watershed of the Grand River on its journey to Lake Erie. Several large dams have been built to control spring flooding and to regulate summer flows. Reforestation has been ongoing and beautiful trails and conservation areas have been designated for our enjoyment. The water quality is vastly improved with water treatment facilities. Four distinct birding areas have been identified as nesting and migratory locations for a large number of different species, including several rare and endangered ones.

Every spring, volunteers comb the banks and waters of the rivers, cleaning up debris and garbage left by careless people. It is astounding to see what is dumped in the water, from tires, car parts and furniture to smaller litter items like plastic bags and fast food containers. I like to think that most people are responsible and caring about the environment, but it is sad to see that some do not value our natural heritage at all.

I love looking at the local streams and rivers and try to plan most of my walks near them.

The Grand River Conservation Authority’s motto is “Conserving our Future”, and I do want to be part of that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Number crunching

I was reading Ginger’s recent post at Joyful Woman where she described the way her numbers oriented husband counted something very mundane. I like to think of myself as rather spontaneous and easy going, far from an obsessive compulsive personality. To be sure, I decided to keep track of the things I counted and the way I used numbers in the course of one day.

1. Get up and weigh myself on digital scale, accurate to 1/10 of a pound.

2. Put on my pedometer, which I have worn daily for the past 3 years, so I can be sure I walk at least 10,000 steps today.

3. Log on to Diet Power, where I record what I eat each day. (I really need to do this and find it easier than attending a support group!) This program counts all kinds of food related things for me.

4. Set my trip odometer on the car so I can count the number of kilometers I travel for my job today.

5. At work, I measure heart rates and oxygen saturations on patients as they exercise. My goniometer is used to measure joint range of motion. I count the number of repetitions as each exercise is done. There are measurements and performance scales galore in the health care setting.

6. The ultimate recording chore at work is accounting for every minute of my day. We have to record the number of minutes spent with each patient, as well as our organizational and meeting times. So far there is no category for washroom breaks.

7. At a boring meeting, I count windows, slats on blinds, ceiling tiles, anything at all to pass the time.

8. On the way home, I count my small change and find I have enough to go into the self serve car wash to get the salt and ice off my vehicle.

Wow, it sounds like I am a wee bit compulsive! It is not just me. Our culture is obsessed with data, numbers, performance ratings, statistics, and measurements. We can measure our value very quickly with variety of objective tools. From the time a toddler is taught to count to ten, his success in life will depend on the ability to handle numbers well.

For the rest of the evening, I am going to put numbers far from my head and listen to some pleasant music while I read a book. (That is if I can keep my hands off the Sudoku puzzle book I got for Christmas.) I will be so relaxed that I will not have to resort to counting sheep in order to get to sleep tonight.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Time for a Story

The children pictured below are enjoying the small library at our church. I was the children’s librarian for a number of years and thoroughly enjoyed buying and reviewing many of the books on these shelves. We never had a television at home when we were growing up, so we read many books that have become lifelong friends. I still have my childhood books and find it difficult to even contemplate parting with them. The Enid Blyton mysteries were read and re-read and I have many volumes written by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I still love my Rudyard Kipling books and Sandland Brother inherited a whole bookcase of red leather-bound classics from an uncle. Over the years, I have received books from family members who were downsizing or who had died. I have most of Grandma’s books, many of them Canadian first editions by authors such as Emily Carr, Pauline Johnson, and Susannah Moody.

I still take my turn checking out books in the church library and have noticed that fewer and fewer children are reading. Parents will bring preschoolers in for picture stories, but older elementary school children are not looking at more challenging chapter books.

Miss Methe was my wonderful 5th grade teacher. At the end of each school day, she would read a chapter or two from a classic book, such as Black Beauty or Treasure Island. These stories would sometimes start out slowly, but before long, the class was anticipating the next installation with pleasure. I credit her for encouraging me to read at a higher level than the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books I was going through very quickly. One of my favourite movies is Matilda which is based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, a most creative and delightful author. Who wouldn’t enjoy a little girl who reads Moby Dick at bedtime and takes books out of the library by the wagon load?

I still love to read, but it is hard sometimes to find time to do as much as I want to. We have so many leisure time options available. I try to use our excellent local libraries and only buy a book that I know I will want to read again, or share with others.

Right now I am reading two volumes of poetry by Mary Oliver, introduced to me on Laura’s blog. I just finished Letters from Eden by Julie Zickefoose, which was also recommended by a number of bloggers. It was very enjoyable to read and beautifully illustrated.

I have tried e-books, but miss the feel of pages in my hands. On long trips I have signed out books on CD to listen to in the car. I haven’t found a lot of quality books in this format though.

Children seldom will read without parental encouragement and example. Perhaps I could get some more parents into the little library who would share some time with their young readers, introducing them to a lifetime of reading for pleasure.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Yak Trax

The winter storm that started yesterday continued over night in the form of freezing rain. Because there was a layer of snow on the ground already, ice pellets formed making it feel as if you were walking through a load of white sugar. Other than scraping thick ice off the car, there was no glare ice to deal with on the sidewalks and roads. I pulled out my Yaktrax for the first time this year. I have had a couple of bad falls on ice over the years that left me with broken bones. It took me a long time to get over my fear of falling on icy days, and my family would escort me over slick terrain as if I was an old lady.

