Saturday, March 31, 2012

Papa's Little Girl

She stood less than 5 feet tall when fully grown and shrunk more as she aged. A strong accent revealed her French-Canadian heritage.

“I am short because Maman ran out of goods. I was her 18th child, the baby of the family born in 1927.”

Nine chubby babies died as infants from fevers, nine survived.

“That is why Maman always wore black,” she explained.

“Papa worked as a lumberjack in the Ottawa valley until he saved enough money to buy a farm. He was a good father, always cheerful and optimistic. Anytime Maman was fretting about something he would put his arm around her and say,
“It’s not so bad now, everything will be fine."
And Maman would laugh." 

Her childhood was happy, surrounded by a large family. Papa used to carry her on around on his shoulders because she was so small.  Maman could plow a field as well a man and the children looked after each other outdoors while she worked. She kept a garden, made bread and big meals. Papa loved his animals and had to hire someone to slaughter them for food. The children had one outfit worn for school, play, church and sleeping until it was full of holes and had to be replaced. They were not rich in material goods but this was life in the 1930s in Eastern Ontario.

Papa sold the farm when he got older and died soon afterward. A sister took Maman in, but Maman would not eat and died at the the age of 84, a few months after Papa.

The tiny lady is now 84, sick, frail, and recent events are difficult to remember. Her children are too busy with work and life to visit much, but warm childhood memories bring a light to her eye and smile to her face.

“It’s not so bad now, everything will be fine.”

After all, she was Papa’s special little girl.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Prayer for Courage

I read this prayer written by Akanu Ibiam in a book of Lenten devotions a couple of days ago. Fear is a stumbling block for many, an excuse for unfulfilled goals and dreams, and a cause of anxiety and regret. May we be filled with cheerful courage in the face of any challenge.

The words are typed on a picture I took of a desolate stretch of highway in the north of Mexico earlier this year.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Random Ramblings

Scene in a local park March 24, 2012
Here we are at the start of a new week and one wonders where the month of March has gone. The furnace is humming for the first time in ten days as we approach more seasonal temperatures for this time of year. Spring is firmly established even though we may see a little more snow around here. I bought a pair of Bogs rain boots and hope to have a chance to walk some muddy spring trails. Their colours and designs are bright and youthful, but my orthotics fit inside so I figured they were appropriate for middle-aged people too.

Bogs are not as cheap as my old black rubber boots which had no support at all. But then nothing is as cheap as it was. It seems that food has taken a big jump in price this month. Peanut butter is a staple at our house but a 1 kg jar is now priced at $6.77. That is nearly double what I paid a few weeks ago. Someone donated several cases of peanut butter to the food bank yesterday and young volunteers handed a jar to each person who came in for lunch. I read that the peanut harvest somewhere was poor and that some food banks cannot afford this staple right now. Meat is also much more expensive recently. Some sad little 1 kg chickens wrapped in styrofoam and plastic sold for $12 at a national chain grocery store this week. Since when are whole chickens over $5 a pound?

Peanut butter donation
So I shopped yesterday at the market and our local Indian and Chinese grocery stores. Vegetables are so fresh, varied and inexpensive at these places. A friend from work forwarded me a YouTube link about Dr. Terry Wahls, a TEDx presenter who reversed her MS symptoms by changing her diet. You can take 15 minutes and watch it here, but I will summarize her plan. Dr. Wahls recommends 9 cups of fruit and vegetables a day;- 3 cups of greens, 3 cups of high sulphur and cruciferous vegetables, and 3 cups of brightly coloured fruits and vegetable including berries. Make sure you eat a little seaweed weekly too. If you have any room left over for more food, choose organic, unprocessed items. I watched a little, old Chinese lady in front of me pay for six big bags of baby bok choy. I doubt she eats the SAD (Standard American diet). Her traditional way of eating is what this doctor has now discovered is sound and healthy.

Talking about the SAD...We eat too many processed foods. Period. We discover a supernutrient and think if some is good, then more is better. Recent studies show that high doses of many vitamins and minerals (Vitamin E and calcium are two examples) are not beneficial and can be harmful. People are confused by conflicting media reports. Soy products have been eaten for centuries. Today highly processed, GMO soy products are added to so many foods, including protein drinks and energy bars, that some people now believe soy is evil. Eating edamame, miso, tofu and tempeh in moderation is how eastern cultures have used these traditional staples in their diet with good health effect.

