Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Reflection: You who wait for us

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 10:11-14.

Two thousand years ago,
high priests were busy people.

Sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice.

But you,
O Christ,
offered yourself
in love
once
and for all.

No more sacrifices needed.

And you have been waiting ever since
for us to understand,
and turn to you.

Slow learners that we are,
we have been so focused
on our sins and failures
that often,
we have failed to notice...
you are the love
we need to become.

Let us find you in your waiting room.

Help us to rest
in silence
and stillness,
to wait with you
until the knowledge
that you forgive and love us
completely
enables us to give ourselves over
to embody your love
completely.

+Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The thing about Gay-Straight Alliances...

Image result for Gay Straight Alliances
Borrowed from the GSA page of
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School
The thing about Gay-Straight Alliances is NOT that they are "ideological sexual clubs" (to quote the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms). They are NOT designed to promote queer lifestyles. They ARE friendship support groups -- for kids who usually already know that they live somewhere in the spaces beyond the heterosexual male and female boxes into which our unenlightened society insists all sexualities and genders fit -- and for their allies. Kids generally don't join GSAs for the purpose of sexual education and experimentation -- they are looking for supportive friends who won't bully them.

Our youngest young adult was a leader for a school GSA. Most GSAs are places where kids can simply be themselves, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, without being afraid of the consequences should their parents find out. They can hang out with peers from different places on the gender spectrum, queer and straight. Jay's group held bake sales to support student-organized activities. I've never seen so much baking in my life!

While many parents insist that teachers should tell them whether their child is part of a GSA, I would argue for the kids' point of view. The timing of "coming out" to family is a personal thing that should never be decided by a teacher/overseer whose participation in a GSA depends upon the trust of the kids, and it should never be decided by court action. Some kids take longer than others to figure out how to tell the world who they are, and it's important to give these kids the time and space they need to test the waters at home and determine how or when they can come out to their parents.

And this is because, to put it simply, not all parents understand that gender is a continuum. In my own Catholic upbringing, I absorbed the idea that homosexuality was contrary to scripture and decent human behaviour. It wasn't until I reached university that I made some gay and lesbian friends and realized that nothing about them or their lifestyles posed any sort of danger to my understanding of life. My friendships showed me that they were all good people who deserved the same kind of happiness that I experience, and that they should not be discriminated against in any way.

More recently my experience translates to those of different genders, too. In January I read a helpful book called The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney (2016, Cleis Press ISBN 978-1-62778-174-9). I learned that human beings are much more than the Bible's stock phrase of "male and female, God created them." God makes people in more gender categories than we can dream of, and God does not make junk. It's we human beings who create and dispute categories.

But it's hard for some of us to allow for a wider gender spectrum because, too often, we are afraid of things that seem to be beyond our own conscious experience. We stay within our comfort zones, our narrow ways of thinking. It's hard for us to put ourselves in the shoes of a 13-year-old who looks around math class and realizes that their life experience doesn't seem to clearly connect with either the boys or the girls there. But imagine for a minute -- what would that be like? And how could it be expressed in a safe way?

And if that 13-year-old has homophobic parents, and teachers "out" the child who attends a GSA, and the parents kick that child out of the house for being queer, how is this helpful? That's the painful question that some of the kids at the Youth Empowerment and Support Services Shelter could answer for us. They're likely to say it's not helpful at all. We need to remember that some parents simply haven't got the capacity to even try to deal with gender difference because it's not part of their life experience. It wasn't part of mine.

But now it is. And I can't help but think back to Jimmy A., a kid I knew in Junior High. Long before anyone even dreamed of Gay-Straight Alliances, he was a likely candidate for one. Instead, he was teased, tormented, and bullied. Some days, he was able to fly under the radar, but other days, he spoke up in his own defense and received a lot of verbal or physical abuse from other kids (some of whom, I suspect had their own gender issues). I was a foolish bystander who felt powerless to do anything about any of it, afraid of the other kids and a little bit afraid of Jimmy and the ways he was different from "the rest of us." But had GSAs existed in the late 70s, I know that Jimmy wouldn't have been the only one to spend time at meetings. There were other kids in my class who turned out to be members of the LGBTQ+ community, and maybe I could have been an ally at a GSA. I don't know what happened to Jimmy when Junior High ended and we went to different High Schools, but he was planning to leave home the minute he turned 16. I really hope he's living his best life.