I read about this product first in a medical journal. The study entitled , "A Simple Gait-Stabilizing Device Reduces Outdoor Falls and Nonserious Injurious Falls in Fall-Prone Older People During the Winter" was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in June 2005. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association endorses them, and I recommend them to my patients.

I bought my first pair last year for about $30.00 CDN and used them on a daily basis for three months of winter weather. I hardly ever walked on the (despised) treadmill as I was able to venture outdoors with safety. There is a little rust on the coils, but the rubber is not worn at all. They are small enough to slip in a pocket or bag, and are as easy as toe rubbers to put on. (Does anyone remember toe rubbers?)

There was a break in the freezing rain at noon, so I was able to go out a walk the trail high above the river. I even went up the steep bluff without sliding a bit.

I know there is a great white yak who has been described on occasion in cyberspace, and I assure you I do not know what his tracks look like. I have even lurked at his herder's cave intermittently. This product is not related in any way, although anyone, human or Yak, over 40 years old should use Yaktrax on snow and ice.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dressed in white

I have had a busy "on call" weekend with lots of country driving to see my new patients. Today, the weather made the roads treacherous for travel as ice pellets and snow fell and continue to fall. But the trees and fields were beautiful as they were dressed in sticky, clean snow.

We had time before dark to take our dog out for a walk in the fields. He loves the snow and frolics in it like a puppy. "Bad weather" is really relative. Walking was easy in the packing snow, and I found some great illustrations for this quote that came to my in box today from this site.

There is no such thing as death. In nature nothing dies. From each sad remnant of decay, some forms of life arise ...
Charles Mackay

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Parting Gifts

Health care workers often receive gifts from grateful patients and families, usually in the form of chocolate or some other sweet treat. Over the years, I have received my share of candy, knitted slippers, and other homemade foods and crafts. We are allowed to accept gifts up to a value of $25.00. Some gifts cannot be valued in a monetary sense, as they impart a piece of the giver and their life.

Doing home visits, I get an intimate view of people, their families and their past. Old photographs show the vigour and beauty of youth. Gardens, books, houseplants, hobby rooms and kitchens display the personality and interests that occupied a previously healthy person.

I visited one lady over a period of three years as she suffered several fractures due to severe osteoporosis. Sitting down too hard would fracture her pelvis and she broke both her hips and shoulders in succession from falls. She was as fragile as Humpty Dumpty. One day she took me into her kitchen and showed me her recipe file and some of her cooking tools. She loved to cook and it was important to her that I knew she once was a capable and productive woman. Of German heritage, she was an expert at making stews, soups and homemade noodles.

Shortly before she died, she presented me with her well used spaetzle press. Fresh spaetzle noodles are delicious and our family is delighted when they are served for dinner. I serve them with goulash soup or rouladin. They would be very good with vegetable stew or soup as well. The Pennsylvania Dutch use eggs, milk and flour to make a number of styles of noodles and dumplings. I have included recipes for the dishes mentioned here in my cooking blog.

Every time I use the press, I remember my patient, not frail and broken, but as a strong, healthy wife and mother, providing home made meals for her family.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Putting first things first

As I was finishing my charting at the hospital today, the head nurse came and whispered in my ear most sincerely, “Please pray that next week will be a better week.”

The staff dealt with increased numbers of virulent infections and there were some very sick people admitted. A new physician needed to be oriented to the floor and overworked people were getting irritable. A recent management change is not working out as well as expected, and budget time is approaching quickly.

I am not surprised when I hear of people retiring from stressful jobs in the corporate world or in health care. We all daydream about an idyllic existence, free of stress, where we are in control of all our time and have no financial worries. And we want this to happen before we are too old to enjoy it.

When I travel, I like to take pictures of people at work. In many poorer countries, an existence is eked out day by day, often by selling items on the streets or in markets. Last year, I was approached by a tiny girl, no older than 5 or 6, who offered cough drops for sale as I sat in a shoe store in Mexico. I feel so excessively rich when I walk by the poor and find it hard not to offer a handout, even if I do want their wares.

I have also noticed that many of these people lead contented and happy lives. They are not in pursuit of the many things we fill our lives with in first world countries. Our high standard of living, while comfortable, requires a lot of effort and money to maintain.

The Bible’s cure for anxiety is found in words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6. This lesson is harder for the rich than for the poor, as we try to look after our needs and desires completely on our own. Is it any wonder that we feel stressed?

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
And why are you worried about clothing?
Observe how the lilies of the field grow;
they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you
that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,
will He not much more clothe you?
You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’
or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’
For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things;
for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Infection Control

Working in a hospital, one sees a constant but changing battle with various infections. This is the season for Norwalk-like viruses and influenza. Several nursing homes and hospital floors are quarantined now to slow down these rapidly spreading diseases.

