Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remember Whensday: As time goes by...

The town of Aurora, Ontario celebrated its 100th birthday in July 1963. It had a population of 5,000 when we lived there and the community held a party to commemorate the anniversary. Mom made a dress for me, an outfit for my brother and created a covered wagon for us to pull in the parade. We won 3rd prize for our entry. (I must mention that my mother had four children including a three month old baby who had been very ill and required surgery) One hundred years might as well have been a thousand years in my young mind. But in about three years, another half century will have passed and Aurora will be 150 years old.

Time goes by...

On Christmas Eve morning I stood at the bedside of a patient who had just passed away. We did not want her to be alone when the family arrived to see her body before it was taken to the morgue. The day after Christmas, a special friend of my parents died at a good old age. She had been in attendance at my birth in South Africa when my mom was far from her mother in Canada. Both of these passings were timely and mark another kind of anniversary for their friends and loved ones.

Time goes by...

Three days ago the Olympic Torch Relay came to our community. The 106 day torch journey will cross all provinces and territories in Canada ending in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics on February 12, 2010. Thousands of people crowded the streets to watch this historic event on a Sunday night.

A grandfather took a photo of his family which included a couple of youngsters who were asking about the meaning of the torch. They will not understand the significance of the night until they are older but the picture will help them remember. The light of the torch appeared in the distance and the crowd moved into the street to view the approach of the runner. To some the torch represented only the upcoming games but to others it was symbolic of life itself. The light would soon be passed to another runner who would carry it on ahead toward its final destination.

Time goes by... faster every year it seems

A new year is approaching which will mark a beginning for some and a passing of the torch for others. For most, it will be another stretch of road in the journey through time.

May your new year be filled with joy,
peace and blessing in all circumstances.

HAppY NEw YEar!!

Follow this link for more Remember Whensday posts.
The Becka posted a video of the Olympic Torch Relay on her blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Visit of the Magi

The Magi visit Jesus ©2009 The Becka

There are many traditions and legends concerning the Magi who found Jesus sometime after his birth and presentation at the temple. Matthew gives few details about them in his account of their visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We are not told how many of them came nor from exactly where they began their journey. Most of us could describe them from pictures, plays and movies we have seen and would recognize them as three crowned men on camels. There is a good probability they were priests from Babylon who were skilled in astronomy and astrology. We can assume that they were seekers of knowledge and spiritual truth. The Becka drew this picture for me after some research into the possible origins of the Magi. I love the way it came together with a joyful young Jesus and the priestly visitors.

You will seek me and find me
when you seek me with all of your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

Follow this link for an interesting post from KGMom about the accounts of the nativity of Jesus.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Light and Life

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Risen with healing in his wings,
Light and life to all he brings,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

Hark the heraId angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Yesterday was a crazy day, starting with a visit to Walmart early in the morning, a day at work, a stop at the hectic grocery store on the way home and a Christmas party at an upscale local restaurant in the evening. No matter how hard I try, there is always a last minute rush before Christmas Day to complete some essential chores before the stores are closed. I went into the washroom before we left the restaurant and it was empty and quiet except for the recorded soundtrack of seasonal music coming through the speakers. A pop diva's rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing was playing and she was singing the verse above. I stood there and contemplated the meaning of the words. God's voice was there in an unlikely place at the end of a day where I had hardly given a thought to the light and life he brings. The effects of commercialism and obligations of the day were gone and those words stayed with me through the night and into the new day. May God bring light and life to you this day.

Merry Christmas to all!

Top Photo: 1986, Christmas pageant

Monday, December 21, 2009

Laurentian Wetland

I never used to be particularly fond of swamps and feared they harboured snakes and hordes of mosquitoes. It would never have occurred to me to buy a house which backed on a wetland for fear of having a wet basement and other flooding problems. A couple of years ago another nature lover introduced me to a wetland near our home. I started going there regularly and saw much more than the obvious Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese. I posted pictures from the swamp on Flickr and came to know other people who were interested in conserving this area. It is surrounded by a nursing home, two elementary schools, a large plaza and many houses. There are a few irresponsible characters who do not respect it and use the area as a dump for garbage.

