Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Circle of Life

Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
Psalm 71:9

Some members of our church visit a local retirement home monthly and conduct a short service which consists of a hymn sing and devotional talk. I have played the piano for the group for many years and have come to know the residents in this facility. Several of them are also familiar to me as patients whom I have seen during home care visits or in the hospital. All of them have lost the ability to live on their own. Tonight we sang a selection of Easter hymns which spoke of the promise of heaven and the resurrection of our physical bodies as they are released from suffering on earth.

But I don't meet many people who are really looking forward to leaving this life. Most fight strongly to stay. Old age creeps up and then pounces, catching people unaware.

People hide their struggles to cope, put up a good front and resist asking for the help they need. Most of us want to remain independent, all of us fear being abandoned. We long to feel needed, loved and useful, and if we aren't, depression may follow. When things fall apart, buried dysfunction from our past is exposed for all to see.

Babies and children need many years of total care as they grow to independence;-the elderly may need many years of care as they return to complete dependence. I see the cycle every day. Baby boomers are beginning to enter this stage of life and are trickling into our geriatric programs. Are they going to change aging in the way they changed the society of their youth?

Anvil Cloud wrote an interesting post this weekend about the human body's potential to live in good health for 120 or more years. He wondered whether a longer lifespan would be a good or bad thing. One thing I do know, the baby boomers are too late to jump on the longevity train.

It is better to improve the quality of life than to extend the length of life. Our elderly do not need a condo in the sun and an annual cruise to improve their lives.They must feel needed, loved and useful, to be part of a social unit where they are valued. And our fragmented North American society does not guarantee that for our elders as families are smaller, busier and geographically separated. A youth centred culture is not always quick to value the contribution of older generations nor offer them a place of honour in the world. There are other cultures who handle aging far better than we do.

I find myself thinking about this circle of life, observing, but not having many answers.

Photos: The lady was making several silk scarves for her grand-daughter's wedding attendants
A very young visitor at the hospital was checking out our therapy equipment

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Child's Perspective

I love being with children, particularly grade school aged children. While they can be mischievous, they are honest and eager to learn. In the many years I have taught Sunday School I have been asked all kinds of questions that required a straight face and a satisfactory answer on my part.

What is a eunuch?? Another older teacher looked on in shock when I explained that one!

What is adultery?? The girl's mother who was divorced for this reason stood quietly outside the door until I answered.

I am greatly in favour of newer translations of the Bible, especially for Old Testament stories. I printed out a colouring sheet for today's story from Joshua 9 and these verses from the King James Version were printed on the bottom. What child would understand this?!

"And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy."

Or try reading the story of Balaam's ass to a room full of ten year olds using the King James Bible. I did once and they were laughing so hard we were all crying. (read it here) I am not trying to take away from the sacredness of scripture, but the Bible needs to be understood in the language of each generation. High school will be soon enough for them to learn the nuances of Shakespearean English.

In the past quarter we have been talking about Moses and the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness. I was trying to get them to understand how long forty years was and asked an eight year old, "How old will you be in forty years?"

"Forty-eight! My parents aren't even that old."

Another little girl looked at me in horror and said, "You would be over 100!"

Well, that answer cracked me up. (In truth I would just be 94...)

Working with geriatric patients makes me feel young, but to these children I am "old";- older than their parents and older than some of their grandparents. With this introduction I hope to explore more insights on aging in a few future posts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Is it too hard for us to
go without power
for an hour every day?

Thoughts the morning after Earth Hour;

Did I participate in Earth Hour from 8:30-9:30 PM?

No I didn't because I wanted to watch Ben Hur, a yearly ritual around here. Earlier in the evening my husband and I took a walk and then I watched the sun set while out on the deck.

Observing Earth Hour once a year is meaningless unless we take steps every day to use our resources wisely. It is like people who appear at church only on Easter Sunday each year to appease their spiritual conscience. In our home we have energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, a programable thermostat and switches that are used.

