Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Model Railway

This is a view of our hospital from the river trail I frequently follow. I love the arches of this bridge and have photographed them many times as they span the water. In its history as a tuberculosis sanatorium and chronic care facility, the hospital was home to many patients for extended periods of time. In the early decades of the 20th century, people travelled by electric rail to the facility on the rail line that is now used for freight trains.
We have a number dedicated volunteers who give their time to our patients each week, time that regular staff are unable to provide for recreational activities and friendly visits.

In the elevator lobby of one of the floors, a large model railway is set up. A few volunteer enthusiasts run the trains every Wednesday. Four separately run miniature trains lines operate between local communities, each represented with replicas of stations, factories, bridges and landscapes that are familiar to our residents. At lunch time today, I stopped by for a visit and was given a detailed tour of the set.

Here is the bridge over the river and on the hill is a model of the original hospital built around the time of the First World War. As I was taking this picture, the gentleman in charge wanted to show me how the signal lights worked when the train passed by. He reversed the train that had recently travelled the track and made sure I took another shot. The little signal lights and warning bells were activated as promised.

Many hours of work have been put into this model over the years, but I was told that the trains would likely be stopping in the near future. The engines were getting old and the local shops that carried model trains and accessories had all closed up. Younger people have little passion for this type of hobby as rail travel has lost the romance and appeal it had in years gone by. Personal vehicles, buses, airplanes and transport trucks have replaced the essential role that railways had in North American history. Only one small passenger train passes through our local station each morning en route to Toronto. CN Railway just ended a strike that lasted for two weeks. Most of us would never have noticed except that it exacerbated a fuel shortage at our gas pumps caused by a fire at a local oil refinery.
Perhaps there are some younger volunteers somewhere who will keep the trains running a while longer, updating and repairing the sets and reminding us of a time when the railways were what kept our country connected and moving.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not black and white or sepia

Winter has been very persistent here since its late arrival with almost daily snowfalls in small but accumulating amounts. Today was overcast and foggy and the overnight snow clung to even the tiniest branches on the lilac bush. I went out into the yard with Dakota to fill the bird feeders. The little grey and brown sparrows, chickadees and juncos patiently waited for their food, especially for the fresh mixture of peanut butter suet. I haven't even seen a cardinal colour the yard for several weeks. The undrifted snow is almost up to the top of our deck and the landscape is colourless except for a few wizened red mountain ash berries.

I caught this visitor in the camera lens and wonder if it is a Boreal Chickadee. I cannot find an exact matching photo in my Birds of Ontario book, but it would be my closest guess. Please correct me if I am wrong.

A highlight on this dull day came in the mail from Amazon. I ordered the book several weeks ago and almost had forgotten about it. Music of the Birds, A Celebration of Bird Song by Lang Elliot is a delight! The photographs are spectacular and the text , never too technical, is sprinkled with quotations from poets and writers who were inspired by music of the birds. A CD of bird songs is included. I would highly recommend it for anyone who loves birds. Be sure to check out the link above for picture and sound samples.
Snow is in the forecast for the rest of the week and spring is not peeking around our corner yet. The odd sunny day is a gift, but I will get my dose of colour and sunshine from my new book and CD.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Work and Play

On this Monday morning, many of us are facing the prospects of another work week and may already be looking forward to the next weekend. Weekends though are often overbooked with chores and other obligations in our over-scheduled lives. Aimless days, cloud gazing, and spontaneous explorations are things we seldom talk about for fear of being labeled "lazy".

Young children work hard at play and learn much about their world by being allowed time to explore with their senses and imagination. School is usually anticipated with great pleasure in the early grades before the demarcation between work and play is learned. Competitive parents can do a disservice by enrolling their offspring to too many lessons, clubs and team sports leaving no free time for play.

In centuries past, many in the European upper classes enjoyed lifetimes of leisure, waited on by servants in large country estates as they earned their livings by renting out family owned lands. But out of this group came a large number of authors, painters, poets, musicians and inventors who are still admired today for their creativity.

I took the pictures below last week while I enjoyed some leisure time outdoors. We had a generous fall of packing snow on Wednesday night and it would have been so much fun to build a snowman. I watched children rolling the enormous snowballs and trying in vain to lift them on top of each other. Who could say that play is not work!

I hope you find some time this week to play.

