Monday, July 30, 2007

July Local Foods Update

Back in May, I wrote a post about my goal of using more local foods and preparing at least one meal a week with foods that had not travelled far. Two months later, it is much easier to do this and most of our meals are made with foods from our region. Our markets have an abundance of fruits and vegetables and are heading into the peak late summer and fall season. Everyday the media carries a new story about the importance of eating well. Yahoo featured a link last week to a story called Eating like a Mediterranean. (whatever "a Mediterranean" is!) But many people still need help adopting healthy lifestyles.
The hospital I work at has a beautiful setting and good work environment, but the food provided for sale for staff, patients and visitors is appalling, especially for a health care facility. Our cafeteria is operated by a catering company that sells sandwiches, burgers and fries. The tuck shop is run by volunteers and sells ice cream and more candy bars.

Each day I am greeted by these machines and often watch patients buying a soft drink and chips between meals. I guess you cannot keep fresh apples or peaches in a vending machine and they would not bring much revenue for the hospital.

Our regional Cardiac Care Centre is in the other city hospital across town. This summer they are sponsoring a weekly fresh food market in the parking lot, selling local fruit and vegetables. They are hoping to attract people in the neighbourhood as well as staff, visitors and outpatients and provide them with some healthy food choices.

I stopped by last week and even got 15 minutes free parking at the curb. The prices were excellent and the food was top quality. I bought a little of everything (except eggplant) and spent just a few dollars. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is something that should be done on every hospital property. I don't see enough of it where I work.

When we were up north, we had another local foods education. This area of Lake Huron, on the east shore of Manitoulin Island, is the site of a fishery where rainbow trout are stocked and raised in a netted off area of the lake.

Cold Water Fisheries is located in Little Current and we stopped at the factory store and bought a large box of cleaned and vacuum wrapped trout fillets for a very inexpensive $2.25 a pound. Their biggest customer is Costco where the fish is sold at a much higher price. The store employee told me that all the fish was shipped from Manitoulin Island to the Costco warehouse in Toronto, a good 4 hour drive away, and then it was driven back to the Costco outlet in Sudbury and other stores in the province. She said there were no local retail outlets who bought their product directly. Most of the big grocery chains buy and distribute food this way. No wonder the consumer pays a premium price for many items.

I finished the book The Omnivore's Dilemma and recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in understanding how food is produced and marketed in North America. It sure has made me more aware of the impact of my food choices, not only for my health, but for the environment.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Focused on the Goal

Cottonwood Trees in the horizon

Lake Manitou is a large inland lake, about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point. With many islands and bays, it would be easy to get lost on the water especially because there are very few buildings, roads or bridges, and little boat traffic. At the west end of the lake is the distinctive "Cup and Saucer" land formation consisting of two heights of limestone cliffs. The sun sets behind these hills and always makes a spectacular show.

It was a little harder to find the entrance to Bass Creek, but if you looked carefully, the Cottonwood trees on the property of the camp towered above the other trees along the shore line. I always watched for this landmark when we headed back in the boat. There were many lighthouses on the island marking harbours and warning of rocks and shallow water. I love lighthouses and would enjoy staying in one if I had the chance.

Channel marker

We need to focus on our goals, whether to find our way back to shore, or to move ahead in our lives. People I see at the hospital who have nothing to live for are miserable and do not survive long. One of the dearest patients I ever had became a good friend in the three years I knew her before her death at age 60. Crista had five children and it was her prayer and goal to see them all married and established before she died. She had many medical problems and was always one infection away from death. Her youngest son finally set his wedding day for August, and Crista was thrilled. She was alarmingly thin and losing weight. Tests showed she had developed bowel cancer, a new problem that required immediate surgery in June. No one believed she could survive, but she did. One month later I was playing the piano at the front of the church as the congregation sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness" (one of my all time favourite hymns). Crista made a late but triumphant entry in a wheelchair, pushed to her usual front seat by her son. She did attend the wedding in August and died a few weeks later, her goals on earth achieved. I played the piano for her funeral and was able to share with others the dreams she had shared with me.

Cup and Saucer land formation

This scripture is from the fourth chapter of Proverbs. I teach it to the 10 and 11 year olds in my class each year and have them illustrate it as they learn it.