I was reading comments on news stories about Earth Hour and liked these two.

  • Places like in India have power failure on a daily basis which is equivalent to earth hour around the world. So why should people in India celebrate earth hour?
  • In our part of Africa, the lights are off every two hours for six hours or more...

I know our family in Mexico experience frequent power outages because of that country's overloaded grids. It is a way of life for them to be without electricity on a regular basis. Maybe we will be more serious about conserving when we have no choice. I don't think we need to turn the lights out from 8:30-9:30 every night, but we can be more conscious of our dependence on power during the course of each day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hanging out with the Wrong Crowd

European Starling -Sternus vulgaris

Starlings, Blackbirds, Cowbirds, Crows...

Messy, noisy, bullying thieves...

Intelligent, adaptable, gregarious, communal...

These "bad birds" have their own unique beauty and are here to stay.

Click image to view in large. Thanks Denise for permission to post

Denise at An English Girl Rambles posted this wonderful photo of the feeders in her yard and added the Oscar Wilde quote. Oscar Wilde ran with the wrong crowd himself, but his intelligence and wit was exceptional making him a hugely popular playwright, poet and novelist in Victorian England.

Denise, you need to market this picture. It would make a great greeting card or poster.

Even if we didn't hang out with the bad crowd when we were younger, we always talked about them and watched them with a mixture of admiration, fear and disgust.

Which crowd do you fit in with? Those pesky blackbirds or the lovely songbirds?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rrrrrrroll up the Rim!

Every spring, Canadians line up at Tim Hortons for a chance to Rrroll up the Rim to Win all sorts of prizes. Actually, many Canadians line up at Tim Hortons every day of the year but irregular customers like myself make the effort to visit at least a couple of times during the contest. Tim Hortons restaurants are the pubs of Canada with most communities boasting at least one franchise and neighbourhoods like the one I live in having four within walking distance. During the contest each beverage cup has a message under the rim and prizes range from free food to a new vehicle. I needed to warm up on a cold day and entered the drive through lane in the small town of St. Jacobs to buy a hot steeped tea.

And there in front of me was a horse and buggy. At first I thought it was going through the drive through, but the horse was tied to the fence and the owners had gone inside to order. A few years ago a McDonalds restaurant opened in the nearby town of Elmira. An observant photographer captured a young Mennonite couple in an open buggy at the drive through window. But it is uncommon to see these people at fast food joints.

I bought my tea and when I was done, rolled up to rim to read the message Please Play Again. I am not a lucky gaming person. But what do you bet that the owner of this buggy was destined to win one of the new Toyota vehicles or perhaps the laptop computer? I am sure they would be luckier than me and would sell their winnings for some ready cash.

I was in Aylmer Ontario to see the Tundra Swans this week. The county has the only Amish community in the province and they are a different Anabaptist sect than the Old Order Mennonites of Waterloo Region. Aylmer is also home to a number of Mexican Mennonites, people of German origin who settled in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Many of them have moved to Ontario and their dress and customs are different again than the other Mennonites here. The sign on this store made me smile. They have retained some of the culture of their chosen country just as the owner of the buggy is enjoying a little bit of the local Canadian culture.
RRRoll up the Rim!! What did you win?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tundra Swan Trio

Tundra Swans are making their way back to the Arctic regions of the country for the nesting season. I have never seen one of these birds but always seem to hear "you just missed the fifty that were in this swamp an hour ago". There are areas near Lake Erie and Lake Huron where they rest during migration so I decided to drive an hour south west of home to see them. Aylmer Ontario is a small community north of Lake Erie and the swans rest near the grounds of the Ontario Police College each spring. The ponds at the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area are now surrounded by fencing and four viewing platforms have been constructed for the many visitors who come to see them. They even have a wheelchair accessible, enclosed platform that is very close to the pond. Tinted windows keep the birds from seeing the people.