We don't stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing.
George Bernard Shaw

Be aware of wonder.
Live a balanced life -
learn some and think some and draw and paint and
sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Robert Fulghum

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do.
Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Mark Twain

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Trail Discovery

We are fortunate to have many kilometers of groomed trails in our region, within the cities and also in the rural areas. I purchased two books, Grand River Country Trails 1 and 2, by Katherine Jacob and decided to explore as many of them as possible this year.
Today was beautiful and sunny and even with an air temperature of -10C, it was perfect for a winter hike. My husband and I picked a trail that is actually within the city limits, only 5 km in return distance, and without any steep or rocky sections.
The guide book said there had been over 200 birds identified in the vicinity, as well as a diversity of other wildlife.

There is a confluence of two main rivers at this location and many water and shore birds are found along the flood plain and marshes. The trees along the higher banks are home to many other birds. This interesting burled tree was near the trail entrance. We spoke with one lady who spotted a pair of bald eagles in a stand of split willows early this morning. She said the eagles are most likely to be seen in the morning and evening. (note to self)

There were ducks and geese on the open water, mostly mallards and Canada geese. A few pair of common mergansers were also seen, but my photos of them are rather fuzzy. An opossum came out from under a fallen log and meandered along the shore. Opossum have migrated up gradually from the south over the past century and are now fairly common in south western Ontario.

In spite of the cold air temperature, the river ice is thinning. My husband walked out to get a better look at the pair of muskrats we saw diving from the edge of the ice. An avid fisherman, he wanted to see what type of minnow they were catching. He made me feel anxious and I warned him that I had no intention of rescuing him if the ice gave way.

I counted ten different bird species today and have decided to keep a list for this particular trail. Our migrating birds should be appearing in the next few weeks and they will be easier to spot before the leaves come out on the trees around the first of May.
If I am lucky, I will see those eagles too!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Flowers: Bougainvillea

One of our daughters left Canada this week to visit family in Mexico. As I dropped her off at the Toronto airport, I remembered several of my late winter trips to this country. It is magical to leave the snow and cold winds here and arrive just a few hours later to warmth, bright colours, and a totally different culture.

The bougainvillea vine has beautiful papery blooms that make a simple adobe hut look magnificent. It grows all over the world in tropical and subtropical climates. The thorny branches spread rapidly and bloom all year in the right conditions. The plant does best in full sun but needs little water.

Grandma and I stayed at this quaint hotel in Tepic, Nayarit a number of years ago. She is standing at the bottom of the stairs, dwarfed by an enormous bougainvillea that is cascading over the stone wall.

Still round the turrets of this antique tower
The bougainvillea hangs a crimson crown,
Wistaria-vines and clematis in flower,
Wreathing the lower surface further down,
Hide the old plaster in a very shower
Of motley blossoms like a broidered gown.
Outside, ascending from the garden grove,
A crumbling stairway winds to the one room above.

from The Deserted Garden
Alan Seeger

I googled bougainvillea and guess what popped up? This lovely post written by Ginger at Joyful Woman in December 2005.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'm so cool! I just don't know it!

I have had a number of cell phones since the mid 1990's, from a large "bag phone" issued by my employer for on call therapists to the compact little phone on the left in the picture. I bought this last phone in 2002 and lately the battery would only hold a charge for one call. When, I went to my contract provider to get a new battery, the very young man who waited on me stared at me in disbelief.

"They don't even make batteries for phones this old," he told me.
"Why would you want to get a new battery when you could have any phone here for *free*?"

He pointed to a number of small, flashy gadgets. I told him I was not interested in a camera phone but was told that they only sold camera phones. I then asked him just to pick out the best quality phone for me and to renew my contract. I walked out of the store with a flip phone/camera/camcorder/web browser the size of my palm. When I got home, I asked my daughter to read the manual and then teach me how to make a call and retrieve my voice mail messages.

"Mom! You got a razor!"
"No, I bought a phone, not a razor."
"Mooommm! Haven't you seen the commercials? A RAZR!"

In a few minutes she had snapped a number of photos and had little thumbnail prints beside each person in my address book. My background now is a picture of our dog. Each person who calls me has a distinctive ring, and I have a movie clip to watch. She and her sister tried out all the programmed songs and were dancing around to the music. And the instruction book remained sealed in a plastic bag.

This *phone* is definitely too cool for me.

