Saturday, June 30, 2007

Think on these things...

Whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,

whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue and
if there is anything praiseworthy—
meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8

"There are always flowers for those who want to see them."
Henri Matisse

A safe and happy holiday weekend to all my friends and family in the blogosphere who share the beauty of the things around them and fill my day with inspiration and good news!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Flowers: Non-native weeds

Western Salsify or Goat's Beard

Tender young goats-beard shoots are edible raw or cooked like asparagus. The fleshy roots of first year plants can be roasted or boiled like parsnips.

Every week, the meadows and marshes have a new flower display to observe. Many of the prolific plants are introduced species from Europe that have won the competition for habitat over some of our native plants.

One weekend, I looked through a new group of flower pictures to identify them, and discovered that every photo I had taken was of a non-native species. Reading further, I learned that many plants were brought here for gardens or for medicinal purposes.

Imagine leaving the home of your ancestors and travelling across the ocean to an uncivilized and unfamiliar place. Who wouldn't want to bring the seeds of some familiar herbs or flowers along? Here are a few interesting introduced plants and a description of some of the things they were used for. The information is from the book Ontario Wildflowers by Linda Kershaw unless stated otherwise.

Climbing Nightshade or European Bittersweet

This was introduced to North America as a medicinal ornamental. It was used for treating coughs, fevers, and other illnesses. It was applied to warts, pimples, swellings, and aching joints.


The tender young leaves are rich in vitamins and make a good salad or cooked greens. The flowers can be added to fritters or pancakes or made into wine. The roots provide a raw or cooked vegetable and a caffeine free coffee substitute. The mildly laxative and diuretic leaves are used in teas and digestive aids.

Bladder Campion

The leaves when boiled have something of the flavor of the peae ( pea ) and proved of great use to the inhabitants of the island of Minorca in the year 1685, when a swarm of locusts had destroyed the vegetation." ..... " The leaves whenorical Note 1776 .. William Withering; Physician, Botanist, Minererlogist 1741-1799

Bird's Foot Trefoil

This cheerful roadside flower was brought to North America for fodder and honey. Herbalists recommended the plant as a sedative. This perennial legume produces high quality forage for cattle and sheep and grows well in poorer soil.

Chicory (one of my favourite wild flowers!)

Chicory has been planted as a source of food and fodder. The flowers can be added to salads and the tender young shoots and leaves eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. The roots are considered the best caffeine free substitute for coffee.

These introduced plants have adapted to our landscapes and have spread their history across the continent. Check out Laura O's post from yesterday on burdock. Many plants we consider to be nuisance weeds are useful food sources that we will not see in the aisles of the grocery store.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Snyder's Flats

One of my favourite places along the river is a place where some of the earliest Mennonite settlers from Pennsylvania cleared land and started to farm. Jacob Schneider arrived in 1807 and purchased a lot for his large family known as the Oxbow Lot. There was a ford in the river here that became known as Christian Snyder's Ford. (The name Schneider was changed to Snyder). The area is now known as Snyder's Flats and descendants of the original settlers still farm in the area.

For years, a gravel company had an operation here and large pits were dug adjacent to the river. In the past few years, an effort has been made to naturalize the area. The ponds have been cleaned and trails have been made through the property still owned by Preston Sand and Gravel as well as the land owned by the conservation authority. This is where we saw the beaver in April this year. I noticed the vacant osprey nest at that time and returned this month to see if the birds had returned.

I was not disappointed.

The osprey pair were repairing the nest and provided an active and noisy display from their high perch. Two other platforms have been built for nesting, but they have chosen the hydro pole instead.

One bird stayed in the nest at all times but there was no way for me to see if there were any eggs or young birds. She glared at me as I stood below the pole taking pictures and vocalized her displeasure loudly.

The river is very shallow here as it rounds the bend, which is to be expected for a ford. Many birds and animals make their home near the meadows, river and ponds. It is a popular spot for fishing and dog swimming. The water is very deep in the ponds and swimming for people is not allowed. One pond is designated an environmentally sensitive area, home to a variety of amphibians, and access by foot is not encouraged.

The Mennonite Church started by Jacob or Yoch Schneider still has a congregation meeting to this day. I love old graveyards and there are many interesting headstones in this church yard honouring the early settlers on this land.

