Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tasty Treats

This summer has flown by, especially the month of August. I am working extra hours at the hospital due to holiday and maternity leave staff shortages and will be glad to get back to my regular schedule in October. The summer has been hot and I have not had time or energy to go trekking on trails during the week. But the warm and frequently rainy weather has been great for farmers and the harvest this year is abundant and early.

Poor light and the worst nature photos of the week! :-)

I am no longer awakened by the sun in the mornings as the days shorten. I enter the kitchen to boil water for tea when I get up and now have to put on a light. Each morning someone is watching for that light and waiting for me to raise the blinds. Last year I had three Blue Jays who called for peanuts but this year a male Northern Cardinal comes to the window and chirps for a treat. Cardinals often come to feeders only at dawn and dusk and while I do not have bird feeders up in the summer, I will pass out something to persistent "trick or treaters". Mr. Cardinal is quite bold now, unlike most of his kind, and comes to the picnic table for his peanut. His chirp alerts the chipmunk and several squirrels that breakfast is served and the peanuts are gone in a couple of minutes.

I always pack a lunch for work and I try to avoid any containers which are thrown away. I bought a stainless steel Bento Box in San Francisco's China Town last year and enjoy filling it with salads and fresh fruit. On the weekend I take time to prepare some of our local produce into dishes which will keep a few days in the fridge. It takes no time at all to fill my Bento Box on workday mornings. Today I made cabbage and onion slaw, lentil sprout salad, corn and edamame salad, and pickled carrots. I love to eat fresh spring rolls with pickled carrots, cucumber and fruit strips.

I remember Mom going to the big market in Durban, South Africa and bringing home large amounts of fresh food. She would spend the afternoon cleaning and storing it for the week. When we moved back to Canada she canned and froze food all summer and stored it in the cold cellar. I seldom make preserves but do find the time preparing meals with fresh ingredients is well worth the effort.

And my little morning routine of tea, passing out peanuts and making my lunch is always a good start to a busy day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Lunch is served at a barn raising in Waterloo County circa 1972
(photo by J.D. Tolman)

Pronunciation: \kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\
Function: noun
1 : a unified body of individuals: an interacting population of various kinds
of individuals in a common location

Photos by J.D. Tolman

My father took a series of slides at a Mennonite barn raising in the early 1970's shortly after our family moved to Waterloo County. A fire had destroyed a barn near Elmira, Ontario and the community came together very quickly to rebuild the structure. A barn is essential for storing feed and housing livestock and is the most important building on a farm. Rural communities have come together like this for hundreds of years and the tradition in this modern era is still strong among Old Order Mennonites. Each man knows his place in the process and he volunteers his time to help his neighbour. Rubble is cleared and new supplies are ordered in a short period of time. The women serve food and the children help where they can as they observe their community working at its best.

Photo courtesy of Andre Secours

A few weeks ago another barn on an Old Order Mennonite farm burned to the ground near the same town. Our friend Andre took the picture above a few days after the fire. The community makes use of more up-to-date equipment these days with power tools, heavy construction equipment and even pre-fab trusses. But the volunteer contributions are the same as ever.

I took these pictures just 12 days after the fire and the new barn was already erected. The burned rubble was gone, the painting was almost completed and windows were being installed.

I like the definition of 'community' at the beginning of this post. Individuality does not need to be lost, but people interact in a unified way. While most of us would not want to give up modern conveniences and live like Old Order Mennonites, many people admire the strength of their community. We all need to belong to a group and traditional groupings in our modern society are increasingly fragmented. I see few of my neighbours on the street where I have lived for over 30 years and we go our separate ways each day. Family groups are separated by distance, broken relationships and the failure to make efforts to keep in contact. Many young adults are not finding a place to belong in church congregations and generational segregation in many religious institutions is formidable. Facebook and Twitter friends do not make a community that can substitute for real belonging.

We all need somebody to lean on...

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I listened to a very interesting interview on Spark, a CBC One program this week. Nora Young interviewed Kevin Kelly about the importance of play and the pleasures of wasting time. She also reviewed a short excerpt from an interview with Linda Stone, a writer and speaker who coined the terms, "continuous partial attention" and "email apnea". (Here is a link to the podcast. The last 15 minutes were the most interesting in my estimation)

Here is a paraphrase of some the ideas presented. We don't let our minds wander much anymore. Looking out a window or taking a walk puts our minds in a receptive mode, taking us to creative areas of our brain. Continuous partial attention is not the same as multi-tasking, but is an effort not to miss anything. This "on" switch creates a state of constant alertness and an artificial sense of impending crisis. We neglect to use the "off" switch which allows the body and mind to relax.