The real beauty of Gay-Straight Alliances is the A word. Alliance. It speaks to unity for the sake of mutual benefit between those who hold basic things in common despite their differences. All human beings want acceptance, community, encouragement, friendship, and to be loved for who they are. And in my mind, a GSA should be a place where our young people, no matter their sexuality or gender, can express kindness and support for one another, share stories and helpful information, and rejoice in their common humanity.

The world can be a hard place for those on the margins, and a supportive Gay-Straight Alliance should be a safe space where judgment is left at the door, and where the sharp corners of fear and mistrust can be softened for the sake of those who need the friendship of supportive peers until they are sure they can trust their parents to also accept them. A good GSA is a place to gather strength and confidence for life's challenges, and heaven knows our LGBTQ+ kids have enough of those.

Sorry parents, but your time to be in the know will come. For now, leave the confidential aspects of the GSAs for the kids who need them the most.

I have been wanting to moodle about this for some time, but it took an article about John Carpay's comments this week to finally light the fire under me.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Closing down the greenhouse

It's time. The greenhouse requires a running heater to keep our last few fruiting tomato plants from freezing at nights and on cloudy days, so we've finally closed it down and brought the freeze-ables indoors. And I have to say I kinda like having them in our dining room window. Green foliage on grey days gives me a lift. But at the same time, I'm looking forward to February and the greenhouse re-opening!


Friday, November 9, 2018

For the sake of Paradise

My friend, Allison, posted this picture from outside her home on Facebook yesterday morning with the caption, "Uhhhhh, anyone know about this?"

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature

Today I have learned that Allie has lost her home and business in Paradise, California, to the latest wildfire in that state. And oh, my heart is breaking for her. Of course, she's the kind of person who, while she will grieve her losses, is also grateful that she and her husband, Mike, were able to relocate to the home of a friend with 4 elderly friend and family members, and their 4 dogs. They are all safe, thanks be to God. They are putting a brave face on it, and will get through it all somehow, no doubt.

Most of us live far from these kinds of climate tragedies, and fool ourselves into believing that we are safe from this kind of thing, so we go on with our lives as though nothing needs to change. But if we really think about it, climate change could easily wipe out our own neighbourhoods with a wildfire, a storm, or a longterm electrical outage in deep winter. Call me a pessimist if you like, but it's the truth.

Image may contain: sky, tree, twilight, outdoor and natureI am too far away to be of much help to Allie, who has many friends to support her in the U.S. Of course, I send my thoughts and prayers, and I've made a contribution to a Go Fund Me page for the family. Beyond that, I'm writing this post today to encourage everyone, everyone, to please think about every little thing you can do that will help to reduce the climate change impacts that create these kinds of events. Maybe even think about supporting an environmental agency or organization if you can.

The thing is, we all live in Paradise, though we seem to take it for granted every day. Our beautiful planet needs us to really appreciate it, to take climate change seriously, and to live much MORE simply, sustainably, and carbon-neutrally than we do at this moment. We're too late to prevent the burning of Allie's paradise in Paradise, California, but if we get on it NOW and make some serious sacrifices when it comes to our own use of fossil fuels and other resources, perhaps we can save the rest of the Paradise in which we all live. Call me an optimist if you like, but it's the truth.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A re-moodling for US election day

To me, this speaks for itself. I pray that American voters hold love for their most disadvantaged neighbours, friends and family members in their hearts when they vote today.



Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday reflection: Living the new covenant with everyone else

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 7:23-28.

You,
O Christ,
are our eternal high priest
of the new covenant
(which is all about God's love)
because you continue forever.

And I don't think
you would mind me saying
that you aren't the only high priest --
other faiths
also
have longstanding high priests
who have kept God's name
on the lips of believers
for many thousands of years.

And so we see
that God has raised
many faith leaders
to bring all God's people
home.

You and these other high priests
will continue to make God known
as long as human beings study your words
and call on God.

So there is no point in arguing
about whose high priest is the highest
when we're all going the same way.

We will all get there together.

Thank you
for calling every human being home to you.

And please,
bless Cecilia and Gloria,
your newest saints,
and their families.


