Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Flowers: Bird of Paradise

Mom took this picture in her Guadalajara garden

I spent last evening cleaning up my flower beds and found plenty of new growth just poking up through the soil. I may have some bulbs in flower by next week but for this week's Friday flowers, I am featuring a tropical plant once again. Mom and Dad are visiting and have been sharing some of their stories and digital pictures of birds and flowers in their area of Mexico.

The Strelitzia, commonly known as the bird of paradise flower, is a perennial plant native to South Africa. I remember them in our garden there and they have always been a favourite of mine. Mom grew them in her garden in Guadalajara, Mexico and they are found in many tropical and subtropical locations. They are also known as the crane lily and are of the same family as the banana. The bird of paradise grows to about four feet in height and is trunkless with thick, waxy green leaves that resemble a banana leaf.

The flower is named for its resemblance to the bird of paradise, a bird found in areas of Australasia. (photo from Wikipedia). You can decide if there is a similarity between the bird and the flower.

Philip's banana grove

My brother has a banana grove on his property and my mother took this picture of his banana flowers. You can see the green bananas developing above the petals. A banana stalk dies after it produces fruit but new shoots develop from the root system beside the dead stalks. (My raspberry canes produce in the same way.) There are similarities in the foliage and flower, but the bird of paradise is strictly ornamental.
I will admire the flower of the Strelitzia, but the banana will always be one of my favourite foods.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Family Weddings

I have a number of cousins who are close to me in age. In the 1970's there were several weddings in the family as we all paired off at relatively young ages. Most of us now have grown children, a few of whom are married as well.
Grandma T., lovely in red, was looking happy to attend her granddaughter's wedding in this picture. I hate to admit this, but I cannot remember whose wedding this was, or the date the scanned slide was taken. One of my younger cousins is in the far left corner with the flower in her hair. Her sister was the flower girl at my wedding somewhere in this time period.

My beautiful Flower Girl cousin was married last Saturday in this lovely, intimate setting. My uncle, Oma Lois' husband, is the minister performing the ceremony. I wish them every happiness and blessing as they begin their life together.

God, the best maker of all marriages,
combine your hearts in one, your realms in one.

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wings and more wings

The past two days have been beautiful with record warmth for March. Rains have melted most of the snow and new growth is appearing everywhere. I was doing community visits in the downtown area today and had half an hour to stop at this lovely park in the city centre. Many mallards and geese make this pond their home and soon there will be ducklings and gosslings around. This savvy Cooper's Hawk was also setting up a home base in the top of a spruce tree, knowing a good food supply is very available.
I watched as he (or she) made multiple trips with sticks to the nest in the tree top.

Lynne, at Hasty Brook posted a picture of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterfly here yesterday. This is a different but unfamiliar butterfly I found today. There was one at the park and then I saw four more on the hospital grounds later in the day. Please feel free to help me identify it.
(Thanks Lynne and Laura. It is a Mourning Cloak. This link is interesting.)

I returned to the hospital on a road near the river and noticed a pair of birds soaring in the air above a field. I took a number of pictures with maximum digital zoom as I have no binoculars. This bird has a white head and I would identify it as an Osprey or an immature Bald Eagle. I know the wing tip angle is the clue in identification. I met a birder who has seen Bald Eagles recently in this area, and I was hoping this is what I saw today too. I am posting the full sized picture on Flickr for any expert who can help identify this bird in flight.

My mother and father arrived here tonight after driving from Cincinnati today. They have driven all the way up from Tepic, Mexico this month. Mom was telling me she has identified close to 200 birds on their property outside the city this year. They are in the mountains, close to the ocean and in a migratory path.
I will be happy if I identify fifty birds this season with help from my handy digital camera.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


We have lived in our home for 20 years and have never had a railing installed at our front entrance. There are only two steps, and they are not usually difficult to climb. Last year I slipped on black ice when I stepped out and ended up in the front garden on my back, fortunately with no injuries. My husband arranged to have a railing installed last week and I am glad for the increased safety it provides. Besides that, it looks nice.

Many of my patients end up unable to return to their homes after an injury or illness due to accessibility issues. I have a patient who had a stroke a number of years ago and still lives in a walk up apartment with 28 steps. She is now even weaker from another illness and her discharge is being delayed due to her inability to do those stairs. She and her husband are reluctant to move from the place they have lived for 40 years and at their age, it will be a difficult move.

