Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Flowers: Spring Perfume

"It was the same with cameras: visitors spent so much time peering
through the viewfinders of their cameras that they never looked
at the country they were photographing."

Alexander McCall Smith in Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

The week has been rainy and damp with mists and fog obscuring the horizon during the day. Frequent thunderstorms and downpours have kept us indoors most evenings. Late last night, the dog wanted out in the yard and I stepped on the waterlogged wooden deck to keep an eye on him. The fragrance of lilacs, lily of the valley, and other spring flowers filled the still, moist air. Fading lilac blooms reflected light from the lamp posts on the street creating a large ghostly flower bouquet under the midnight sky. The picture above was taken without a flash.

While sight may be our most treasured sense, it is gratifying to notice associated sounds, smells, tastes and tactile pleasures. Digital cameras are so commonplace and people can spend too much time looking for the perfect picture. There is much that a camera cannot capture.

It is good to be outdoors...

to feel the warmth of the sun and the dampness of the fog;
to listen to a gentle rain and the song of a robin;
to breathe in the scent of the earth and the fragrance of a flower;
to touch the soil and the velvety softness of a rose petal;
to taste the leaf of a fresh herb and the juicy sweetness of a berry;
to close my eyes and let my other senses come alive.


Thursday, May 28, 2009


Travelling the major highway connecting Toronto and Niagara Falls Ontario you must pass a large "bird slum" along Burlington Bay. The off ramp just before the Burlington Skyway leads to a road along the docks and industrial basin of the city of Hamilton. It is home to thousands of community dwelling birds. Two weeks ago they were tending nests in their crowded tenement and no young birds were visible. I am sure this has changed by now.

Double Crested Cormorants are gaining a reputation with some as a nuisance bird. (I wrote about them in this post a year ago) Their looks, habits and smell do not endear them to most people but they are a native bird and have made a comeback in numbers after suffering from the effects of DDT. They nest in trees in large colonies and the nests incorporate all types of materials, from twigs to plastic and garbage collected along the shoreline.

We pulled to the shoulder of the road and rolled down the window to take these pictures. The stench of dead fish was very strong even from the vehicle. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cormorant nests along this stretch of road.

Beneath the Cormorant nests were thousands of Ring-billed Gulls. My bird guide calls them "colonial, nesting in a shallow scrape in the ground lined with plants and debris." Pairs of gulls tended nests that were crowded together along a narrow strip of land. There was plenty of noise and smell and it was hardly safe to venture outside the vehicle without an umbrella. The wind was strong and many birds hovered in one place above the nesting grounds.

Many birders were out on this May weekend but we did not see anyone else visiting this area. The others were looking for pretty warblers, migrating songbirds and majestic birds of prey. These abundant, smelly "slumbirds" were best avoided. But they have their place and have adapted well to city environments. This area of the bay must have a plentiful food supply to support so many birds and that may speak well of efforts to improve the water quality in the industrial basin.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers?

Readers' Digest conducted a global cell phone honesty test a few years ago, dropping 30 cell phones in 32 cities around the world to see how many would be returned. Overall, 68% of the cell phones were returned which indicates there are more honest than dishonest people in the world. The city of Toronto, Ontario came second with 28 out of 30 phones returned, with Bucharest, Romania and Amsterdam, Holland coming in last with 16 out of 30 phones returned.

As children we sometimes squabbled over possessions and would chant, "Finder's keepers, losers weepers," if we found something that belonged to another person. We counted it a lucky day if we found a penny, nickel or quarter on the street. Over the years we have found cell phones, cameras and wallets and have tried our best to return them. I have a digital camera found on a trail last August but have had no success it reuniting it with its owner. I know from the pictures that it belongs to someone from Europe who was visiting Canada.

A few years ago I was given $20 in excess change when I purchased bus tickets for our daughters. Once home, I realized the error but it was not an easy decision to return the money. It wasn't my mistake! But I did drive back across town to show the clerk the bill. She was stunned and in tears when I gave her the money as she would have had to account for the error at the end of the day.