There were about 2000 Tundra Swans here this day, down from a peak of 4000 a couple of days before. The swans are counted each morning and dried corn is put out for them to eat. Unlike the Trumpeter Swans in Burlington, these birds are not endangered in Ontario and are not tagged with big yellow numbers. I took a lot of pictures of these beautiful birds and will undoubtedly feature more in another post.

I chose three birds out of two thousand because they seemed to have special talent, standing out among the crowd. All this picture is missing is the microphone and the band! The band was there in the background and while these swans are not as melodic as the Trumpeter Swans, they do make a real racket.

The ponds will be silent by the first of April except for the Canada Geese that are setting up nests here. I am sure there will be many other birds this season that will make their nests in the swamps and grassland surrounding the ponds;- a good reason to plan a return visit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Farms and Barns in Mennonite Country

My husband and I drove north of the city on Saturday to get maple syrup from a local farm and to buy some fresh citrus fruit that had just been trucked from Florida to the Orange Barn in Millbank. From Elmira to Millbank is Old Order Mennonite country and travelling the roads is a trip back in time in many ways. Wide shoulders along the highways are for horse and buggy travellers and they are frequently seen. Tidy mixed farms with large farmhouses and gardens feature colourful barns and outbuildings that brighten the dull March landscape.

Several farmers were spreading manure on their fields with horse drawn spreaders and curls of smoke from sugar shacks could be seen rising from many woodlots. We had hoped to see some maple sap collected but the temperatures were well below freezing in the morning so not much was running today. School aged children wrapped in blankets sat at the end of laneways beside small tables which displayed maple syrup, maple candies and maple butter for sale.

Earlier this week a fire destroyed a furniture business on an Old Order Mennonite farm in this area. No one was injured and no livestock was lost, but damage was estimated at $150, 000 dollars.

Pictures and text from The Record

These pictures were in our local newspaper and the destruction of the building was complete. The Mennonite community moves quickly to help a neighbour rebuild after such a loss. We passed the farm and dozens of buggies were parked at farms on both sides of the road.

A large new foundation had been dug and the new building was well under construction only two days after the fire. Some motorized construction equipment had been hired for the excavation. We were there just before noon and the men were taking a break for lunch which was being served at the farm across the road. I hope to go back early in the week to see what progress has been made.

The Mennonites have a strong social network with support and provision for members in the event of illness or other loss. They will also come along side neighbours who are not of their faith who have had a barn fire and rebuild for them in the same way. Many of them do not enrol in our public health care system and if hospitalization is needed, the $1000 and day bill is covered by their community.

There are many other generous people in our world who are quick to help out when they hear of a need. But it is easier to give money than to leave your own work at a busy time of year to help a neighbour. With these Mennonites, many hands finish the job quickly and everyone is back to their own business in record time.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fox Sparrows and Wood Thrushes

My photo

In a recent post I showed this picture and identified the bird in the shadows as a Wood Thrush. I belong to the local birding forum and can learn and share with others in the group. Another birder and photographer, Heidi Staniforth, took a picture of the same bird later in the week when it ventured out into the open. The colours of the Wood Thrush and the Fox Sparrow are similar, but their markings are different. Here is a quote from the forum from one of our local experts.

Hi Ruth,

Definite Fox Sparrow in your shot, there.

Note the big triangular "sub-moustacial" marks bordering the throat. The only two birds in Ontario so marked are Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow. And this bird, being quite reddish (I think?) must be the latter. What Heidi said about the large central spot, and the triangular shape of the spots, is also true - just a little harder to see in your photo that hers, but you can at least tell that they're not the nice rounded 'blobs' that a thrush would have.

Anyway, I know we're all up with spring fever and everything, but give those Wood Thrushes a break - it's a long way from Central America! We should begin to see them, at last, in about a month. And then - let the fun begin!

Peter C.

It is nice to know people who are in the know!!

