Saturday, February 28, 2009

Inspired Aging!

I watch very little television but try not to miss The Mercer Report on Tuesday nights. Rick Mercer is always entertaining and his shows are on You Tube as well as the CBC website if I miss a program. This past week he featured Hazel McCallion, the 88 year old mayor of Mississauga which is the 6th largest city in Canada. She has served her community in this capacity for over 30 years and is an extraordinary woman. This six minute clip will inspire you and prove that getting old need not be a downhill ride. I need to be reminded of this as I see the worst of aging each day at the hospital.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Flowers: Cuttings

"Striking is a simple process in which a small amount of the parent plant is removed. This removed piece, called the cutting, is then encouraged to grow as an independent plant." (source)

Penny, our Recreation Therapist at the hospital, has weekly gardening groups for patients who wish to participate. During the warm months, they work in raised beds outdoors and during the winter they prepare plants in the solarium for spring planting. (I wrote about the outdoor gardens last year in this post.)

This spindly geranium was brought indoors in the fall and has developed weak, long branches while reaching for the light over the winter months. Many leaves have died and fallen and there are no new flowers developing. It looks as if it should be added to the compost pile. But there is a chance for it to be reborn into several new, vigourous plants.

Penny and the patients have taken cuttings from last season's geraniums and planted them in soil under growing lights. The cuttings have rooted and are producing new leaves and blooms. It will be about three months until it is safe to place them outdoors and they will continue to grow over the summer before the cutting process is repeated.

Many other plants such as this Christmas cactus can be propagated in this manner. I am rooting some philodendron stems in water from a plant I started ten years ago. When it gets overgrown, the newly rooted cuttings replace the older plant. The original plant had some sentimental value and I am reminded of it each time I re-pot the new shoots.

One of our young volunteers is helping a patient iron a silk scarf she has painted. Many of our elderly patients come to us "weak and spindly" from illness coupled with a lack of social interaction. We all need to invest in the lives of other people on a regular basis. By taking a piece of ourselves and "planting" it in another person, we can propagate our experience, wisdom, caring and love. And the pruning will make us stronger and more likely to produce new growth in our own lives.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bare Branches

My mother said to me,
"When one sees the tree in leaf
one thinks
the beauty of the tree is in its leaves,

and then one sees the bare tree."
Samuel Menashe

There is lace in every living thing:
the bare branches of winter,
the patterns of clouds,
the surface of water
as it ripples in the breeze....

Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader)

Bare trees stand proudly
Knowing that spring will return
To clothe them in green
Tanja Cilia

God loved the birds and invented trees.
Man loved the birds and invented cages.
Jacques Deval

Photos: 1. Clear skies over Guelph Lake, Ontario
2. Sunset over the Speed River, Cambridge Ontario
3. Tree at noon by the Grand River, Cambridge, Ontario
4. Common Redpoll at Riverside Park, Cambridge, Ontario

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thoughts of Love

Female Mallard with plenty of suitors (I counted 15)
Click picture to enlarge

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

From the poem "Locksley Hall"
Alfred Lord Tennyson
An interesing comment from Rambling Woods...

Ruth...You caught a great photo of a mallard hen giving a revulsion nod to the mallard drake on her right. Her mate is at the front of the pack and she is giving a call and head jerk that indicates that she is not interested in those males...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama Cookies, Cutting the Fat and More...

My Obama Cookie

My husband was in Ottawa this past weekend after the visit of President Obama. He had some time to go to the ByWard Market and found "Obama Cookies" for sale at the bakery stand where the president had purchased the red maple leaf treats. They were selling well as people lined up to buy a little piece of the week's history. The vendor had a good marketing edge over other sellers with the new name of his cookie. And I don't blame him for taking advantage of the short-lived fame he has earned. Tim brought two home for us and the large cookies were very tasty indeed, made with good quality fat.

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day...

Today is the day to get rid of all the fat in the house in preparation for the start of Lent tomorrow. In times past, Lent coincided with lean times at the end of winter when food, particularly eggs and meat were less available.