There is no doubt that technology changes the way we think and act. The interview pointed out that literacy rewired the brain and diminished our ability for total recall and memorization which was essential in oral traditions. We can hardly believe that ancient people could pass down accurate histories from generation to generation because we rely on print for storing information. And in this internet age, some people now have difficulty finishing a book as it requires a different type of attention than online browsing.

My work place is extra busy due to summer staff shortages and it is easy to think I am wasting time by letting my mind wander to a peaceful place. The vacation images taken this summer are my view out the window today and a reminder that my mind needs time to disengage and do nothing at all to be healthy and creative.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Grandma had a Frigidaire like the model advertised in this video clip. It was older than me and when Grandma moved out of her big house in 1984 we took the fridge and put it in our basement. We sold it in 1987 when we moved to another house and I wouldn't be surprised if it is still humming along keeping someone's drinks cold on this hot summer day. We are told that old appliances use huge amounts of electricity and efficient models are ENERGY STAR rated by the Canadian government's Office of Energy Efficiency. Being conscientious citizens, we gradually replaced our old appliances with pricey, but environmentally friendly ones.

The Becka informed me this morning that our six year old front loading Kenmore washer was making an odd metallic sound. The sound needed a professional assessment and the polite serviceman gave the machine a prognosis of about two months. He balanced the drum on its broken support and I paid him $90 plus HST. Apparently this model has a life expectancy of five to eight years and breaks down on average six months after the warranty period is over.

Green is a very expensive colour. Hybrid cars cost more than any gas savings accumulated over several years. Solar power and wind power options are over-regulated and over-priced. My front load washer supposedly saved me water and detergent, but not enough to afford a new machine in such a short period of time. Is the environment improved with ENERGY STAR appliances stacked up in the local garbage dump?

Grandma's colour TV is in our living room. It was over ten years old when she died in 1990. We have used it for twenty years. It has thirty channels and I bet it will last longer than the two year old flat screen TV in the the family room.
Our first low flush toilet was installed last fall when we did major renovations. We are told by powers that be that "the new lower flow toilets have been mandated to save precious and limited resources." Our high boy model is good for bad knees but any substantial deposits in the unit require at least two flushes for complete removal. I am not sure what precious resources it is trying to save.

So now we have to shop for another washing machine. Cement washboards are standard in the laundry areas of Mexican homes. Perhaps a portable washboard would be better as it can also be used as a musical instrument. Mom had a wringer washer until the 1970s but they are no longer in production. But I found this very efficient model online. It has all the benefits of a wringer washer and a gym membership. And I would have to take Mondays off work to do the laundry.

Here is Becka's take on this story. She posted a video of our exact problem.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

La Comida- Food

One of my hospital patients from south east Asia once told me she hated the boiled food eaten by Canadians. While hospital menus may have some nutritional merit, they are bland especially to a person used to fragrant curries and stir fries. One of the best things about travel is the opportunity to try new foods and to taste local produce. Altaulfo mangoes from a Canadian supermarket are good, but tree ripened ones in Mexico are far more sweet and flavourful. And I have found no corn tortilla even close in flavour and texture to those from a Mexican tortilleria.

I have maintained a vegetarian diet now for a year and have enjoyed trying new recipes. Melissa of Empress of Dirt sent me a DVD called Raw for Life last December and I thought the principles were somewhat extreme. But gradually my tastes have changed and I am endeavouring to eat two raw meals a day. That is not hard to do when fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant.

Our daughter has become quite an accomplished cook, producing tasty meals for family and visitors. She showed me how to make several salsas including milder avocado-based green sauces as well as fiery hot red sauces. And we tried delicious watermelon and melon drinks which were very refreshing in the heat.

On my last day in Tepic my brother took me with his family to Restaurant Vegetariano Quetzalcóatl, an excellent vegetarian restaurant in the city. The breakfast buffet was less than $10.00 per person and it was impossible to try all the dishes which were offered. The decor was traditional Mexican and the service was impeccable.

Closer to home...
Our daughter came to Canada with me at the beginning of July and returned to Mexico yesterday. She starts teaching again at the university in Torreon next week. The summer has been busy and the weeks have gone quickly so I am still putting up posts about my June trip. My mother has finished three rounds of chemotherapy and is in good spirits. She will be having some tests in a week or so to see how her tumours have responded to treatment.

I decided to donate blood today and made an appointment through Canadian Blood Services central office. After one screening interview and completion of a questionnaire, I was told I could not donate blood for a year as I had been in Nayarit, Mexico. The area is one of over a hundred countries and districts in the world which have malaria mosquitoes and travel to them disqualifies a donor from giving blood for up to three years. Malaria is not endemic in Mexico as it is in parts of Africa and Asia and my family has not been affected by the disease in all the years they have lived there.