I mentioned before that I was reading The World is Flat... by Thomas L. Friedman. He describes the future of cell phones in the chapter, Flattener #10.
"So young people in their business life use PCs in the office, but in their private time they base their lifestyles on a mobile phone. There is a growing movement to allow payment by mobile phone...Next to the cash register there will be a reader...and you just scan your phone and it becomes your credit card too.
We believe that the mobile phone will become the essential controller of a person's life...You will not be able to lead a life without a mobile phone and it will control things at home too."

Technology changes at an astounding rate. This cool phone will be obsolete very soon and they will stop making batteries for it as well. My five year old laptop computer is too slow to charge an iPod and is a dinosaur by today's standards.

I still don't know how to retrieve my voice mail from my new phone so I will have to read the manual. I received a number of calls today and was startled by the boisterous music coming out of my pocket. I answered the phone upside down on the first two calls.

Being cool is going to take some practice!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Puddles, Paczki, Pancakes and Pizza

In the past 24 hours our temperatures went from -24C to 2C making us believe that spring may be around the corner. Even though the weather forecast predicts the temperatures will fall below freezing by tomorrow, it was wonderful to have a one day reprieve from gloves, hats and scarves. I had to take a picture of something I haven't seen for a while.

A puddle!
Was I ever tempted to jump in it. Oh, to be two years old for just two minutes.

Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day or whatever you may call it. Easter is a short six weeks ahead and spring will surely make its presence known by then.

We have a large Polish community in our city and during the week before Lent, a traditional pastry called Paczki is sold in local stores. Paczki were made in order to use all the fruit, lard, eggs and sugar in the house before the lenten fast. These large, filled, deep fried doughnuts are dense, rich and delicious. Our favourite filling is prune, but there are many other flavours as well.

We always ate pancakes at home on this day and our children enjoyed the tradition too. Pancakes for supper (blueberry please) were always a special treat especially when served with good Canadian maple syrup.

And as if today is not special enough...this is my husband's birthday. It did not seem right to serve pancakes for a birthday supper so we had pizza instead with refrigerator lemon cake for dessert. Two of our three daughters were at home and the third was on the telephone as we sang Happy Birthday.

Lengthening days, spring breezes, morning bird songs,
anticipation of new life, resurrection, all fill me with hope.
Life is good.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Weekend Warrior

Much has been written about people with normally sedentary lives who over do their weekend activities, whether it is sports, yard or house work, or another leisure pursuit. Physiotherapists treat many of these "warriors" when they want a fast fix for painful muscles and joints. I have seen people who have purchased a new piece of exercise equipment, such as a treadmill, who end up so sore after their first session that they never use it again.

I mentioned that I was a little stiff after my first snowshoeing expedition. Actually, after I came home, I sat at the computer for an hour (first mistake) and then could hardly stand up because of low back and hip pain. A warm bath and 400mg of ibuprofen provided a good sleep but I was still having trouble getting up from a sitting position.

We went snowshoeing again on Sunday, and I had no pain at all...until I sat down. When I stood, I could hardly straighten up and my entire body was out of alignment as I favoured my most painful side.
Time for a little of my own medicine.

I have a large exercise ball that is as high as a chair. Sitting on it gently forced my back into balanced and even position. Rolling the ball forwards and backwards and side to side caused the muscle spasms to relax. Next, prone lying and kneeling on all fours aligned the pelvic and shoulder girdles. Ahh...relief until....

I drove to work and got out of the car realizing I would not be sitting much today. Prolonged sitting is a strain on the back at the best of times. Thanks goodness I have an active job and my charting can be done while I stand. A brisk walk at lunch time, including a climb up a hill really loosened things up. Now I feel 90% better, but I know I will not be able to sit for long periods for a few days.

My daughter did the same activities as I did, but has no aches or pain. That is what a 31 year age difference does to a body. The inevitable truth is that our joints degenerate with time. Weak muscles and sedentary lifestyles are not inevitable. Our bodies are meant to move, and if they hurt, we need to analyze how we move, readjust, and keep moving.

Off I go...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Evening sun

Truly the light is sweet,
And it is pleasant for the eyes
to behold the sun.
Ecclesiastes 11:7

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I have wanted snow shoes for a while, but when the arrival of winter was delayed this year, I put off purchasing a pair at the beginning of the season. Bev introduced the topic of snowshoeing in her blog this week and even posted a movie of herself walking through the snow. She has classic, aesthetically pleasing snowshoes fashioned out of wood and rawhide strips. She advised me to consider the newer aluminum snowshoes for hills as they have ice picks for extra traction. I am not a skier or skater, and extra traction sounded very appealing to me.
I bought a basic pair of Atlas snowshoes today and tried them first in the backyard. They were easy to strap on with over my winter hiking boots and were very compact and lightweight.