It is easier to fast if the cupboard is bare.

I have read that a few churches are encouraging their adherents to reduce their carbon footprint in this season leading up to Easter rather than giving up chocolate or sweets.

It is easier to do this when the economy is taking a prolonged nose-dive and jobs are being lost in large numbers.

"Cutting the fat" has more than one meaning this year. The big automakers are doing it, my employer is doing it, and many people are doing it through no choice of their own. My father emailed me an interesting article yesterday about the current economic crisis. A Financial House of Cards written by Mark Levine outlines history and attitudes that led up to the events that are now affecting the entire world. I found this comment on our society most interesting;-

People's identities were now increasingly defined by what they consumed rather than their religious beliefs or social actions.

The size of one's home, car and flat-screen TV, or the price of one's clothes, mobile phones and holidays became of paramount importance.

This economic ideology - based on the possibility, and desirability, of limitless growth - created an ethos of rampant materialism and individualism.

This attitude led to a borrowing binge that was not sustainable.

On one hand we are being encouraged to save our money, and on the other, to spend in order to boost the economy. These mixed messages are very confusing.

What do we really need? Our basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter have enlarged to include a car, cell phone, cable TV, computers, internet and much more. One of my patients had an absolute melt down last week because she could not afford the TV hookup above her hospital bed. It didn't matter that the patient dining room has cable TV available to anyone, she felt she deserved her own unit. And she is no different than many other people, including myself. I don't care if I have TV, but I sure like my new camera and would be upset to be without high speed internet. I went to Walmart to buy two buttons the other day and walked out with $30.00 of merchandise. How did that happen? Retailers know how to display those things we think we need at the ends of aisles and around checkout counters.

For the next six weeks I have decided to make an effort to buy only what I need. I will try to stop and think before I pass money or a credit card over the counter and ask myself why I am making the purchase. I plan to keep track of the money saved and give it to a worthwhile charity. My "needs" may be hard to define at times, but this cutting of the fat before I really have to do it will undoubtedly be an interesting exercise in self control.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Winter Has My Permission to Leave

"Why, what's the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?"
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

It is less than one month until the vernal equinox and the first day of spring. Winter started in earnest around the middle of November and we have endured three full months of its icy grip. Another February storm came our way yesterday and the northeastern part of the continent is now bracing for a very large snowfall.

Many of our worst storms come at the end of the winter season but we know the snows will not last forever. We were wondering if we could teach Dakota how to push the snow shovel, but he did not show the least bit of interest in this type of work. I think he would have been a perfect sled dog with his thick coat and love of the snow.

Walking along a trail just before the snow started to fall, I noticed that colour is beginning to appear in the bush as the sun gets stronger. The dogwood branches are red, the willows are becoming more yellow and the evergreens stand out against the blue sky.

Maple sap being cooked down to syrup at Winterlude

It will soon be time to enjoy the first crop of the spring season as sap starts to run in the sugar maple trees. Mild sunny days and cold nights are needed for a good harvest. Soon we will notice curls of smoke rising from sugar shacks on local farms and the time will come to look for the first pussy willows.

"If we had no winter,
the spring would not be so pleasant."

Anne Bradstreet

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Mari usque ad Mare

A Mari usque ad Mare ("From Sea to Sea") is Canada's motto. It was derived from Psalm 72:8, which reads in Latin "Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae," and in the King James version, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

We took the standard half hour tour of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on a busy Saturday morning last weekend. Tourists who visit from Monday to Friday are not permitted to take photographs in the building but this rule is not enforced after business hours. The building is a magnificent example of Gothic Revival architecture and is full of elements of national symbolic importance. I would love to spend half a day examining the sculptures, inscriptions and art work in the Peace Tower, parliamentary halls and rooms, and the public grounds around the hill.

I will not review the history of Parliament Hill as this link to Wikipedia does it well. I took special notice of the biblical symbolism and use of scripture, particularly in the Peace Tower. We went to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view of the city in all four directions and then walked around the Memorial Chamber which commemorates Canada's war record.

