Tuesday, October 8, 2019


When you become friends with an 88-year-old neighbour, it's probably wise to tell your heart that the friendship won't last as long as you'd like.

My dear friend, Ralph, died recently, and my heart is broken. We became friends in September six years ago, and I am very grateful for those six years. I continue to be grateful for his wife, Lidia, who is struggling with widowhood after 65 years of marriage.

Ralph's actual name was Raffaele, so much more poetic than I realized in all the time I knew him. And what a delight he was to me. The day that we first met under his plum trees, I thought him to be a bit gruff and unsmiling, but that first impression was incorrect. Within minutes, he had invited me into his home for coffee and Italian cookies, and we gardeners became fast friends, sharing produce and swapping garden stories. Lidia taught me how to make minestrone with squash blossoms, and makes me laugh when she says, "I speak English like minestrone!" All mixed-up, in otherwords. I fell in love with these two neighbours, no question!

It wasn't long before I kept an eye out for them every time I walked the dog past their house, and I would stop to say hello if Ralph was in his garden or greenhouse. I didn't really see him and Lidia very much over the winters. It's only been the last two years or so that I've made a point to go and visit them more frequently, including through the cold, dark, non-gardening seasons.

This year, I've tried to visit at least once a week, mainly because if I didn't, Ralph would come looking for me to be sure that I was okay. During planting time this past spring, I missed a week or two and was surprised when I arrived home from running some errands to find him standing in the middle of my backyard, saying, "It's been a longa time since you came over."

That's when I knew that I wasn't the nuisance neighbour who showed up and drank his coffee in the mornings, but a beloved friend who was missed if she didn't turn up on a regular basis. It made my day! But I was also very aware that it was a major effort for him to come looking for me, so I started letting him and Lidia know about my schedule and when to expect my next visit. I didn't want to be the reason for him to have any sort of accident, vehicular or otherwise.

One morning in August, on my way past his garden with the dog, I noticed him sitting rather listlessly on his back patio, and when I climbed the steps to say hello, he barely cracked a smile. Uh-oh. He mentioned that he was having pain in his left abdominal area, and he winced a few times as I sat with him and he told me about the tests he'd gone for.

The following week, when I came to the door, Lidia answered. I asked how she was, and she said, "Bad." We had a whispered conversation right there about liver cancer and how radiation or chemo were out of the question for a 94-year-old man. But Ralph was in fairly good spirits -- the doctor had given him some painkillers, and he was only taking them when it hurt too much. He was feeling okay, he said. Lidia complained that he wasn't eating her cooking, but he waved her off, saying he wasn't hungry, so I ate lunch with them that day to take some of Lidia's attention off his lack of appetite.

For the past few weeks, I was surprised each time I visited by how much Ralph had declined. The man who bragged about partying at his grandson's wedding until 1 a.m. was fading away. He had always impressed me with his robustness for a man in his nineties, but now his lack of appetite was clearly taking its toll. My last visit with him, he sat slumped in his kitchen chair, and he looked very pale. It was the day of his brother-in-law's funeral, and he wasn't feeling up to going. So we sat and visited and drank Lidia's espresso, but Ralph didn't have much to say, other than to tell me that he'd finally met his first great grandchild, named for him.

I was chatting with a visiting nephew (Ralph and Lidia often had visitors) when Ralph announced that he wasn't feeling well. Lidia and I watched him closely and did what we could to make him more comfortable. She kept insisting that he drink some orange juice, but I suggested that if he wasn't feeling good, something acidic might not be the best idea. She plopped a cool cloth on his forehead, but looked like she was going to teeter over herself, so I encouraged her to sit down, and took the cloth to wipe his dear old face.

Ralph's colour returned, and I laid the cloth over his forehead, kissed his cheek and told him that I had to catch a bus to our local Climate Strike, but that I'd see him again soon. That evening, Lee and I stopped by with some gingerale for him, but he was already in bed, so we had a little visit with Lidia, her son and his wife.

Monday morning when I returned from walking the dog, there was a message on my answering machine. Ralph's son called to let me know that he had died on Sunday afternoon. I had a little cry, then walked over to see Lidia, and we cried all over again. And I imagine we will for a while.

I miss my neighbour -- his quiet and gentle way, the way a smile would slide across his face when I teased him about being a magic gardener, his laugh when I told him that his lavatera plant was a tree compared to mine.

Thank you, Ralph, for six years of friendship, gardening companionship, and generous hospitality. Thank you for the tomato and squash plants and seeds you shared with me. Thank you for all our little garden visits. I would have enjoyed more time with you, but I am grateful for the precious memories you've left me.

We'll meet again in God's garden, I'm sure.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Declaring myself

I just realized that it's been two weeks since my last moodling. Not that I haven't been doing plenty of it in other places while I'm harvesting my garden and working on other special projects. Harvest time is coinciding with a Federal Election, and I've decided that I can't sit on my hands this year when it comes to political participation. Less online moodling, and more action!

So as I'm dealing with produce, I'm also declaring my affiliations and getting active in a local election campaign, and I'm inviting you, my readers (all 16 of you, ha!) to do the same.

No photo description available.
My daughter is wearing this t-shirt these days...
You may hate the idea of talking politics, but I'd like to assure you that there has never been a more important time to do so. The human population of our country and our world need to get our act together and step up to the challenge of reducing and adapting to the changes in climate that we are noticing more and more. For most of us in Canada, climate change is not serious yet, but we can't let that lull us into complacency! 

Listen to our scientists -- the people who study what's going on because of their passion for our planet have been telling us that its warming is endangering our survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report gave us 12 years to cut our fossil fuel emissions drastically, or we may not last much longer as a species.

But some say that 12 years is optimistic -- already we are seeing mega storms, mega fires, mega floods, mega droughts, mega heat waves and more than 7 million climate refugees looking for safer places to live since the beginning of this year alone... and on it goes.

