Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Banks O'Doon

Grand River at Doon, Ontario

Ye flowery banks o' bonie Doon,
How can ye blume sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
An I sae fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou bonie bird,
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o' the happy days
When my fause luve was true...

Robert Burns

We said goodbye to my mother yesterday and our daughter today as they both returned to Mexico after spending a couple of weeks in Canada. Mom came here to say goodbye to her only brother whose health is failing rapidly. It seems probable that she will not see him again on this earth. Saying goodbye is difficult and doesn't get easier in my experience.

Our area of Ontario was settled by people of many different backgrounds, people who travelled thousands of miles with little chance of ever returning "home" again. They brought their history and culture with them and little remembrances of their birthplaces. There are many communities with familiar names of British, German, Scottish, French and other European origins...

Paris, London, Thames Centre, Stratford, Scotland, Ayr, New Dundee, Baden, New Hamburg, Fergus, Birr, Heidelberg... I could go on and on. Our own city was called Berlin before World War I.

One of my favourite trails along the river is near the community of Doon. Scottish immigrant Adam Ferrie Jr, built a flour mill here in 1839 along the Grand River, the ruins of which still stand at the trail head. I often contemplate the challenges faced by those who worked hard to start new communities, building new lives for their families in a strange land. Were the Ferrie family members homesick for the banks of the Doon River in Scotland? In one or two generations, they were undoubtedly well integrated with other immigrants in the area.

Upstream from the mill ruins, aging stone walls are hidden by the bushes and vines that are overtaking the foundations of these old buildings.

Life goes on.

Each generation forges a life for themselves with some members staying close to home, while others take home and tradition far away with them.

My daughter just phoned to say she had arrived safely in Mexico. It is hard to believe she left Toronto mid afternoon and is already in her room 3000 miles away in less than eight hours. The phone conversation was instantaneous and a web cam could have sent her image here just as quickly. Communication is easier that ever before, but feelings of homesickness and separation can still be felt in this day and age.

My family is scattered around the world yet shared experiences help keep us part of one another.

And my family is not unusual in this regard, are they?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Flowers: Chilean Blooms

The last two days have been dull, foggy and dreary with a raw east wind that chills one to the bone. Right now we are experiencing "mixed precipitation" which is rain, sleet and snow jumbled together and falling at the same time. Just as rodents store up good food for the winter, I have a cache of inspiring books and pictures to warm up a cold winter's evening.

My parents and youngest brother travelled to Chile for two weeks in September. It was spring time south of the equator and while the weather was cool, there were flowers in bloom. Dad sent these pictures to me, while I cannot tell you anything about them, they remind me of spring that is yet to come in our hemisphere.

I have a large number of my father's slides to scan from the years we lived in South Africa. I guess there is no time like the present to try and get my scanner to work with the new (and most annoying) Windows Vista operating system that is designed to reject most peripheral hardware. Perhaps I will find some more warm inspiration for future flower posts!

Photos taken by my father near Santiago, Chile

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


We awakened this morning to dense fog as a warm air mass descended on the cold, snowy ground. Every tree twig and exposed dried stalk of vegetation was ornately decorated with thick hoarfrost. About midday, the sun burned through the fog and the beauty of blue sky, sun, frost and snow surpassed any indoor or outdoor Christmas decoration on display this season. We soaked up the sunshine and enjoyed the mild air during a long walk. There were plenty of tracks to look at on the snow including the tiny foot prints and tail line of a field mouse between the blades of frozen grass.
Nature celebrates
winter, gowned in gleaming white,
adorned in crystal.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Surprise

I worked at the hospital today. Being with people who are sick, injured and aging is a good way to put my own little stresses in perspective at this time of year.

We have so much to be thankful for!

A group of Common Redpolls visited the feeder outside the patient treatment room, just in time for Christmas. I have been looking for these birds all month and the timing of their arrival couldn't have been better. (I took a short video of them at the feeder while they were being bullied by a Junco.)

Here is a little poem from Grandma's Christmas scrapbook...


Let all young creatures here below,
The innocent and least
that move and live in joy and love,
Share the Christ Child's feast.

Furry little animals
That peep from lairs and hedges,
Fish that dart in pools and streams,
Birds in woods and sedges,

Fin and feather, hoof and claw,
O small ones praise Him too.
Who on this day to us was given,
Small and blithe like you.

Miriam Cosand Perry


Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice Eve

Pictures taken this afternoon as we enter the longest night of the year

I look forward to six months of lengthening days and the retreat of the season's darkness. I don't know if I could tolerate the total winter darkness of the far north. Yesterday I wished for sunlight and sleep. Today we were blessed with the low winter sun's warmth as it created icicles and added some warm colour to the white, snow covered earth.