The exterior windows of the Peace Tower are inscribed as follows:

East window- He shall have dominion also from sea to sea. (Psalm 72:8)

South window- Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. (Psalm 72:1)

West window- Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)

The largest bell in the Peace Tower belfry says, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men. (Luke 2:14)

The Peace Tower Memorial Chamber has several poems and scripture selections on the walls and altar. The marble panel on the south wall is inscribed with the words of Psalm 139:8-10

Elsewhere in the building, the Cabinet Room is inscribed with, "Love justice, you that are the rulers of the earth. Aimez la justice, vous qui jugez la terre." (Song of Solomon 1:1) and the Opposition Board Room says "Fear God, Honour the king." (1 Peter 2:17)

I feel it is important to acknowledge God in matters of government. But the mixture of politics and religion promoted from some pulpits is another concern. For instance, I have seen some ugly comments in Facebook groups and on blogs from "christians" who feel strongly that Barak Obama's presidency is a big mistake. Angry criticism, disrespect and arrogant opinions in the name of God are too commonly encountered. These scripture passages encourage a different attitude toward our leaders.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:2

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God... Romans 13:1-6

As a Christian it is my duty to pray for our government and for each leader who represents our people. I will exercise my right to vote and should participate peaceably in the democratic process we are fortunate to have in place in Canada.

I enjoy reading the prayers in the Anglican Church's Canadian Book of Common Prayer. This prayer for peace in the world reflects the perspective Christians should demonstrate toward those who have the responsibilty of governing nations.

from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed:
Kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all men
the true love of peace,
and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take
counsel for the nations of the earth;
that in tranquility thy kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Foliage: Jack Pine

The City of Ottawa has a publicly owned Greenbelt which consists of a 20,000-hectare expanse of land which includes wetlands, farmlands and forests. Hiking opportunities abound in the Greenbelt and the admission free trail network extends over 100 kilometers. The Greenbelt includes Stony Swamp Conservation Area, Piney Forest, and the Green’s Creek. (Source: The National Capital Greenbelt)

I visited the Greenbelt, which is situated on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, and chose the Jack Pine Trail, one of the easy trails within Stony Swamp. This area was reforested with Jack Pine trees about forty years ago. Jack Pine is a native evergreen which grows well in poor soils. It is a small, sometimes shrubby, irregularly shaped tree that can thrive in sandy or rocky locations. The cones can remain closed for many years and will open when exposed to the extreme heat of a forest fire.

The fall of their needles creates an acidic soil which is favourable for the growth of wild blueberries. The endangered Kirtland's Warbler nests only in stands of young Jack Pines and many other forest birds and animals find refuge in the shelter the trees provide.

The Jack Pine woods were not dense like some bush areas in our area of south-western Ontario. Other trees also grew in this swampy area including cedar and white birch. The most abundant mammal I noticed was the Red Squirrel. We have a few of them in our area but they were far more numerous here than the larger Grey and Black Squirrels. I heard their loud chatter and watched several high speed territorial chases.

The Jack Pine Trail is off limits for dogs. Much as I love dogs, the irresponsible behaviour of owners who allow their animals to defecate and run loose on public trails is most annoying. Spring thaw reveals the extent of this problem on the trails near our home.

Because of the thin forest cover, the absence of dogs and the generous food donations from regular visitors, White-tailed deer were very easily seen in the area. I rounded one corner and came face to face with a doe who hardly startled at my appearance. She moved aside as I walked by and then came back with another deer to enjoy the carrot pulp left by the man I described in a previous post. This same man told me about the many snakes and frogs that are found in this swamp in the spring (as well as the blackflies and mosquitoes).

And I decided that winter was the perfect season to explore these trails!