A number of people from the community teamed with the city and have started to clean up the area. They hope to have benches and a viewing platform constructed in the future and the local schools have involved their students in caring for and learning about the wetland. Three large signs have been erected and give information about the area. The picture poster above is featured and shows some of the diverse wildlife in the wetland. I was pleased to have two of my photographs included in the poster.

The area is frozen over now and there are few signs of life these dark December days. But in two or three months migrating birds will arrive, the ice will melt, frogs will sing and turtles will sun themselves on logs. And that is something to look forward to on this dark winter solstice night.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Heard the Bells...of Peace on Earth

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1864

The poet wrote these words during the Civil War in America, a time of tragedy and suffering for the nation. A century and a half later wars still plague the world and thousands of troops will be separated from family this Christmas. Three years ago I wrote an advent post entitled Advent Peace. My elderly patient told me she prayed for just one thing every day and that was peace. She had experienced much hardship during the second world war and was thankful for the peace and prosperity she came to in Canada.

Once again on this fourth Sunday of Advent we pray for peace in our own lives and for the nations of the earth.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remember Whensday: Ice Skating

This is probably the only picture I have of myself wearing ice skates. The year was 1963 and my dad and Sandland brother were with me outside our home in Aurora, Ontario. Dad is wearing a sweater knitted by Marie, a lady who lived with my grandmother for many years. I don't recall where we skated or if we had a backyard rink that year. I know we were not at an indoor arena.

I never was a good skater, in fact you could call me a terrible ice skater. Much as I love the outdoors and walking, sports were never my forte. The only way I could stop on skates was by running into boards or a snowbank. And I was even worse on roller skates! My husband is a very good skater and still plays hockey three times a week. When our girls were small, I took them skating at a local rink every week and managed to stay on my feet while pushing a stroller in front of me. I was looking at my old battered skates a while ago and knew it was time to get rid of them for good as I do not see myself venturing out on ice for fun again.

Sandland Brother is with our next oldest brother in the picture below at a farm where we attended many winter parties. These two brothers played more football than hockey in their youth and were very athletic. We took a few swimming lessons, but did not participate in organized sports outside of school. These days children have more opportunities to take classes to improve their skills in a variety of sports.

We have several outdoor rinks in the city where we now live and I enjoy watching youngsters as they learn to balance on their blades. Do you ice skate or roller skate??

Follow this link for more Remember Whensday posts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Preparing for the Christmas Bird Count

I have not been out birding since the first week of November when we returned home from our vacation. Fall migration is over and our winter visitors have settled in for the next few months. Juncos and American Tree Sparrows hang around suburban back yards while Bald Eagles, winter finches and various water birds require some searching out along trails and water ways.

Our local Christmas Bird Count is happening again this coming weekend. I am doing a feeder count at our house but we haven't been tracking our regular visitors over the past few weeks. The counts need to be accurate and it is necessary to determine if there are repeat customers around or if different birds visit throughout the day.

So far I have counted one pair each of Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-breasted Nutchatches, Northern Cardinals, and Downy Woodpeckers. It is harder to count the Black-capped Chickadees, Juncos, House Finches and Sparrows and Mourning Doves. And I keep hoping for some unexpected visitor that may drop by for only a few minutes. Now that we have snow cover, the feeders are much busier. Squirrels do not count but they are very persistent and amusing to watch.

If you have the time and inclination, look into participating in the Christmas Bird Count in your area. Here is more information for people in Ontario, Canada.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Festive Food

This is the time of year for special foods and treats. Rich desserts, squares, cookies and candies seem to be everywhere. I have been looking for some healthy but festive recipes to take to potlucks and parties. Yesterday I constructed my first fruit bouquet and here is the result. These can be purchased at specialty stores and are quite pricey. We have had one or two given as parting gifts from patients at the hospital and I found they looked better than they tasted as the fruit was too unripe for my liking. Harder fruits are easier to work with.
I found this website with instructions for various fruity creations and made one in a mini-watermelon base with a head of lettuce as the support for the bamboo skewers. And it was fun to do. I will put more detailed instructions on my recipe blog just in case the link above goes dead.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Altar in the World