In my part of the world this summer, we have had one of the coldest and wettest seasons on record, and I've heard lots of people comment, "Global warming? What global warming?"

My response is that it may not be hot here, but Europe saw temps around 45 degrees in some places this summer. Tuktoyaktuk is already losing land due to higher seas. Greenland was warmer than Edmonton a lot of the summer. Stream temperatures in Alaska reached the predicted temperature for 2069, fifty years ahead of time, and spawning salmon can't survive that kind of warmth. The burning of the Amazon is only making things worse. And how about Hurricane Dorian? Dismiss all these things as one-offs, and you're missing the message that our planet is trying to send us all.

If you know me at all, you know that I'm not the kind of person who is a pessimist. But I'm a realist, and I cannot, in good conscience, work for one of our three best known political parties. I'm working for the Greens because they are the only ones who are constant in making climate issues a priority.

I know that a lot of people are worried about vote splitting creating an opportunity for a less appreciated party to come up the middle and win, but this time, voting strategically is not an option for me. I want to see vote shifting -- using our limited resources to get to a greener economy, away from big polluting industries and toward options that care for people and the planet.

I am voting for, and working for, our climate. Sure, there are many other issues, but if we don't have a liveable environment, none of them matter. Though our Alberta government might be in denial, the world is shifting from fossil fuels to greener options, and I want Canada to hurry up and get on that bandwagon. And I'd like to see how the Greens would bring that about, because the other parties don't seem to understand that climate change and moving away from creating greenhouse gases is the main issue for this election and for our survival.

If we we work for our climate, we'll have a better planet overall. If we don't work for our climate, we may not have many more elections to try and fix things. 

We don't have much time. And making positive sacrifices for the sake of the planet right now, when things are relatively okay, will be much easier than adapting to bigger disasters further down the road.

Please, check out your green candidate, or better yet, call them and see if there's something small you can do to shift votes for the climate.

The time to make a difference is now.


Monday, September 2, 2019

A truly amazing story

Before I tell my amazing story, you might like to see this:

It's a song I learned in the early 80's from a wonderful folk singer named Joan MacIsaac. Joan was a warm and wonderful person who performed locally, and we had a few common friends who would let me know when she was performing so that I could attend her shows. I loved the song you see above from the very first time I heard it. So I borrowed some money from a friend, bought Joan's Wintersong album, and committed those lyrics to memory almost immediately. I wanted to sing them for my high school friends at a party we had right after graduation, before we made our way in the world. I remember Joan mentioning that she liked to sign off on her personal letters with the song's title, and I've adopted that, too, often shortening it to just, "Hovering, Maria," when I write to my friends who have heard me sing the song. That would include my best friend, and friends from summer camps where I met some pretty special people.

After finishing university, I traveled around North America and Europe for a year with a performing group where I made some more life-long friends. I taught the song to some of my cast mates, and we sang it to the rest of our cast at a year-end talent show. And I also sang Joan's "When I Can't Play" as my grande finale, inviting them all to sing along. Needless to say, they loved it.

A few years later when I attended our Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut when another performer mentioned that Joan had died, still very young, and with so much talent untapped. He sang "Wintersong," and I sat and cried. Joan had been so positive and encouraging of me and my rather inferior talents, and when she sang, she shone like the sun. The music world dimmed for a time -- and I was really sad when my record player needle wore out and I could no longer listen to her album. But it's a rare occasion when I don't play "I Hover Over" on my guitar, though I realize now that I've got it a little bit "wrong," probably because of all the years of singing from my faulty memory! I've sung it for many special people over the years, usually when there was soon to be "miles between us..." that, of course, "don't mean a thing..." because "we conquered them so many years ago..."

It was a chilly day in February of 2010 when I realized that an over-seas friend was celebrating her birthday, so I sent her an email signed, "I hover over your left shoulder." She responded within the hour, saying, "I remember! But I can't remember the melody!" Having nothing better to do right then, I set up our digital camera and started to make a video, but Buddy the Budgie struck up a scolding ruckus. So I opened his cage door and the second take is what you see above. I couldn't have planned it better myself, with him sitting on my left shoulder being his boppy little self! He was chattering up a storm, all his favourite phrases, like "Whatcha doin?" and "Hey, Buddy!"

Worried about copyright infringement, I searched the internet to see who I could ask for permissions before posting the song, and even tried to look up Joan's record label, but came up empty as Joan's music was written pre-internet. Taking a chance that no one would object, I uploaded the video, and sent the link to my friend overseas, who was very pleased to sing along. The video has also made the rounds with other cast mates and a few high school buddies.

A couple of years ago, I was snooping around YouTube and found that a certain Paul MacIsaac had put many of Joan's songs up on the platform. I sat and listened to them all, and sent a little note via his YouTube channel to thank him, but whether he saw it or not, I don't know. I'm not sure how these things actually work a lot of the time, so maybe it didn't get through.

Fast forward to this year. I keep some of my videos on this blog in the far right "Songs" tab under the header picture above, and have received some wonderful comments over the years from people who knew Joan MacIsaac, or who wish they had. But in April, something really special happened. I received a message from one of Joan's immediate family:
Hi Maria. I have always enjoyed your videos of you singing Joan's music. Your joyful delivery is reflective of the encouragement and caring in her music and warms my heart and soothes the feeling of the loss of her incredible voice and talent. I am so grateful that you posted those when there was nothing out there of Joan's music after her death. I am Joan's sister Molly and had sung with her as a duo before she went solo... I witnessed the creation of many of her songs and there are still many more that were never published. Our brother Paul posted her music after you did. All our family had the opportunity to watch your videos and were grateful and encouraged by it. It was due to our great loss that there were years of silence. But now the music is still circulating and encouraging others as it was meant to be....
I responded immediately, so thrilled to have heard from Molly. I asked her where she was writing from and whether her family would prefer that I take my videos down. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing whether she would ever see my message. I heard nothing further from her, and because her comment was "Anonymous," I had no contact info. Suspecting that Joan had family connections to the Maritimes, I thought Molly might live there. I gave up, hoping that somehow she would know how much I appreciated hearing from her.