My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man's whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.
Put away perversity from your mouth;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet
and take only ways that are firm.
Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Flowers: Manitoulin Wildflowers

Cardinal Flower

I enjoyed finding some new wildflowers when we were vacationing on Manitoulin Island. The growing season was a few weeks behind our home to the south and some flowers were blooming that were finished in southern Ontario in early June.

Iris and Forget-me-not in creek bed

In one dried up creek bed, I saw masses of blue Forget-me-nots and wild Irises accented by spikes of the bright red Cardinal Flower. Behind our cabin there were masses of Jewelweed, another of those special orange wildflowers. The ditches on the nearby road were colourful with flowering Milkweed and Spotted Joe Pye Weed.

Spotted Joe Pye Weed

There is a web site I often visit when trying to identify native plants. Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers is an extensive, informative and well organized site featuring flowers of the Sudbury and Manitoulin Island region. Andy is a geologist with an interest in wildflowers. He has posted a presentation on The Flora of Manitoulin Island. He describes how this region has species from 8 of 9 Canadian floristic regions including Arctic, Alpine, Prairie, Boreal, Northern Mixed Forest, Great Lakes/St. Lawrence, Deciduous Forest and Maritime. The only region not represented is Atlantic Plains. Large areas of the island are undisturbed and unusual species can be found at various times of the year. From the rocky heights of the escarpment to the sand dunes along the Lake Huron shoreline, there are several unique environments with their own flora and fauna.
The Hawberry is a type of hawthorn that is said to be found only on Manitoulin Island. (I don't know if that is true!) People who live on the island are called Haweaters and a Haweater festival is held each August. I didn't recognize this bush, but I bought some Hawberry Jelly to try at home.
I have many more pictures of flowers and shrubs to identify from this trip, but that will likely be a winter project.

Touch-me-not or Jewelweed

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Island Warblers

A dirt road ran behind the camp and across the way was an abandoned farm, the land now owned by the owner of Bass Creek Resort. Besides a decaying house, barn and rusted pieces of old farm machinery, there was a creek through the property, long lines of log fencing and large patches of dogwood bushes. This was a birder's paradise.

American Redstart (male)

If you stood still for thirty seconds you would be sure to see a new warbler moving in the leaves of the trees and bushes. I nearly made myself crazy trying to get pictures, and then decided to spend most of my time with the binoculars instead.

Common Yellowthroat (male)

There are so many yellowish warblers! I had to keep my field guide handy as I tried to identify them. In a recent post, Larry admitted it was difficult for him to identify some warblers, so I felt I could risk some errors here. Here are a few pictures with the ID's I felt were best. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

Yellow Warbler

I still have a number of fuzzy or backlit photos to try and identify. I have pictures of at least two kinds of flycatchers and may never determine what they are for sure. I saw many new birds, but was also surprised by the birds I did not see. Cardinals and chickadees were nowhere to be found. I did not realize that cardinals have moved north to southern Ontario fairly recently and they are not found on Manitoulin Island.

Chestnut-sided Warbler (thanks Larry and Tom)

Our Rose of Sharon shrub in our yard did not survive the winter. I think I will replace it with dogwood as it seemed to be a bird magnet up here. The flowers, berries and red branches are lovely to look at.
Warblers are like jewels, an unexpected blur of bright colour and a sweet sound in the trees. I will have to study them over the winter and try to identify more that are peeking through the leaves on the island next year.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Doggy Dentistry

Dakota had his annual checkup and shots last month and our vet suggested that he needed his teeth cleaned under general anaesthetic. He gave us an estimate of close to $500.00 for the procedure and antibiotics the dog would need both pre and postoperatively. Dakota is almost nine years old and has been healthy, costing us no more than his routine care each year. Our daughters, who love their dog dearly, said they would contribute money to cover the expense. Quite frankly, his breath was so bad that we had to send him out of the room when he was panting.

I see the consequences of poor dental hygiene in people frequently. Recently we had a patient in the hospital who developed a severe infection in her knee joint replacement because of her rotting teeth and infected gums. My daughter, who works in a cardiac surgery unit, also knows first hand of the danger oral infections can create for the heart.

So early this morning the dog was invited to go for a car ride, an unusual treat for a work day. He was likely wondering which trail we were going to explore and was not at all impressed with our final destination!