, a veteran blogger, lives in the Ottawa area and has visited this trail. His pictures of the deer are really worth seeing here and here. (I particularly like the second post)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

President Obama Visits Ottawa

President Obama in Ottawa today (Photos from

As we were getting ready to leave Ottawa on Monday, preparations were well underway for President Barak Obama's visit to Canada. Barricades were being erected around Parliament Hill and dozens of Canadian flags lined the walkways. This was a working visit rather than a state visit and Canadians were informed that there would be little opportunity to see the president. However, thousands lined the streets beginning at dawn for the chance to catch a glimpse of him. A busload of people from our city travelled six hours each way today in hopes of seeing their hero. By all accounts the day was a huge success. Obama waved to cheering crowds from behind bullet-proof glass in front of Parliament. On the way back to the airport, he made an unexpected stop at ByWard Market to the delight of many common citizens.

ByWard Market in downtown Ottawa is the oldest commercial and residential district in the city. It opened originally in 1848 and the current market building was constructed in 1926. The market district is home to an eclectic mixture of farmers market stalls, boutiques, galleries, caf├ęs, pubs and clubs. It was my favourite area of the city and we visited it twice when we were in Ottawa.

BeaverTail stand at ByWard Market

BeaverTails are a locally famous treat and we enjoyed them for the first time at the market. They are large pieces of deep fried dough shaped like the tail of a beaver, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and optional toppings. I had one with apple topping and was stuffed after eating half of it. President Obama stopped and bought one at the same shop we had visited. He then went into the market and purchased some treats for his children to the surprise of the vendors and shoppers who were there.

My Beavertail

The president's visit was not about food and shopping but he has endeared himself to the people of Canada with his lack of arrogance and down-to-earth friendliness. His awareness and interest in our culture and citizens is completely unlike the the last president's attitude towards Canada. There will be inevitable disagreements between our governments but hopefully they will be handled amicably and respectfully.

Outdoor vendor at ByWard Market

When we toured the Parliament Building last Saturday we were told that Queen Victoria selected this unlikely backwoods city as Canada's capital in 1857 for a number of reasons including its distance from the American border. It was hoped that American troops would get lost if they ever tried to march on the city.

President Obama was photographed above at this entrance

Things have changed greatly in the last 150 years. Even 50 years ago few would have envisioned the first black American president visiting with our first black Governor General, Michaelle Jean in Ottawa.

And I think changes like this are a good thing.

President Obama and Mme Jean (

(Picture of the Parliament building and the Canadian flag taken by my eldest daughter)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Skywatch Over a Frozen Swamp

Just after sunrise

I enjoy visiting cities and being in crowds of people from time to time. Toronto is always interesting and our trip to New York City last year was a great experience. We mingled with many other Winterlude visitors in Ottawa and walked through several tourist areas. I was ready for bed before 10PM each night, thoroughly tired out from fresh air and exercise. But my daughters...well they are still on young adult schedules where night is for fun and morning is for sleeping in, especially on holidays.


I tiptoed out of the hotel room each morning at 6:30 AM and drove 15 km to a greenbelt area in nearby Nepean while the others slept. An extensive trail system is found here in an area of forests, swamps and meadows. In spite of the early morning cold, it was a beautiful spot to see the sun rise and watch the birds and animals start their daily search for food. Heavy hoarfrost was on tree branches and reeds until the sun rose high enough to burn it off.

Clear skies over the frozen swamp

I read online that there was to be a guided birding tour one morning but no one else showed up. The trail was well marked so I set off to explore it on my own with my walking poles and ice cleats. I met a few other friendly hikers including an older man who was hand feeding chickadees and putting out carrot pulp from his juicer for the deer. Old Boomers who feed wildlife and make their own juice are quite safe to be around in my opinion, even if they are strangers. This man told me I was on the wrong trail for the guided birding but he showed me a tree where he had seen a Barred Owl the week before. Then he was off to share his food in another section of the bush.

Female Pileated Woodpecker in the morning light

I was delighted to see several Pileated Woodpeckers in the dead trees around the swamp. The entire trail was full of various woodpeckers and their hammering was heard in every direction. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers have been reported in the area but I only saw Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers along with the Pileateds.

Two hours on a trail like this leaves me feeling invigourated, unlike pavement pounding which tires me quickly. It was a good thing it was so cold as I would have been tempted to stay much longer if my hands and feet were not so numb.

More about this trail in a future post...