In mid-July, I attended my nephew's wedding here in Edmonton. It was a lovely event, an opportunity to really enjoy the party and dance up a storm with my hubby without the responsibilities we had at our daughter's wedding two weekends before. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, being a bit of a goof, leading a chorus of That's Amore to get the newlyweds to kiss, and introducing myself as "Auntie Maria" to tell a story about my groom nephew for the same reason. My sister-in-law and I were very much enjoying dessert and a bottle of red wine when a small, attractive and sharply dressed woman with her hair in a silver bob came to me saying, "You don't know me, but I know you, Maria. You've sung my sister's songs on YouTube, and I've been so grateful for that!"

My chin dropped to the basement. "Molly??!!"

We were immediately wrapped in each others' arms and laughing at the quirkiness of life bringing us together as guests from opposite sides of a wedding. Molly is a dear friend of my new niece-in-law's family, and we have had several lovely email exchanges since that evening. There's no denying that she and Joan are sisters. And there's yet another connection between us -- my son-in-law has a close friend named Claire, who is the niece of Molly and Joan.

I am flabbergasted by all these sudden connections, and I think it's safe to say that Molly is, too. It has meant a lot to me to reconnect with someone so close to Joan, and it meant a lot to Molly that I thought to post a few low-budget home videos of Joan's music online when the loss of Joan was still too painful for her family to do it. As Molly says, sometimes we do these little things, put a little positivity out there for the world, with no way to know how far the ripples go.

It's been amazing to have these ripples come back to me with a new friend. I hope to sing with Molly sometime soon. Her family and mine both like to have singing parties, so perhaps we'll attend each others' somewhere down the road.

In the meantime, here is Joan singing the song that started it all, as posted to YouTube by her brother, Paul. No one can beat this -- she was an excellent guitarist, and I still just love her voice! Enjoy!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Sharing in God's goodness

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Psalm 68.

In your goodness,
O God,
you have provided for your needy ones,
all your creatures.

You have given us everything we need
and more.

We should be singing and dancing
in joy and gratitude,
exulting in your goodness to us.

You have given us a home filled with abundance,
a prosperity we can scarcely take in.

Love in abundance is your name
since you're always
showering us
with blessings,
restoring us
when we languish,
and sheltering us
in your goodness.

In your goodness,
O God,
you have provided for your needy ones,
all your creatures.

Help us humans to forget our egos
and remember that all you give us
is meant to be shared
with all of your creatures.


* * * * * * * 

God's provision for us needy human beings is pretty incredible when you really think about it. It's just too bad that our wisdom hasn't kept up, that we've forgotten how interconnected we are with everything God has made. In this week's 5 paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis names some of the amazing technological advances of the past two centuries, and notes our need to rediscover wisdom for our planet's sake. See for yourself by clicking here and reading paragraphs 101-105.

We've completed the second chapter of Laudato Si, The Gospel of Creation, and now we are moving into Chapter three, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis, which will look at how "human life and activity have gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us." Our encyclical writers "focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world" (paragraph 101).

"We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change" begins paragraph 102, and here's a long list of some of the changes mentioned:

steam engines
the telegraph
chemical industries
modern medicine
information technology
digital devices
domestic appliances
transportation systems
bridges, buildings and public spaces
nuclear energy
information technology
knowledge of our DNA (all in paragraphs 102-104)

And I'm sure there are many more that our writers didn't name. God-given human creativity has brought about all these wonders, many of which have vastly improved the survival and fulfillment of many human beings on earth. The problem is that these things have also given human beings "tremendous power" and dominance over one another and all God's other creatures.

The problem is that our technological advances keep occurring faster than our understanding of what they mean for all of creation in terms of "human responsibility, values and conscience" (paragraph 105). Our awareness of our limitations is clouded by human ego -- "look what we did! Isn't it incredible?!" -- preventing us from remembering -- "every choice we make matters, and we must be careful because some of our choices can affect other creatures in ways we may not be aware of." If we really think about it, there hasn't been a bridge built or a medical procedure invented that hasn't altered the lives of countless creatures, human and non-human, in one way or another. As has already been mentioned four times already, everything is interconnected. But we have the freedom to create, and unfortunately we don't always use wisdom to remember those connections, or use our creativity the way God intended.

The last three sentences of paragraph 105 sum it up pretty bluntly:
Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.
I'd like to underline two key words in this last bit: spirituality and self-restraint. It strikes me that, had human beings created that long list of wonders above while in spiritual, meditative relationship with God, one another, and all of creation, self-restraint would have come naturally, and wisdom would have played a much larger role in our creation of a world with fewer problems. But we humans are often in too much of a hurry to wait for Wisdom, she who calls to us so beautifully in Chapter 8 of the book of Proverbs (click here to read it).

As this Sunday's Psalm reminds us, God has provided us with everything out of God's goodness, and we need to remember God's goodness, earth's limits and some wise self-restraint in the way that we use our knowledge and power in our world.

Friday, August 30, 2019

2019 garden report

You know it's been a busy summer
 when there haven't been regular garden updates in my moodlings. 
So to make up for it, here's my single 2019 garden report, 
posted on a rainy Friday morning with pictures from earlier in the week.

2019 has definitely been a year for flowers.
I've never had dahlias like these, or sweetpeas. 
Our "sunrise" rosebush hasn't stopped blooming!
It seems they all like cool and rainy weather,
and we've had no shortage of either in 2019.

It also helped that the feet of our sweetpeas 
are shaded by carrots that seem to have done very well this year.

Unfortunately, 2019 has also been the year of slugs and voles.