Some of our long term patients could go out on a pass to the homes of their families at special times if only they could get in. The trend in newer housing developments is towards smaller lots and higher houses, often with three very inaccessible levels. Bungalows sell at a premium price around here as aging baby boomers look for a suitable home to get older in.

It doesn't take much to increase a person's difficulty doing stairs. My husband broke his ankle a few years ago playing hockey, and like most men, had no difficulty with crutches. Most women struggle with crutches due to lower upper body strength. Whenever I do a community visit, I habitually count entrance steps and look for railings and other safety features. Stair lifts and home elevators are available, and while they are pricey, may be cheaper than moving.

We are all getting older and good health and mobility is something we cannot take for granted. Best to plan for the future before we are forced to move at a difficult time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mercy and Love

If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ,
as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.
Mahatma Ghandi

The teachings of Jesus are straight-forward and easy to understand, but so difficult to put into practice. Many Christians become hung up on their own scriptural interpretations and preferences and spend far too much time judging rather than loving others. Africakid wrote similarly in this post. As Christians, we need to focus on following Jesus' example.

Why did I cross the street to avoid this man downtown? Somehow I think Jesus would have made a point of saying hello and offering him something of physical and eternal value. Our fear and pride keep us from fulfilling our purpose on this earth. Yesterday, we read this passage at our dinner devotions. I know I have a long way to go before I can say, "This is how I live".

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also;
and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.

“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners do the same.
“If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend,
expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great,
and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

“Give, and it will be given to you.
They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

Luke 6:27-38

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blogroll Addition

I have admired Jennifer Schlick's photos on Flickr and now she has started a blog called A Passion for Nature.
In her own words, "I’m program director and naturalist at an Audubon Center in Western New York. I’m nuts about photography and am trying to learn as much about it as possible.
I’m also nuts about nature and am trying to learn as much about it as possible!
You will find her blog interesting.

Mountsberg Conservation Area

As promised, yesterday was rainy, foggy, damp and cold. I had heard about a conservation area only thirty minutes away from a local Flickr contact, so my husband and I drove over for the afternoon.
This reservoir is created by a dam across Bronte Creek, built for flood control in the mid 1960s. Many water birds stop here during migration and others nest in the shoreline. I was surprised to see the water was still completely ice covered and deep snow made access to the edge impossible. My husband was assessing the accessibility by canoe for fishing, as pike, bass, perch and catfish are in the water.
There is a Raptor Rehabilitation Centre here as well, and no one could read Susan Gets Native's blog without becoming a teeny bit interested in birds of prey. I know a lot about rehabilitation from a physiotherapist's point of view, and I would have called this a chronic care centre as several of the birds will never be released due to the severity of their injuries.

These birds were all found regionally. The Barred Owl has one eye. The Peregrine Falcon has an injured left wing. There were two Snowy Owls who barely opened their eyes and I was impressed with the beauty and grace of the American Kestrel. A Barn Owl was indoors as a "Raptor Lady" gave a talk to a group of children. There were two Bald Eagles in an enclosure. Their wounds are now healed, but the damage suffered will prevent them from flying again. Larger versions of these pictures are on my Flickr page.
With the exception of the American Kestrel, I doubt I will see any of these birds in the wild. Places like this, and people like Susan (see her new blog here) are needed to educate the public about these vulnerable birds. We encroach on their land, water and air space and are pushing them to extinction in some areas. Two of these birds were found injured on the Toronto International Airport runway.
There was plenty more to see at Mountsberg and in a month, many more native birds will be around. I hope to return as well!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

New Spring Footwear

I bought a pair of black rubber rain boots last fall, but never needed to wear them until this week. My hiking boots were soaking wet inside and very muddy outside after my last walk, as the puddles on the trails were deeper than the soles. I doubt you will see these boots in the fashion runways of Milan, but they are just right for me. My daughters always loved their rubber boots and would find puddles to jump and splash in.
Funny, that is what I felt like doing today.

The bush still has a good snow cover, but beneath the crust, you can hear flowing water. The ice has softened so the danger of sliding has minimized considerably compared to a few days ago. I was looking for skunk cabbage shoots, or other types of new growth, but could find nothing yet. It will likely be April before the early wildflowers start to show above the ground. Some years the pussy willows are out in this area by the end of March, but there were none to be found today.

