Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

A song with the same title of this post speaks of Christmas as the most wonderful time of year. To me autumn is the best season and I have always enjoyed the month of October immensely. Our farmers markets are at their peak and it is time to make applesauce and chili sauce and tomato sauces and more.

My parents arrived in Canada this weekend after a long drive up from Mexico. I have not seen them for over two years and am looking forward to our visit. I saved much of my vacation time for the fall and am looking forward to a change in routine.

The change will include a break from blogging until the beginning of November or so. There will be plenty of time in the long winter months to chronicle my autumn adventures and more.

See you later!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remember Whensday: Birthday Celebrations

From birth to age eighteen, a girl needs good parents.
From eighteen to thirty-five, she needs good looks.
From thirty-five to fifty-five, she needs a good personality.
From fifty-five on, she needs good cash.
Sophie Tucker

There is nothing more special to a child than a birthday. Most three year olds are able to hold up the appropriate number of fingers which indicate their age. Birthday parties, whether with friends or family, are an important part of growing up. Eventually we wish we could stop counting the years and then we begin marking the milestone birthdays of old age.

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
Chili Davis

Celebrating anyone's birthday is fun when favourite foods and cake are served. Because we lived far from our relatives, my first brother and I had more pictures taken of our birthdays than were taken of our younger brothers.

An old woman loved is winter with flowers
German Proverb

But we were all present for the 90th birthday celebration of our great grandmother, Granny Hackett and undoubtedly helped her blow out all those candles and eat that big cake. She died four years later at a good old age, loved by her family.

In childhood, we yearn to be grown-ups.
In old age, we yearn to be kids.
It just seems that all would be wonderful if we didn't have to
celebrate our birthdays in chronological order.
Robert Brault

My husband is the young boy in this picture at the birthday party of someone in his extended family. The table is shared by young and old together as it should be. Life is worth celebrating and birthdays should be counted as a blessing and the best of our memories.

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Photo 1: My 6th birthday. I am in a white dress in the centre of the photo, South Africa 1961
Photo 2: My 5th birthday and my brother's 4th birthday, South Africa 1960
Photo 3: Granny's 90th, Canada 1970 with my four brothers and young cousin. I am sitting in the far right and my grandmother is standing with Granny (her mother)
Photo 4: Undated photo, likely about 1960, Canada

Click on photos to enlarge

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Last Rose of Summer

'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone...

Thomas Moore (1805)

Autumn arrives by the calendar today but its presence has been felt for much of the month. Shorter days, cooler nights and changing colours signal a change of the seasons. This past weekend the overnight temperatures dropped to a degree above freezing but killing frosts have yet to touch the garden. We had an abundance of green tomatoes which did not ripen during this cool, wet summer and they have now been picked from the vines for future enjoyment. I found one last red rose hidden beneath a bending branch of the forsythia bush.

Flocks of crows and starlings perch on the tops of trees making a great racket as they fly into the sky, circle and land again in the branches. Local ponds and swamps are full of plain Mallards, the males still lacking their breeding plumage. If you look closely, there may be a migrating Pintail or Green Teal duck amongst the common local birds.

Migrating Great Egret

Or an even more outstanding visitor may land and rest at the water's edge on its long journey south. Fall is my favourite time of the year bringing change, and unexpected surprises. Today's autumn equinox sets us on the three month journey to winter's solstice as the sun warms the southern hemisphere emerging from the chill of winter.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Flowers: Preparing for Next Season

The last of our summer flowers are in bloom, Chrysanthemum, Fall Crocus, Asters, Rose of Sharon, Goldenrod, Autumn Joy Sedum...

Walking through the city and along nature trails, the evidence of flowers which bloomed weeks or months ago remains. While the flowers were pretty, the seeds produced after the flower died are far more important to the survival of the plant after the cold, cold winter.

