Sunday, November 30, 2008

Servants or Friends?

I have had more time for books lately and have reviewed some newer ones purchased by our church librarian. I have read The Shack, So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore, Who Stole my Church, Pagan Christianity, and more. If you look up any of these books on Amazon, a list of many other books on a similar theme appears. One that caught my eye was Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation. The church has lost much of its appeal with the generation now in their late teens, 20s and 30s.

Common themes run through these books. People are tired of religion and its rules, polished “worship”, and churches that run like businesses, clubs, shows or political organizations. Pastors are burned out by bickering congregations, by people who resist change and spread discontentment everywhere they go. Some church members (I hate to call them Christians) just want to be pampered, and move from assembly to assembly following their friends as they look for perfect leaders and programs.

I was born on a Sunday, attended my first service the following week and have been active in a church ever since. My immediate and extended family include several pastors and others in full time and volunteer ministry. I was taught to serve God and to be involved in Christian service in the church. This week I was reading from Luke 15:15-17 where Jesus says to his disciples before his death,

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

In our busy, technology saturated world, people are still looking for relationships, friendship, intimacy and true love. Jesus moved outside of organized religious circles and reached out personally to the poor, sick and marginalized members of society. He did this, not because he was compelled to serve, but because of his genuine love for all people, not just those of his social and religious background. The love feasts of the New Testament evolved into church services as the church later centred around buildings and clergy.

I also read a book by Sheila Walsh called Extraordinary Faith. She was sidelined unexpectedly from her planned schedule of service and God spoke to her heart saying,

“I have many servants and few friends; many who will do things for me, few who just want to love me. I don't want your work; I want your heart.”

Isn’t that true? We don’t expect our friends to be constantly working and doing things for us because they feel it is their duty. We serve happily when we love first.

The organized church is at a crossroads and I do not know what the future will look like for our religious institutions. Modern culture has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, faster than any time in history. But God’s true church remains strong and may emerge in the most unexpected new way. It is not time to throw away our faith.

"Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Share with God's people who need help; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone."

Romans 12:9-17

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yummy Fat!

Still snowing! Male Downy Woodpecker at our deck

Now that the weather is cold and insects are scarce, the birds are all over the suet ball that hangs in the yard. I buy them very cheaply at a Mennonite Meat and Cheese shop north of the city. Our dog would love to get at it if he could reach the branch and stands beneath the ball sniffing the odoriferous air.

Fat adds flavour and we all crave it, especially in the winter. Perhaps we should live outdoors during the cold months like the birds and burn fat calories while keeping warm. They also have to work a lot harder than we do to find a greasy treat.

Time to start Christmas baking...suet and seeds anyone?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Flowers: White Cedar Cones

This is my 81st Friday Flowers post and I could likely continue for a lifetime featuring beautiful blooms and interesting plants, especially if I frequented botanical gardens and had time for a lot of travel. Winter has come early in our area and the ground is covered in several inches of snow. The birds are animals are already having to work harder to find food and my feeders are very active. Our evergreen trees have provided the only spots of outdoor colour this week as the sky has met the earth in a uniform grey and white curtain. Conifers provide shelter and food during the winter for many creatures. I decided to feature cones from the variety of evergreens we have around here as they are the flower and fruit, so to speak, of the conifers. I am not a botanist by any stretch, so welcome comments and corrections to my text.

The White Cedar is a native tree to the northeastern regions of North America. It is small and shrubby and grows only 10-20 metres in height at the most. The scaly leaves are arranged in fan-shaped branches. My grandmother liked to pick a little piece of cedar to rub in her hands, a habit I have also acquired. The scent from the oil is fresh and strong and is right at the top with lavender as my favourite leaf smell. The first big gift my husband gave me before we were married was a cedar chest. It still stores our out of season clothes and the aroma from the wood remains strong after many years.