I saw a number of cardinals and when I first saw this bird, I thought it was one of the females. Wow! The Cedar Waxwings have returned. This is the best picture I could get in the poor light, but I was pleased to get it nevertheless. Check out Mary's posts from February 14 and February 16th for much better pictures of these beautiful birds. I am glad she has sent a few of them north. I also saw a number of returning Common Grackles and three lovely Red-Breasted Nuthatches, who all refused to stay still long enough to be photographed.

The robins are becoming abundant, but the ground is not yielding any worms yet. This robin was busy eating berries from a sumac bush.
It is supposed to be mild and rain tomorrow. I will be going out again with my new boots and an umbrella. Weekends are too short for staying indoors.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Flowers: Jacaranda

Jacaranda blue
petals rain on red tile roofs

While winter's grip in loosening in our area, I still am dreaming about warm places I have visited in late winters of the past. This is the time of year when the Jacaranda tree blooms in Mexico, their fragrant purple flowers filling the sky and covering the ground.

Pretoria, South Africa is known as the Jacaranda City, or Jakarandastad in Africaans, due to the large number of trees planted in the area. It is said the city looks purple-blue from the distant hills when they bloom. I was born in Pretoria and while I do not remember my time there, I have heard my parents tell of the flowers and have seen their pictures of the trees in bloom.
My parents lived in Guadalajara, Mexico for many years. This is a street in their neighbourhood where I took the closeup picture of this flower.

The fern-like deciduous foliage can sometimes appear after the flowers start to bloom and the tree remains in bloom for up to two months. They can reach a height of 25 to 40 feet and often spread their curved branches for similar distances.

We have many beautiful flowering trees here in the spring, but their blossoms are finished in just a few days. Trees and flowers in tropical and subtropical climates give extravagant displays of colour, scent and contrast.

Have you had a Jacaranda experience?

My parents are driving to Canada from Mexico and will be arriving here in a few days. I think a trip south for me would have been a better idea right now!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ice Breakup

Sometime at the end of last week, the ice on the river near the hospital broke up. Some sections of the river did not freeze much this winter, but this area was solidly frozen for several weeks. One week ago I walked the trail and noticed that the ice in the centre of the river had given way to the current and the thaw had started.
I took these pictures on March 20th and wonder at the force that would move the large chunks of ice off the river and up to 30 metres away from the banks. The trail, pictured above, was completely impassable. The picture below was taken on the opposite bank and I was able to get around this pile of ice with great care. The hospital is on the hill in the background.

Many geese and ducks were in the water and near the trails. The Canada geese were exceptionally noisy and aggressive and challenged me with hisses as I passed beside them. Many pairs of ducks were together on the water and it was obvious that mating season has arrived. There were six Common Merganser couples together paddling downstream and occasionally diving under the water for food. I think these ducks are very elegant, the male in his tuxedo colours and the female with her flamboyant reddish hairdo.

This pair looked ready for a party. (click photo to enlarge)

I walked towards a cattail swamp and heard the song of the Red-winged blackbird echoing back and forth between two stands of trees. I have been listening to the CD included in the book Music of the Birds and was pleased that I recognized the distinctive buzzing call.

A brief diversion here....our dog ignores the sounds of music and television in the house. However, when I play the bird songs on CD, he is completely attentive, ears twitching and his mind obviously responsive to the various sounds coming from the speakers.

After tramping into the muddy marsh, I was able to see one Red-winged blackbird high in a treetop. This male was calling loudly and other birds were responding in turn to his message. I have included a sample of his call from the CD below the picture. We don't have large numbers of migratory birds here yet, but they are returning in spite of the ice and snow that remains on the ground.
If they have reason to sing, then so do I.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mark the Perfect Man

Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright;
For the future of that man is peace.
Psalm 37:37 NKJV

My great aunt Dorothy quoted part of this verse from the old King James Bible in a card to my parents when my third brother, Mark was born.

"Mark, the perfect man"

I remember how we laughed at her cleverness. He will live with that story forever.

We returned to Canada from Durban, South Africa on a Norwegian freighter. I remember being sea sick as we rounded the Cape of Good Hope, but I soon adjusted to the motion of the ship. My mother did not adjust as well, as her sickness was from pregnancy. She had three young children, with Mark on the way, and we were 28 days at sea before we landed in Montreal, Quebec.