Heidi's Photo of a Fox Sparrow

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Flowers: First Day of Spring

I stopped by the municipal gardens at the entrance to the city this week to look for my first spring flower. I have never seen a snowdrop and hoped to find one poking through some lingering spring snow. (Note to self:- plant snowdrop bulbs this fall)

We have had several very warm March days, but snow is still present in sheltered areas which do not receive as much direct sunlight. The gardens are mainly on the shady side of the road and were quite hard and frozen in spite of the above zero temperatures.

I looked closely and saw many green shoots starting to grow through the ground as they reached for the sunlight. Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and peonies were among the first plants to welcome the spring season even though they will not be blooming for a little while.

I went looking for a flower and found several birds instead feeding on last season's berries and seeds. These Cedar Waxwings were busy eating winter frozen crabapples from a tree. Robins and Mourning Doves gleaned the same fruit from the ground below.

My garden has nothing showing except for the first red knobs of rhubarb. As soon as the ground is tillable, I will plant some greens like arugula and chard. They grow well in cooler spring and fall temperatures and are not as inclined to go to seed as they do in summer weather.

What a busy, growing time of year!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Winter's Last Sunset

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox. While that may not be a big deal in equatorial parts of the earth, in the north it marks the end of the season of long, dark nights. Our days will lengthen steadily for the next three months and nature will experience its annual rebirth. Tonight's sunset was lovely, and I am not sorry to see that winter is coming to an end.

"Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees."

Rainer Maria Rilke, Early Spring

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Purple Finches and More

We are now in the best birding season of the year when new birds are arriving daily and the trees still remain leaf bare. It will be another six weeks before foliage will block the view of of the treetops and while I love the fresh green leaves of May, they do hide a lot of bird activity. Today I drove through the country as I heard that Great Blue Herons were already nesting in a rookery a few kilometers from my husband's workplace. There were no herons around when I got there so I went to what has become a favourite spot for easy bird watching.

Guelph Lake Nature Centre was a beehive of activity as many children were participating in the March break day camp. I stood by the feeders but had little expectation of seeing anything unusual due to the noise and traffic of little feet. There were plenty of Chickadees, Pine Siskins and Tree Sparrows about as usual, but I noticed a bit of unfamiliar red high in a nearby tree.

I have looked diligently for Purple Finches and have only seen one group of females feeding on grass seeds near the river. I had never found the males with the "raspberry wash" colouring. Several males came to the feeders and were not frightened off by the children.

I have taken pictures of extra red House Finches at my feeders and hoped that they were Purple Finches. But the reds of the two birds are very different and I will not mistake them again.

There was another bird there today. I heard it before I found it as it remained deep in the brush, scratching for seeds in the ground.

Can you see the Wood Thrush between the fence rails? (click picture to enlarge) It was very well camouflaged. I caught a brief glimpse of the reddish brown colour and thought it was a Fox Sparrow at first. (It really was a Fox Sparrow. See this post for clarification.) This bird was quite intimidated by all the people around but I imagine it would sing its lovely song in the evening and morning when things were quiet.

Once again I proved the rule;- you don't necessarily find what you are looking for, but you always find something you are not expecting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pairing Off

We visited Lasalle Park in Burlington on the weekend and watched many water birds on Lake Ontario as they paired off for the mating season. The Trumpeter Swans were very noisy and their honking sounded like rush hour in New York City. Many swans were "dancing" with their partners, bobbing their heads up and down in perfect synchronization as they swam in the water. They would fly up into the air and land again in another spot, starting the same routine again.

The mating pairs will soon be flying to northern Ontario to breed but many of the younger birds will remain in this bay for the summer. Trumpeter Swans are elegant, beautiful birds and the large yellow tags do nothing for their looks. Volunteers arrived in the early afternoon to do the daily count of the flock and the tags provide valuable information about their migration patterns.

This handsome pair stood together on the beach. The closeup below shows which bird is the cob (♂) and which is the pen (♀). "Ladies left" is the rule for banding and the males are banded on the right leg. I don't know of any other way for a casual observer to determine the sex of these swans.