Cedars in the limestone rock of the Elora Gorge

The foliage is rich is vitamin C and is said to to have cured scurvy experienced by European explorers. It is a favoured food for deer in the winter and they can strip a tree very quickly. The Cedar Waxwing is named because of its habit of eating ripe cedar cones and other birds also enjoy the seeds. It grows in a variety of soils including swamps and rock. Some stunted white cedars growing in the limestone rock of the Niagara Escarpment are said to be nearly a thousand years old. Cedars grow out of the limestone cliffs of the Elora Gorge and we saw them in cracks of the alvar pavement on Manitoulin Island this summer.

I took this picture on November 8th this year near the river, just before the snow came. The woods were bare and this misshapen cedar touched the ground at the river's edge providing shelter for a variety of birds. The hawthorn berries on the right will soon be eaten but the cedar tree will remain green and fresh throughout the long winter, and its abundant leaves and cones an important source of food.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Birding from the Car

A lone, out-of-season Song Sparrow

I ventured out for the first time in almost a week yesterday. Winter has closed in on us quickly and we have had several snowfalls with very cold temperatures. Last year I noted our first significant snow on this day after a warm and dry autumn. The past twelve months have been wet and cool but this is welcome after a few years of drought. Yesterday was one of those lovely "mixed precipitation" days where the temperatures hover near freezing and one day can produce snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain under heavy grey skies.

One welcome sight is the price of gasoline. We paid double this amount in the summer when we went to Manitoulin Island. A fill up that costs less than $40.00 seems like such a bargain and a car trip for pleasure does not seem like an extravagant idea. A friend of mine from work loves birding but is physically unable to walk very far. I have gone out with her a couple of times and she showed me her favourite pull up and park birding locations. I have never been a patient "stand or sit and wait for the birds" person but am glad she taught me this lesson.

Many of the roadways in our local parks are closed for the winter as they are not ploughed or sanded when it snows. My first stop was at a barricade in Riverside Park, Cambridge. Trail walkers had dumped mixed seed on nearby rocks and there was a lot of bird and squirrel activity. The usual seed eaters were around but one little Song Sparrow caught my eye. I have not seen them around for weeks now even though the birding guides say they are uncommon winter residents. This feeding station and the nearby river may entice the bird to stay for the next few months.

Mourning Doves and Chickadee

Chickadees were the most abundant birds at this location. Their cheerful and social interactions cannot help but make a person smile. I have been following Cheryl's blog recently. She lives in England and writes about her garden in My Wildlife Sanctuary. The Blue Tit is a common bird in her area and when I see her pictures I always think it is a Chickadee. I looked up the bird "Tit" on Wikipedia and was not surprised to see that they are cousins.

The tits, chickadees, and titmice comprise Paridae, a large family of small passerine birds which occur in the northern hemisphere and Africa.

Chickadee feeds from my hand

I held my hand out the car window and it was not long until I had a Chickadee come for some seed. It took its time sorting through the striped and black sunflower seeds until it found a hulled kernel. Who could not love such trusting little birds?

Great Blue Heron on November 24th

On the way out of the park I drove over a small creek and was surprised to see a Great Blue Heron fishing in the icy water. Here is another bird who should head south as soon as possible. The odd heron has been seen during the December Christmas bird count around here, but I think this year will bring an early freeze on the waterways.

My outing cheered me considerably. And I am feeling better each day. Thanks for all the well wishes!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The view from my seat by the window

This summer I re-read Pause: An Emily Carr Sketchbook, a book of Emily Carr's writing and drawings that was compiled and published after her death in 1945. From the dust cover of the book...

"While studying at the Westminster School in London in 1902, Emily Carr so undermined her own health by overwork that she "subsided into Sunhill Sanatorium with a limp and a stutter" for eighteen long months. Pause is the story of this enforced hiatus in her artistic development: the dreary, stultifying San routine, annoying doctors and devoted nurses, the foibles and courage of the patients. Emily Carr's active mind rebelled at San restrictions: "They gave us very little credit for having sense at Sunhill. We came here to pause our ordinary activities. Even thinking was prohibited." But her natural gaiety could not be defeated. She delighted all those around her with verses, cartoons, games and, most important of all, by her interest in the glorious songbirds of the English countryside which then engrossed her attention for the first time."