Are most people really honest? The news is full of stories about thieves, fraud artists and swindlers. Last evening I dropped into the grocery store at dusk after playing the piano at a local retirement home. I went through the self check out, packed two large black canvas bags with groceries and took them out to the car.

This morning I could not find my purse, which is really a wallet on a strap. I looked everywhere in the house and car and felt sicker by the minute when I thought about the credit cards, drivers' licence and bank cards in the purse. I called the grocery store, not expecting any miracles.

Yes!, someone had turned in a purse that fit the description of mine exactly. I rushed over to the store and everything, everything!, was intact including the cash I had. The morning staff had no idea who turned it in or where it was found. But more than one honest person had handled it. Was it one of the young men who collected the carts at the end of the night, or perhaps another customer? I may never know.

Whoever you are, thank you very much!! You made my day and reaffirmed my belief that the majority of people around me are honest and thoughtful folk.

Have you had a similar experience that ended up as a good news story? Do tell!

There are some excellent stories in the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peace Like a River

I spent a couple of hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon meandering downstream on foot along the Grand River. Many communities in our region are built along this river. Native people fished and hunted along its banks for many generations before settlers arrived from Europe.

Dense bush was cleared and swamps were drained but the river continued to provide transportation, water, food and life for all. We are still drawn to the river even though most use it for recreation, not their livelihood. Rivers are symbolic of many natural and spiritual truths. We used to sing the song in Sunday School, "I've got peace like a my soul", and its simple tune and lyrics stick in my mind to this day. I don't imagine I ever thought about the meaning of the words as a child.

Horatio Spafford, writer of the great hymn It is Well with my Soul, compared peaceful rivers and sea billows with the various events he had experienced in life. His only son died in 1871 and his four daughters perished at sea on their way to Europe with their mother. She alone survived. He later wrote,
"When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."

The river was peaceful today. I sat on a bench and watch the robin bathe in the shallow water. The bench was under several feet of water when the river raged in the December thaw a few months ago.

Rivers speak to us of life's journey. We all travel down a river, perhaps not one of our choosing. We do not know the twists and turns, rushing water and floods that may be ahead. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:7
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

I have travelled this river from its headwaters to the place where it empties into Lake Erie and then continues its journey to the sea. There are rapids, deep gorges, flood plains as well as many, many peaceful and beautiful stops along the way.

And so is life...
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you...
Isaiah 43:2

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Flowers: Springtime Extravagance

Flowers blooming in my garden this week
*Primula cortusoides
, Lily of the Valley,
Bleeding Heart, Forget-me-nots

We visited Lighthouse Park in Port Huron, Michigan yesterday, a warm spring day indeed. I noticed a very sweet smell and looked around for flowering honeysuckle trees or some other source of the pleasant odour. Finally, I noticed two small shaded areas covered in Lily of the Valley and realized that the scent a few dozen blooms had filled the entire end of the park with a natural perfume. This is the time of year when flowers are everywhere, above, below and at eye level. Lilacs are at their peak and fruit trees, as well as nut and berry trees are all in bloom. There is light well past 8:30PM now and sitting outdoors in the evening surrounded by flowers is most relaxing after a busy day. Deep summer green will soon replace the extragavent fresh hues of spring for another year.

Trees in bloom this week
Lilac, Crabapple, Chestnut

* Thanks to Dawn and her sisters for identifying the purple flower for me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Let there be Light

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good...
Genesis 1:3,4

One of my co-workers was asking if I thought the full moon affected the behaviour of patients on our unit, many of whom have various types of dementia. We often notice increased restlessness, pacing and agitation starting about midafternoon and staff who work nights have their hands full with very active patients during throughout their shift. Those of us who work days come in to find the same people asleep and difficult to arouse in the morning. I have never noticed a consistent correlation with the phases of the moon though.

It is likely that the sun has more effect on behaviour than the moon does. I met a physician this weekend at the 'bed and breakfast' and we were discussing various sleep disorders. He referred me to a study done in the Netherlands which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June 2008. Here is a partial summary of the article from Medscape written by Susan Jeffrey.