The smallest Monarch caterpillar I collected in my garden at the end of August finally became a chrysalis three days ago. It can take up to two or three weeks before it ecloses into a Monarch Butterfly and I wonder at the possibilities of it surviving a trip at Mexico at this late date.

Left on its own, nature is bountiful. The seeds produced by one plant are abundant and are able to feed birds and animals with enough left over for germination next year. This has been a poor year for butterflies in our area, but I don't doubt they are able to make up for the losses in another season.

The biggest hindrance to this bounty is not weather, but human activity as we change and control the natural environment around us.

Are you able to identify the pictures above?

sıןɐsʎɹɥɔ ɥɔɹɐuoɯ ˙4
ןǝsɐǝʇ ˙3
ןɐǝs s,uoɯoןos ǝsןɐɟ ˙2
ʇıdןnd ǝɥʇ uı ʞɔɐɾ ˙1

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Remember Whensday: By the Water

St. Lawrence River near Gananoque, Ontario 1959

I have no memory of this day in 1959 when my father took the picture of my brother and I at the Thousand Islands in Ontario, Canada just before we returned to South Africa. We were at a picnic with other members of our extended family and wore matching outfits undoubtedly sewn by our mother.

Childhood memories may be foggy but impressions, pleasures and fears are often grounded in these early experiences. To this day, I love being on the shore of a body of water, be it a river, lake or ocean. I am not as fond of being in a ship far away from land and have never been interested in taking a cruise vacation.

Here we are about a year later having another picnic at a man-made lake in South Africa. Nagle Dam is in the Valley of the Thousand Hills not far from Durban. We were not allowed to play in the water here for fear of contracting bilharzia from fresh water snails found in the area. That is something I do remember well.

Toronto, Ontario 2008

Time has passed and this brother now lives thousands of miles away. He came to Canada for a visit last summer and we walked along the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto before I took him back to the airport. The Becka took this picture, unknown to us, and I posted it last year. Isn't it funny how I always stand on his right when we look out at the water? Two of my sister-in-laws pointed out the similarities I failed to notice in these pictures.

We have lived apart far longer than we lived at home together, but forty-nine years later, some things remain unchanged.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

New Feathers for the Blue Jays

Click photo to enlarge

Last week I posted a picture of a pathetically bald Blue Jay who was visiting our deck to get peanuts. Here are some photos taken this weekend of two different Blue Jays. The bird in the top left and bottom right squares has a bit more of a crest and its feathers are filling in nicely. The bird in the top right and bottom left squares is the bird from last week. Its new feathers are beginning to show even though its white belly feathers look somewhat uncontrolled and needing a little "product" to tame them down. Both birds appear healthy and active. I have never seen the Blue Jays bullying other birds and their visits to the yard are short and noisy. They are far less of a nuisance than the squirrels, that is the black and grey squirrels...

The Red Squirrel is a favourite of mine. We had two Red Squirrels this past winter and spring, Buttons and Buttonette. They had a litter of three, each young squirrel having distinctive colouring. One had a black tip in its tail, another a white tip and the other had a uniform red tail. Only one squirrel has stayed, that being the young female with black striped flanks and a black tipped tail. She is still quite shy but like her parent last year, will come out for Black Walnuts. The Black Walnut trees on the hospital property are dropping fruit now and I bring her home a few as a treat after work. If she is at the feeder and sees a grey squirrel approaching, she chatters loudly and will wait until I come out to shoo the intruder away.

It is a good thing I have a day job as it is hardly profitable spending my days patrolling the back yard deck. I wonder how they manage without me when I am gone?!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who is Wise?

I visited a raptor rehab centre last weekend and took photos of this captive Great Horned Owl. It stared at me, (or through me) silently and then closed its eyes in seeming disinterest and boredom. Owls are often equated with wisdom and this is well discussed in Just 3 Things, a new blog I visited this past week.

If asked to give an opinion on why owls are considered wise, I would say, "They are observant and often silent."