I love Emily Carr's books and have Grandma's collection of all that have been published. She is best known as a pioneer Canadian artist who struggled for years to gain recognition for her work. In the early 20th century she travelled to many isolated Indian villages in British Columbia painting totem poles and scenes of natural beauty in the magnificent forests of Canada's west coast. In later years illness kept her from her beloved outdoors and canvases so she started her literary career from her sick bed. Her writings are even more brilliant than her paintings in my opinion. No word is wasted as she creates images as vivid to the mind as any art form.

Pauses are not welcome in our busy modern world. Quick fixes are sought, vacation time is neglected, important relationships ignored, and days are often overbooked with activities.

I came home late Tuesday night two hours after I started waking from a general anaesthetic. I was aware that I was the last patient on the Day Surgery unit. My nurse had already worked four hours overtime and could go home when I was discharged so I forced myself into alertness. My daughter drove me home and I slept through the night. In the morning I felt great and wrote Wednesday's post in a somewhat euphoric state. I was still in a morphine/versed/gravol induced haze and had minimal pain and swelling. I laughed at the prescription given by the surgeon...50 percocet! I wouldn't be needing anything more than plain tylenol. In fact, I could walk well without crutches even though I had been told to use them all the time. I would be back at work in just a few days.

Off-centre, but happy

Things were a lot different a few hours later as my knee ballooned and pain marched well ahead of me. While percocets really don't take away pain, they cause you not to care about it or anything else (scary!). So I am learning the value of rest and patience. I have caught up on some reading and have spent time in contemplation.

My coworkers sent me a large poinsettia and a gift bag full of generosities. As I rest and look past the red leaves, I see the snow in the front yard and roadway.

A pause at a busy time of year
may not be a bad thing...

I have really appreciated Ginger's posts this month and they have been part of my "contemplations". Here are a couple of links. Sundown Friday, O Give Thanks

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Flowers: In Unlikely Places

The pictures for this post were all taken by my husband.
He did a great job!
Click images to enlarge.

At dawn this past Monday morning my husband and brothers went with a guide to the desert for a few hours of exploration. This was a different outing than The Becka and her cousins took the following day, the pictures of which are featured in the previous post. Their guide took them to the place he had lived as a child, in an adobe house seemingly situated in the middle of nowhere. Cattle were seen walking in an arid expanse of dust and rock. This area was once covered with water and the men found a large fossilized snail shell. Nearby cave walls were marked with ancient drawings of dwellings, people and animals.

Water must be near by to support life in this part of the desert. And sure enough, a muddy waterhole behind the house was surrounded by tamarind trees which provided shade from the sun.

The tamarind tree is native to Asia and was likely brought to Mexico in the 17th or 18th century by European settlers. The Mexicans prepare a drink from the boiled seeds but I prefer tamarind in a spicy, sweet sauce with samosas and other Indian foods.

Blooming cactus plants and grasses were found nearby as well. A number of butterflies sipped nectar from the small flowers. This small desert oasis has provided life for man, animals, plants and other creatures. Those of us who live where water is abundant can miss the real meaning of important metaphors about springs in the desert.

Alegrarse han el desierto y la soledad:
el yermo se gozará, y florecerá como la rosa

And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose...

Isaiah 35:1

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Desert Skies

Near Torreon, Coahuila Mexico

The Becka and her dad arrived home last night from Mexico to an early Canadian winter storm. The first thing she did when arriving at the house after midnight was to throw herself down in the front yard to make a snow angel. The dust of the Coahuila desert was still on her shoes. Such is the nature of modern travel.

She took the pictures here two days ago while on an outing with her uncles, aunts and cousins. This landlocked state is not really a tourist destination for those who are looking for beaches and resorts. Vegetation is sparse and scrubby mesquite and cacti dot the landscape.