Brighter Lighting Improves Symptoms in Patients With Dementia

June 12, 2008 — A new study finds that a strategy as simple as increasing levels of daytime lighting in care facilities may improve a variety of cognitive and noncognitive symptoms in patients with dementia.

Researchers carried out a randomized trial using a factorial design to study the effects of light and melatonin, both of which modulate circadian rhythm, or the combination of both light and melatonin among patients with dementia living in 12 group care facilities in the Netherlands.

They found that increasing levels of daytime lighting in the facility had a "modest" benefit in improving some symptoms of disturbed cognition, mood, behavior, functional abilities, and sleep.*

Sunset over Lake Erie, Leamington, Ontario

The sun has plenty of bad press in recent years as excessive exposure may lead to cataracts, cancer, wrinkles and premature aging of the skin. But sunlight also improves mood, produces Vitamin D, and regulates circadian rhythms. Our patients are on a locked unit and the individuals with the most significant negative behaviours do not get taken outdoors. Now that nicer weather is here, I take some patients outdoors as often as possible during their therapy sessions, and I can justify that with the findings of this study. It may be beneficial for institutions to provide a sitting room for patients equipped with full spectrum light.

Whether we have dementia or not, light is essential to health and well being.

And we see that light is good!

*Effect of Bright Light and Melatonin on Cognitive and Noncognitive Function in Elderly Residents of Group Care Facilities
A Randomized Controlled Trial
Rixt F. Riemersma-van der Lek, MD; Dick F. Swaab, MD, PhD; Jos Twisk, PhD; Elly M. Hol, PhD;
Witte J. G. Hoogendijk, MD, PhD; Eus J. W. Van Someren, PhD
JAMA. 2008;299(22):2642-2655.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bed and Breakfast

I spent a couple of days over the long weekend exploring the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie with a friend from work. The weather was cool and sunny and spring showed us the peak of its beauty.

We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast at Lowbanks, near Port Maitland where the Grand River empties into Lake Erie. We drove along Bird Road which followed a canal through agricultural land where giant wind turbines turned on lake breezes. The house was about a kilometer from the lake and stood on several acres of land, much of it in a natural state. Looking out the patio window we saw Hummingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Orioles and many other birds on the property. Walking around the grounds in the evening I came across their hen house.

All fourteen hens and the lone rooster approached me expecting a handout. They are fed grain and compostable material from the kitchen. The owners told me the hens were more contented with a rooster around. (I could take that analogy in many directions!) The rooster was the most polite gentleman and did not crow until after 9AM, unlike Mexican roosters who start crowing in the middle of the night.

The man of the house loves foraging for food on his land. He led us on a trail where wild asparagus grew and showed us the mushrooms, berries and greens they eat on a regular basis. We had wild grape jelly and wild blackberry jam at breakfast and the most delicious wild asparagus omelets imaginable.

I have never stayed at a Bed and Breakfast establishment before and really enjoyed our hosts' hospitality. Another first time guest was amazed that he was able to book by phone and was not asked for references. Coming from the big city of Toronto, he was taken back by the trust shown by taking complete strangers into one's home.

I would highly recommend Pat and Pat's to anyone interested in staying in the area. Can anyone else recommend a Bed and Breakfast they have visited?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Victoria Day

The Globe (Toronto, Ontario)
March 4, 1901
The Queen's Birthday in Canada

There is undoubtedly a very widespread feeling throughout Canada in favour of perpetuating the 24th of May as a national holiday. It would be a unique tribute to the memory of the venerable sovereign who has been so lately taken from us to continue after her death the celebration of her birthday. It would resemble the homage paid by Americans to the majestic figure of Washington. Moreover, two generations of Canadians have grown up and passed away since we began in this country the observance of the day. We cannot imagine the 24th of May being allowed to pass in Canada as an ordinary day, with no Queen's Birthday sports, picnics, or excursions, and with factories running and schools open.
There is an intense reluctance on the part of all, old and young, to part with our beautiful Spring holiday, and there is really no reason why we should do so. Let us call it Victoria Day, if we will, or Empire Day, or even perpetuate the name "Queen's Birthday," for we may be sure that for many a year it will be known by no other name than that under which it has passed during the lives of all but the very oldest of us. We are satisfied there is a real and widespread feeling that measures should be taken to make the 24th of May a permanent holiday.