Lots of greens to choose from at the Chinese supermarket
You can look all this up on the internet. In fact, you can look anything up on the internet but please double and triple check your sources. Raven, who passed her first birthday this month, has always been a “pukey puppy”. She started throwing up every time she drank from her water dish which was generally after she ate. We changed her food and I started making rice and chicken for her. She still threw up but seemed healthy and happy. So I asked Google why my dog threw up like this and discovered it is a common problem with larger dogs. Several sites recommended raising the food and water up from the floor and using a smaller water dish. So we put her dishes on a small wood step the girls used to reach the sink when they were small, and put a small dish inside her big water bowl. She hasn’t thrown up since. Dakota used to stretch out on the floor when he ate which was intuitive on his part.
xkcd web comic
I wonder how I would have found this information 20 years ago? Encyclopedias were useful if you needed to know the history of industrial Europe but practical day to day tips were not at your fingertips.

Technology is not a replacement for everything. We have a new chaplain at the hospital. She is a beautiful, serene African lady and I hope to get to know her better. She spent time with one of our more challenging patients this week and then charted that she provided the ministry of listening and presence.

I wrote that down...ministry of listening and presence. Beautiful.

Sometimes there is no counsel or action which can remove what has happened in the past or change the present situation. We prefer to talk and offer solutions but listening requires discipline, control of a wandering mind and the biting of a quick tongue. Good listeners are a rare and precious find.

 Is life a series of random events? It depends who you listen to. Here are two sides of a random coin.

So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.
Sidney Poitier

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Psalm 37:23

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Early Spring Flowers

We are in our second week of summer-like temperatures and the first day of spring was yesterday. This is my 7th year of blogging and my previous entries provide a good diary of seasonal events. The earliest our forsythia bloomed in the past 6 years was April 5. Most years it blooms around the second or third week of April. The flowers opened up today, March 21.

The heat also has our maples in flower and there are hordes of flying insects around the trees. My husband saw mosquitoes when he was working in the garden this evening, an insect we don't deal with until mid-May around here.

Last year I kept my Amaryllis plants outside on the deck after they finished blooming. In September I took the bulbs out of the pot and cut off the green tops. I stored the bulbs in a paper bag in the garage until January and then replanted them in a pot in the house. I wanted to have some bright flowers indoors before the garden started blooming.

The first Amaryllis flower opened today and there are many other buds developing. I didn't expect to have flowers in and outside at the same time.

After work we took Raven to a nearby woodland trail for a walk. Spring ephemerals are popping up all over, again about a month earlier than usual.

Bloodroot is one of the earliest wildflowers and the leaves wrap around the flower to protect it from the cold temperatures we usually have when it blooms. This flower was wrapped up even though it was 26C at the time. Trout Lilies, Wild Ginger, Trilliums and Blue Cohosh all had leaves poking through the ground.

The weather is supposed to cool down in a couple of days, but temperatures will still be well above normal. We really need rain. Our maple syrup season ended abruptly last week and fruit trees will be vulnerable to frost damage when they bloom early. I do hope summer is not proportionately hotter than normal like winter and spring have been!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Lenten Sacrifice

For Lent I thought I would try to live on the budget a poor person in our area would get on social assistance or a minimum wage job.

Maybe $30 or $40 a week for food and toiletries.

I also thought of taking the bus to work instead of driving.

Who am I fooling? How can I pretend to be poor? The arrogance of my assumption that I could make the money stretch, that I could tell others how to budget, makes me cringe.

I walk toward the community centre with a big pot of soup and a container of muffins. A line which already stretches along the front of the building moves a little to allow me room to go in the door. They have to wait outside as I enter.

I am rich, they are poor.

Even when I say hello, there is no eye contact, no real connection on a personal level.

She is first in line and drives her power wheelchair to the counter for the free meal. She cannot stand or walk. I wonder how she could prepare food at home, how she would reach the stove. Maybe she lives in a rented room without a kitchen.

A young woman sits cross-legged outside the dollar store with a cup in front of her. I stop and ask her name.


Her eyes are glazed and I wonder what she has taken, what pain she is covering up. I drop a coin in the cup and move on, not knowing what else to say.

Our church is having a potluck dinner in a couple of weeks and "each family is asked to bring two dishes", according to the announcement in the bulletin. I remember working in the kitchen a few years ago when a family brought a small dish of plain canned kidney beans and a bowl of jello to a potluck. We hid the food away and never served it. At the time I didn’t understand why someone would bring such a little bit of food.