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Celebrating Snow and Ice

We took a break for a few days and visited the city of Ottawa which is about six hours north east of our home by car. Ottawa is the second coldest national capital in the world next to Moscow, Russia but it experienced a thaw last week with rain and temperatures well above freezing. Our daughters had been anticipating the annual Winterlude festival for weeks and were most disappointed with the big melt. But February thaws do not last forever, and the long weekend was marked with clear skies, sunshine and very cold temperatures. Never go to Winterlude without your long underwear!

We spent hours outdoors from morning until night taking in the Crystal Garden at Confederation Park in Ottawa and the impressive snow sculptures across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. In the evenings a light and sound show was followed by an outdoor concert. We watched Jim Cuddy and Roch Voisin on separate nights as they performed live in sub zero temperatures to enthusiastic crowds.

And of course, the biggest attraction was the world's largest skating rink on the Rideau Canal which features 7.8 km (4.8 miles) of ice surface. My eldest daughter skated 10 km in a round trip while I walked carefully on the ice in my winter boots. Kiosks along the route offered food, drink, souvenirs and shelters while police on ATVs and many volunteers patrolled the crowds.

This slide show features more snow and ice than many people in the world will see in a lifetime. The people I saw were having just as much fun as those who travel to warm destinations in the winter. Cold winters are inevitable in Canada and we can complain or we can get out and make the best of it. My taxes were used to pay for this admission free carnival so why not take advantage and join the party?!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February Thaw

We had a big December thaw with plenty of flooding and are now experiencing our second thaw of the winter with record breaking temperatures and rain. This is not a good combination with all the snow we have on the ground. I took these pictures on the weekend when the sun was shining and the air felt like spring. It was nice to hear gently running water as a creek ran toward the still frozen river.

White-tailed deer were frolicking in the field in the middle of the afternoon as the snow had melted enough that they could run around freely.

Along the boardwalk a large number of birds were perched on two dead trees. We counted at least fifteen American Robins and several Cedar Waxwings. These were the same robins I saw in this park in January, ones that had decided to forego their southern migration in the fall. Our spring Robins will not return for another month or so. This day they were not huddled in the bush, but faced the sun in the open swamp.

The news this week has constant warnings about fast flowing water and warns people to stay off the ice. These foolhardy boys were on the ice, jumping up and down to test its strength and poking sticks in the open stream. There will always be people who take risks in spite of warnings and end up needing the assistance of our emergency rescue services.

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa is closed due to the thaw which is very disappointing for the Winterlude visitors who plan to attend over this coming long weekend. Cold weather is supposed to return at the end of the week and we know this is just a short break in a winter that is not over.

I am taking a break too and will be back to blogging and commenting sometime next week.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Toy or Tool?

Technology changes so quickly that it is hard to keep up with what it new in computers, smart phones and cameras, to name a few gadgets. I have lost track of the number of computers I have purchased in the past 15 years.

I bought a Canon Powershot S3IS a couple of years ago and added a 1.5x teleconvertor which gave me 18x optical zoom, great for closeups of birds and people at a distance. My brother bought the S5IS last year and I was impressed with the improvements in his camera compared to mine.

My husband knows I enjoy taking pictures and he encouraged me to get a DSLR and some "big glass", but I was reluctant to walk around with that much camera hanging around my neck. A 500 mm lens is quite long and expensive.

After some research, I decided to stay with a familiar camera and upgraded to a Canon Powershot SX10 IS which has a 20X optical zoom without a teleconvertor. And I am very happy with my purchase (for less than $400 cdn), which I bought with an option of return within 30 days if I didn't like it. It is not bulky, does not slow me down when I walk, and the 20X zoom is equivalent to a 550mm telephoto lens. There is no doubt that DSLRs take superior pictures, but I will stick with a point and shoot (that has lots of manual options) for now.

Full moon, taken by The Becka with my camera (hand held)

I am looking forward to going to Winterlude this weekend and hope to have unlimited opportunities to use the new camera. And maybe I will take the time to read the manual instead of relying on my usual hack and shoot style of photography.