I like this picture of the group as their shadows are cast on the rock by the setting sun. They had spent the afternoon exploring a cave, climbing a steep mountain slope, and walking across the large open spaces. The sky was spectacular as the sun set in the early evening. The nights are very cool at this time of year with temperatures less than 10C in the early morning hours and the daytime values are in the low 20s. Perhaps this is best time of year to explore the desert and enjoy its stark beauty.

All photos by The Becka

Link here for more Skywatch Friday Posts

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Making the Best of the Unexpected

Fall leaves in a puddle...Life in a muddle
Interesting nevertheless!

Life seldom follows one straight path for long. Unexpected circumstances inevitably arise causing us to pause, prioritize and plan an alternative course of action. No one is exempt from this pattern which may be confusing and stressful at the time, but in retrospect often brings positive personal change and growth.

Our plans for November did not go as expected. Two weeks ago today, after having a sore knee that gave out causing two falls within as many days, my knee locked in a painful way. As inconvenient as it was, I was given a splint and crutches and had to wait for an "urgent" orthopaedic consultation. We were to leave at the end of last week for Mexico to attend our daughter's wedding. I saw the surgeon the morning of the day of our departure and had to cancel out at the last minute. My husband and the Becka went on, while my daughter who is a nurse stayed with me in Canada. I had the surgery yesterday and know it was a success. My surgical pain is very minimal compared to the pain of the locked joint. I have to take it easy for two weeks and apply some physiotherapy principles to myself, ones that I have taught to many patients over the years. I wonder how compliant I will be?

View from my kitchen window

November and December have never been my favourite months. While I generally have an optimistic and positive outlook on life, I have noticed that I harbour more brooding thoughts in the late fall and am also more susceptible to illness and injury. In the 1970's the theory of biorhythms was very popular, and while it has not been scientifically proved, there is some circumstantial evidence that we may experience cycles of physiological, emotional and intellectual well being. Seasonal affective disorder is a more accepted theory to describe mood fluctuations related to changes of season. Diminishing light is thought to be the main cause of the condition.

Looking back, I see how busyness and stress contributed to this problem. I should have sought medical attention when the knee started acting up, but I just figured I would be told to go for a course of therapy. Now I am forced to slow down and rest and find I am not as indispensable as I thought. Our bodies do have ways of saying "enough already"!

I am fortunate to have terrific coworkers and an understanding professional leader who are filling the gap for me at work. And I can take these personal lessons back to my patients by being more compassionate and understanding of their problems. My immediate and extended family members have been very supportive too. I miss my walks but am taking pictures out the house and car windows. We have had several snowfalls this week and the sun has been shining fairly often. The Becka and her dad return to Canada this evening and I am sure they will have lots of stories about their time with the family in Mexico. My husband has even been bird watching for me.

Time to pause...plan...prioritize.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming and Going

Juncos and Tree Sparrows are coming from their far northern nesting ranges to spend the winter with us in southern Ontario. The Juncos sit on the picnic table below the feeder and peck around for fallen seeds. I always put a handful on the ground especially for them.

I hear the the Tree Sparrows before I see them as they flit and cheep in the thickets and shrubs along the river. Winter has come for the birds...

...and I am going for a while. See you in a week or so.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salmon Run at Grindstone Creek

Grindstone Creek Marsh in November

Sam and I visited Lake Ontario at the first of the month and our experiences with the Trumpeter Swans in Burlington Bay have already been shared here. A few kilometers away, Grindstone Creek empties into the lake. There are mud flats, a marsh, and thickets loaded with seeds and berries along the trail. It is a haven for birds especially during migration periods. I saw my first Hooded Mergansers a few days earlier in the marsh. On this day there were hundreds of Cedar Waxwings and White-throated sparrows about as well as many other birds.

Sam at Grindstone Creek

The air was damp and the wind biting and cold. We walked a short distance up the creek when Sam saw what he thought were giant carp in the water. He was so excited I thought he might run into the stream as he got closer to see them. There were many large salmon in the shallow creek swimming upstream to spawn.