Returning to Canada in the late summer was a memorable time for me, getting acquainted with family, cousins, a new home, new school and new fangled things like television. (My first mental image of Montreal was of TV antennas. I had never seen a TV before.) Mark was born on March 21 and was a sickly baby. He required emergency surgery for pyloric stenosis but he thrived after this was repaired. Mark and my youngest brother, Stephen, who was born 18 months later, were affectionately referred to as the "little boys". They were my personal charges and I was like a second mother to them. I was already married when they moved to Mexico with my parents, and I did not see them grow up after the age of ten to twelve years old. This picture of Mark was taken just before they left Canada.

Mark is now my only sibling living in Canada and his family is only an hour away from us. He and another unnamed sibling were naturally smart. The other three of us had to work much harder to achieve moments of brilliance. Mark is linguistically gifted and can talk the ear off anyone in Spanish or in English. Very musically talented, he plays several musical instruments and leads in worship at his church.

He has grown into the description of Psalm 37:37 and I am proud to be his sister.

Happy Birthday Mark!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vernal Equinox

It was one of those March days
when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:

when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
~Charles Dickens~

We went for a walk in the woods to escape the bitterly cold wind that swept across the open fields. The north side of the bush was snow covered and icy, but the south side was bare. Slick mud covered our boots as well as the dog's feet and made walking even more treacherous than the ice. In a few weeks the forest floor here will be covered with trilliums but, hard as I looked, there was little evidence of anything growing above the ground except for some green moss on a fallen logs.

Today marks the arrival of the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere. The sun will rise here approximately at 7:30 AM and set at 7:30 PM with our early switch to daylight savings time. Many ancient cultures celebrated the New Year on this first day of Spring. The Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox is set as the date for Easter in the western tradition. (Orthodox churches follow the Jewish lunar calendar and their Easter celebrations coincide with Passover).

I look forward to the lengthening days between today and the June solstice, evenings to sit outdoors, take a walk, or putter around the garden. I love to have the windows open, especially at night and to be awakened by the singing birds.

Happy Spring to all!

Awake, thou wintry earth
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
Christ is risen.
Thomas Blackburn
An Easter Hymn

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Flood Warning

This area had a significant winter snowfall after a very wet autumn that left the ground saturated with water. Warmer temperatures in the past week started a rapid thaw and flood warnings were issued for some of the tributaries in the water shed. Flooding of the Grand River is nothing new and smaller floods, such as the one shown above in the 1930's, barely caused alarm. There have been some serious floods, one within my lifetime.

On May 18, 1974, I left McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario by bus to come home for the weekend. As we approached the town of Galt, Ontario, we were forced to return to Hamilton because of a flash flood. The downtown area was covered in four feet of water as this poor quality, but locally famous newspaper photograph shows. The policeman, John Shuttleworth, was quite a celebrity for his attention to his post.
Large areas of the watershed were flooded and I recall my future father-in-law, along with others, launching boats in the floodwaters.
After this major flood, another dam was built upstream near Guelph to control the flow of the Grand and Speed Rivers. Other local rivers do not have flood control systems in place and last week there was minor flooding in some smaller towns.

I went to downtown Galt last Thursday to see the area affected by the 1974 flood. The water was high and flowing quickly. Temporary flood walls had been readied near the bridges. There were four men in kayaks preparing to paddle in the white, cold water. The air temperature was below freezing and chunks of ice floated in the water. (I have more photos of these adventurous men on my Flickr site.) Becka and I watched them for about ten minutes before we were so cold that we headed home for a pot of hot tea.

Many communities have been built along this river. This stone amphitheatre is built in the ruins of an old mill. Building on a floodplain gave access to water power and transportation, but floods were a certainty with the spring thaw. Today, with a number of dams upstream, another major flood is less likely to occur. The building of dams can be controversial but they have become a necessity due to urban growth along the watershed.

The power of water is awesome and floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and rain will continue to leave their mark in spite of man's best preparations. The cold temperatures of the past few days have slowed the thaw and the flood risk has decreased significantly for now.