Dakota had his blood work, IV antibiotics, tooth cleaning and a small growth removed from his head and was ready to come home six hours later. His breath smells like that of a new puppy and his teeth are so clean and white again.
We have never been able to brush his teeth, but didn't try until he was an adult. Any dog we get in the future will learn early to tolerate a toothbrush. Our vet has recommended a special dog food to prevent plaque buildup in the future but I don't know how effective it would be, especially for the price. We had purchased Dentabones for Dakota, but he chomped and swallowed them down so quickly that they did nothing for his teeth.

Our pets are treated so well in North America. Dakota's Mexican "cousins" are treated better than strays, but are kept outdoors and are not pampered. Our dog is part of the family, is never moody, is always happy to see us, and keeps us walking.
And that is good news for our health too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Claiming the Rock

Cormorants claim the rock in the afternoon

Midway between our camp and the point of land across from us on Lake Manitou was a rocky shoal. We could not get too close to it in the boat, but through my binoculars I could see a variety of birds perched and feeding in the area. When we were here last September, there were hundreds of cormorants in the area, in fact, I saw few other birds on the water. Last week there were fewer cormorants and a number of other waterbirds were competing for the best fishing spots.

Ring Billed Gull, female Mallards, female Common Merganser

Mallard ducks were plentiful, but the males were lacking most of the feathers of their bright green heads. For a while I thought they were teal ducks until I saw the patchy green heads and orange feet. Female Common Mergansers were seen frequently, but I never recognized a single male. The gulls made themselves comfortable with every group of birds.

Caspian Terns, Black Terns, female Common Mergansers and Mallards claim the rock in the morning

I loved watching the terns. Black Terns and Caspian Terns are seen in fewer areas in Ontario now due to loss of habitat and increased competition with gulls. The Black Terns reminded me of swallows in flight. In the evenings they performed their acrobatic flights near the shore while fishing for minnows.

One cool morning we left the dock around 8:00AM as the fog was lifting from the warmer water. The sun seemed to be burning off the moisture and we moved away from the shoreline. Unexpectedly, the fog descended again and we lost sight of all landmarks. My husband turned off the motor and we drifted in the stillness waiting for the fog to lift again. Minutes later, a few terns appeared close to the boat and we could hear more of them in the distance. Morning was the time the terns claimed the rock. We had a compass, and using the terns as a "landmark", we were able to head in the right direction to the camp. There was no need for panic this time, but the incident gave me greater respect for the potential danger of fog.

Common Loon

This last bird would have no part of the rock culture. I have never seen a loon out of the water. This one was diving for fish and it was fun to guess where he might reappear. In my estimation, there is no more relaxing sound than the yodel of a loon across the water.
And yes...there were fish for our dinner too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Manitoulin Island

Swing Bridge on only road to Manitoulin Island at Little Current

This post may sound like a geography lesson but then, I always loved geography at school. We spent last week on Manitoulin Island, a large island at the top of Lake Huron, a seven hour drive from home. Driving north from Toronto, one passes fertile farmland, the Holland Marsh at Bradford and then the lakes and rocks of the Canadian Shield change the landscape beyond Orillia and Parry Sound on Georgian Bay. We drove on to Sudbury, the mining city and historical Nickel Capital and to Espanola where native Canadians sold wild blueberries along the roadway.

The road turns south and is cut through metamorphic rock as it descends to the first islands of the North Channel of Lake Huron. There is only one road from the mainland to Manitoulin Island and it is shared with boats. Every hour the bridge swings to allow marine traffic to pass through from Little Current. The only other access is by the ferry which travels to and from Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth.

Manitoulin Island is part of the Niagara Escarpment (marked in red)

Manitoulin is part of the Niagara Escarpment so in spite of its latitude, belongs geologically to southern Ontario. Towering limestone cliffs rise above Lake Huron and over one hundred smaller lakes are found on the island. The vegetation is different than what is found on the rocks of the Sudbury area. There are farms on the island, many abandoned, but the soil is productive enough for crops and cattle. There are miles of meadows, creek beds, marshland, shoreline, cliffs and mixed forest making a haven for many, many birds and animals. If you miss the warbler migration in the spring, you can get a warbler fix all summer up here! Groomed trails pass through level terrain or the challenging rocky heights of the Cup and Saucer Trail. There are caves and fossil remains in the cliffs of the escarpment.