Salmon swimming upstream

These fish were old and scarred as they struggled through the gravel bed. There are a number of types of salmon in Lake Ontario including chinook, pink and coho salmon. My husband has spent a lot of hours fishing far out in the lake during the salmon derbies held each summer. I am not an expert in fish identification and would not want to guess what kind these might have been.

Fisherman at the mouth of the creek

I might have asked one of the fishermen who were leaning over the bridge or sitting in chairs at the mouth of the creek staring at their motionless lines in murky water. The season is open year round here for rainbow and brown trout.

I asked one grizzled man,
"What are you fishing for?"

He quipped back,
"Because I don't know how to golf."

I laughed and asked no further questions. Fishermen are a breed unto themselves!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vigile 1914-1918 Vigil

Remembrance Day 2007, Cambridge Ontario

November 11, 2008 is the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. There are few people around who remember it personally and time has reduced the impact of personal suffering and sacrifice experienced in this chapter of our history. There were 68,000 Canadians who died in this war when the country's population in 1915 was only eight million people. Proportionately, compared to the current Canadian population, 290,000 troops would have been killed in Afghanistan in the past four years.

Vigile 1914-1918 Vigil is a lighted memorial to honour the fallen from the Great War. From the website...

"At sunset November 4th through to sunrise November 11th, this site will present a vigil commemorating the 68,000 Canadians who lost their lives in WWI. The names of the 68,000 war dead will be projected over a week of nights onto the National War Memorial in Ottawa, buildings in other regions of Canada and onto the side of Canada House in Trafalgar Square in London, England."

Queen Elizabeth launched the trans-Atlantic event in Trafalgar Square, London on November 4th. Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto, Regina and Edmonton are participating in the Vigil here in Canada. By dawn on November 11th, all 68,000 names will have been projected in these cities as well as on the internet.

Each name represents a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle, a friend, a hero. Many were barely into adulthood when their lives were cut short.

How easy it is to forget.
We must remember.

"Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Fruits: Fall Gourds

I haven't written much about local food this year but we have made it a habit to visit our regional markets and nearby roadside farm stands frequently. My cousin told me about the farm pictured above. It is just a few minutes from the hospital and I have detoured by several times this fall for the best corn, onions, garlic, and other vegetables. The corn is done but there are plenty of squash, pumpkins, and root vegetables available.

Pumpkins are grown around the world and are a staple vegetable in some areas including southern Africa. The entire plant, from the leaves to the seeds can be eaten. It is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet with plenty of vitamins and phytonutrients and deserves better than being carved for Hallowe'en and then discarded in the trash. I cut them up, bake them in a large roasting pan then run the cooked pulp through the blender and freeze it in containers.

We eat other varieties of squash often as well. Turban and butternut are my favourites and spaghetti squash is a tasty substitute for pasta ( I haven't convinced my family of that yet!)

Small ornamental gourds come in an interesting array of colours and shapes and are great for fall decorating. Our children used to love to select a few from the big bins of them at the market.

Do you have a favourite pumpkin recipe or story?
For starters, here is KGMom's recently posted recipe for Pumpkin Soup.

P.S. My last post was not picked up by blog feeds (?).
The link is here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton

The mid-day sun is too much for most eyes;
one is dazzled even with its reflection.
Be careful that too broad and high an aim does not
your effort and clog your springs of action.
Learned Hand

Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky.
When we think of the sky, we tend to look up,

but the sky actually begins at the earth.

Diane Ackerman

The object of reflection is invariably
the discovery of something satisfying to the mind
which was
not there at the beginning of the search.
Ernest Dimnet

~Picture details~
1- Bronte Creek, Oakville ON
2- Lake Ontario, Toronto Waterfront
3- Grand River, Kitchener ON
4- Near Renfrew ON, courtesy of Two Puppies
Check her Flickr site to see this picture. (CC license)

See more Skywatch posts here