Sunday, September 30, 2007

Local Foods Update for September

This month has been the busiest season for our local farmers' markets. I have enjoyed having so many fruits and vegetables to choose from at their peak of freshness and flavour. Eating all the food has sometimes been a challenge. I ate fresh vegetable soup every day last week and still had some left over. I just don't have much extra time for freezing or canning food when it is in season.

Today I was cleaning out the fridge and found a pound of spinach that needed to be used right away. I Googled "recipe with one pound of spinach" and came up a great new site called Seasonal Chef. I found links to farmers' markets across Canada and United States as well a number of interesting recipes. My spinach search ended at at page on this site called Nine Spinach Recipes from Around the World.

I made the Cottage Cheese and Spinach Gratin pictured above and will put the recipe on my recipe blog. (with a little reduction in salt)

I read with interest the link to a blog called Truly Local. Many markets, including our largest local one, have an abundance of peddlers who resell wholesale produce that may have been shipped across the continent. The quality of this produce is often substandard and it is definitely not locally grown food. It is important to ask vendors if they are local farmers selling food they have grown themselves.

Next weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, the celebration of our local harvests. I have started preparing food for a family dinner that will feature the best of our farm foods. We have ordered a turkey from a farmer in the region. much to be thankful for!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fall Fishing

My husband has never shown much interest in photography, but has taken the odd picture with a disposable film camera in the past. No one is using my first digital camera, a Kodak Easy Share DX 4530, any more. A group of guys from his workplace went to the owner's cottage for some fishing this weekend.

The beautiful cottage is on Lake Effingham in central Ontario. I gave my husband the camera and instructed him on how to use the auto setting only. I forgot that I had taken out the bigger memory card and had put in the 16MB card that came with the unit. Oops! The few pictures he took turned out very well and I am impressed with his eye for a good shot. (He does have a good eye for a puck, baseball and fishing lures.)

The fishing wasn't great, but the fall colours were. This little pan-sized bass was eaten along the others caught that day. The group saw very few birds and animals, but heard loons on the lake at night. He was hoping to get a picture of something new for me. But I loved the first picture of the weather front moving in from the west.

We used to go to this lake in mid-July when our girls were young. The area was swarmed by mosquitoes and deer flies at that time of year and there was no escaping them, day or night, unless you were under water or moving in a boat. Fall brings relief from these pests and is likely the best time to visit.

Time will tell how the new family photographer will develop his skills. Digital cameras are so rewarding.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Flowers: Nasturtiums

Last week I visited a patient in a small town in our region. I parked a distance away from his home and walked a couple of blocks through the hamlet. A house on the corner boasted an abundant display of Nasturtiums that covered half the sidewalk. I haven't seen these bright blooms for years and admired the reds, yellows and orange colours among the round leaves.

I remember my first little garden in Durban, South Africa. When I was about six years old, Mom let me plant some seeds in a little plot at the side of the house. I remember opening the packets of radish and nasturtium seeds. The large seeds were easy to handle and plant. They germinated quickly and withstood my daily prodding to see if they were growing.

Mom often grew them after we moved back to Canada. All parts of the plant are edible, from the roots to the flowers, leaves and seed pods. They can be used in salads or stir fries and have a peppery flavour. I have never eaten them as they were often covered in black aphids. Ugh! Because they attract aphids, they can be planted as companion plants for crops and plants that could be damaged by the little pests. They repel squash bugs and cucumber beetles while attracting other beneficial insects.

Here is an old recipe for Nasturtium salad found in a Turkish recipe book from 1864 called Turabi Ejendi.

“Put a plate of flowers of the Nasturtium in a salad bowl, with a tablespoonful of chopped chervil; sprinkle over with your fingers half a teaspoonful of salt, two or three tablespoonsful of olive oil, and the juice of a lemon; turn the salad in the bowl with a spoon and a fork until well mixed, and serve."

I will have to remember to plant some of these flowers next spring.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fisher Birds

A GBH reacts to my appearance at the swamp

I have identified a modest number of birds this season in the Grand River Area, about 8o to date. In my wanderings through various trails and bushes I have come to love ones near water the best. My husband is an avid fisherman (he is fishing again this weekend) and it seems that I am drawn to fishing birds as well. I never tire of watching herons and admire their elegance and graceful movements. I stopped at the local swamp on my lunch break today, and if the batteries in my camera had not died, I would have forgotten the time. I have not taken many videos with my camera, and need to work on keeping my hand steadier, but the above short sequence shows a Great Blue Heron reacting to my presence at the edge of the swamp.