Now for the sleep...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Snowstorms and Christmas Bird Counts

We received our promised foot of snow this weekend and flurries continued for most of yesterday. "Digging out" has been the "work out" for most residents, clearing fallen snow and then clearing and re-clearing the end of the driveways after the plows have gone through.
The bird feeders have been very busy, and normally shy birds such as Cardinals are now using the window feeders. The Juncos are having trouble finding enough fallen seed on the ground and are starting to use the hanging feeders as well.

This weekend, the Christmas Bird Count for our area was held with the north part of the region's count on the 15th and the south's count on the 16th. The second count had to be postponed until the 27th of this month due to the weather. Here is the preliminary report for December 15th from our excellent local birding forum.

This is just a partial report on the Kitchener Christmas Bird Count, which was held yesterday (December 15).

Overall, most species were seen in on or about average levels, with a few exceptions - and those were very notable. Certain finch species were way up, especially Common Redpoll, which is having a major year of irruption. The total for that species is probably going to be about 3 times the previous high (not all results are in yet). There were also major numbers of Pine Grosbeaks around, although they were not up quite so dramatically - ...There was also a lone Evening Grosbeak reported from the Laurel Creek Conservation Area.
The other bird that has exploded in numbers as of this year is the Wild Turkey. From zero six years ago, we now are looking at hundreds in the region. We saw three small flocks, one in a corn field just north of the New Dundee Road/#401 Bridge, one off Groh Ave. just south of Tilt, and the last practically in town, just east of Homer Watson Dr. and south of Block line.

One new bird for the count was discovered, a Hoary Redpoll in the Beechwood area of Waterloo, in the greenbelt near Clair Lake.

This morning I noted a new visitor to my suet feeder. This female Yellow Bellied Sapsucker was around for quite a while and I was able to get a few pictures. I have never seen this bird before and reported it to the forum. The local CBC organizer responded...


Indeed it is (a YB Sapsucker)! Poor thing, she looks very chilled - good thing there's lots of yummy fat for her to eat. That's an excellent find for winter, around here. Happily, this date makes it eligible as a "count week" bird for the Christmas Bird Count. (Three days before, and three days after).

I have never participated in a Christmas Bird Count before but was happy to have made a little contribution from my kitchen window. Next year I will seriously plan to be part of the bigger event.
(Read here for Monarch's account of the CBC in his area of New York State)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Music of Christmas: The Huron Carol

For the third Sunday of Advent, I am featuring the first Canadian Christmas carol written in 1643 by Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary to the Huron people.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons is on Georgian Bay about an hour or so north of Toronto. I remember going there on a class trip when I was in 5th grade and seeing the place where Brebeuf and seven other missionaries were martyred during an Iroquios attack. The historic site has been rebuilt and is visited by thousands of tourists and students each year.

The carol was originally titled Jesous Ahaotonhia and was set to the tune of a French folk song. Bruce Cockburn recorded the carol in its original language in his album Christmas. The lyrics as he sings them are translated into English as follows. (I like this translation entitled Jesus He is Born a lot!)

Have courage, you who are human beings: Jesus, he is born.
The okie spirit who enslaved us has fled.
Don't listen to him for he corrupts the spirits of our thoughts.
Jesus, he is born.
The okie spirits who live in the sky are coming with a message.
They're coming to say, "Rejoice! Mary has given birth. Rejoice!"Jesus, he is born.
Three men of great authority have left for the place of his birth.
Tiscient, the star appearing over the horizon leads them there.
That star will walk first on the path to guide them.
Jesus, he is born.
The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born.
Having found the place it said,"Come this way."
Jesus, he is born.
As they entered and saw Jesus they praised his name.
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head with the oil of the sunflower.
Jesus, he is born.
They say, "Let us place his name in a position of honour.
Let us act reverently towards him for he comes to show us mercy.
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family.
Jesus, he is born

In 1926, Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote the English lyrics used today for the Anglican hymnal.

Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh
the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him
knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy
who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

It is sung here by a very popular Canadian acappella group, The Nylons.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Flowers: Poinsettia

Poinsettia mother's garden in Mexico

Today's Friday Flower is not a flower at all but a plant which has top leaves that develop a bright colour. It is strongly associated with the Christmas season in our culture.