I love walking along this river, but will always choose to live above the flood plain.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Starling Song

I was walking in a parking lot of a local nursing home this week when I heard a most unusual bird song that I could not identify. At this time of year it is easy to see the birds you hear and I located this starling on a lamp post. I was facing the sun and captured a silhouetted outline. The song was complex and sounded thrush-like. I was most confused as I have always associated starlings with harsh and noisy cacophonies. But there was no doubt that this black, yellow-billed bird was a starling. I even found the entrance to his messy nest in a cavity created by a space in the soffit of the building eaves.

Starlings were introduced to North America in the late 19th century in a misguided attempt to introduce the birds of Shakespeare to the New World. They have thrived and become a nuisance, competing with native birds for cavity nesting sites. Here is a quote from my birding guide.

Both males and females can sing and make a variety of calls, whistles, and more complex songs. The males typically sing two types of songs, one consisting primarily of loud whistles and the other a so-called “warbling song” that often incorporates mimicry of other species. An individual bird can mimic up to 20 species, including Eastern Wood Pewee, Killdeer, and Meadowlark songs. It has been observed that longer songs are more successful in attracting a mate.

The starling is mentioned only once by Shakespeare in the play Henry IV. This bird was known for its remarkable a power of imitation, and was taught to say some words. Hotspur declares that although the King had forbidden him to speak of Mortimer he would find his Majesty.

“When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.”
[1st Henry IV – I, 3]

(From the web site called "The Birds of Shakespeare")

I have included a WM file from the CD enclosed in the book Music of the Birds which I described in a recent post. The starling song I heard was more melodic than this sample. He must have been trying to woo a special lady indeed!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Flowers: Shamrock

The Irish shamrock is any one of a number of trifoliate plants, those with leaves divided into three leaflets. The white clover (Trifolium repens), a wild flower which is commonly found in lawns, is the traditional favourite. I bought this wood sorrel (Oxalis regnelli) at a flower shop where it was sold as a St. Patrick's Day shamrock. The delicate white flowers bloom in the spring above the folded heart shaped leaves.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland lived from 385 to 461 AD. Born in Wales, he converted to Christianity and became a missionary to Ireland. According to Irish legend, St. Patrick chose the shamrock as a symbol of the church's Holy Trinity because of its three leaflets bound by a common stalk. In the 19th century it became a symbol of rebellion against the English and began to be strongly associated with Irish identity.

Today, St. Patrick's Day remains a Catholic holy day, but it has evolved into a secular holiday. In Canada, it is an official holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador. The city of Montreal, Quebec has hosted a parade each year since 1824. All over Europe and North America, it is a day to celebrate all things Irish.

Irish Blessing

May you always have...
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rains
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart may desire.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

And a special Happy Birthday
to my sister-in-law, Pat,
who celebrates a milestone birthday tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Spring is truly here!

I instinctively felt that robins would make an appearance here this week. Yesterday the temperature rose to a balmy 12C (60F) under sunny skies. After work I rushed down to the river and walked the slushy trails while enjoying the fine afternoon. Some areas of the trail were bare, but the snow was still a foot deep in other sections.
I was looking up for birds and down for new growth and across the river for the water birds and animals. Fortunately, I did not slide in the ice and muck and land in a mess.

There were many types of vacant nests in the tree tops, some large, some tiny, some well preserved and others that definitely needed a contractor. I need to learn how to identify nests.
There were a number of open boxes nailed to trees which I assume have been put there for cavity nesting birds.
A group of Common Goldeneye ducks were rushing downstream in the fast running water. I had to move quickly to catch one with the camera.

All the usual winter birds were flitting around, chickadees, juncos, cardinals, blue jays, gray jays, downy woodpeckers, crows and sparrows. And then I saw a robin, just as I knew I would.
The weather is turning cold again tomorrow and snow is forecast for the end of the week. But do not be deceived...

Spring has come to southern Ontario!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Grandma Devins


I have written about my maternal grandmother several times and have mentioned that she was one of the most influential people in my life. She was born on May 10, 1896 in Toronto, Ontario when the nation of Canada was just 29 years old. Her generation experienced astounding changes in science, world politics and culture.
Her father was a civil servant and worked at the provincial parliament buildings in Toronto. He decided that she would attend the University of Toronto and become a doctor. She met her husband at medical school and after they graduated, they moved to a small town north of Toronto and had a largely rural medical practice.
Life wasn't always easy. Their first home burned to the ground, and their first born son died at the age of three of meningitis. During the depression, payment for medical services was impossible for many people.
Grandma was a very sociable person and was active in the town's affairs. As a married woman and mother, she did not have her own medical practice for many years. Grandad bought a large piece of sandy land 5 miles outside of town and planted many pine trees as well as an apple orchard. A small log cabin provided shelter for day trips to the farm and was the setting for many picnics and family gatherings.