The swans were not the only birds who had paired up.

The Ring-billed Gulls were plentiful and made almost as much noise as the swans. Most of our winter gulls have moved on and these common birds along with the Herring Gulls accounted for the majority of the seagulls on the bay.

These Black Ducks paddled around the docks with pairs of diving ducks and Mallards.

Just after we left the park, a group of about fifty Tundra Swans landed for a rest. I have never seen these birds and they do not stay around for long on their migration route. It is impossible to predict where they will be at a particular time. But that is the fun of birding. You can be certain you will not find everything you are looking for, but you can be just as certain that you will see something you did not expect.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend Birding

I was out with Sam on Saturday (see his blog post here) and my husband on Sunday enjoying fine, spring-like weather and clear, sunny skies. I counted 45 bird species and am sure to have forgotten one or two. Many more birds are around, but I just didn't see them or identify them over these two days. Every week of the year, a different mix of birds is present.

Red-winged Blackbird

There are always coming, going and "passing through" species. The birds in green letters will be going very soon and the ones in red are newly arrived and will be stopping over for the season. The others are here year round, even though many of them, including Crows, Hawks, and Blue Jays do migrate and the birds we have in the winter may be different than the ones we see in the spring and summer. Here is my weekend list:

American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll, House Finch, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Trumpeter Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard Duck, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, American Crow

Pine Siskin

Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker

Greater Scaup, male and female

Redhead Duck, Greater Scaup, Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Black Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, American Coot, Robin, Kildeer, Red-winged Blackbird, Cowbird, Purple Grackle, Starling, House Sparrow, Mute Swan, Rock Dove (non-native species), Horned Lark, Tree Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove

What an interesting season. I wonder if I will equal or surpass this two day bird count again this year?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Flowers: Honourable Mention

Wendy of Caregiving is not for Wimps recently featured her poinsettia plant which is flourishing indoors for a second season. She placed it outdoors last summer, brought it in again in the fall and the plant is once again producing red bracts. I received the poinsettia pictured above last November from my co-workers following my surgery. It has done very well too and is producing new growth. Indoor air in the winter is dry and natural light is poor so I am amazed when plants do well in my house. Believe me, they get little pampering, just some water once a week.

My Christmas Cactus is also blooming again. It often is an "Easter Cactus" as well, but Easter is later this year than it was last year by almost a month. Again this is a plant that really looks after itself and survives even though I neglect it much of the time.

Needless to say, unless one purchases greenhouse blooms, there are none to be found around here in mid-March. Langdon Hall is a Country House Hotel and Spa near our home which is surrounded by extensive, well-kept grounds. It is the place to visit if you enjoy art deco elegance and the feel of a English country estate. The cuisine is top rate and the chefs use seasonal herbs and vegetables grown in the garden above. I looked around for any sign of flowers or spring growth and found none yet, but before long plants like chives and rhubarb will be poking new shoots out of the ground.

Speaking of English estates, blogger Cheryl of My Wildlife Sanctuary lives in England at a latitude far north of us here in southern Ontario. She is enjoying beautiful spring flowers in their ocean moderated climate making me quite envious! It is lovely that I can visit virtually to see her daffodils and snowdrops and other garden delights. Perhaps I will find a snowdrop around here in the next week.

I hope so!

In memory of Grandma Devins
who passed away 19 years ago today.

I think of her whenever I enjoy flowers and birds
and remember often her great interest in people
as well as the world around her.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Peek a Blue!

Clouds, fog, wind, rain, sleet, snow...

The weather has been less than inspiring so far this month.
A peek of blue is welcome even for just a few moments.

Streamers blow off the lake
bringing snow showers and flurries in their path...
here they are and there they go.

Snow falls behind the red barn but as I drive closer, it disappears.

Peek a BLUE, I see you...
Please get larger and stay a lot longer!

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