Water, birds, good trails, a cemetery, local favourite kind of place to visit.

A history of this community is written here by a student from the University of Waterloo.
A map of the trail system is here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Celebrate Canada!

The official celebrations for the anniversary of Canada's Confederation begin in the month of June and end with the Canada Day celebrations on the first of July.

June 21st marks the summer solstice and National Aboriginal Day when First Nations culture is given special recognition.

June 24th is St. Jean Baptiste Day which is a national holiday in Quebec and a celebration of Francophone cultural.

June 27th marks Canada's Multiculturalism Day where we can reflect on the the many peoples and cultures that have come here from around the world to form our nation.

Our city celebrates two of these special days and as I am very interested in other cultures, I try to attend the festivities. How often can you go 5 kilometers from home and visit dozens of nations in one large park?

Aboriginal Day celebrations were geared toward children. Students from local schools read stories and poems about our First Nations people. There were craft and food tables set up, and music and dance performances by various men, women and children. The large Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve is close to our home. I have worked with the residents there as part of my community job. When I am on the reserve, I often feel as if I am in another country. Many aboriginals live marginalized lives for many complex reasons. Their medical problems, particularly with life style illnesses like adult onset diabetes have become endemic. There are bitter land claim disputes in several locations that are causing frustration and anger on both sides because of slow progress in resolution. These problems are found around the world where native people have been displaced and their cultures have not been respected.

The Multicultural Festival ran for two days on the weekend. We visited on both days, mainly because of the delicious variety of ethnic food that was featured.

Freshly prepared meals from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America were available to be eaten in hand. Vendors sold goods from many countries and there was ongoing entertainment in the band shell.

Canada embraces multiculturalism rather than a "melting pot" model, where newcomers are encouraged to adapt to the prevailing lifestyle. There are critics of multiculturalism who would want everyone to conform to the "average" Canadian way of life. I have found most of our immigrants to be hard working people who have sacrificed a lot to try a provide a better future for their children. One of our housekeepers at the hospital is a lawyer who is doing a menial job while she works to qualify to work in her field in Canada. She doesn't complain as she labours to achieve her goal.

Another young man who also works in housekeeping left a war torn country in Africa and will likely never see his family again. His name is Justice (I love his name!) and he always has a smile and cheerful greeting when he walks by.

The imposing bronze statue of Queen Victoria towered above the festivities. When her statue was erected by The Daughters of the Empire in 1909, I am sure they never would have envisioned so many different people from around the world in their city's downtown park almost one hundred years later. The world has come here, and from the large crowds that gathered this weekend, I think most people think that is a good thing.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rescue 911

Dakota and I in the dry river bed

We used to enjoy the TV show Rescue 911 which ran from 1989 to 1996. William Shatner narrated this informational series of true stories before television became over run with reality shows. Real life heroes who rescue others in peril are always interesting subjects.

I work in a rehabilitation hospital that has no emergency department. There are no physicians in the building after rounds are finished each weekday. If one of our patients experiences a medical emergency, we have to call 911 and request an ambulance to rush them to the acute care site. But I have seen the staff perform some real life rescues in the past couple of weeks.

Raccoon rescue

I drove in the parking lot last week and heard an awful racket in the storm sewer. I thought a fledgling may have fallen in the grate and could not see what was making the noise. At noon we discovered a distressed baby raccoon perched above the water. It had crawled through a drainage pipe and did not have enough room to turn around. The edges of the storm sewer cover had been paved over and there seemed to be no way to rescue the little animal.
Someone called security and before long, a number of able men put their heads together and planned the rescue. A truck and rope loosened the grate and someone found a log that gave the little raccoon a route to safety. A pail was put below the pipe in case it jumped in the water.
The terrified creature did land in the water and as it was lifted out, jumped back in the pipe, this time head first, and exited the way it had come in. Success!

Tadpole rescue

The river is so low now that there are many pools of water separated from any water flow. The heat of the past week is drying up these shallow puddles very quickly. Many minnows and developing tadpoles are competing for diminishing amounts of water. The herons and raccoons are having an easy time finding food. One of my work mates decided to scoop up some of the larger tadpoles and move them to deeper pools of water. There were a number of them stuck in the mud, but they did revive when they were relocated. There are many frogs and toads out sunning at noon who are able to hop to water, and there will be tadpoles that develop to maturity without our help. But it is gratifying to give a few more a chance of survival.