This evening, The Becka, Dakota and I went for mini-hike in the local soccer and baseball park. While we did not get a huge snowfall this week, we have had snow squalls and flurries most days since mid-January. With no thaw, there is now a significant accumulation on the ground and the snow is at least two to three feet deep. Dakota charged off into the field, but the snow was deeper than his height and he had to work very hard to move ahead. I found it easy to walk with the snowshoes, but by the time I had circled the field at a brisk pace, my heart rate was likely at a training level. What a good cardio workout! By now, the dog had figured out that it was a lot easier to follow behind me after I broke the trail with the snowshoes.

I took a rest and my daughter had a turn with the new equipment. She was wearing jeans, and by the time she had crossed the field, this is what she looked like. Light snow is thrown against the back of the legs with each step by the snowshoes. Her wise, but unstylish mother had worn nylon snow pants and had dry, warm legs.
The snowshoes are keepers, and we may need another pair for family outings. Finally, a winter "sport" I can enjoy safely.
No special skills needed....good exercise...lots of fun.

Next morning update: I am a little stiff and obviously used my hip muscles differently yesterday. We had more powdery snow overnight so I will have to go out again today to loosen up. The Becka wrote about her thoughts on snowshoeing here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Flowers: Wild Roses

I travelled to Israel during the month of May in 1977. Our tour bus broke down one day near the Druze town of Birket Ram in the Golan Heights. This potentially unfortunate incident turned out to be the best day of the trip as we had several unscheduled hours to explore the area around the crater lake and to meet with the very friendly local people. Wild roses and poppies were in flower and these beautiful young girls were out in the fields gathering some of the scarlet blooms.

The Druze people follow a distinct religion, influenced by Islam and the teachings of Greek philosophers. They do not consider themselves to be Muslims as they are not followers of the prophet Mohammed. In Israel, these Arabic speaking people are considered to be loyal and patriotic and they serve in the Israeli army.

An Arabic legend begins by telling us all roses were originally white.

One night the nightingale met a beautiful white rose
and fell in love.
At this time nightingales were not known for their melodious song
and they croaked and chirped like any common bird.
The nightingale's love for the rose was so intense that
he was inspired to sing for the first time.
Eventually his love was such that he pressed himself to the flower
and the thorns pierced his heart,
colouring the rose red forever.

Millions of cut red roses were sold this Valentine's week. I prefer the beauty of an unexpected rose in bloom such as I enjoyed this day.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mexican Corn Protests

Earlier this month, there were demonstrations in the streets of Mexico City to protest the rising cost of corn. The price of maize on world markets has escalated and the price of corn tortillas has almost doubled in Mexico. Every day, 104 million Mexicans consume over 300 million tortillas. It is truly a food staple and many people in the poorer parts of the country have little else to eat.

I remember my mother describing a weekend visit she made to a tiny community in the mountains. She told me the people ate beans and tortillas for breakfast, and tortillas and beans for comida. The tortilla, also a plate and food utensil, is served at virtually every meal. Each community has a local tortillaria like the one above where you go to buy fresh tortillas for your meal. The larger cities now have large supermarkets and fresh, hot tortillas are sold by the kilogram there as well.

Mexico does grow enough corn for its population, but large quantities of the grain are used for chicken and animal feed. The growing demand for ethanol as an alternative fuel has driven world prices for corn upwards and speculators are being accused of hoarding grain in response to this. Rising oil prices increase the demand for corn to make environmentally-friendly biofuels in North America. And there are political overtones as the new government of President Calderon is criticized for the party's economic policies.

The poor in Mexico eat an average of 14 ounces of tortillas daily, giving them 40 percent of their protein. With the new prices, minimum wage workers could spend a third of their earnings on tortillas for their family. It seems that a profit and energy hungry world is further marginalizing its poorest citizens. To me, paying a dollar and a half for a kilogram of tortillas in Mexico is a bargain. But, I cannot imagine the hardship of living on four dollars a day.

When I visit Mexico, I enjoy fresh corn tortillas as often as possible. There is no equivalent available in the north and the frozen ones I get at a local Central American market seem stale and tough in comparison. I have purchased masa flour and tried to make my own at home, but they were dry and disgusting.