After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, an Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada establishing a legal holiday on May 24 in each year (or May 25 if May 24 fell on a Sunday) under the name Victoria Day. An amendment to the Statutes of Canada in 1952 established the celebration of Victoria Day on the Monday preceding May 25.

Queen Victoria
24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Flowers: Spring Yellow

Yellow is a colour seldom favoured. Most people prefer red, blue, purple, green, pink, even orange over yellow. The colour is often associated with cowardice, caution, illness and aging.

Looking at my wildflower guide, I would guess yellow boasts more blooms than any other colour. From the bright spring dandelion to the lovely swamp marigold, yellow blends well with the fresh green of the season.

The yellow catkins of the weeping willows stand against the blue of the lake's waters just as the sun contrasts the blue sky. What says spring more than the flowers of a forsythia?

Many spring birds come in yellow, from Warblers and Meadowlarks to Goldfinches and the fuzzy gold of baby ducks and geese.

I see boldness, beauty, and new life in the yellows of spring.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Kind of Television

I just bought Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, the latest book in Alexander McCall Smith's series The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. The books are set in Botswana and have become favourites of mine. I did not realize they have been made into a television series which is available on HBO. We do not subscribe to this channel and the DVD's are not yet available in North America. But The Becka, of the computer savvy generation, found one online episode for me here.

She also found the movie pilot here.

Guess who will be preordering this set?! Maybe it will be available in Canada by December.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This Old House...

The old house on the hospital grounds is being prepared for demolition. A workman removes the brass portico which will be incorporated into the new wing that is to be built. The old house is perhaps 80 years old and was built to house sanatorium staff who used to live on the grounds. Antibiotics closed the TB sanatorium and some of the out buildings were neglected over the ensuing years.

The young operator gently taps the bricks with the dinosaur head of his big machine. One brick falls, then two then three, and a whole row tumbles to the ground. The bricks will be stored in case one of the other old buildings needs repair.

All materials to be recycled are removed and the frame is pushed to the ground. Water is sprayed on the building throughout the demolition to reduce dust that may enter the hospital ventilation system. The work must progress on schedule as the ground breaking ceremony for the new wing is planned for next week.

The old man watches from the window. He too was new 80 years ago. Life was good, then he lost his business, lost his wife, lost his child. We tell him he needs to live in a nursing home. What more can he lose?

He asks me to take him out for a smoke and we stop by the tuck shop for some ice cream on the way back to the ward. The doctor wants him to stop smoking but he resists strongly. What difference will it make now?

We sit together in silence and watch the house come down.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Advantages of being Disorderly

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is
constantly making exciting discoveries.
A. A. Milne

I cannot remember when I became aware of this quote*, but it describes my philosophy very accurately. I like reading articles which report that children who grow up in excessively clean homes are more likely to develop allergies. Our mother taught us to make our beds, do the dishes, and keep the bathroom clean and I make sure these tasks are done. But daily dusting, vacuuming and floor washing would reduce my discovery time to an unacceptable level.

Gray Catbird

Our next door neighbour uses the corner of the yard adjacent to our deck to pile her yard waste. It is quite an eyesore and we built a privacy screen around our deck to hide the view. A rusting, roofless shed contains old firewood, and pruned branches from her shrubs are thrown against a broken up picnic table. Lilac bushes on both sides of the fence provide plenty of leafy branches for cover. The area has become an ideal place for birds and small animals to rest in between visits to my feeders.

Female Eastern Towhee on the brick border of the garden

We live in a very typical urban subdivision but have had some interesting visitors this spring. Besides our usual numbers of Chickadees, House Finches, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Robins, Blue Jays, and Blackbirds, we have a resident pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and visiting White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pine Siskins, Hermit Thrush, White-throated, White-crowned, Chipping, Song and Fox Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cooper's Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Warbler and this weekend, an Eastern Towhee and Gray Catbird. The last two visitors prefer thickets and underbrush and our neighbour's yard provided the perfect environment.