My poor kohlrabi and some beets look like lace,
and between the slugs and the sparrows, 
our peas didn't amount to more than two feeds (out of 30 sq ft).
The lettuces and chard went to pieces, pretty much.
I'm afraid that next year I'll have to put up a scarecrow 
and spend my beer on the slugs, 
much as I'd rather drink it myself!
(They'll die very happy!)

I had a dozen cabbages to start with, 
but voles ate out the roots of five of them
before I understood what was going on.
Thanks to serious vigilance with BTK,
a yeast-based organic treatment
for dealing with cabbage moths,
I still have seven cabbages left, 
and managed to freeze 18 500 mL servings
of cauliflower. We ate our broccoli as it matured,
and when I didn't pull out the rest of the plants,
they went to flower, much to the joy of local bees!

I started my onions from seed back in March,
and they've done very well -- the slugs don't like them! 
We also have some really nice leeks, 
even though my seed packet said 2005 on the back 
and I didn't think they'd come up at all.

Also grew some hard neck garlic for the first time, 
and it did very well. I'll be sure to plant more this fall.

I wish I had planted more pepper and pansy pots.
(Maybe that could be turned into a tongue twister...)

On Mother's Day weekend, Lee rebuilt our cold frame, 
and as I'd already planted lettuce elsewhere, 
I put the three sisters in it. We've had two lovely feeds of corn,
but, as you can see, the scarlet runner and purple peacock beans
 got so heavy, they pulled the corn down!
 I'm not sure what happened to the 2000-year-old squash plants,
 but I'm guessing the slugs got them too, sigh.

Fortunately, a few spaghetti squash have their own space elsewhere.

There will be lots of fava (broad) beans if it doesn't freeze too soon,
but my snow peas seem to have gotten lost in them somehow.
I had thought they'd do well climbing the walls, but they kept climbing
into the beans. Next year the snow peas will get their very own dedicated boxes.
Or maybe I'll just plant more broad beans because my family really loves them!

Should have taken this picture BEFORE I picked. 
Our bush beans turned out really well this year 
in spite of slug bites here and there. My best friend
gave me a bean mix that included Kentucky blue,
yellow wax, and these purple ones.
I love colourful produce!

Including these black cherry tomatoes. 
(Forgot to take a picture of the red and gold ones!)

I spent a fair bit of time with my 94-year-old friend, Ralph, this summer,
and he gave me several pointers on how to grow tomatoes,
but I'm afraid I didn't listen to some of what he told me. 
With our weather being so unpredictable in this era
of climate emergencies, I decided not to prune anything 
so that in the event of a hailstorm, at least 
some of the fruit will be sheltered by foliage.

These two strawberry beds were transplanted just this spring, 
and I'm delighted how well they've filled out.
I'm hoping frost will hold off, as they're flowering like mad right now,
and producing the odd humungous strawberry.
I'd also like the cucumbers to have a bit more time, 
as they've been really slow thanks to the chilly weather,
and they're loaded with the possibility of pickles at the moment.
Everything has been a bit slow this year -- I've never found myself 
still picking raspberries at the end of August before!

I am grateful that so much of my knowledge about gardening
 has come to me from family members and friends like Ralph
 Even the internet is helpful on occasion. 
But I suspect more of what I know has come from trial and error. 

Next year, I will definitely be doing some things differently. 
But in the meantime, our freezers are filling
with good things from the back yard, 
so I won't complain too much about my mistakes with our 2019 garden. 
I'll just put in an order for a little more sunshine next year!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

We can't wait another 4 years

This election, it is critical to vote for climate change solutions. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives humanity less than 12 years to reduce our carbon emissions and keep the warming of our planet under 1.5 degrees, we need to act now. We just had the hottest July ever, and if we don't do something, the deep trouble we're already in will only get deeper.

The video below is rather tongue-in-cheek, but it points out that kids see the real threat to their future and want to do what we adults have delayed doing for far too long. I would like to see the voting age dropped, maybe not to eight years of age, but you have to admit that it would be interesting to see what would happen in our world if kids could vote.

Today's food for thought. Also a pretty cute website, if you click here -- especially the FAQs! (Toward the bottom.)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Simple Suggestion #281... Ten tips for an almost waste-less wedding

Our eldest daughter's wedding took place at the end of June, and the celebration of her marriage to her chosen partner was a delight from start to finish. Not only did it completely reflect Landon and Christina and their love for each other, their families, and their friends, but it was pretty sustainable right down to the fine details.

So how did they pull it off? Keep in mind that they're very progressive young people who don't necessarily hold to the ways traditional weddings are celebrated. They did at least 10 different things that not all couples consider when it comes to having a simpler, more earth-friendly wedding.

When Christina proposed to Landon two years prior to the wedding, we knew immediately that it wasn't going to be a conventional wedding. She had 1) two simple silver rings fashioned by a silversmith friend that she used to propose, and they also doubled as their wedding rings. So on the wedding day, their little "ring bear" (complete with a bear-eared hat) delivered the same two rings into their hands to put on each others' fingers as a sign of their permanent commitment.

2) Their wedding invitations were all online (except for a few mailed to less computer-savvy folks who probably preferred paper copies). They put up a nice little website at theKnot.com so guests could read up on all the details of the day.

3) Christina said "No to the Dress" because she had a perfectly lovely one in her closet already. Who says a wedding dress has to be long and pure white? My mom  found a crinoline in her own closet and did a few alterations for her granddaughter. It turned out to be the perfect dress for our girl, a simple white cotton print with splashes of lilacs, peonies and roses. Christina didn't even buy wedding shoes, but went barefoot for most of the day and kept her Birkenstocks close at hand for longer, rougher distances. Her dress was the "old" (she's had it since Grade Twelve), a white wrap I crocheted for her was the "new," my own wedding earrings were the "borrowed," and she painted her toenails "blue."