More sinister are the antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA and VRE. Both hospitals in our city have many cases right now and staff has to take extra time to gown and glove, disinfect and wash each time a patient requires care. Usually, patients with these infections are placed in isolation rooms, but there are so many right now, that four bed wards are being used to isolate groups with similar infections.

In most cases, the antibiotic resistant infections are of minimal risk to staff, but for the elderly and ill, they can be lethal. A new strain of MRSA, community acquired, CA-MRSA, is being seen with increasing frequency in young and healthy populations. This infection has spread quickly in sports teams and in gyms and is characterized by boils and similar skin infections. It has the potential to be life threatening as well.

The overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the development of new strains of bacteria. It is increasingly difficult to find new antibiotics before the bacteria have modified themselves again. Antibiotics are of no use against viral illness like the common cold, yet people often demand a pill from their doctor when they get a mild infection that will run its course without treatment.

When penicillin was discovered, it seemed that the battle with infectious disease had been won. My mother’s brother died of meningitis at the age of three in the 1920’s and his life would likely have been spared with antibiotics. Diseases like tuberculosis and various venereal diseases that were scourges in the 19th and early 20th centuries have become highly treatable. Tuberculosis is re-emerging though in an antibiotic resistant form.

The media can sound a fearful alarm causing unnecessary panic at times. Diseases are part of nature, and all living things are subject to them. We have so much more understanding of how illnesses spread and are able to take precautions to protect our health. Most of us have a healthy immune system, and this is our first line of defense. Things like stress, fatigue, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise cause our immune system to function poorly. When I do get sick, I can usually link my illness to a time of stress, overtiredness, or eating excessive sweets and processed foods. Good hand washing habits are also essential and the sharing of personal items is not a good idea.

I have had several patients who developed sepsis from a small skin infection and went on to rapid multi-organ failure. They spent weeks in ICU on ventilators and dialysis, sometimes losing a limb to stop the source of the infection. We see them for rehabilitation to get their stiffened and atrophied bodies moving again.

We occasionally are made to watch the most depressing films about the spread of infection as part of staff education. I try to keep a balanced perspective about the risks, which are really quite small for an individual.

Marie Currie, a pioneer in medical physics, said so wisely,

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Haibun for a January day

I open the door. Frosty air pinches my face. The sun rises above a ribbon of cloud on the horizon. A half moon hangs suspended in the pale western sky. Clouds roll in from the big lake. People gather at the windows and gaze through the cold glass. We stand and watch large flakes float down lazily in the giant snow globe. The afternoon sun returns and shines through the trees.

footprints in the snow
that blankets the frozen earth
winter comes at last

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cameras and Expositions

Ruth 1967

When I turned 12 years old, I started babysitting and had my own money to spend for the first time in my life. I really wanted to take my own pictures and used my savings to buy a Kodak Instamatic camera. Buying and developing film was relatively expensive in the 1960's and I tried not to waste any shots as my income was quite limited.
Canada's centennial year was 1967 and there was a World Fair in Montreal to celebrate the event.
The Thailand Pavilion

There were many pavilions;- national, regional, thematic, and industrial. My parents took myself and my two eldest brothers to Expo '67 in June of that year. It was a big trip in my young life and I used my first roll of film at this event. I found some of the prints in a box recently with a description of the scenes neatly printed on the back of each picture. Looking at them today I couldn't help but notice how slim and well dressed people generally were in the 1960's! Take a photo of a group of people walking on a busy city sidewalk today, and you would certainly notice a difference.
My father gave me a rare compliment on the composition of the photo featuring the escalator in the geodesic dome of the American Pavilion. (We were always expected to do our best and compliments were sincere, but not commonplace)
American Pavilion

I knew nothing about photography, but this little positive comment got me hooked on picture taking. When I was earning more money as a young adult, I purchased a Minolta SLR camera and a set of filters for about $300.00. That was astronomically expensive considering my salary at the time. I took many slides with that camera because they were much cheaper and of better quality than colour prints at the time. It still gives me a lot of pleasure view them and they have not deteriorated over the years. While there are several artists in my family, the art genes skipped me completely leaving me challenged when drawing stick men. I have to create my own art through the lens of a camera.
Digital photography has flooded the world with instant images of everything imaginable. Sometimes sensationalism and sheer quantity make it difficult to find pictures of that are of really good quality. I take many more pictures than I did with my film cameras and find that I seldom keep even 10% of them. I like playing with the editing options on the computer, but try not to overuse them.
My grandparents had a handful of pictures to chronicle their entire lives, many taken in stiff poses with cameras that required long exposure times. Now we can record thousands of moments in our lives each year with ease and instant photographs can change perceptions of world news in seconds.
I still have very little technical knowledge when it comes to photography, but it is a hobby I will continue to enjoy and share with others.

Philip, Mark, Ruth, Stephen, Nathan (Sandland Brother) circa 1967