Bird club at the farm. Grandma is on the left.

Grandma was an enthusiastic birder and organized a bird club with some of the ladies from town. She was also an avid gardener and had a large flower border as well as a vegetable garden. I have a number of perennials that I divided from her garden over the years.
Grandma was widowed in her early fifties. She had not been working as a doctor for some time so she did some retraining at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in the late 1940's. She had a busy paediatric practice in the town until she retired.
After retirement she travelled widely and made many friends around the world. She remained an active volunteer in her church and community. She lived simply and graciously. She bought items of good quality and they lasted a lifetime. As long as I can remember, she had the same furniture, rugs and curtains. She invested her time and money in other people and helped many along the way.

She was 78 years old in this picture and never coloured her hair. I was married the following year and took several trips with her when she was in her 80's. As she became older and more frail, she never complained about her aches and pains. She was always interested in others and loved each of her new great grandchildren as they came along.
We took our three young daughters to Mexico for Christmas in 1989 to visit my parents. She helped us pay for the tickets and was happy to hear of our adventures and see our pictures. Shortly afterwards she passed away following a three day illness, independent until the end.
She lives on in each of us who knew her and the lessons I learned from her are fresh and relevant today. I wish I had paid more attention to some of her family stories taking the time to write down a few details about ancestors I never knew. I know I was fortunate to have her as part of my life for a generous 35 years and hope I can keep her memory alive for those who did not know her.

Audrey Maybelle Cecilia Devins (nee Bulmer)
May 10, 1896- March 13, 1990

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Joan Hickson, my favourite on screen Miss Jane Marple

My daughter and I recently spent a couple of hours in a large, busy waiting room. We were prepared with reading materials, but it turned out that people watching was far more interesting. I have an article from a medical journal that describes how to assess someone by just watching them walk into your office and sit in a chair opposite your desk. So much can be determined by looking at faces, hands, clothing and mannerisms and listening to their conversations. While it may be easy to misjudge people at times, our initial impressions are often accurate.

I enjoy reading a good mystery, and Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors. I have read most of her books and enjoy her main characters, including Hercule Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence, the mysterious Mr, Quin, and of course, Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple is my kind of hero. In one of her stories she says,

"We're all very ordinary in St. Mary Mead, but ordinary people can sometimes do the most astonishing things."

Her observations of human nature, and her quiet inquiries lead her to solving the most extraordinary cases. She loves her garden and uses her powerful binoculars to observe birds, as well as for other purposes. Her detection methods do not include collecting physical clues, but as she sits and knits, she uses her mind to sort out behaviour clues. Agatha Christie allows her hero to age, and the reader finds her becoming increasingly frail, prone to falls, and dismissed by people in the village as a fussy old spinster. But her deductive mind does not disappoint us.

I believe Agatha Christie could have been the most brilliant criminal. Her characters mirror her own intelligence and ingenuity. Agatha Christie says of Miss Marple, "Though a cheerful person, she always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and is, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right."

Miss Marple says, "It's very dangerous to believe people. I haven't for years."

I don't want to be quite as cynical about people, but we do tend to hide our less desirable character traits and behaviours from others. As I observe people in a crowded waiting room, I can be sure someone else is watching and coming to their own conclusions about me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fuel shortage

I took this picture of our corner gas station this past Thursday afternoon. Gas appears to be a real bargain in our neighbourhood, but in reality, many stations are out of gas and have had to close.
On February 15, 2007, there was a fire at an Imperial Oil refinery near Hamilton, Ontario, and the oil supply was compromised. Esso stations began running out of fuel, and the shortage spread to other dealers. Smaller stations were closed and larger stations started limiting customers to 70 litres of gas per fill up, hardly enough for a Hummer.
Today, the oil refinery is back to 75% production, but these stations have not reopened. Gas prices have risen from around 82 cents a litre to $1.07 a litre in the past two weeks.
In this March 9, 2007 article from the Toronto Globe and Mail which I have excerpted here, we see we should not have been surprised that one fire could disrupt our supply so significantly.