Our high energy demands and meat centred diets have a direct effect on the main food source of many cultures in the world who rely on corn as a staple. Like many environmental and social issues, the problem and the solutions are complex. My awareness of issues like these should increase my motivation to conserve energy and to choose meatless meals more often. In our culture of wealth and plenty it is so difficult to remember the less fortunate.

For further reading:
I bought this book when it was first published in the 1970s. The information is still relevant almost 30 years later.

More-with-Less Cookbook
Doris Janzen Longacre

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

My husband got up at 5 AM to make sure the snow was cleared for me to get out for work. We only received 15cm (6") of snow overnight but the plow left a much larger pile across the driveway. Hamilton and Niagara received 55 cm yesterday and overnight. That will make for a snow day there except for essential services.
Off for an early commute. And I am so thankful that I don't have to move that snow!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Winter Storm Watch

“There is no good in arguing with the inevitable.
The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat”
James Russell Lowell

For days now we have been hearing that a winter storm is expected in our area. I believe weather forecasters love to have something bad to look forward to. How boring it would be to have to report every day that the weather is sunny and warm and a gentle rain will fall from 2 AM to 4 AM in the morning.
The traffic reporters were almost apologetic that the snow had not arrived in time for the afternoon rush hour. "But it will surely be here for the rush hour tomorrow morning if it ever gets out of Ohio. Check us out at 5AM for cancellations."
No doubt bad news is good for ratings.

Yesterday we took the dog on his accustomed long walk after a week of extreme cold necessitated short walks. He ran through the fields as though he was half his age and made sure we took no shortcuts. This meant climbing a very steep hill that is a favourite local sledding slope. The paths are well marked and we hit knee deep snow only a couple of times. The top of the hill gives a fine view of the city and the sky. The day had been clear and as we stood there, the leading edge of the promised stormy weather front approached from the east.
In years past, this sky may have been the first signal of poor weather to come, unless your rheumatic joints were better forecasters. From the wisdom of the Bible to the wisdom of Mary Poppins we learn that the east wind brings change. Joseph Conrad said in the last century,

“The East Wind, an interloper in the dominions of Westerly Weather, is an impassive-faced tyrant with a sharp poniard held behind his back for a treacherous stab.”

The wind today surely feels like a stab in the back and there is no hill climbing on the agenda for this evening. I could hunker down in front of The Weather Network and watch satellite images of the approaching snow. Better still to sit in front of the fireplace with a good book, listening to the east wind howl outside the window, knowing this too will pass.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Blog updates and links

I posted my 201st photo on Flickr this weekend and received notice that I would have to upgrade to a Pro account to display more than 2oo pictures. I thought about it and decided to pay for the new account. Last evening, I organized my photos into sets, and am pleased with the results. I correspond with a number of local amateur photographers in our area through Flickr, and it is interesting how we give each other new ideas and perspectives on common sights.

Talking about common sights...Mary apologetically posted a picture of a house fly last week. I totally understand the urge to zoom in on or macro everything you see with a digital camera. This tiny spider was climbing up the wall in our hallway, and my arachnophobic daughter was yelling for someone to come and kill it. I took this picture instead, much to her disgust.
Bev, at Burning Silo posted some fascinating spider photos last week. Since I started reading her blog, I hesitate before I kill spiders and other insects (except houseflies, Mary).

I have deleted my WordPress blog and have to say there is no perfect blogging platform in the blogosphere. I admire the many beautiful WordPress pages out there, but it was frustrating for me in many ways as I do not have a lot of HTML knowledge. It was not easy to change fonts and colours or to text wrap around pictures as I have done today. Unless I used Flickr, it was impossible for me to resize my photos. If you use Flickr as a photo source, you cannot delete the pictures from Flickr or they will also disappear from your blog. I did not want to test the reliability and interconnectivity of two different sites and prefer to upload photos directly to my blog.

I have read some other interesting posts this past week as well as those mentioned above.
Laura introduced me to a different ice sport. Jayne continues to attract birds in her yard. Laura (from Natural Notes) assures us with confidence that spring is coming. Susannah is doing a wonderful job hosting Good Planets this month. Ginger makes me want to visit! Lynne had a successful birding outing this weekend in northern Minnesota. Donna gave a moving tribute to a medical missionary who impacted her life. Susan summarized her week in her own unique and funny way. My daughter, Becka, summed up her week as well with this poster (she is also a unique character!)