The "disorderly" corner of our neighbour's yard, bottom left

My husband will not keep a messy yard, but the brick work he built around our flower beds and the mulch under the shrubs have also attracted birds. He also avoids the use of toxic lawn and garden chemicals. We were all amused by our visitors this weekend. The Gray Catbird aggressively chased the other birds and squirrels away from the feeders until it was done. The female red squirrel is nursing her babies and comes boldly for quick treats on the deck. I have not found her nest yet, but watched her move one of her babies in her mouth across the top of the fence. By the time I got my camera, she was gone. We also watched the male Cardinal lovingly feeding his mate, beak to beak, while sitting on the fence outside our window.

Being a little disorderly can be a good thing for sure!

*I saw the quote on Michelle's blog

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers Day!

Mom sent me an email this week which I have copied below. She is living far from most us and will only see one of her five children today. Thanks to modern technology, we can all be in contact with her at her home in Nayarit, Mexico. The picture above was taken a few years ago and was the last time I was together with my parents and four brothers. Our mother remains a strong influence in our lives and I send my love to her via this post.

Dear Ruth,

Many thoughts in my mind today - some funny, others just wondering, so thought I would write them to you..

I guess I am a little focused on age since I just had a birthday and was a little sad in remembering how many of my family and friends are no longer here in this life.

This is a holiday weekend in Mexico. Mothers Day is always on May 10th here and is a national holiday. Since it is on a Sunday this year, Friday or Monday are holidays as well. Mexicans are very sentimental and as a rule, even today, the mother is the matriarch of the home regardless of her age and there are flowers for sale everywhere.

The youth of the church start on the evening of May 9 and pass from house to house visiting all the mothers and grandmothers singing maƱanitas to them. They finish about 6 AM on May 10 and the last house provides a breakfast for them...

Remember CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training)? It was originally sponsored by the United Church of Canada. We always had a big banquet to honor our mothers and we had to learn and sing with "feeling" MOTHER. (this would have been during World War 2)

M - is for the million things she gives me.
O - means only that she's growing old.
T - is for the tears she shed to save me .
H - is for her heart of purest gold.
E - is for her eyes with lovelight shining.
R - means right and right she'll always be

Put them all together they spell mother, the word that means the world to me.

Mom buying produce in a market in Guadalajara Mexico

I remember how sad I used to be thinking how "old" my mother was and that she would likely die soon. We all had tears and the mothers had tears too. Most of the mothers were in their 30's and 40's and had many years ahead of them. My mother was 36 when I was born and lived for almost 59 more years. Wow!!!!

What a difference! I sure don't feel like a GREAT grandmother but Grandma Devins had many "greats". Time changes our attitudes.

Well that's enough of my meanderings. Blessings to you a wonderful daughter and mother to three of my precious granddaughters.

Love Mom

Happy Mothers' Day to mothers everywhere
and to all women who mentor and influence
the lives of others in a positive way!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Flowers: Trilliums and More

Each year I make sure I get to Steckle Woods to see the early May wildflowers. This woodlot is only five minutes from home by car and has a lovely network of trails. White Trilliums carpet the ground as far as the eye can see and many other wildflowers bloom as well.

I have almost completed three years of blogging and am approaching my 800th post. I started blogging to keep in touch with family and friends and also as a way to improve my writing skills. I did not have a good camera at first and could not rely on pictures to tell my stories. As I started taking more photos, the focus changed to images rather than words. I am a visual learner and like books with illustrations.

When I was off work for several weeks last winter, I started entering some weekly photo memes. These generated huge numbers of comments from others who registered their blogs on the same memes. I met some new bloggers who I enjoy visiting regularly through these memes like Esther, Gaelyn, Janie, Deborah, Carolyn and Antogoni, but there was no way I could keep up with all the bloggers on Skywatch and My World. Large blogrolls are time consuming and once I returned to work, it was impossible to write well and read and comment on dozens of blogs.

I will continue to report on my day to day life and birding, but I do want to make sure I also focus on reflecting and writing well about topics that are very meaningful to me.