I had spent an hour trying to get a picture of the local Kingfisher a couple of weeks ago. Today I almost missed her among the ducks and geese, closer to the land than than she had ever been.

Perhaps I will get a closeup someday.

The Green Herons are still around and are consistently in the same areas of the marsh. They lack the graceful height of their blue cousins, but are stealthy and effective fishers.

I do enjoy the smaller birds who do not fish for a living. Goldfinches have a happy song and boisterous flight pattern that makes me smile when I see them. But when winter comes, I will be hanging out near the local rivers and ponds looking for water birds who will stay here in relative warmth compared to their northerly nesting grounds. These herons will not be among them so I will enjoy them while I can.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Round Homes

When we take the back roads from our home to Hamilton, Ontario, we pass a large round house. A fairly new home, it is built of brick and has interesting windows and a balcony. Our daughters like to look at it, and we imagine what it would be like to furnish the rooms. Most of us live in square or rectangular buildings with corners and straight walls for our traditional furniture.

This is the peak season for annoying wasps, especially if you try to eat your lunch outdoors. When I was watching the Great Egrets last week, I came across a large Bald-faced hornet nest. This insect is not really a hornet, but belongs to the wasp family.

They make paper by chewing wood and spreading the pulp and saliva mix with their mandibles and feet. The results are beautiful in my opinion. I have never been stung by a wasp or bee and do not have an aversion to them from a reasonable distance. I watched as the wasps moved in and out of the nest, which is generally used for only one season.

In the spring I noticed a number of nests in the trees belonging to birds and squirrels. I was hoping to see the residents, but once the leaves came out in May, I could no longer find them. This nest was large and my guess is that it belonged to a Baltimore Oriole. There were plenty of these birds in this area.

I watched the Cliff Swallows frequently this summer. They left the bridge near the hospital a few weeks ago and their nests will hopefully be inhabited next year by the builders. I never saw the birds making the little mud ball bricks at the river's edge, but have seen a wonderful picture of nest construction preparation. Winter storms are unlikely to damage these well protected homes.

Round homes are common in some cultures. The tepee, igloo or round, thatched huts found in many parts of Africa are a few examples of circular dwellings inhabited by man. If I had to choose a round home, I would choose to live in a....


Monday, September 24, 2007

...Her cupboard was bare

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard,
To fetch her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there, her cupboard was bare,
so then the poor dog had none.

I have had a hard time adjusting to a reduced number of people in our household over the past year. Our refrigerator is often over full, and I still get carried away purchasing fruits and vegetables. Our freezer is crammed with leftovers.

About a month ago I assessed an elderly lady in her apartment after she had a bad fall. She had tripped over her beloved little poodle who slept in the doorway of her bedroom at night. She still was limping from the bruises and sprains she experienced. She told me she had been off balance for a few weeks and hadn't been able to go out or drive her car. I ordered a walker for her and arranged a visit the next week to check her again.

The next week she was limping even more and I took off her shoes and socks to look at her feet. She had a very inflamed ingrown toe nail that had been bleeding. I asked if she had something to soak her foot in and she sent me off to the kitchen to find a basin. I opened her cupboards and was surprised at the disarray and lack of food. I peeked in her refrigerator and found a package of opened stale pastries, a bottle of Bourbon and a couple of chocolate bars in the vegetable tray. Her freezer contained a number of boxed frozen dinners that were covered with frost and past their expiry date. Her microwave oven tray was covered with burnt food. I did find a large bowl and filled it with warm water to soak her foot.

She told me about her move from Vancouver BC four years ago to be near her only son in Ontario. He was attentive and visited her once a week, except when he spent the winters in Florida. She is very independent and always told him she was doing fine. He never looked in her fridge or cupboards. They would go out for chicken at Swiss Chalet every week, and that was likely the only decent meal she ate until he came again.

The kitchen "assessment" gave me more information than my patient did. She was not eating well, her vision had deteriorated, she was not using the microwave correctly, and she lacked the stamina to prepare herself a proper meal. The Bourbon was not an issue as the bottle was full. I was concerned that she still had a drivers' licence.

Many of our patients who are admitted for rehabilitation have significant nutritional deficiencies with low B12, albumin and vitamin D levels as well as a recent weight loss. Families may miss the signs as the deterioration is gradual and the patient is often adept at hiding their struggles with food. They may be too proud to admit they need help, or unwilling to pay for the delivery of a hot daily meal from the volunteers at Meals on Wheels.