Owls see well, particularly in total darkness, and their hearing is highly developed. I am a fan of good mysteries, my favourite detectives being Miss Marple, Mma Precious Ramotswe, and Hercule Poirot. The darkness of evil and crime is penetrated by their fine listening and observation skills and their ability to analyze facts in a creative way.

There is a tendency to verbalize more rather than less as we get older. Some of my geriatric patients will talk through an entire treatment session and I have to redirect them to the task at hand. A life time of experience adds up to plenty of subject material! How easy it is to trump the know-how of someone younger and to minimize their judgment and maturity. I have raised three children and when listening to a young parent describe a sleepless night with a sick child, could interject that I have lost several months of sleep over the years. It is harder to just listen and empathize without drawing the attention back to my own personal perspective, especially if my opinion is not requested.

The best conversationalists say little about themselves instead focusing their attention on others and listening with genuine interest. Proverbs 10:19 says, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Proverbs 17:28 adds, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

Perhaps the owl is not as intelligent as we may think, but wisely he is not telling.
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Proverbs 17:28 adds, "Even a fool is thought wise if , and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Flowers: Insect Visitors

Wild blooms along the road
turn to the sun and
open their faces to bees.

Dragonflies skim the water
resting on flowers
of grasses along the bank.

Pollen clings to the body
of a bumblebee
deep in the hibiscus bloom.

Asters offer sweet food
for the long journey
of the Monarch Butterfly.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Three Sisters and the Iroquois Village

Inside the longhouse

On the long weekend, I decided to hike around some areas of the Niagara Escarpment which are within a forty minute drive from home. Halton Region has many lovely parks and trails, including sections of the Bruce Trail, which runs for 800 km from Niagara to Tobermory, Ontario.

Crawford Lake is a meromictic lake and has layers of water which do not mix. It is on top of the Niagara Escarpment near Campbellville, Ontario and is protected by ancient cedar and hemlock forests. Researchers discovered an Iroquois village here and efforts were made to rebuild the native settlement as it looked between the 14th and 17th centuries.

After I walked around the nearby lake I wandered around the village looking at the longhouses, the simple tools and the ways in which food was prepared. Nothing was wasted from the animals killed, fish and turtles caught, crops grown, and forest growth which was collected.

The garden had been planted with the Three Sisters;- corn, beans and squash. They were traditionally planted together in mounds and were dietary staples. It was the discovery of corn pollen deep in Crawford Lake which led to the eventual excavation of this village. Everything looked clean and simple in the model longhouses and I had to use my imagination to see the smoky fires indoors and out, to smell the fresh hides and fish and garbage, and to hear the voices of the people who lived there. The kitchen was simple and made we wonder why I think I need ours remodelled.

When I got home I made a big pot of Three Sisters Soup, one of my favourite fall recipes. It could be made easily over the fire in the village. After spending an afternoon in the peaceful quiet of the escarpment, the Labour Day traffic on Highway 401 seemed like an intrusion to my state of mind.

Life here was simple, but not easy five hundred years ago.
Life here is more complex, and still not easy for many today.

But our dilemmas and complexities are often brought upon ourselves unnecessarily by the many choices we have to make in our modern society. Supper is easy when you use the only three ingredients available, much easier than wandering around a large supermarket with a thousand options marketed for our "convenience".

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Remember Whensday: Apple Season