I had reserved this book at the library after reading favourable reviews on Ginger and Jayne's blogs earlier this year. There were many holds on it and I finally picked up my copy a couple of weeks ago. I started reading it and realized this was not a book to be skimmed, but with all that has been going on this month, I did not get back to it. But God has ways of slowing us down. I spent several hours in the ER at the hospital yesterday and while I am not seriously ill, I do require intravenous medication for a few days. I took the book along and finished it while receiving treatment and was thoroughly moved by the words shared by the gifted author, Barbara Brown Taylor. The tears in my eyes were not from physical pain, but from words which described the beauty and intimacy of a true spiritual relationship with God and the world. We are quick to separate the spiritual from the secular in our lives but the author challenges the reader to see that every aspect of our lives should be meaningful and reverent. I dislike the fact that the music and singing segment in the church service is called "praise and worship", as if the rest of our week is not dedicated to the same principle.

The twelve chapters of the book are as follows;
  • The Practice of Waking up to God
  • The Practice of Paying Attention
  • The Practice of Wearing Skin
  • The Practice of Walking on the Earth
  • The Practice of Getting Lost
  • The Practice of Encountering Others
  • The Practice of Living with Purpose
  • The Practice of Saying No
  • The Practice of Carrying Water
  • The Practice of Feeling Pain
  • The Practice of Being Present to God
  • The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings
I remember reading Brother Andrew's book The Practice of the Presence of God a few years ago and Taylor's book makes reference to this classic work as she expands on the theme.

I noticed several people standing in busy areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles last month holding placards which admonished people to repent and turn to God. The crowds veered away from them even though they were well intentioned with their message. How much better it is to build relationships and share God's love in the places we live, work and play. The next time I read my own copy of this book, I will be using a highlighter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brrrrr...from West to East

Pigeons roasting by an open fire...

One of our daughters took a spur of the moment road trip to Chicago this past weekend with a friend. Chicago is a good seven to eight hour drive west of here on good roads if the weather is fine. We had an exceptionally warm November and until yesterday had no measurable snowfall in our area. But when we hear of storms and cold weather west of us, we know our turn is coming soon. One of our most frequent winter storms is called an Alberta clipper, or Canadian clipper south of the border. These fast moving low pressure systems move from the west between December and February and often pick up moisture as they pass over the Great Lakes. I don't know if the storm this week was a clipper, but we received a nasty mixture of snow, freezing rain and rain and now the temperatures are dropping as winds bring heavy snow flurries off Lake Huron.

These pigeons were huddled around a flame in downtown Chicago a couple of days ago. Eldest daughter called them "pigeons roasting by an open fire, (Jack Frost nipping at your nose)..." I don't know of any similar warming fires in our city and the birds will be roosting in protected areas tonight.

I have never been to Chicago and thought it was just another big industrialized city without a lot of tourist appeal. But it looks like an interesting place to visit, especially in December. Their Christkindl Market runs through the month and looks very similar but larger than our local four day Christmas market.

Winter has arrived...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Looking for Joy

joy [dʒɔɪ]n
1. a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment

I have been trying to capture images of joy over the past week or so and the task has been more difficult than expected. I have attended three Christmas parties, a Christmas festival, a children's program at church as well as work, home and the usual stops in my week.

Today we are receiving our first winter storm of the season with packing snow and sleet, rain and wind. There are no school cancellations but most children will look out at the white world this morning with delight. Many adults will not as they prepare to commute to work and pull out their snow shovels again.

The first picture was taken in 1963 and my brothers and I are having a good laugh. Perhaps my father was making a silly face or maybe we were giddy because we were allowed to sit on the hood of the car. Children know how to find joy in small things.

Street performers are found in many big cities. In this block of San Francisco we saw a man tap dancing for hours for a donation. Another young musician leaned against a post as he skillfully played a mournful tune on his flute. There were no smiles on their faces. But this quartet attracted attention with their upbeat melody and hand clapping happiness. Their infectious joy brought a smile to more than one person.

Would I find joy in the hospital? There is a palliative care ward here, but no maternity ward. Many patients are waiting for a nursing home bed. Staff and volunteers are hosting Christmas parties on each floor this month complete with turkey, ham and all the trimmings. Families are invited to the meal and musicians from the community provide live entertainment.

I watched one man walk to the dining room on his new prosthetic leg, a big smile on his face. A couple got up and danced to a lively tune. She has premature advanced dementia and her attentive husband's tenderness brought tears to my eyes.