+Amen



Thursday, November 1, 2018

Short Story #25 A Meadowlark and a Killer Whale

My best friend surprised me a while back by reviving our writer's club for two. It's been a few years since we've set ourselves a writing club task, what with being busy at other things. But Cathy sent me a short story she had written on the topic, "Choose an event from childhood that reflects who you are today... positively or negatively."

I sort of cheated and wrote two memories that are related in my mind, and I share them here. Enjoy!


A Meadowlark and a Killer Whale
MCWC #25
October 2018

The monkey bar was calling my name one grey morning, so I put on my mittens and hopped on my purple one-speed bike to pedal up the gravel road to the school yard. The street was lifeless, and so was the park across the street from my house, except for the sparrows nesting in the budding willows near the footbridge, and the tiny tadpoles underneath it. No school today, so I would have the whole schoolyard to myself.

I pedaled as hard as I could and back-slammed on my brakes, leaving a satisfying three-foot skid in the dirt behind me. When I got to the stop sign on school street, I stopped, though there wasn’t a moving vehicle for miles. Plenty, Saskatchewan, was always sleepy on Saturday mornings after the teenagers tore up and down the wide Main Street in their noisy cars on Friday nights. The school parking lot was empty, though if I closed my eyes, I could still see the principal’s car stuck in the melt-water canals that Norman, Carol and I had dug through the snow with sticks just two weeks earlier. We hid in the willows when Mr. Smyshnyk got stuck, afraid that he’d be mad. Carol and Norman almost missed their school bus home.

I walked my bike over the curb and ditched it on the wide sidewalk that led up to the old 3-storey brick Stuart school. Without kids around, it seemed huddled into itself, but I wasn’t about to feel sorry for it. I had to get to the monkey bar. What a treat to have it all to myself. No Benita to hog it for the entire recess. Being a town kid who went home for lunch, my time on the monkey bar was limited. The farm kids had half of the lunch hour to play, but it took me the extra time to walk home and back. During the short recesses, I never managed to escape the school fast enough to reach the monkey bar first.

Kids today would laugh at our coveted monkey bar – a single pipe that came out perpendicular to the post holding up one end of a four-swing set, supported by a vertical bar that dove into the dusty ground. A kids’ chin-up bar, really, though tiny blonde Benita had a way of throwing one leg over the top and spinning her whole body around it at dizzying speeds. What she did looked like fun, and I’d always wanted to try it, but the few times that I coaxed Benita to share and actually had a chance, I’d been too scared and self-conscious to be that daring. Benita, on the other hand, was fearless.

I pulled myself up onto the bar and sat for a moment, then dropped back, feeling its steel chill through my mittens and behind my knees. Then I let down a leg next to the swing set support, and clamped my arms under the bar and around my shinbone. The idea was to use my free leg to brace against the vertical support and propel myself over the bar with my knee the centre pivot, spinning again and again, like Benita did.

What I didn’t bargain on was that Benita’s boots must have afforded her ankle more padding than mine did. The first time I pushed myself over the bar was fine, but the second time I banged my ankle as I drove my body up and over the top. Still, I kept going. After four or five times around the bar, I felt slightly motion sick, and I could tell my shin and ankle were getting bruised. Maybe Benita’s fun wasn’t as great as it looked.

borrowed from larkwire.com
Head spinning, hanging with my arms still clasped around one knee, I stared up at the cloudy sky just as a meadowlark flew overhead. His bright yellow belly was a small ray of sunshine, and I let myself fall back and watch him until he landed on the upside-down schoolyard fence a short distance from me. Pulling myself right-side-up, I dropped from the monkey bar and turned to the meadowlark, who was singing an amazing nine-note trill.

Moving slowly toward the bird, I said softly, “Good morning, sir, and what a lovely voice you have. Can I talk to you like Mary Lennox talks to the robin in The Secret Garden?” He cocked his head and stared at me with one black bead-like eye. The closer I got to him, the more slowly I moved, until his legs tensed, ready to launch him into the air. I stopped, and he waited. “Where do you live, sir” I asked, “and what are your plans for this Saturday morning? Do you have a lady and a nest somewhere?”

He flew to the next fence post as if he was about to lead me to his place, and I followed him, making conversation. If he had talked back, it wouldn’t have surprised me, but a full conversation wasn’t necessary. I was happy just speaking to him as though he was a long-lost friend, admiring his bright eyes, dark necklace, and yellow breast – and that song! He didn’t sing it nearly often enough for my liking, so I decided to stop talking and just follow in silence.