Ontario was alerted to 'hiccup' in fuel supply, group says

Petroleum marketers met ministry in 2006

TORONTO -- The Ontario government was warned that the province was facing the spectre of a fuel shortage last year, 13 months before many gas stations temporarily shut down last week after running out of supplies.

The head of an industry association that represents fuel marketers made a presentation to officials in the Ministry of Energy on Feb. 3, 2006, telling them that there was a real possibility the province could end up without enough gasoline and diesel fuel to meet growing demand.

"We were just flabbergasted that nothing came out of it," Jane Savage, chief executive officer of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, said in an interview yesterday. She said the current gasoline shortage in Ontario that has pushed up prices and forced dozens of gas stations, most of them in the Greater Toronto Area, to strategically close in order to keep others open, shows how precarious the situation has become.

"One hiccup in the supply network and we're in trouble and that's getting worse and worse as demand increases," she said...

It is interesting to read the editorials and comments from people who accuse the oil companies of creating a crisis so gas prices can be inflated. Blame is being circulated in many sectors of government and industry. The owner of this little gas station is not benefiting from the shortage as cars drive to the Sunoco station across the road to fill up their cars.

As high energy consumers in North America, we may be much closer to the edge of an energy crisis than we realize. Yet we are reluctant to change our lifestyles and make changes that may need to be forced on us in the future. The daughter of one of my patients visited Canada from Switzerland recently. As a middle aged woman, she had a slim and fit figure and appeared so healthy. She commented that in her area, people walked everywhere. No one hopped into a car to go to the local store. Gas prices are up to three times higher in Europe than in North America. Walking, biking and public transit are a way of life in much of Europe and other parts of the world.

CNN has a recent list of the 10 greenest cars available in 2007. Every one of them is from an Asian manufacturer. Three versions of the Honda Civic make the list. It is not surprising that the big North American auto makers are facing financial problems.

Time will tell if our fuel prices will start to fall again. I am not planning to take any long drives today and am saving my fuel for really necessary trips. I need a vehicle for my community job. I also love going for a drive on the weekend to explore some new and interesting area. As soon as the snow is gone I will be pumping up the bicycle tires and hitting the trails on two wheels instead of four.

Check out Burning Silo today for the latest installment of Good Planets are Hard to Find to view some beautiful pictures of our natural world.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Flowers: Hibiscus

Each spring, I treat myself to a small hibiscus plant for my deck similar to the one above that was in my brother's garden in Mexico. These showy flowers are a delight, each vivid bloom lasting only a day, but with the assurance of a new blossom or two to replace it. I have tried bringing them indoors in the fall, but they do not do well in our dry, heated air.

There are over 200 species of hibiscus, or rosemallow. They have five petals and a prominent, trumpet-shaped stamen. I took the picture above in the garden at the home of one of my patients. The bloom of this hybrid perennial giant hibiscus was at least a foot in diameter.
I have this hardy Rose of Sharon shrub in my backyard which is also a type of hibiscus. It flowers in the late summer and fall until the frosts come. The flowers are only two to three inches in diameter.

Jamaica (pronounced ham-I-ca) is a popular drink in Mexico. My mother buys bags of the dried calyces of roselle flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and makes the refreshing drink like this.

Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Flower Drink) recipe

2/3 cup dried hibiscus blossoms
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup granulated sugar or simple syrup

In a saucepan, bring the blossoms and water to a boil over high heat and continue boiling for 3 minutes. Add enough water to bring the total liquid to 4 cups; add sugar.
Set the mixture aside for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Strain the liquid into a glass pitcher.
Add more sugar, if necessary.

Serve chilled over ice with lime wedges as a garnish.

Roselle flowers are used in the middle east and north Africa to make a tea called Karkade (KAR-kah-day). This tart, fruity tea can be served hot or cold and with or without sugar. Similar beverages are also found in other African and Asian countries.

I am not a fan of sweet drinks and prefer a robust cuppa black tea to herbal infusions. But I can admire the beauty of a fresh hibiscus blossom, whether it is a showy tropical import in a pot or a native perennial species such as swamp rose mallow in a garden or marsh.