Dad and Philip picking apples- 1966
My mother's parents purchased land about five miles from their small home town and planted many trees in the sandy soil. My grandfather grew up in the Thornbury, Ontario area which is still well known for its apple orchards. He planted a large apple orchard at the farm with a good variety of heritage apples. I knew the difference between Snows, Wealthys, Macintosh, Tolman Sweets, Cortlands and Spy apples when I was still a child. Granddad died well before I was born and my uncle managed the farm for many years. Each fall we spent weekends picking apples for Uncle Bill and were paid by the bushel for our labours. Afterward, we collected "grounders" which we took home free of charge. I loved those fall weekends when the air was fresh, the trees were turning colour, and the milkweed pods were dry and silky.
Mom, Nathan and I admiring the fall colours- 1962
The farm was large and we had time to explore the lower pasture, the pines and the pond on the other side of the large barn. There were swings and a one room cabin with a screened in porch where we could eat our lunch. Our water was pumped from a well which had an green wooden handle and the facilities consisted of a single seater out house.
Philip and Mom at the cider press- 1968
There was an old cider press near the water pump where we could make some freshly squeezed apple juice. It would become fermented very quickly as it was not pasteurized. Apples remain my favourite fruit and I look forward to tasting my first crisp fall apple each year. Mom always had a very large bowl of applesauce on the counter and we ate it for dessert most nights. Sometimes we had it with fresh gingerbread and often with fresh muffins.
Stephen (on right corner) and Mark (middle with red shirt and glasses) on farm wagon- 1968
I bought some new apples at the market last weekend and they should be coming to their peak by the end of the month. And I will make applesauce and apple crisp and all kinds of other apple recipes. But nothing beats a fresh apple just picked from the tree, juicy, sweet and delicious!
(My cousins still run the farm and here is a link to their website)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Blue Jays Bold and Bald

Last month I mentioned the trio of Blue Jays who were stopping by our yard for peanuts. At that time they were very skittish and would vanish quickly if I stepped outdoors. In recent days they have become much more assertive and call for their treats if the peanut feeder is empty. As soon as they hear someone in the kitchen through the open window, they will give one of their more gentle and musical calls from the deck screen or lilac bush. They know I will be out with peanuts and now wait and watch as I place them on the picnic table. While they are unlikely to ever eat from my hand, they will now come down to the table when I am still on the deck.

Two of the Blue Jays have a normal appearance, but the third is greatly altered lately. I took a photo early one morning as the sun was just coming up which showed its bald, featherless head and neck. It is able to fly normally and seems otherwise fit and healthy. Here is an explanation from Bird Studies Canada. I have copied the information as links tend to go dead quickly.

At Bird Studies Canada, one of the signs of changing seasons is the type of bird questions we get from our members and the public. Recently, we have been receiving concerned calls about follically-challenged birds. While most of the calls are about Blue Jays, other baldies include Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, and various sparrows.
So what's up with these bald birds? Several explanations have been proposed, with the two main ones being a severe case of feather mites and an unusual moult pattern. Wild birds normally carry small numbers of feather mites - tiny arthropods (related to ticks and spiders) specialized to feed on bird feathers. Birds must regularly groom their feathers to remove these mites and other parasites. While birds can groom most feathers with their bills, they can't reach their head feathers. Mite populations on head feathers can build up to the point where the feather is totally destroyed and/or has been pulled out by the bird scratching at its head.
Adult Blue Jays and other songbirds normally replace all of their feathers in late summer or early fall following the breeding season. This moult is usually done gradually over a period of a few weeks, with feathers being shed and replaced in a regular, staggered pattern so that at no point is the bird naked or flightless. However, there is evidence that some individual birds will drop most or all of their head feathers all at once - resulting in temporary baldness. This atypical moult may be due to stress or malnutrition in a particular year, but some captive birds have been reported to follow this same pattern of going totally bald each year even though they are well fed and healthy. So it does look like some individual birds may indeed be "follically challenged" - at least on a seasonal basis. Whatever the cause, the good news is that this condition is normally short-term, with a new set of head feathers growing in within a few weeks.

This "follically challenged" Jay comes very early in the morning or at dusk and is seldom seen with the other two right now. It must be somewhat self conscious about its appearance.

Dennis and Shirley are friends who live nearby and attend our church. They have been visited by a particularly bold Blue Jay this summer who knocks on the window and then comes into their living room to take peanuts from the carpet. Dennis sent me this photograph which he took a few weeks ago.