Recently, there have been literally thousands of tiny toads scurrying around the rocks and paths. We walk the paths carefully trying to avoid crushing them with our feet. I have seen two small ribbon snakes hunting them and understand that this is part of nature's cycle of abundance.

Tiny toad on the rock

It is nice to work with people who are caring, not only with our patients, but also with the little living things that many would consider to be pests. Those who relieve the suffering of the smallest creatures will be sure to treat other people with respect and compassion.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Happy Birthday Philip

Philip on the left with our brother Mark

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I referred to individual family members by "screen names" in an effort to protect their privacy. The blogosphere has been a friendly place and I am more comfortable with talking about family and friends and more specifics of my life. One of my earliest posts mentioned my brother, Philip, who I called El Granjero, or The Farmer.

Philip is the middle of five children and was born strong and independent. A man of few words, he is determined, stubborn without being argumentative, and an incredibly hard worker. There has been little he has set out to do that he has not accomplished. When my parents moved to Mexico in the mid 1970's he lived with my husband and I in Canada for a year or so while he completed high school. He worked at a pig farm, and used his earnings to get his pilot's license at our local airport, hitchhiking out to his flying lessons. After he graduated, he went to Europe for a few months with a couple of friends, a backpack and a Euro Pass. After this he attended Bible School in Texas and worked at a plant nursery to earn his way.

Flag ceremony at Philip's school in Mexico- June 2006

Now he is a pastor, teacher and the administrator of a middle school in Mexico, but in his heart he is a true farmer. On his property he has planted hundreds of trees and has had a variety of farm animals as well. He loves his country way of living and for relaxation will climb a mountain or seek out a deserted beach for the day. Like all the children in our family he learned to play more than one musical instrument and is a gifted musician.

Philip played trumpet in a marching band

He likes solitude but also works well with large groups of people. Philip is very humble and is reluctant to talk about his accomplishments. I find it is like pulling teeth to get him to tell me what he is up to. I have been trying to keep a web page updated for him when he is inclined to share something about his life. I have tried to phone him this weekend, but he is very difficult to pin down. So I have published his birthday greeting which he may see the next time he goes onto town to the internet cafe.

Philip with his youngest daughter, Vanessa

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.

Psalm 85:5-7

Happy Birthday Philip (June 22)!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Flowers: Rose Garden

June is our month for roses. There are new blooms every few weeks, but not in the abundance found at this time of first blossoming.
The hospital has a rose garden that is maintained in part by volunteers. The ground is carefully mulched and covered in the winter to protect the many plants, and they are carefully pruned each year. Drip hoses wind around the bases of the bushes to give the perfect amount of water. The results are beautiful!

It is a place of peace and comfort for patients and families to visit. I can add a walk to the rose garden as part of someone's therapy program. Staff can take their breaks on the benches and enjoy the fragrant air and lovely view.

Patients come to our facility for rehabilitation, or for palliative care. Their stays are often extended, and while they receive good care from the staff, it is the extras like this that are provided by volunteers that are special.

Many extra activities would not happen without the free services offered by those in our community, from the sing songs, recreational activities, to the tuck shop and gift shop operation.

Mom arranged for me to become a "candy striper" youth volunteer at a Toronto hospital when I was a young teenager. I would deliver newspapers and snacks to patients and help the staff with errands. There is no doubt that this experience was one of several that led me to a career in health care. Our high schools now require students to perform forty hours of community service before graduation.

These roses remind me of people who give the gift of time to enrich the lives of others.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Strawberry Season!

Our short but delicious local strawberry season usually begins around Father's Day in June each year and ends by Canada Day, the first of July. The imported strawberries available throughout the year from Mexico and California cannot compare to the juicy flavour of a fresh picked, sun ripened berry. In my opinion, they cannot be improved upon with the addition of sugar or cream. My friend and co-worker, Lisa, brought me my first local strawberries from her family's farm. She had taken two vacation days from the hospital to help with weeding and harvesting the field of strawberries. Two years ago she had invested a lot of time planting a large strawberry patch with her mother and other family members and they now have an abundant harvest.