Poinsettias are native to the Pacific coast of Mexico. They are named after the first American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who introduced the plant in the U.S. in 1825. They are also known as the Mexican flame leaf, Christmas star, Winter rose, or Noche Buena. Poinsettias are shrubs that reach a height up to 4 m or 16 ft. The top leaves or bracts are flaming red, pink, or white and are often mistaken as flowers. The actual flowers are grouped within the small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch.

The poinsettias in my family's garden in Mexico are large and beautiful and the large shrubs are a far cry from the little potted plants in our grocery stores. Here is the Mexican legend of the Christmas poinsettia...

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing. One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course they were teased by other children when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today. (source)

Marbled Pink Poinsettia Cultivar in my house

The Christmas season is fast approaching. I have family from Mexico who are coming to Canada for the next two weeks (starting this weekend!). Writing and reading blog posts will have to take a back burner until after the New Year, but I hope to visit some of my favourite bloggers from time to time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Markets

Christkindl Market Slideshow

Laurie at Africakid and the World wrote a post today about Christmas market time in Germany. We have a large German community in our region and our city hosts a Christkindl market every December. I wrote about the origins of this market last December in this post.
I love looking at the handmade crafts and sampling the assortment of tasty treats that are sold indoors and outdoors. A bowl of hot goulash soup or a plate of hot potato pancakes is extra good when eaten out in the cold.

Come and visit the market with me. Too bad you can't share the waffles!

(This is my second time writing this post. The first one vanished into cyberspace!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice Skating

Last week my daughter told us she had been skating at a new rink in Torreon, Mexico. The ice was soft and her skates were dull, but she is a good skater and likely performed better than average in a Mexican crowd. My brother in the United Arab Emirates has shared photos of an indoor ski hill there call Ski Dubai. Those of us who live where winter is icy and cold go south to enjoy sand and sun, not to skate or ski on man-made surfaces.

We have many indoor rinks in our region and one outdoor man made rink in front of our city hall. Skating here is free and there are benches, a warm-up area, a Zamboni, and a Williams Coffee Pub next door. The Christkindl Market was held this past weekend and I took this video of people skating to the music of a live band playing traditional German tunes.

I am a very poor skater and it is safe to say that my skating days are over for good. I wanted our daughters to skate well and took them to the rink every week. When The Becka was little, I pushed her stroller around the rink and was able to skate safely with that support. The older girls were on their own. They are all comfortable in ice skates and rollerblades and would love to skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa sometime, the world's largest skating rink. My husband plays hockey several times a week and is an excellent skater. In the past, he refereed minor hockey and that was always a good workout.

In this short video clip there are all types of skaters. There are metal frames for youngsters to hold on to while they learn to balance. Too bad there aren't adult sized support frames. A young girl in a pink coat is encouraging a friend who is unsteady on her blades.

What kind of an ice skater are you?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Music of Christmas: Come to the Manger

Living Nativity Scene at Christkindl Market

The familiarity of old carols and Christmas songs links us to past generations in traditional observances of the season. Each year new Christmas songs and recordings are introduced and a few of them become new favourites and classic in a different way. Last week Anvilcloud commented on my Advent music post about Joy to the World...

I had no idea this carol was that old. It's nice to still be singing these, but I also like the change that some of the newer songs bring.

There are several newer songs that have become seasonal favourites for myself and our family. Mary Did You Know, Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song), Welcome to our World, Love has Come, Bethlehem's Treasure, Changed by a Baby Boy, and Glad Tidings, are some of the titles I enjoy.

Nearly ten years ago, Donny Osmond released an album called Christmas at Home. One of the tracks is titled Come to the Manger. It was written by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He is a poet and musician and has written many songs. I always hit the repeat button for the song below. You can hear Donny Osmond sing it on the player below the words.

What are your favourite "newer" Christmas songs?

Come to the Manger
Written by Peter McCann and Orrin Hatch

It's an old invitation,
Engraved in the heart of one,
To remember when we're drifting apart,
To all races and nations,
To shepherds and kings.

A Savior is born, the age had begun,
when the meek and the mighty are one.
When we all to the manger come.

Come to the manger,
come in our darkest of hours
Wherever we are, the shadows are parted by the light from His star
From all men and women there rises a song
The Savior is born, the age has begun
When the meek and the mighty are one
When we all to the manger come.

Come to the manger
You will find peace in His light
A child so mighty in a stable so small
In His Heavenly Kingdom
There's a place for all
And all that he asks for, is your love in return

A Savior is born, the age has begun
When the meek and the mighty are one,
When we all to the manger come,
When we all to the manger come.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Flowers: Hippeastrum

The solarium in our hospital is a place where patients can sit and relax, or work with plants and flowers. I took one of my patients there today and saw a number of plants which I have known as an Amaryllis in various stages of growth. These large bulbs are popular Christmas gifts as they grow quickly with wonderful, showy blooms.