I visited this lady again last week. She had another fall and looked weaker than before. Her son had taken her dog as she could no longer look after it. The dog is 13 years old and needs a daily insulin injection and will be euthanized when her son goes to Florida in October.

What can I do? Not much without my patient's consent. All observations are dutifully reported to the home care case manager who is able to set up services to address her needs. I see the same group of patients in the hospital and in the community. Her next fall may be the one that breaks a hip and sends her to the geriatric rehab centre or nursing home. If you have a loved one who may be at risk, open their fridge and cupboard to see how they are really doing. I am challenged right now with too much food, but someone else may be challenged with too little.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Of Birds and Men

I am going to try and enter the mind of a man as I write this. Perhaps I shall format my post the way Larry of The Brownstone Birding Blog reports his bird walks.

It all started out with my father who is presently in Chile with my mother and brother, Stephen. Dad needed a bill paid at an office in an area of the city that is a 60 minute round trip from the hospital. I procrastinated, and finally went there last Thursday. On the way back to work, I stopped at a reservoir on the grounds of the University of Waterloo for lunch.

There were multitudes of Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks, but in the crowd, two strangers stood out, glowing like celestial beings. (a man wouldn't say that!) I finally found a pair of the elusive Great Egrets who are migrating through our region this fall. Thanks Dad!

Fast forward five hours to my next significant male encounter. My husband called at 5 PM to say he had a flat tire. His buddy was with him and his boss was coming by to help and he would be late for supper. I told him I would be home by dark and I hurried back to the university in rush hour traffic to see if the Egrets were still there.

They were, and I enjoyed looking at them until dusk.

Yesterday, my husband had a ball tournament and so I left bright and early-ish for the same area. (I decided this at 8AM and left at 8:30 AM, a spontaneous birding outing rather than Larry's carefully planned trips.) I walked around the small lake and along a trail that followed the creek for over two hours. I identified 26 species of birds, excluding only starlings and house sparrows.
Is this a Phoebe or a Pee-wee?

My list included familiar birds, but also some that I had not seen for a few weeks. I saw an Eastern Kingbird, Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Egret (1), Great Blue Heron (2), Blue Jay (2), Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird (2), Redhead duck (several), Double Crested Cormorant (3), Red-winged Blackbirds (4) and two large, unusual gulls I could not identify.

As I headed back to my vehicle at noon, I went about 30 metres off the trail to the bushes and rushes where the Great Egret had been. I was startled by a Male Birder who was wearing his binoculars and nothing else! Do good birders wear buff? He apologized profusely and said he was cooling off after a long, hot bike ride. Well buddy, loosen your spandex biking shorts a little. This is not a guy's fishing trip in the wilderness. He called after my rapidly retreating back and asked me jokingly not to take a picture. Son of Adam, when you are in the public garden, please wear your fig leaf! (no photo)

By birding expedition ended rather abruptly as I was not going to raise binoculars or a camera to my eyes after that encounter. I had grocery shopping and laundry to do. Do men have to get home to finish these chores too?

No, I cannot think like a man!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Flowers: Wildflower Arrangements

Be like the flower,
turn your faces to the sun
Kahlil Gibran

In a way- nobody sees a flower-

really- it is so small
We haven’t the time
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O’Keefe

Nature will bear the closest inspection.

She invites us to lay our eyes level
with her smallest leaf,
and take an insect’s view of its plain.

As one grows older one should grow more

expert at finding beauty in unexpected places,
in deserts and even in towns,

in ordinary human faces and among wildflowers.
C.C. Vyvyan

I will be the gladdest thing

under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

and not pick one.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The dog who couldn't swim

Dog overboard!

Laura wrote yesterday about teaching her new puppy, Luka to swim. It put me in mind of an incident with our dog last month that surprised me greatly.

We walk along the Grand River several times a week and our dog loves to walk in the water. The river in our area is shallow and the banks we walk along have gentle slopes. Near the hospital are a couple of docks used by the local rowing club for launching their boats. One evening, Becka and I were standing at the end of a dock with Dakota when he decided to jump into about three feet of water. When he surfaced, he was in a panic and immobilized with fear. Thankfully, his leash was on and we could keep his head above water. I could not believe our dog was unable to swim back to shore. He managed to get his front paws onto the dock and Becka lifted all 65 pounds of him out of the water. The flow of the river was slowed by the docks and the surface was covered with algae, scum and weeds. Dakota was a disgusting, smelly mess and needed a good bath once we got home.
I assumed all animals instinctively knew how to swim. Don't all dogs do the dog-paddle? Dakota is a lab cross, a breed that should be good at swimming. Our local news featured a story recently about pet drownings and reported that many animals die each year in family pools.