There are those who feel excluded from our feasts because they have little or nothing to offer. They are often invisible as the rest of us share recipes and stories about our busy lives.

The poor are called many things... lazy, stupid, ugly, dirty. What does physical or mental disability, addiction, lack of education, a dysfunctional family, abuse, a criminal record, homelessness, hopelessness do to the soul? How can I know what that feels like?

I have enough food in our house that I would not starve for 6 weeks even if I bought nothing else at the store. I have a good education, tools, a well-equipped home, social skills, family support, optimism and hope for the future. I paid $300 for new shoes and $60 for dog food this week. I cannot pretend to be poor.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:3-8

Jesus became poor for the sake of mankind. He didn’t pretend, he really took the part from beginning to end. He told a rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor if he wanted spiritual treasure. That request was too much the young man and is still too hard for most people today.

How can I have the mind of Christ? Can I give up pride in my abilities, a judgmental attitude and feelings of superiority when I am around those who are less fortunate than myself? Will I be a genuine friend to them?

That is the harder sacrifice.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

South Winds of Summer?!

Fun with food- my breakfast this morning

It looks like we slipped into summer after a week of spring and I truly hope it does cool down soon so the fruit trees do not flower before our last frosts. I cannot deny enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures as I planted my early vegetables yesterday. Chives, green onions, chard and cilantro are already green and growing and the arugula, leaf lettuce, snow peas and carrots should be up soon. It is easy to grow greens from early spring to late fall. We have an abundance of local produce available at good prices at local markets so I do not plant a lot of vegetables. Rhubarb, tomatoes and beans will round out my "crop" this year.

One of our daughters is travelling in Turkey this week and wrote last evening,

 "Just got in to Cappadocia. Drove through a snow storm on the way from the airport!! Looked like driving on the back roads in the winter. It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow though, so the snow should melt, which is good as I believe we are outside all day tomorrow."

(Follow the link above if you want to see images of the area she is visiting)

She packed for spring and summer but got winter.

Enjoy today!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

South Winds of Spring

The last four weeks brought us more snow, ice and bitter cold than the previous weeks of winter combined. Today a welcome south wind pushed the temperatures into the balmy range for Canada in March. I couldn't get enough of the sunshine and fresh breezes as I visited trails I hoped would not be too muddy to pass. Ice still covers shaded corners of ponds and lakes but willows are yellowing and dogwoods are reddening, adding colour to the bare woods.

Grass Lake

I visited Grass Lake, well named as come summer, no water will be visible. The reeds and rushes provide cover for nesting birds, muskrats and more. Male Red-winged Blackbirds called and displayed prominently. Many Canada Geese were around but looking closely with binoculars I saw...

Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese

...three Sandhill Cranes blending in with the geese and the grass. One of the cranes looked much smaller and is likely a juvenile. Five minutes away at another lake, a group of Canada Geese were resting on the edge of some ice along with a small group of migrating Tundra Swans. I have not seen these swans so close to home before although large numbers of them stage in areas an hour or two west of us close to Lake Huron.

Tundra Swans on Bannister Lake

Absence makes the heart grow fonder so some of our most common birds are special in the month of March. I heard Red-winged Blackbirds earlier this week but didn't see any until today. They will be putting on quite a show as they wait for the females to arrive next month.

I poked around the garden today and the ground is still partially frozen. Surprisingly, my swiss chard from last season survived our mild winter and is pushing up new leaves. The rest of the month is supposed to be warmer than average so I can get a head start planting hardy vegetables like peas, onions and lettuces. March is such a fickle month and can be like summer or winter. I remember well the March of 1990 when my grandmother died. Our girls spent March break in shorts and tee shirts until winter returned the next week. (apparently we broke 1990's temperature record for the date today)

Our yard birds will be happy to see me digging in the garden. I have a house ready for the Chickadees (I didn't get it out early enough last year) and a pair of Cardinals have claimed our property as their territory.

First-of-year birds seen this week:
Ring-necked Duck, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Turkey Vulture, Brown Creeper (pair), Red-winged Blackbird, Bluebird all seen today.
I saw Tundra Swans at Lake Ontario in January, but today's were the first migrating ones seen this year. I saw my first Robin 3 days ago.