Well, I could go on and on. I love reading other blogs, and will have to feature some more another time.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Living Water

I have been scanning slides today from trips taken twenty to thirty years ago and have had a good time reminiscing about my experiences. In 1977, I attended the World Congress of Physiotherapy in Tel Aviv, Israel and spent two weeks in the country. Our group did a lot of sightseeing and while there were plenty of security checks, the political scene was less volatile that it is there today.

I am standing in the Hermon River at the base of Mount Hermon located in the north east region of the country. Much earlier that day we had departed the hot, parched desert of the Dead Sea area and had driven north along the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. The Hermon River is one source of the Jordan River. After a long, hot journey it was refreshing to stand in its cold, spring-fed waters. The vegetation was lush and green, migrating birds flew in large flocks above us, and stands of conifers stood in contrast to the desert we had left behind.

The picture reminded me of the verse in Proverbs 11:25 which says,

“The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.”

The water that flowed over my feet gathered with other streams to create a system that irrigated much of the land of Israel. As long as the current moved, the water gave life and energy to man, animals and vegetation. Once it reached the Dead Sea, it stopped flowing and reached a salination level that caused death for most organisms.

We are often encouraged to spend excessive time and money on our own personal needs and pleasures. We may contribute a small amount to a charitable cause from time to time, but this is seldom the first thing we do with our assets. While self care is important, life is most fulfilling when we give freely to others.

I visited with an elderly man recently and listened to him tell stories of his past. As I left he said, “Thank you for listening to me. Some people come to visit and they don’t pay attention to what I am saying. They keep interrupting me to talk about their lives.”

Wow! I realized that I have often been guilty of distraction and inattention too.

This week I am going to try to be more generous in watering others, with my time and attention, my money, my praise and encouragement. Even if others do not acknowledge my efforts, I will surely be rewarded.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
Track \Track\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. tracked; p. pr. & vb. n.
To follow the tracks or traces of; to pursue by following the
marks of the feet; to trace; to trail; as, to track a deer in
the snow.
In the 1913 version of Webster's Dictionary, the meaning of tracking was very simple and not to be confused with current definitions of the word which may include...

1. The placing of students in any of several courses of study according to ability, achievement, or needs. Also called ability grouping.
2. A control mechanism that adjusts that lateral pressure of a phonograph needle as it tracks in a groove.
3. A control mechanism that adjusts the position of a magnetic tape as it moves across magnetic heads, as in a VCR.

4. T. software for inventory control
This week I walked on a trail that runs between two streets close to the hospital. This is a typical suburban neighbourhood on the edge of the city. In places, the trail descends steeply through a mixed forest to the river's edge.The snow was a few inches deep and it was easy to see the tracks of people who had passed by with their dogs. I was surprised to come across some fresh deer droppings and started to look for signs of other creatures in the snow. The deer tracks were clear and I started to follow them through the bush.
The leafless trees and white forest floor should have made a deer stand out easily. I spotted several other animal tracks and became totally engrossed in my quest to find some animal besides a squirrel. I likely sounded like a monster tramping through the snow, snapping branches with my feet and arms. Needless to say, I had to turn around and return to work without a sighting.

My brief tracking pursuit (as per Webster's 1913 definition) reminded me of a book I have called The Sparrow's Fall. The author, Fred Bodsworth was a Canadian writer and naturalist from Port Burwell, Ontario. In this story, he wrote about a native Canadian, Jacob Atook, and his battle against starvation in the snowbound area of the Hudson Bay lowlands. Jacob was a poor hunter, but had to provide for himself and his pregnant wife. The book is beautifully written and deals with the connection between death and life and the basic urges of love and survival. Jacob finally tracks and kills a caribou and and is able to provide for his family.
I wanted to capture a deer with my camera lens and my failure to do so was not a matter of life and death. But it gave me a small idea of the skill and persistence needed in a hunter-gatherer society for obtaining essential nourishment.
How many of the animal tracks can you identify? My next trip to the library will be to get a guide book about animal tracks in the snow so I can identify more than three of these myself.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Spicy Touch