Dakota watching our daughter play soccer

Dakota still enjoys walking in the river, but we will have to watch that he does not get in over his head. He turned nine years old this month and is likely too old to learn new tricks.

On a different note....Ragweed season is drawing to a close here. Pollen counts are low again, but a short time ago, they were extremely high. The Weather Network was reporting pollen counts between 120 to 130 for our area a couple of weeks ago. Any count over 80 is considered to be high. I had written about Becka's allergy diet, and she stuck with it until last weekend. She had only two bad days that required use of an antihistamine. After she lifted Dakota out of the water, she had an attack. The water was covered with pollen and she experienced burning skin as well as respiratory symptoms. We are not sure what triggered the other bad day. The dietary restrictions did make a significant difference for her but she is happy to be eating wheat and dairy products in moderation again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Changing Seasons

Early Fall Red and Gold

Fall is here, even if the calendar indicates we have a few more days of summer left. Nights are chilly and I have added an extra blanket to the bed. I will wait as long as possible before turning on the furnace. Environment Canada reported today that this summer was the driest in this region since the 1800's with only half the usual rainfall received. This stress on the trees will decrease the brilliance of the fall colours as some trees are turning brown and dropping their leaves already.

The one constant of the season is the sun. Animals and birds are responding to the shortening days. I have watched flocks of Robins and Cedar Waxwings grouped in trees around the hospital this week. Our senseless city-bred Canada Geese are circling around with loud honking even though it is unlikely that they have learnt to migrate.

I have made several short evening visits to the local swamp. The herons are still here but their numbers are decreasing. We counted ten GBH's a week ago, and there were only three in the water last evening in the waning light.

This back section of the swamp is the favoured fishing territory of a couple of Belted Kingfishers. I stood and watched for nearly an hour as a cheeky female rattled and dove loudly, just out of my camera's range. She was a charging warrior, not a silent, ambush hunter and moved so quickly that I could hardly follow her with my binoculars. But every move she made was accompanied by a loud cry. My best picture is poor, but is better than the ten very blurry shots I threw out.

Female Belted Kingfisher ( thanks Larry!)

September is flying by at break-neck speed. I usually take a vacation for a week or two at this time, but it is not to be this year. I had better get out quickly and enjoy the last rays of today's sunshine.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Market Day

Who needs to do their own canning?

We had a lovely fall weekend with cold, crisp air and a hint of frost, not enough to kill the plants, but enough to allow the pleasure of bundling up in a sweater and jacket. The farmers' markets are at their best in the fall and are crowded and full of wonderful sights, sounds and smells. Because we stayed up far too late on Friday night, we did not get up to the market until noon.

This meant crowds, lineups and some foods sold out, but no one was impatient or hurried. This market has a large outdoor section, a two level building for food and craft vendors, a large flea market and a livestock exchange. You could leave with a bag of apples, a painting and a live pig if that was your fancy. The Mennonite influence is strong but vendors from other cultures are also present.

I like this Egyptian place for their hummus, goat feta cheese and savoury pastries. Free samples of meat, cheese, fruit and baking are available on many counters. One lady was preparing little squares of cheese for potential customers. While I had the luxury of sleeping in, market vendors start the day in the wee hours of the morning, driving by truck or by buggy and then setting up before the place opens.

This girl was on her lunch break and was having a little snooze while sitting in a big window in the market's upper level. Her day would not be over for a long time.

All our weekend activities were overshadowed by thoughts of Lisa. She would have wanted us to enjoy every minute of the the day. She has requested no flowers...just balloons at her funeral. She had left a book about dying in her office and wanted it to be read to the children. Here is Tammy, who has taken Lisa's place, reading it to a very attentive audience. All those listening, including some parents and teachers, were sad and there were tears shed. But these feelings will be replaced by good memories and hopefully an absence of fear for the future.

Life is a precious gift!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Goodbye for now, Lisa

My brother Philip on a rock at the Pacific Ocean, Mexico

Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah

We received word earlier tonight that our children's pastor, Lisa, passed away on Friday afternoon. She was young and vivacious and loved by all. She told me last December that she had been receiving physiotherapy for back pain. The pain persisted and a tumour was found. I worked with her in a group that organized a Good Friday luncheon at the church in April and she started chemotherapy and radiation about that time. She had surgery in the summer, but the cancer had spread to her lungs. And now she is gone from us.