Cup and Saucer Trail

There are six Anishinaabe First Nation reserves on the island and aboriginal settlements have been present here for thousands of years. The name Manitoulin means "Den of the Great Spirit Manitou". There is also interesting history involving Jesuit missionaries, mariners and fur traders over the last few hundred years. Each tiny community has its own stories and legends with old buildings and tiny museums to explore as one imagines life in this remote area in the past.

Lighthouse and Anglican Church at Manitowaning

We stayed at Bass Creek Resort, a fishing camp on the shores of the largest inland lake, Lake Manitou. The word "resort" is used very loosely, but we did have running water, a shower and electricity in our tiny cabin. My husband was happy because he could fish, I was happy because there were miles of easy exploring in the vicinity, and we were both happy because there were very few biting insects around. In the afternoons we drove to some new trail or community on the island.

Bass Creek Resort

Without television, internet, fast food restaurants (not even a Tim Hortons), or any city life, it was easy to settle into a slow island pace. The days were longer by at least an hour with a spectacular sunset at about 9:30 each evening. Night time allowed for clear star-gazing, if you could stay awake after a day of fresh air.

The context for a few more posts has been set.

Bridal Veil Falls at Kagowan- an escarpment waterfall

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Good Things...

It is wonderful when a vacation of two weeks seems like a month.

Long days spent walking new paths and trails.
Long hours spent in a fishing boat.
Long shorelines and mesmerizing views.
Long evening sunsets.

Long books read.
Long time away from electronic connections.

We need to slow things down every so often to bring some balance to our overly busy lives.
All good things come to an end.
There is plenty to share in days to come!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beautiful in its time

I drove around some Mennonite farms in our region this week and took some pictures of their beautiful and productive farms. Many farmers in Ontario now plant large cash crops such as corn and soybeans. Mennonite farms have fields of hay, oats, corn and wheat, large vegetable gardens, orchards, and pastures where cows and horses graze.

Woodlots are preserved for maple syrup production and firewood. Early in the morning children are seen weeding the rows of vegetables and later in the day they may be selling flowers and produce at the end of the farm lane. Their lives are lived simply and in rhythm with the seasons. Watching them work put me in mind of the words of Ecclesiastes 3 where "the preacher" talks about "a time plant, a time to uproot..." I have quoted the latter part of this chapter below.

What does the worker gain from his toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on men.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;
yet they cannot fathom what God has done
from beginning to end.

I know that there is nothing better for men
than to be happy and do good while they live.

That everyone may eat and drink,
and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

I know that everything God does will endure forever;
nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
God does it so that men will revere him.

Ecclesiates 3:9-14

Happy first blogiversary to myself. It has been an enjoyable year.
Goodbye for a week!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Nathan!

Ruth and Nathan 1959

Nathan is the eldest of my four brothers and is just 18 months younger than me. I don't remember when he wasn't around and he was my best friend as we were growing up. Our family moved often and sibling friendships were very important. As I child I was shy and quiet (I still am) as my pose in the photograph suggests. Nathan was and remains a polar opposite...talkative, outgoing, and outrageous at times! He was an active outdoors boy and we spent many happy days in the fields and ravines "exploring". He would bring snakes home to horrify me and even had a couple of small ones in a terrarium in his bedroom. My mother was far more long suffering than I ever could be.

As an adolescent he pushed the nest edges early. My future mother-in-law, who lived across the road, told us how Nathan would climb out the upstairs window and slide down the porch roof to leave his bedroom. When he finished high school, he hitch-hiked to Mexico and back, before my parents moved there to live.

Nathan has always been a very hard worker. He has succeeded in several areas and accepted promotions to jobs he was not qualified for. He exudes confidence and can make anyone believe he can do anything. When he jumps in the deep end, he learns to swim quickly.

He and his family lived near Paris for a number of years. July 14th is Bastille Day in France and Nathan claimed it as a personal birthday celebration. He then moved near Barcelona, Spain and now is working in the United Arab Emirates. He blogs intermittently about his life there.

I have seen him twice in the new millenium.

I received my first email ever from him in 1996. He worked in telecommunications and was the first family member on line. He remains in contact with me more often than the rest of my brothers thanks to technology.

The Becka went to her cousin's handfasting in Spokane, Washington in June this year. Nathan invited her along and these family members whom she barely knew treated her wonderfully. She told me afterwards,

"Your brother is something else!"