I had never fully explored the school yard before. Grade One and Two students generally played closer to the school because the bigger kids used the wider spaces for softball, kickball and other sports that might run over little kids like me. But that morning, the meadowlark took me on a grand tour: all the way around the fence perimeter, right to the farmer’s fields out back, and over to where the High School kids played football. He started to sing again, and, taking it for conversation, I responded in kind, telling him about bossy Diane trying to make my little sister eat a mud pie, and my difficulties with addition and subtraction speed tests. He sang a little song of sympathy, and listened intently. He seemed to agree that The Secret Garden was a wonderful book for Mrs. Hansen to read to her Grade Two class.

After what seemed like hours to my seven-year-old self, the bird stood up tall on his fencepost, and I heard a different birdsong coming from the grasses in the field beyond the fence. “Is that a lady bird?” I asked. He stretched even taller, trilled once, and was gone.

That’s when I realized that my hands were cold and my bike was far away. Plodding around the High School, past the middle school, and all the way back to where I’d started, I decided that I wouldn’t envy Benita her monkey bar spinning any more. I’d keep my eye out for meadowlarks instead.

*** ***

There wasn’t a single cloud reflected in the water. I stood, looking down at a wavy, acne-riddled face staring back up at me until it was shattered into a thousand watery fragments as the whale silently rose up, just inches from the railing. She had a piece of yellowish kelp on her nose, if killer whales had noses, and she bobbed in front of me as if she wanted me to take it.

I looked around for guidance or permission, but my family and the rest of the tourists had moved over to the four o’clock show, and the whale trainer had disappeared behind the stage door. I could hear the emcee two tanks over giving the same spiel we'd heard at the sea lions' 2 o’clock performance. But I’d had enough of people, and just wanted my space; reruns of sea lion tricks didn’t impress an introverted 14-year-old me. Until the young orca showed up, I was feeling more than a little melancholy and out of sorts.

Miracle moved a few feet to the right, her near eye watching my reaction. For reasons unknown, I decided to move with her. She moved back to the left, and I sidestepped again. She came a little closer to the railing, her piece of seaweed still on her nose. There was no one to tell me not to, so I reached over the railing, took it from her, and tossed it into the middle of the tank. She sank into the water, swam under the kelp, and came up with it on her nose, bringing it back to me. Fetch.

“You’re lonely too, aren’t you?” I said. I took the kelp and threw it in a different direction, and she brought it back again, her graceful body making only the slightest waves on the surface of the tank. I was delighted. The crowd at the Sea Lion tank laughed and cheered, clearly amused by Sally the costumed seal’s dancing, but I was communing with a killer whale. “Do you mind being cooped up like this?” I asked her. “Would you like to swim free?”

Our family had heard the story of the baby killer whale that had been found off the BC coast riddled with bullets. Fortunately, Miracle was rescued by marine biologists and brought to Sealand for medical care in 1977. By the time she recuperated, she had bonded with Sealand staff, and no one seemed sure whether she would be adopted or killed by a pod of wild orcas, so she remained as one of Sealand’s attractions, learning tricks and performing through the summer months. Two years later, our family decided it would be interesting to see Miracle with our own eyes.

She definitely wasn’t a baby anymore. The whale tank’s railings were marked in different shades of blue, and during Miracle’s performance, Uncle Scotty made the mistake of wandering off and standing alone behind a light blue railing while the rest of us stood in the navy section. None of us knew that light blue indicated where Miracle did the kinds of tricks that would have emptied the tank had it not been made of netted enclosures surrounded by floating walkways in the Pacific itself. Uncle was soaked to the skin, and it seemed that Miracle was pleased with her performance, nodding toward him when she took her “bows” at the end of it all. We laughed as he took off his tank top and wrung it out, but it was a hot afternoon, and we kids kind of envied him being cooled off by such a cool whale.