The bride and her attendants all wore Baby's Breath in their hair, but that was the only matchy-matchy thing about them. 4) The wedding party were invited to wear their own comfortable clothing with pink, green or purple accents from their own wardrobes, things that they can also wear for other occasions. The groom picked out a sharp new suit that he will need in the future, and his attendants joined him on a little shopping trip to buy new ties that all worked well together. The only clothes specifically "made" for the wedding were the bride's crocheted wrap and two bow ties my mom made from fabric left over from the wedding dress alterations, a surprise worn by the bride's grandfather and great uncle. Seeing those two in their floral bow ties saved our emotional bacon as Christina and I giggled our way up the aisle! (I didn't cry until the vows. They were just beautiful!)

5) Bouquets came from local gardens -- mine, my sisters, and MCR friends'. A rural friend of Christina's had some late-blooming lilacs that we kept in my cold storage room for three days prior to the wedding (heavenly fragrance in there!), and one of the bride's attendants picked some wild grasses (from the nearest ravine) that found their way into every unique bouquet put together by florist friend, Annette. Because the bouquets would have wilted if left too long out of water, they were kept in vases to decorate the hall for the evening -- and our back doorstep for the gift opening the next day. A few days later, they found their way into my compost bin.

One of the things Landon and Christina insisted upon was that 6) no wedding decorations would be sent to the landfill after the wedding. Landon and his dad, Greg, built an outdoorsy wedding arch from birch harvested from the family acreage, and it was decorated with lengths of tulle salvaged from an event at the Stony Plain Library. It now sits over a bench at the family firepit.

There was enough tulle that we hung it across the front of the community league hall with some borrowed fairy lights to create a lovely ambiance for the evening. Landon's mom, Sandy, got to work re-purposing jam jars as herb planters that wedding guests could take home as gifts, and grew little pots of basil, oregano, thyme and parsley to go into them. They were set on cut "plates" of downed tree trunks also from the acreage, later to be used for firewood. Tiny fairy light strings borrowed from a friend were put into jam jars decorated with jute bows and used in the place of candles on the tables, and tiny (compostable) pine cones gathered by someone on the decorating committee were strategically placed on the tables to add a little more outdoor elegance.

7) There were no stretch limos or parades of wedding cars emitting fossil fuels. The wedding was a twenty minute walk from the bride's home, and photos were taken on the hills near the Cloverdale Community League hall, where the banquet was held (it takes its electricity from solar panels). Driving was pretty much kept to a minimum, though the parents of the groom and some guests had further distances to travel.

8) The weekend's meals were almost waste-less. For the rehearsal party and day after the wedding, I borrowed MCR Suzanne Dennis' party boxes. Su had enough colourful plates, cloth napkins, cutlery, and other useful items that we didn't have to use a single paper plate or serviette, just washed it all up and used it again. For the wedding banquet, Christina and Landon rented dinnerware and linens for 120 from Special Event Rentals, which doesn't expect everything to be washed before it's returned. Unfortunately, the plates came in packs of ten, wrapped in plastic shrink wrap, but that's minimal waste when you compare it to the amount of single use paper plates and plastic cups/cutlery that weren't thrown out in the end. We recycled pizza boxes and bottles, as should be the case. Leftover food was eaten by friends and family in the week after the wedding (we just finished eating the cookie bar cookies because Christina and Landon didn't want wedding cake), the unopened booze was returned to the liquor store, and some pop was passed on to Christina's cousin for his wedding two weeks later.

Landon and Christina's friend, Alexis Hillyard, (of Stump Kitchen -- check out her videos!!) catered 9) an amazing, lower carbon vegetarian meal of pancakes with both sweet and savoury toppings. Because Landon and Christina are vegetarians, they didn't want animals to be harmed in the making of their banquet. Some guests were a bit skeptical about a pancake supper for a wedding, but Alexis really pulled it off, and I'm thinking about trying some of her savoury recipes for myself. Who'd have thunk putting roasted mushrooms and onions, basil cream cheese, avocados, pineapple or pulled jack fruit on a pancake would taste so good? There were four different recipes to try (named after different aspects of the newlyweds' life together), and from all reports, each one was delicious. For the less adventurous, pancakes with fruits and syrups were also available.

Most fun of all was the evening's entertainment. After supper and speeches, the happy couple and various friends with whom they form several different bands got up to sing and dance with the crowd, playing 3-song live sets, interspersed with dance music. I will never forget Landon, Christina, and Landon's brother and best man, Matt, performing A Thousand Miles (Vanessa Carlton) with the crowd singing along at the top of their lungs. We danced to music of all descriptions, and it's safe to say that a good time was had by all.

The thing about simple and sustainable living is that it's not exactly convenient. 10. The couple and their family and friends worked pretty hard to make the wedding celebration a sustainable one that we'll never forget, and because "many hands make light work," it came off with hardly a hitch. There's something extra special about pulling together as we did for two people who are so special to us -- a real sense of community formed at the event. Resources were conserved rather than wasted, the weather co-operated (the sun even came out as the couple shared the heart-felt vows they had written themselves), the ceremony was both delightful and beautiful, the supper was delicious, family and friends had a wonderful time together, and our newlyweds have plenty of memories to cherish from their special day. And me, I was simply awash in mother-love for both of them!

Christina and Landon celebrated their marriage in their own inimitable way, without stressing their bank accounts or their planet. Of their creativity, sense of fun, and desire to do things as simply and sustain-ably as a wedding for 120 can be, we are prouder than parents have any right to be. And we don't doubt for a minute that, in working together to create such a beautiful day, they proved themselves capable of facing the logistical and emotional challenges that marriage brings, too. With friends and family to back them up, we're sure their life together will be made of love, wonder, sustainability, goodness, joy and beauty! We're so proud of you both; God bless your life together!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Christ's fire in our hearts

This week's reflection is brought to you by
Luke 12:49-53.