Everyone should be friends with at least one farmer. Farming has become distanced from the aisles of the supermarket and often local farm foods are not available at the large grocery chains.

Lisa has made me aware of the hard work involved every day in farming. Her parents are my age and the years of labour have taken a physical toll on them. She has three brothers and three sisters, with one brother expressing an interest in running the farm. Large families really are a help in sharing the workload. Lisa still feels her responsibility to help out even though she lives and works an hour's drive away from the farm. Last fall we had so much rain that the farmers had difficulty harvesting the corn. Lisa's father couldn't get his machinery on the fields until the end of November and the quality of the crop was diminished by mould and rot.

I am currently reading a book called The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. It explores the industrial food chain which creates many of our foods that are unrecognizable from their original form. The pastoral, or organic food chain and the hunter-gatherer food chain are also described. This may sound like heavy reading, but it is well written and very interesting. The author, Michael Pollan writes,

"Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of the industrial food chain, without a thought in the world; this book is probably not for them. There are things in it that will ruin their appetites. But in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowing."

Recently I was helping one of my patients fill out her menu sheets for the following week. I was reading the meal choices to her and she told me emphatically that she never ate fruits or vegetables. She wouldn't even drink fruit juice. I was not surprised by her long list of health problems. Her diet consisted of bread, meat, potatoes (well that is one vegetable) and sweets.

Would you be delighted with a basket of just picked strawberries or other fresh produce? Or do your tastes run to the processed and packaged offerings that are so abundantly available in our shops and fast food outlets?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


In my last post, I bemoaned our quiet house and contemplated the empty nest phase of our lives. Last night we travelled to the Toronto Airport to pick up our daughter, Stephanie, who has been in Mexico for the past 10 months. She is here for four weeks and will return to San Pedro in mid-July.
We were delighted to see her!
Even the dog is beside himself with joy now that his "den-mate" is home.

Stephanie graduated from university with honours last spring, and was uncertain what to do next. She was accepted for post graduate studies in Toronto, but then decided to go and work with my brother Stephen and his family near Torreon, Mexico.

Photo by Paul Ellsworth

She has been teaching at their English school, organizing children's breakfasts in a poor neighbourhood, coordinating activities for groups who come from America for short term working holidays, and helping with other administrative tasks. She had studied Spanish in school, and has become fluent in the language this year. Learning to adapt to another culture has had its challenges too. I find it is adjustment to return home to our wealthy country after spending just a couple of weeks in Mexico.

I am going to enjoy the next few weeks, which will be busy in a good way. Homecomings are great!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Empty Nest

I have been keeping an eye on the robin's nest in our yard since the three eggs hatched on June 5 this year. Last Thursday I dropped in for a photo update and found the birds alert and with their eyes open. For the first time, they showed fear of me and lowered themselves as far as possible into the nest.
Cowering in the nest at 10 days old

Previously, any movement of the shrub caused an instinctive reaching out for food. I had no idea they would develop so quickly.

I was watering my flowers early Sunday morning, the 13th day, when I noticed the birds leaving the nest. The loud chirps of the parents drew my attention to the fledglings who were on the ground near the house. They seemed unsure of what to do when I approached, with only one bird making an effort to hop away from me.
Pretend I am not here- 13 days old

The rest tried the "sit very still" approach, hoping I wouldn't notice them. My husband was very sceptical and felt that these birds had fledged too early and could not possibly survive. I checked back in about thirty minutes and they were all gone, safely I presume.

Early the same Sunday morning, The Becka left with her aunt for a road trip to Spokane, Washington. My husband and I were alone in a very quiet house. The older girls have been away for some time now, but we have never had all three gone at the same time. The years have gone almost as quickly as the thirteen days it took for these baby robins to develop their wings. It is easy to try to keep our children safe in the nest in order to protect them from a big uncertain world that is full of risks. Or we can support them while they try their wings and venture out on their own to an independent life we have prepared them for. I know these three little robins were meant to be a real life lesson for me!

This adventurous fledgling flew a short distance to get away from me

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Dad and I on my wedding day, 1975

Psalm 112

Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands.
His children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honour.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Common Milkweed

I took the dog out to the field this evening as the sun was setting. Everything has grown quickly this month and in certain areas the grasses are up to my shoulders. The vernal pools are completely dry and field vegetation is springing up in the cracked earth.