That sums him up perfectly.

He treated her like a daughter and gave her a camel's tooth as a souvenir too. (There are few things uglier than a camel's mouth!) What an uncle.

Happy Birthday Nathan! Live well, stay well!
Love from your favourite sister.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Flowers: White Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Grandma T. crocheted a beautiful white lace handkerchief for me to carry on my wedding day. I remember her sitting in a big chair with skeins of fine cotton which she transformed at a fast speed into beautiful lace patterns.

Marie lived with Grandma D. as a housekeeper and friend for many years after Grandad died. She crocheted wide lace borders on white cotton pillow cases for my wedding gift. My cedar chest contains several lovely pieces of handmade lace made by family members in a day when women learned these arts in childhood.

I wouldn't know how to tie the first knot for a piece of lace, but I found some lovely pieces in the fields this week.

Budding Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace, an edible wild carrot, has always been one of my favourite wildflowers. There are several legends as to how it got its name. Here is one of them.

Queen Anne’s Lace is said to have been named after Queen Anne of England, an expert lace maker. English legend tells us that Queen Anne challenged the ladies of the court to a contest to see who could produce a pattern of lace as lovely as the flower of this plant. No one could rival the queen's handiwork. She however, pricked her finger with a needle and a single drop of blood fell into the lace, that is said to be the dark purple floret in the center of the flower.

Cow Parsnip

There are other wild flowers with white lacy heads that are also members of the carrot family. Cow Parsnip, Water Parsnip and Water Hemlock look quite similar but Hemlock is one of the most poisonous wild plants around.

Angelica Root in March

In March I noticed a large number of purplish roots beginning to sprout near the river's edge.


I could not figure out what they were even though I looked in several books and emailed the pictures to a couple of wildflower websites. I have been watching them grow into tall, purple stemmed plants that are six to seven feet tall.

Angelica in bloom in July

They are now in bloom and can be identified as Angelica or Alexanders. This site gives a very interesting account of the history and uses of the plant. Again, one must be careful not to confuse it with Water Hemlock. Angelica stems can be dried and made into musical flutes. If a hemlock stem is mistakenly used as a flute or pea-shooter, the user can be poisoned.

We had a drenching rain shower when I was out with Dakota last evening. After the rain a full rainbow filled the sky. The sun shone on the wet fields and the Queen Anne's Lace glowed beside the fences along with the lilies and phlox.

Queen Anne of England has lost the contest for the most
beautiful handiwork in the kingdom.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Flycatchers, Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

The recent hot, muggy weather has caused a jump in the local mosquito population or perhaps the lack of wind has made them more apparent. I have always enjoyed the shores of the Great Lakes more than inland lakes as there is always a breeze that keeps biting insects at bay.

If you want to see insect eating birds in action, you have to go where the insects are. Mosquitoes really don't bother me much, but this year I have had more bites than usual. A couple of weeks ago, I felt mildly achy and unwell for a day or two and wondered if I had contracted West Nile virus. Infected dead birds and ponds have been identified in our region this season.
I feel 100% well now, and hope that I have been infected, although the chances are very low. An infection gives a person an immunity from the virus, like a natural immunization.
Only 20% of people infected with West Nile virus have any symptoms at all and only 1%, often those who are immuno-compromised, become seriously ill. There are far more serious mosquito-borne illnesses around the world such as malaria and dengue fever.

This Eastern Wood Pewee is common along the Grand River. It takes short flights from a perch, in this case an abandoned tree swallow box, to catch insects. They are quite photogenic and cooperative!

There are at least a dozen Eastern Kingbirds near some old hickory trees along the river. They also take short, acrobatic flights to catch insects. I have tried unsuccessfully to capture a picture of them in flight. They move so quickly! This one kept returning to a dead twig, just for me.

I have seen plenty of bank, cliff and barn swallows skimming the water. I had posted pictures of a nesting colony under a bridge near the hospital. I almost missed these nests under a rusty bridge that blended well with their rusty colour.

I haven't given up on finding a rookery and watch every flying heron with interest. I took this picture into the sun, giving the bird a phantom-like appearance. It doesn't eat mosquitoes, but eats fish that presumably eat mosquito larvae.

It was worth a few insect bites to see these birds in action.