You came to bring fire to the earth,
O Christ,
but not the fires blazing due to climate change.

Your fire
is the fire that should burn
in each of us --
fire for justice and peace,
fire for community and harmony,
fire for equality and goodness,
beauty and truth.

But we are divided
by our desires
and what you want for us.

Help us to see
as the source of all goodness
and to put it,
not possessions,
as the center of our lives.

Let your true fire
burn within us.


* * * * * * *

This week's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, fits quite well with Sunday's gospel reading in that it focuses on Chapter 2, section 7, The Gaze of Jesus (you can access the entire document by clicking here). Paragraphs 96-100 have me thinking about what it would be like to see our present world through Jesus' eyes. What would our world be like if the fire of  Jesus' love, the fire that burns through all the clutter in our society and in our hearts and souls, was our guiding force?

I like this section of the encyclical, because it reminds me that if Jesus and I were to go for a walk, he'd be as happy as I am to walk down to the river and just watch the ducks for a while. He might like spreading soil amendment from my compost pile, and eating garden vegetable soup at our dinner table. But what would he think of all our computer gadgets? The noise of traffic? How my husband is stressing about impending job cuts under our new Premier?

Paragraph 96 says that Jesus was always reminding his disciples of the intimate relationship between God and God's creatures. In the scriptures he often reminds us about how God clothes the lilies in splendor, notices every sparrow -- and counts every hair on our heads.

Jesus also "often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things," says paragraph 97, to the point of using creation in his teachings and parables and thus indicating that he was a nature-lover who was deeply aware of and in love with the great Lover who had created everything around him.

In paragraph 98, Pope Francis and his letter-writing team note that "Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed" -- the others, of course, being those who witnessed him walking on water, calming the storms, and enjoying the fruits of the earth. Jesus wasn't someone who "despised the body, matter and all the things of the world" -- he noticed and appreciated life in a holistic way. And yet, there are long periods in Christianity where so-called spiritual ideals were elevated so far above ordinary moments of daily life -- like birth, death, sleep, sex, food, drink and work -- that "unhealthy dualisms... disfigured the Gospel."

The end of paragraph 98 notes that Jesus was a carpenter who spent a lot of his life as a labourer, endowing work with a holiness of its own. He didn't let big theological ideas unbalance his love for life as a whole even though he was God. He was able to see the big picture, and the way he lived gave extra dignity to our human existence and its day-to-day work and play.

I like the idea of Jesus
being part of the Green movement.
No idea where this photo-shopped pic
originated, but kudos to the person
who created it!
The fact that Jesus came to live in the middle of creation gives everything a sacredness: "One person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing his lot with it, even to the cross... Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy" (paragraph 99). The fact that God entered creation as a human being is a sign of how loved and valued we and the rest of creation are. God didn't create the universe and leave us on our own, but joins in the life we live and knows firsthand what creation is all about. Jesus saw -- and continues to see -- the world through eyes like ours.

The section concludes with paragraph 100, which says "the risen One is mysteriously holding [the creatures of this world] to himself and directing them toward fullness as their end." But what does an earth living out of this kind of fullness look like? How does Jesus see it? The old question, "What Would Jesus Do?" applies not only to our relationships with each other, but also to how we treat our earth and live our lives.

So here's an exercise for the week ahead. Let's imagine that Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and son of God, moves in next door. What kind of house does he build for himself? How big is his moving van? What are his yard and garden like? Who are his friends? How does he entertain them? What does he buy at the grocery store? How does he travel around? What are the key issues affecting his vote in our next election? What does he wear? How does he spend the bulk of his time? How does he care for our earth?

And then we can imagine our lives changing to match his... and we can continue to live with his fire burning in our hearts, for all of creation's sake.

Friday, August 16, 2019

An incredible short film

Guillaume Néry and his wife, Julie Gautier, recently released an amazing film of Guillaume freediving (holding his breath for up to seven minutes and moving around in fantastic ways with no diving gear) that has just blown my mind. I share it here because it is so beautiful, and because I didn't know that sperm whales sleep vertically. If you're interested in learning more about the couple and this magnum opus of theirs, click here. Their film is gorgeous, and worth a look. Enjoy! (And don't forget to breathe!)


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Faith-ing it until we make it

This week's reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 11:1.

O God,
your servant,
tells us that
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, 
the conviction of things not seen.

I struggle to hope and to believe.

Not in you,
O God,
but in the human beings
that think they are in charge
of various parts of your planet.

My faith that you are there
in spite of this mess
that we have made of your creation
is unshakable.

But my faith
that we can turn things around
before it's too late
is very shaky.


Help us human beings to wake up
and realize
that care for creation
is top priority
in this time of fires,
dying species,
unbearable heat
and ever more violent storms.

Help us to change our ways,
to rise and call for change,
until world leaders have no choice but to listen.

Help us to become change
for the sake of all of your creation.

Our faith,
our hope,
and our conviction
lie in you.
We need to trust
our climate scientists
and to work together.

Help us to faith-it --
to put our faith in you and those who understand
the kinds of changes we must make --
until we make it --
to the kind of world
you want us to live in.



* * * * * * *

This week, I've been feeling quite anxious about the state of our planet. Our odd-weather summer --and all the climate emergency news stories that the media is finally reporting -- have me worried that we're running out of time. It's getting harder to have faith that our human race will be able to tone down our consumption of fossil fuels and planetary resources in time to prevent our climate issues from doing us in.
Photo by Alex Andrews from Pexels
But then our local mayor talks about the changes our city plans to make, and calls dealing with climate change our "moon-shot" moment. Don Iveson was comparing our present challenges to the race to the moon, and reminding us how North Americans threw everything they had into putting Neil Armstrong onto the moon on July 20, 1969. Don was telling us that if we put everything we have into reducing fossil fuel emissions and preventing further planetary warming, we can mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

But we have to act now. And Don Iveson already has, making Edmonton one of the world's cities that has signed on to trying to reduce our collective emissions to align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recommendations. "While nations plan, cities take action," he said, when he made Edmonton a C40 city back in March of 2018.