Now that is one well trained Blue Jay, or one well trained human couple depending on your perspective!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Flowers: Diversity

Ginger wrote a post entitled Lessons from the Gardens and described her recent visit to Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia. I hope to have the opportunity of seeing them some day. In her usual wise way Ginger drew a number of life lessons from her observation of these beautiful formal gardens. Here is a quote from her post,

"Contrasts bring out the beauty. It's all a part of "the plan." Get right up next to those who are different than you, and the proximity of both of you will enhance the beauty in both of you."

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to visit our city gardens on the way into work on Thursday morning. Rockway is a lovely urban oasis and the small acreage is tended by volunteers as well as city workers. I took special note of the contrasts in colour, texture and landscape. There are water gardens, rock gardens, perennial gardens, annual gardens, herb gardens as well as flowering trees and shrubs.

Rich, late summer colours created a pleasing palette for the eye. Falling water and fountains added peaceful sound effects in spite of nearby rush hour traffic.

This diversity of growing things is carefully planned and lovingly tended by those who choose to work in the garden. The master gardener arranges, plants, prunes, divides, weeds, waters and feeds them as they grow. At the back of the rock garden behind some shrubs, thistles and milkweed are even allowed to flourish in a controlled way.

Are the circumstances of my life random and unplanned?

I think not...

But I can choose whether or not I want to grow and flourish where I have been planted.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Summer's Last Full Moon

“Beauty is a form of genius -
is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.
It is of the great facts in the world like sunlight, or springtime,
or the reflection in dark water of that silver shell we call the moon.”

Oscar Wilde

Friday is the Full Corn Moon or Barley Moon, or Fruit Moon, (depending on your preference), the last full moon of summer. The Harvest Moon, which falls in September two years out of three, is the full moon closest to the fall equinox. This year it will appear on October 4th.

We have been blessed with clear, cool skies this week. The moon shines in our bedroom window for much of the night and because of this I am very aware of the presence of a full moon. I like to open the curtains and let the light stream in.

The reflection of a full moon on water is a very peaceful sight, especially when accompanied by the sound of waves hitting the shore. I sat outdoors and watched the light and water well into the night two full moons ago... of the most pleasant of this summer's memories.

Lake Manitou, Ontario

Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the Lord!

from Psalm 148
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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Remember Whensday: School Days

In my school uniform beside my brother

This week was back to school for some children in Ontario and it is the first time I remember school starting before Labour Day. Because Labour Day is late this month and there are a required number of school days each year, some school boards decided to open their classrooms on September 1st. Other schools will not start until next Tuesday.

I began school in South Africa in a formal British educational system. Mom taught me to read as a preschooler and I was allowed to start my education at a younger age than average. I remember throwing up my breakfast before leaving each morning and my early school experiences were not pleasant. I had a very strict teacher who used a ruler on our hands if we made a mistake. I was punished in Class One for saying that 1+0=0. If I remember correctly, that teacher became ill and my own mother, who was a trained teacher, became the substitute for a while. School was no longer a frightening place.

I am on the right with school friends

We moved to another part of Durban and went to a different school which I enjoyed and therefore did well in my classes. We wore uniforms and carried satchels which likely contained little more than our lunches. School started very early in the morning and ended in the early afternoon before the hottest time of the day. I studied Africaans, learned to sew by hand and practiced very neat script writing by my third year in school. I had an excellent start in school because of the high standards and discipline in this educational system and was far ahead of my classmates when we returned to Canada.

My new South African Flag May 31, 1961

On May 31, 1961 South Africa left the British Commonwealth and became a republic. We all received South Africa's new flag at school and I have it to this day in a scrapbook Mom made for me. Africa has changed so much since this time as the continent decolonized, breaking ties with the European nations who had controlled governments and policies for many years. I remember some of the riots and the turmoil after 1961 in this country which was strictly segregated by race...

...and I will soon tell a story about friends who were affected greatly by changes in Africa which started in the 1960s when I was still a young school girl.

Remember Whensday
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