One of my crankiest patients came to the party with two of her daughters. She had a rare smile on her face and wanted to have a picture taken with her family. She looked surprisingly happy and huggable and was so pleased with the shot that she asked for extra copies.

Yes, I did find glimpses of joy, but they were too often hidden by the bustle, busyness and stress of everyday life. It would have been easier to write about the unhappiness I found...

For Remember Whensday I ask, " Where have you found joy?"

The search continues...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Boar's Head and other Delights

This past week has been busy with Christmas parties as well as the final push by our contractor to complete the kitchen renovations. December is racing along and I have been too busy to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season. Today we took time on a lovely sunny afternoon to visit the annual Christkindl Market at the city hall. The temperatures were just around freezing and with the sun, the weather was perfect for the outdoor vendors and performers.

Last year I wrote about Organ Grinder Klaus. He happened to read the post and emailed me asking if I would introduce myself the next time he was in town. I talked to him as he took a break from his music and found that we share some things in common. He lives in the town where my parents grew up and where I went to school for two years. He loves trails and nature and works hard lobbying for safe walking and bike trails for students and other users. Klaus is a regular at this Christmas market and a popular performer.

Many Christmas traditions are derived from pagan and Christian elements which are combined in this ancient solstice celebration. Choirs sang carols and dancers from the local German clubs performed in colourful costumes. Each year there is a food vendor who serves roasted pork. All that was left near closing time on Sunday afternoon was the head of the unfortunate animal. It reminded me of the Boar's Head Carol and the ancient Yule tradition of the Boar's Head Feast which is still celebrated today.

We had potato pancakes and applesauce instead...

"The Boar's Head is probably the oldest continuing festival of the Christmas season. This pageant is rooted in the 1300's when the boar was sovereign of the forest. A ferocious beast and menace to humans it was hunted as a public enemy. Like our thanksgiving turkey, roasted boar was a staple of medieval banquets. As Christian beliefs overtook pagan customs in Europe, the presentation of a boar's head at Christmas came to symbolize the triumph of the Christ Child over sin. "

The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bays and rosemary .
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio.
(howsoever many are at the feast)
Caput apri defero,
(I bring the boar's head)
Reddens laudes Domino.
(rendering praises to the Lord)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Remember Whensday: Christmas Memories

Getting our Christmas Tree at the farm

Christmas is a special time of year for children. Family traditions are so important and become the things we remember most over the years. I cannot remember one gift I received in 1962 or 1964 but recall that we always had a paper advent calendar on a window with little doors we opened in turn.

We went to my uncle's farm to select a Christmas tree and decorated it with the same ornaments each year.

Mom baked sugar cookies, shortbreads, marshmallow rolls and Christmas cake and we were allowed two treats a day from a special tray. Grandad always sent us an ornate gingerbread house early in December which we smashed and ate after the New Year.

Christmas Eve was spent at Grandma's house and we each had to perform a song or recite a poem for the extended family. We didn't have a fireplace and Santa left our stockings at the end of our beds.

Dad always read the Christmas story from the Bible before we opened our gifts Christmas morning. We received a toy, a book and a piece of clothing every year. Mom let us make table ornaments for the dinner table and party favours for our guests on Christmas Day.

Decorating candy trees at Grandma's house with our cousins

Our own children have identified their favourite Christmas activities and I am in trouble if I try to alter something which is particularly meaningful to them.

We had a Christmas dinner for patients and their families at the hospital today. Most of them have been with us for months and will not go home this holiday season or ever. A volunteer was playing Silent Night on the piano and I noticed one of my patients was crying. I went to her to see what was wrong.

She held my hand and simply said, "That is a Portugese carol."

The music transported her back to her childhood in Portugal where she had sung that tune with family at a special time of year. I did not correct her and tell her it was written by a German musician. It was a memory from her homeland, the words remembered in her native language, a link to happier times and people she loved.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

Follow this link for more Remember Whensday posts.

My mother wrote an essay called "What Christmas Means to Me" when she was a teenager. I copied it in two posts in December 2006. Here are the links to her Christmas memories.
What Christmas Means to Me- Part 1
What Christmas Means to Me- Part 2