I looked up Amaryllis and was surprised to learn that the popular name for these plants is a misnomer. The Amaryllis belladonna is also known as a naked lady, a flower I featured in an earlier Friday Flowers post. The plant pictured here is a Hippeastrum, which is Greek for Horseman's Star. It is native to subtropical regions of the Americas and is a genus of the family Amaryllidaceae. (The Amaryllis belladonna is an African genus of the same family.)

Call this plant whatever you want, but there is no doubt that it is a cheerful indoor bloom for snowy and cold days, a bit of bright colour when it is grey and white outdoors. It grows so quickly that changes can be seen daily making it an interesting flower for children to observe.

What a good idea for a Christmas gift!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Work is for the Birds!

I has been a couple of weeks since I put a few different bird feeders up outside our office window at the hospital. A window feeder is also in the patient treatment area. Traffic was slow at first, but now we have a steady stream of feathered visitors, (and no house sparrows!) The window feeders are very popular with the birds and patients. Earlier this week we watched a Cardinal, three Nuthatches, a Downy Woodpecker, a Dove, Chickadees and Juncos feeding at the same time. A few minutes with the birds really does decrease workplace stress!

Today I saw a new bird sitting beneath the feeders, one I have never seen before. I took some pictures through the window with my pocket camera to be sure of the ID. The female Pine Grosbeak stayed for much of the morning. I did not see a male but will be watching when I can to see if he is out there too.

The sun shone most of the day which was a welcome change from the stormy weather we have had for several days. In the summer, I can always manage to take a patient out for a walk, but that is impossible when it is cold and icy, even if the sun is out. The days are shortening quickly and it is getting more difficult to enjoy a few minutes of daylight. I managed to take Dakota for a short walk as the sun was setting. He is feeling frisky and healthy again and loves the snowy fields.

It was so cold though, that he started limping with snow-packed paws and had to come home. Melissa, a local blogger wrote yesterday about our early winter,

My theory is, we're getting winter over with early this year instead of letting it drag out until March....

I have to hope Melissa is right. Winter is here six weeks earlier than last year and maybe she will leave with her cold winds, snow and ice by the end of February.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quotes from Dickens' Christmas Carol

Here are some warm thoughts on a cold night from a classic Christmas story. The little lighted village is set up in our living room...

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"

. . . for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter is here!

Canadians can always strike up a conversation about the weather as we experience such extremes in temperature and precipitation. Winter storms affected the west, east and central parts of the continent with snow, freezing rain and more snow over the weekend. The Weather Channel was likely the most frequently viewed station as people watched satellite images of high and low pressure swirls with red and yellow bands of heavy precipitation.

Storm Phase One;- ten to fifteen centimeters of snow. Thankfully my husband has the snowblower in good running condition for our double driveway and corner lot. Phase two of the storm came last night with lots of rain and freezing rain. Now we are waiting for Phase three...more snow and high north westerly winds that will produce lots of flurries from Lake Huron. Schools and workplaces are open as we adjust to a change in the weather that will last for weeks to come.

I kept putting seed down for the ground feeding birds like this Junco, but it was covered up quickly. Yesterday I had literally hundreds of house sparrows descend on my yard in a large flock. If I stood outside, the Nuthatches, Chickadees, Finches, Juncos, and Downy Woodpeckers would come, but as soon as I went inside, the sparrows took over. I finally brought in two of my large feeders leaving only the peanut and suet feeders hanging.
How do you discourage House Sparrows from taking over a feeding station? The squirrels are a minor nuisance in comparison!
I hope everyone in stormy regions is warm and safe! Off to work I go.....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Music of Christmas: Joy to the World

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I have chosen four Christmas carols to celebrate the season starting with this one by Issac Watts. His 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, included the words of this hymn under his original title of his poem, "The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom." In an effort to bring New Testament meanings to the Old Testament psalms, Watts based "Joy to the World" on the last half of Psalm 98.

Joy To The World

(Psalm 98 of David)

Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of His love

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98

Issac Watts wrote a contemporary version of Psalm 98 in the 18th century. When The Becka saw this post she told me I had to use this YouTube clip. (Hers is the YouTube savvy generation!) Here is a 20th century version of the carol, a favourite of our children from Claymation Christmas with the California Raisins!.

Addendum - I love it when I pick a topic for a post and find that someone else has been thinking about the same thing. Ginger at For Any Eyes has written an excellent post called Rejoice. It is well worth reading.