I noticed the milkweed coming into bloom and saw several leaves that had been eaten. Sure enough, there were Monarch butterfly caterpillars on several plants, each about 4 cm long. I was very tempted to take them home, but I really don't have time this week to be a Monarch nanny. The city has mowed a number of paths in the field and they are working on the site to make a recreation area. Last year, an entire field of milkweed on a nearby boulevard was mowed in August, just when another group of caterpillars was feeding on the plants.

Mom was telling me of another important use of this "noxious weed" during the war years. She recently wrote,"We gathered milkweed pods that were ripe each fall and the seed & fluff were used for life jackets for the sailors." She was paid by the pound for the pods.
I found this written in another source,

"During World War II a call went out from the government for milkweed pods. Boy and girl scouts, civic groups, farmers and collectors all over North America scoured the countryside for milkweeds, collected and dried the pods, and shipped them to central collecting stations... Milkweed floss is 5 or 6 times as buoyant as cork, and it was soon discovered that a life jacket containing a few pounds of this floss could hold up a 150-pound man in the sea. It is warmer than wool and 6 times lighter. Flying suits lined with milkweed floss are warm and light-weight, and, if an aviator falls into the ocean, the suit will act as a life preserver."

Children were reminded that by collecting the milkweed pods they might be saving the life of their father, older brother, uncle, or friend.

This Common Milkweed is really an extraordinary lifesaver. If I hear the city mowers in the field, I will have to run out and rescue some plants and those beautiful caterpillars.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Flowers: Sensory Gardens

Bumblebee in chives

Cathy wrote a poignant post this week about a couple of elderly ladies she observed walking in a park. Working with the elderly, I know too well the things that can go wrong as we age. I have to remember that I see the sick population and have far less interaction with those who age well.

Age related visual loss is an unfortunate reality for many people Most of us will develop cataracts in time, and these can be surgically removed. Far more devastating is macular degeneration where central vision is lost. These people may be able to see a face, but not the features. Life is a blur of shapes and there is little that can be done to reverse the condition in most cases. Overexposure to sunlight, smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol and some vitamin deficiencies may contribute to its development. Like so many degenerative conditions, lifestyle plays a significant role in its development.

Scenes from two different sensory gardens in our city

Our downtown park has a sensory garden that was designed for the enjoyment of those who cannot see the beauty of plants and flowers. A sign with words and Braille lettering is close to the footpath. Plantings were chosen that had strong scents or special textures, and tactile features such as water, sculptures and rocks were added.

I closed my eyes when I visited the garden this week. The scent of the peonies was heavy in the evening air. Bumblebees moved among the blooms. A cardinal was singing in a nearby tree and the trickling water of the water feature added to the musical effect. The plants included Lamb's Ear, with its soft fuzzy leaves, Lavender and Bee Balm.

Lavender blooms

There is scented garden in another part of town as well. It is more of a herb garden with large groupings of lavender, chives, creeping thyme as well as fragrant ornamental flowers. It also has a lovely water fountain and comfortable benches.

Those of us who see well can also appreciate the touch and scent of flowers. I noticed a young mother allowing her toddler to smell the flowers and gently touch the leaves. I crush one or two lavender leaves in my hand each time I go in my garden as it is one of my favourite smells.

What would place and plant in a garden if you or someone you loved could not see well? Have you ever visited a sensory garden in your travels?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Baby Robins' First Week

This is not the first year robins have nested in our yard. Usually they have nested in one our maples and I have not been able to see them. This nest is about six feet above the ground in an densely overgrown shrub at the side of the house. It faces the brick wall and is above the dryer vent. It would be difficult for predatory birds to get near it.
Good planning on the part of the robins!
I have been taking pictures of the birds about every second or third day.

They hatched last Tuesday evening when we had a frost warning. Today the expected high is 32C. The weather has changed and the birds...well, you can see how quickly they have changed! The picture shows them at 1 day, 3 days, 5 days and 7 days old. It is a full time job keeping these mouths fed! I was surprised at the emerging blue feathers.

Here is a winged bonus. This male Common White-Tail dragonfly was hanging around my flowerpots while I was watering. He wasn't about to crawl on my finger, but he did stay still long enough for a picture.