My Google Reader is bursting at the seams and perhaps I will have time to catch up a bit in the next few days.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Las mariposas- Butterflies (and more...)

This Friday Flowers post has blooms in a supporting role with the stars of the show being the beautiful butterflies of Mexico. One of the favourite games on our original Macintosh Performa (circa 1995) was Amazon Trail. (The graphics were great at the time) In the journey through the rainforest, colourful butterflies and birds crossed the screen. Each day at about 10AM, butterflies began flying around the flowering trees and vines on the property in Tepic, Mexico. They reminded me of the old computer game and I tried to "collect" all of them with my lens.

There were several enormous butterflies which eluded me for days. They looked like giant pieces of lace fluttering through the air. I had given up trying to find one at rest when my brother called me over to his house in the afternoon just before I left. This tattered but beautiful butterfly was feeding on an over ripe banana.

This moth was on the bathroom mirror one morning. I carefully let it out the window and its wings were even prettier in flight.

The hummingbirds were about the size of the butterflies and they reigned over the flowers and feeder. The Violet-crowned Hummingbird on the left was very territorial and aggressive and attacked any other bird which approached its perch. We would watch three of four of them chase each other at great speeds around the property. They commandeered two feeders on opposite sides of the house. The Berylline (or Buff-bellied) Hummingbird on the right had to sneak over to the feeder for a sip or two at a time.

Some time I hope to see the overwintering Monarchs in the neighbouring state of Michoacán but this collection of butterflies will do for now. Maybe I will even get around to identifying them some day.

Monday, August 02, 2010

El transporte-Transportation

Reflective pictures of myself while travelling in Mexico

I watched the news tonight and heard the latest in the story of Cody LeCompte, a 19 year old Canadian who has been detained in Cuba for three months because he was the driver of a rental car which was involved in an accident. Cody was with his family on vacation and they were not aware of the power of the law to detain foreigners in this way. I have visited Mexico nine or ten times, and while I am a confident driver in Canada and the USA, I have only driven in Mexico on two occasions and never by myself. Since my first visit to the country in 1977, new toll roads have been built and travel conditions have improved. I noticed that more people stop at red lights and there is law enforcement for speeding. But any foreigner, especially one who does not speak Spanish, needs to know the "rules" and the culture of the country they are visiting before they drive there.

My daughter told me that a seat belt law is in place for people sitting in the front seat, but there are no rules for passengers in the back of pickups or limits on the number of people on a bicycle or motorcycle. I wish I could have taken a picture of the man with his wife and three children on his scooter, or the people riding bicycles with two children on the crossbar. I wasn't certain of who had the right of way at some intersections, but there was some sort of understanding between drivers at crossroads. Vehicle maintenance is an entire issue of its own. My son-in-law picked us up in a minivan (the same model I sold last year) which had all the warning lights on in the dashboard...brakes, engine light, oil, battery, cooling... plus the speedometer and the temperature gauges were broken. I was alarmed when the engine light came on in my minivan just 24 hours before I traded it in last August. People in Mexico laughed when I told them that and said they would drive a vehicle to Canada if it had just one warning light on.

Bus Terminal in Tepic, Nayarit

My daughter came south to meet me at my parent's home and we took an overnight coach to the city where she works. The inter-city bus system in Mexico is excellent and very reasonable in price. We received a sandwich and drink when we boarded and the seats were comfortable recliners. Two washrooms were in the back of the bus and no stops were made for passengers to stretch during the 15 hour trip. (We were stopped several times at security checkpoints) The bus travelled through the mountains to the coast at Mazatlan and then ascended 10,000 feet from sea level along the road to Durango known as the Devil's Spine. It was dark and foggy and for a while I watched the bus pass slower trucks on steep curves using a radar system to detect approaching vehicles. Then I took some Gravol and slept. Three movies played during the first few hours of the trip;- Angels and Demons, The Omen, and In Hell. It was a night to remember (or forget), but we arrived safely at our destination.

Our overnight coach on the right

The only time I was really concerned about transportation was at 5AM on the morning we left for Canada. We had a 40 minute drive in the infamous minivan and it was obvious that the alternator was on its last legs as the lights flickered on the dark ride to the airport. I really did not want to miss our 7AM flight. But once again, we arrived safely.
We have many, many rules in place in Canada to protect ourselves and others. Some would say we are over-regulated by the government. A visitor needs to be aware of our laws before they enter the country and we need to be prepared for possible risks when visiting another nation. I do hope Cody LeCompte is able to come home soon but the cost has been very high for he and his family.

Next day post script: I was reading Esther Garvi's blog this morning and interestingly, she posted this picture of a well loaded truck in Niger. This truck appears to need servicing as well.

A well-filled passenger truck- photo by Maurice Saley