I was first introduced to Indian culture when I lived in Durban, South Africa. Many workers immigrated to the east coast of Africa and there was a large Indian community down the hill from our house. I remember the smells of their cooking, and heard about "hell-fire" curries at a young age. I don't remember eating Indian food as a child, but I love the spicy heat of a good curry now.
There are several good Indian restaurants in our area, and as the meals are fairly labour intensive to prepare, I usually enjoy them when I go out. A friend at work, who grew up in East Africa, recommended a cookbook called A Spicy Touch as an introduction to simple Indian cooking. I ordered the book on Amazon in November, and just received notification that it was shipped yesterday.
I posted a recipe for a butternut squash chicken pilaf on my recipe blog today. It features spices often used in curry such as mustard seeds, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, turmeric and hot peppers. Fruit and nuts are featured in Indian chutneys and condiments, and this recipe includes both.
I also posted a recipe for a baked chocolate custard that provides a cool end to a spicy meal.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Impaired Driving

One of the most difficult things the team on our Geriatric Assessment Unit has to do is to advise a patient that they are too impaired to drive. Cars are necessary in our society and owning a car is an essential vehicle for independent living. Many of the elderly recognize when their mental and physical skills are deteriorating. They will take the initiative to stop night driving, highway driving and driving in rush hour traffic. Others take only familiar routes to the grocery store, bank, church or doctor’s office, but may get lost if there is a detour. When someone has had a good driving record, perhaps no accidents for 40 or more years, they cannot believe they may have a problem. There are poor drivers in every age category, but what makes a good driver become a risk to the point where their license needs to be revoked by a physician?

One of my recent patients had been experiencing memory and judgment problems that were noticeable to her family for about three years. She came into hospital with a broken hip from a fall she suffered when she could not see a step in a store. In hospital, her routines were changed and her impairments became even more noticeable. She was given a full psychology work up a couple of months after her surgery (anaesthetics and pain medications can cause temporary delirium and cognitive impairment). On the basis of her test results, the doctor contacted the Ministry of Transportation to have her license revoked. The patient could not comprehend why this was necessary and she paid $500.00 for a re-test at a driving assessment centre. She failed her written and road test, missing red lights on the practice course and showing great difficulty in judging distances. I visited her at home the next week and because of her dementia, she still did have insight into her problems. She was still driving to do her errands because her family had not taken the keys or the car away.

For every person we identify on our unit, there are probably twenty more that are driving regularly with significant impairments. I followed the car above for a few blocks and watched as the elderly lady narrowly missed sideswiping several cars parked on the road. She stopped at green lights and seemed unsure of where she was going, demonstrating the classic symptoms of dementia.

Yesterday, in spite of cold temperatures, I had to go to a car wash remove the salt from my vehicle and to dislodge the ice in my wheel wells. It was so cold, the water froze on contact with the metal and the entire vehicle was covered in a layer of hard ice. I drove off quickly because of the line up and my view through the windshield was much distorted. I imagined that this would be how some people perceive their environment when vision deteriorates and the brain ages.

Driving with any impairment, whether it is icy windows, alcohol, drugs (even legal ones), fatigue, distraction of any kind, illness or dementia, is something we all need to avoid. And families need to communicate their concern in a loving way when they see an elder showing dangerous signs of decline.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter at its Best

Twice a week I do community visits in the morning and then work at the hospital in the afternoon. The change of routine every other day is refreshing, especially since I don’t have to get up quite as early on my community mornings. Yesterday was the type of day that made me realize I did the right thing when I left full time home care work. Many roads to the west and north were closed due to snow squalls from Lake Huron that were driven across our region by high winds. The highways were impassable due to drifting and blowing snow.

Today was clear and cold, but the wind was not as strong. It was a beautiful day to drive in the country, the kind of day that makes it difficult to return to an indoor workplace.

Spectacular drifts have formed along the roadside, drifts that are much higher than most vehicles. The plows are kept busy pushing them back as they creep toward the roadway.

I stopped in the community where my husband’s ancestors settled after they arrived from Pennsylvania in 1800. The river was open at this spot and hundreds of geese and ducks competed for a spot in the water. There is a water treatment plant here, a source of some of our municipal supply. The river is likely warmed from discharge that comes from the facility. In the distance is the Pioneer Tower that commemorates the early settlers in this area.

Well, I did make it back to the hospital in time to catch this picture. The sun was reflected from the windows to make an interesting design on the unmarked snow in the courtyard. Last March, the movie Away from Her was filmed here over a six week period. The crew spent hours unrolling fake snow around the building and hosing it with water to make ice. They would have saved themselves a lot of work this year. (The movie was a hit at the recent Sundance Film Festival and will be in theatres on May 8th…more on that another time)

Winter at its worst is grey, dull, slushy, and icy. Today was winter at its best.