The children in my Sunday School class made a big card for her in the spring and we all expressed our love to her and prayers for her healing. Now I will face these children on Sunday and try to explain why God chose to let her die so quickly. Many of the Psalms in the Bible question God and accuse Him of being far away in times of trouble. As humans, we feel grief and loss and we question God's sovereignty.

I was talking to one of my patients last week who had lost her husband and two sons to cancer. She told me she did not believe in God any more because a loving God would not treat her so badly or allow such suffering in the world. I have heard that sentiment expressed many times. Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33,

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world."

I took the picture of Philip on the big rock in Mexico overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We are so insignificant. At times like this, I need strength and comfort from Someone who has an eternal perspective, a view from the top. And I need wisdom to answer the questions of the children who are suffering a loss because of Lisa's death.

Lisa had a wonderful attitude throughout her illness and she was an inspiration to all who knew her. She is at peace, without suffering and her healing is complete.

(Here is Becka's post about Lisa)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Flowers: Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum, or Ninth Month Flower

A Song of the Chrysanthemums

Along Prefect Tao’s fence,
As autumn comes, the chrysanthemums colour and bloom.
From a forest of a thousand jade-green leaves,
With golden scissors, cut a flowering stem.
Chasing the buds makes the bee's beard messy;
Bravely following, the butterfly's wings are aflutter.
Carrying the fragrance, the breeze wafts through the greenness.

Tranquil shadows play across the window.
Resolutely wavering, the frosty hues,
Fresh and graceful, flowers open to the sun.
Such scent and beauty were seen at Pengze,
What higher praise is there than this?

Gong Chengyi
(Tang period, China 618-907)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More from the Swamp

Our weather man reminded us that we should be seeing snow within the next six weeks. The leaves are starting to turn, and the nights are cool, but I am not ready for snow. I love fall and want it to fill three full months. The birds are leaving quickly. I have been to the swamp three times in hopes of seeing more migrating species. Our evenings are short, and I am lucky to have thirty minutes of good light after dinner, even if I don't do the dishes right away.

The GBHs will leave too, but right now the fishing is good. This one blended right in with the stumps and was much harder to see than the herons on the river.

No wonder I never found a Green Heron all summer. They were behind the trees peeking out at me.

The multitudes of Mallards distract me from other less sociable birds. But they have their own charms and our children loved their antics when they were youngsters. This pair did a synchronized routine for several minutes. My first home visit is at 9:15 AM today. That gives me and hour to explore the swamp again now that it is light.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Urban Swamp Discovery

Great Egret- Photo by Snapshotmum

A short distance to the west of our home, a new housing development and shopping mall have been built over the past few years. The grading for new roads has enlarged a wetland and the backed up creek has created an urban swamp. The swamp is bordered by rows of "identi-homes" or Monopoly houses as we call them, two schools, a nursing home and a Walmart across the main road. I have considered this area to be an eyesore and try to avoid it (and Walmart) as much as possible.

I was looking at the local Field Naturalists' web site and reading about recent bird sightings in the region. One member gave a glowing report of the birds he had seen at this swamp, including a reported "Albino Great Blue Heron".

Urban Swamp

Yesterday, the front page of our city newspaper carried a story entitled, "Great Egrets Pay Rare Visit to Region." Over the weekend, four of these large birds were seen in local ponds and rivers. And presumably, at least one of them visited the local swamp as well. I have met some local photographers (in a virtual sense) on Flickr over the past year. Snapshotmum spent a couple of hours photographing the four Great Egrets and has some beautiful pictures of them on her site. She kindly allowed me to use one in this post. I was doing community visits today in the area where the Egrets had been seen and looked at every pond and creek that I passed. I ended up at the swamp near my home.

Green Heron (by me)

Looking over the water, I saw the usual Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks, Starlings, Gulls and...what was that in my binoculars? A Green Heron, four in total, six GB Herons, a Belted Kingfisher, a Semipalmated Sandpiper and a tree full of Bank Swallows. I had to get back to work, but knew this was a place to revisit, especially during fall migration. The swamp was teeming with life. I didn't see the Great Egrets, but that is OK. Maybe they will return next year.

This urban eyesore has become a wild life oasis. I wonder how long it will take for the city to planners to alter it again?