Where does faith-ing it come into all this? I suspect we need to put some of our faith in God's goodness, and the rest of our faith into listening to what evidence-based science and leaders like our mayor are telling us so that we can make the necessary changes to save our earth from further damage.

This week's paragraphs (91-95) in Pope Francis' encyclical letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, carry some pretty sharp words. (see for yourself by clicking here). We finish the section on A Universal Communion and begin the one on The Common Destination of Goods, and guess what? Our North American lifestyle is a clear sign that things aren't shared very well around the globe.

If human beings really believed that care for each other and care for creation are inextricably linked, would our world be in its present state of pollution and climate-related issues? Paragraph 91 notes that "It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted." Once again we hear the chorus [for the third time], "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society."

Our sense of community and universal communion can exclude "nothing and no one" says Paragraph 92, because "our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.... We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.... Everything is related" [that chorus again, fourth time].

And yet, we are always disregarding aspects of our reality. For example, and this is just one of many, how often do we think about how or where our clothing is made? Are the people who make our apparel being treated fairly? Are the processes involved compatible with a healthy environment? It takes research to find out those kinds of details, and most of us simply don't have the ability to interrogate the CEOs in charge, or the time to look into the business practices related to everything we wear. But here's a thought -- buying our wardrobe second hand, or wearing hand-me-downs is actually recycling and opting out of the consumerism that insists upon the latest style and the most recent market-created trend...

I feel as if I'm always singing the same song from this encyclical, and not just because the everything-is-connected chorus is playing over and over again. Awareness of where we can improve the planet's health by using fewer resources eventually makes all these suggestions I'm offering rather obvious. At least, they're obvious to me. Are they obvious to you?

Unfortunately, awareness can be a dangerous thing. It means we have to change!

Paragraph 93 says that "every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged." Here I would carry our social perspective even further than that yet again -- because it's not only human beings who are poor and underprivileged in this world -- we regularly impoverish other species as well by our lack of consideration. Saint John Paul II said that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone." But I think God went even further than that -- the earth isn't just for the human race! It's for all living beings. I can't disagree, though, when he says that "it is not in accord with God's plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few." (See footnotes to this section).

Unfortunately, it's too true that 1% of the world's population possesses more than half of its wealth, and that many of us in the cities of the western world have more than our share of the planet's goods. Paragraph 94 reminds us that "The rich and the poor have equal dignity," and quotes the Bishops of Paraguay regarding the rights of every campesino to "a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life... [with equal access to] education, credit, insurance and markets."

Do any of us really have need for more than these kinds of basics: food, water, shelter, clothing, right livelihood, education and community? Paragraph 95 tells us that nature is a collective good which belongs to and is the responsibility of everyone. If we are honest, we don't actually 'own' anything. So really, those things we consider to be possessions are things we just administer "for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others." The last sentence of the paragraph is the real zinger: "the Bishops of New Zealand asked what the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" means when "twenty percent of the world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive."

I'm guessing that you and I are in that twenty percent. I know that if everyone lived as North Americans do, we would probably need another five planets like earth to support our lifestyles! Which tells me that I need to tone it down! But how is the way we live killing people in the developing world -- or in the future?

It's not like we're doing it directly. It's the little things that we often aren't aware of that are the problem. Wasting or being careless with what we have. Buying more than we need. Thoughtlessly adding to global climate change by unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Eating too high on the food chain (did you hear what the ICPP scientists said about eating meat this week?). Taking what we have for granted. Feeling entitled to more than our share because we've worked hard for our money. Going overboard to keep up with the Joneses.

The better way? Appreciating everything. Owning less. Travelling less. Eating simply. Sharing. Living in sufficiency instead of excess.

And participating in events and organizations that make us and the world more aware of how we can become more responsible for our planet, reducing climate change and other negative impacts created by over-consumption and unequal distribution of the world's common goods. The fact is that a lot of us have gotten used to living pretty "high on the hog." I'm suspecting that Laudato Si is Pope Francis' gentle way of telling us that we're going to have to tone it down several notches when it comes to our lifestyles in order to save the lives of those in the developing world and the generations to come, never mind our own lives!

We are not to despair... we are simply to have faith, to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly (by living more simply) with our God and each other.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: So many vanities

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Psalm 90.

O God,
are our home,
our source and our final resting place.

We live short lives
and turn back into dust.

For you,
time goes on infinitely,
but our time is like
dreams that come and go.

Teach us to appreciate every moment
and give us wisdom to seek you at every turn in life.

Help us to remember that earthly things,
those found in shopping malls,
are not what a good life is made of.

Remind us that all that you have given us
is meant to be shared,
not hoarded.

Let your blessing flow through us to others
so that all may rejoice and be glad all our days,
so that your favour may rest upon all your creatures.

and only then,
can we relax,
be merry
as you intend for your children.

Let us not wait for the heavenly banquet,
but celebrate your kin-dom soon!


* * * * * * *

If there's anything that drives me crazy about Pope Francis' recent letter to the world, it's that it had to be written from the angle where we human beings with our theologically-approved ability to relate to God seem more important than the rest of God's creation, even though creation would probably manage better without us! As the writer of Ecclesiastes says this weekend, vanity of vanities... All is vanity! I suspect that God loves as if it's not just human beings who are special.

Halfway through section IV, which is called The Message of Each Creature in the Harmony of Creation, paragraph 86 notes that "God's goodness "could not be fittingly represented by any one creature. Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships." Actually, the writers of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, are quoting different pieces of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, which were written in the 13th century! (You can read this week's paragraphs, 86-90, including the footnotes about where to find Aquinas' ideas, by clicking here.) The Bible says that God created humans in His and Her image, yes, but Saint Thomas tells us definitively that God's image also exists in the rest of creation and we need to understand the importance of everything. How did we miss this? Perhaps our intellectual vanity has gotten in the way.

Another piece of vanity -- the idea that we all deserve our very own fill in the blank -- means that there are too many of the earth's resources being spent on duplication of our belongings. But what if we decided to try some interdependence, also known as sharing? We might have to depend on one another, build stronger community supports, create fewer emissions that lead to climate change, and maybe live a healthier life, but would that be so bad? Not according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which points out at the end of paragraph 86 that "Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other."

Sound like Utopia? Or maybe heaven on earth? It would be if human beings didn't see the world and our possessions as our rights rather than as gifts from God. This Anthropocene era in which human activity has had a major impact on our earth's ecosphere since the Industrial Revolution has seen an incredible increase in population and pollution, partly because we've gotten out of the habit of working together. The increasing suffering worldwide due to climate change-related weather events seems to be a catalyst for the beginning of a conversion in us, where we see the necessity of living more simply, co-operating with our neighbours, and respecting the sacredness of creation. I just hope we're not starting too late.

Paragraph 87 seems to be designed simply to allow for the reappearance of Saint Francis' Canticle of the Creatures to aid us in praising God. I just wish they had printed it in its entirety, including the part about Sister Death. I can't help but think that if we were all better friends with our mortality, we wouldn't spend so much of our lives accumulating the earthly treasure Jesus warned against, "that moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal" (Matt 6.19). If we are constantly aware that Sister Death allows us to take no possessions with us, maybe we'd leave fewer behind! As a friend reminded me when we were talking about this Sunday's readings the other day, "I've never seen a hearse pulling a U-haul."

In paragraph 88, we are reminded that "The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship" by cultivating the "ecological virtues" that are part of the social doctrine of the Church. Every creature in creation has its role to fulfill, and human beings in particular need to acknowledge our "right and proper place" instead of thinking ourselves the pinnacle of creation, or of creation as merely the fulfillment of our wants. Not the left, but the right, below.

I'd love to know where this graphic originated so I could give the artist credit, because it pretty much sums up my feelings about our relationship with the earth. Who says human beings are the highest level of creation? Human beings! But the true picture is on the right. We are not the top of the pyramid, though that's the image that consumer culture (and the beginning of the book of Genesis) may have imprinted upon us.
God (not us) owns everything, says paragraph 89, and
all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate respect... God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.
Paragraph 90 underlines the importance of the role of people in the care of creation, stating that
we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, where we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.
Enormous inequalities breed enormous anger and terrible division. My church pretends to be blind to the greater rights it gives to men over women, and how that only feeds the inequality of women around the globe, many of whom are left to feed families and care for the elderly without much support from the males who are seen as having greater value in so many cultures.

But again, it's all of a piece, and we'll never get to equality and heaven on earth if we ignore sexism... or any of the other "isms" that divide us from other beings in creation. All that God made must be valued and considered worthy of care... and it would be good if all living things were accorded similar rights, though it would require much more effort on our part to care for them all. At the moment, we only care for the things we value, and heaven knows we haven't always valued the right things!

For the week ahead, let's give some thought to the things we value and how they fit into the web of life that God created. If a fire was to come and swallow everything we own, what would we miss the most? What could we easily live without? How much do our "needs" impact our planet and its ecosystems? How much impact do our "wants" have on the earth?

Let's give some thought to the idea that the needs of creation are important too.

It's time to chuck human vanity. This life, this planet, is not just about us.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Seven weeks later, I'm back

And what an interesting seven weeks it has been. Lots of interesting things went on -- a few reunions, two moves, two weddings, plenty of dancing and singing, not quite enough camping, and plenty of blooming beauty in our garden. It's hard to know where to begin. I won't be covering it all in chronological order, so no worries about long "What I did on my Summer Vacation" posts. With the garden needing attention, I just don't have that kind of time. Short bytes only, I promise.

Today I'll start with this beautiful picture, taken by Lee while we were at our campfire near Long Lake, AB. He didn't hear a sound -- it was movement that caught his eye, as she was completely silent when she landed on the stump. She didn't stay long -- other small things on the ground were more interesting than we were!

I was laying on the bed in our tent trailer, all screens open, reading, when an intermittent screech eventually reached my book-absorbed consciousness. In the dusky light, it took me a minute to spot a young owl perched in the old pine tree beside our vehicle. So I grabbed the camera and went out to see if I could get a picture, or perhaps a video.

Turned out it was two young owls, perhaps offspring of the beauty we saw earlier. By the time I turned on my camera, the larger of the two had flown to a more distant tree, but the young one was curious, and stayed to check me out. The video below isn't great quality and it ends abruptly (darn mosquitoes!) but it gives you an idea of our evening visitors. 

For the remaining nights we were camped there, we heard the young ones in the darkness, calling to their mom, or to each other. It made me happy to know that they're living in such a beautiful and relatively unspoiled place.

Stay tuned for more stories from the past seven weeks.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Some food for thought

Nine days to our daughter's wedding, but this dropped into my inbox today, and I thought I'd share it since it's all about how one family chooses to live simply...

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Co-gardeners with God

As I did my daily Tai chi in the back yard this morning, I marveled at beauty. Bees buzzing in flowers, robins singing on high, dew on the grass. I found myself thinking about how, in so many cultures of the world, the history of humanity begins in a garden, where humans and God connect.

And I couldn't help but think: if, as a species, we could somehow find our way back to our earth's continuous regeneration in nature, with fewer huge corporations of concrete and steel and smaller, more simple physical labour in harmony with creation, could we dial back climate change, pollution, and disease so that we could live in appreciation of the great beauties that surround us?

God, help us to return to your garden, somehow.