And here I was, hanging out with her! After a few more sessions of fetch, Miracle left the kelp in the water and came to take a long look at me, raising herself up so we could see eye to eye when I rested my chin on the railing. “Bored, eh?” I said. “I would be too, except for you.” She rolled to her side and flapped a flipper, then powered across the tank doing the motorboat impression that soaked our flip-flopped feet behind the navy railing during her show, and she made me laugh again at the raspberry-like sound she was making.

borrowed from
sites.google.com/site/
ordercetacea/home/killer-whale
On her way back toward me, Miracle changed direction and leapt into the air, her splash not quite reaching me. “You missed,” I told her when she surfaced, and she flashed a big smile. Then she disappeared underwater for a while, and I could tell where she was only by the occasional appearance of her top fin where she was practicing her “Jaws Impression.”  Eventually, she surfaced to my right. I sidestepped to be in line with her, and she opened her mouth and smiled again, displaying a regular row of large teeth and a marvelous pink tongue. I stepped to the left a few paces, and she went under and came up in line with me. It felt like playing peek-a-boo with a little kid. I wished I had a few fish to offer her.

The sea lions were working on their grand finale and Miracle and I were back to playing fetch when my dad came looking for me. “Why didn’t you come to the sea lions?” he asked. “Been there, done that,” I said, cool as a sea cucumber, “but I’ve never played fetch with a killer whale before.” Miracle had resurfaced with the kelp, and I took it off her nose and handed it to Dad, who threw it toward the middle of the tank. Miracle retrieved it, and this time, after I took the seaweed, I dared to run my hand along the side of her jaw, showing off a little. Her mouth opened, and I nervously pulled back and threw the seaweed once again. Dad laughed. “Better than the sea lions,” he said, as Miracle went after the piece of kelp.

When the sea lion performance ended, my sisters and cousins came running over to see what was going on. “Just hanging out with Miracle,” I said. At the sound of so many feet running toward us on the deck, she had slipped underwater, just her top fin and fluke showing now and then. I wondered if maybe she was an introvert, like me, but she surfaced with the kelp. I took it from her, and we showed my family the fetch game. “Let me try!” shouted Ronald, my ten-year-old cousin. I handed him the kelp, and Miracle dutifully brought it back a few times for my sisters and cousins before Dad announced that it was time to go back to our campsite and make supper. Ron was disappointed, complaining all the way to the parking lot. I was the last to leave Miracle’s tank, wishing that I could give her a hug.

*** ***

I suspect all human beings are born with a sense of kinship toward other creatures. It’s only natural for toddlers to converse with caterpillars and lady bugs. But somewhere along the line, many of us lose that sense of connection.

I haven’t. My conversations with other creatures have continued well into adulthood, sometimes to my embarrassment – neighbours walking our back alley have overheard me talking to crows and squirrels and even honeybees. I’d like to blame Mary Lennox in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beautiful book, but it comes naturally, and it’s not something I would ever think to prevent. It just happens, and it makes me happy. I’ve realized that it’s part of who I am, no small thanks to a meadowlark and a killer whale.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lucky day at Elk Island National Park

On Sunday morning, Lee and I had the pleasure of taking a young L'Arche assistant from Germany to Elk Island National Park. We prepared Birte by saying that we've been there a few times when all we've seen were birds... but that's not what happened this time. We had a lovely, if chilly, morning, and took plenty of pictures. I'm not sure Birte knows just how lucky she was -- we managed to see a few herds of bison, and we've never seen a single moose in the park before, never mind two hanging out together! Here are a few pictures, for your enjoyment...


The two young bison behind the tree were butting heads...


We thought there was only one moose at first, but then they moved apart...


Brothers hanging out together, maybe?


This picture doesn't do justice to the beaver's 
engineering of terraced ponds


Birte took more pictures than I did --
but I can go back almost any time...


Astotin Lake was frozen at the edges... and my fingers were, too...


These bison weren't happy -- we disrupted their nap, 
and they shambled off into the trees...

On our way home, we stopped at the places where we'd seen the moose and bison as we came into the park, and they were gone. So if you're heading to Elk Island National Park, we recommend going early in the day... though that doesn't necessarily guarantee animal sightings. Apparently, there are more elk than any other kind of animal in the park, and we've yet to spot even one after many visits. Perhaps that's part of the fun of nature watching -- sometimes you simply get lucky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Reflection: To be like you

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 5:1-6.

Though you are God,
O Christ,
you don't hold yourself above us.

You are the one who walks among us
and who acts as our liberator,
the high priest
who offers himself
in place of the poor gifts we can give.

Because you lived our life
and understand human fragility,
you are compassionate,
gentle,
and forgiving of our weaknesses.

And we are called to be like you:
compassionate,
gentle,
and forgiving.

Not only to others,
but also, to ourselves.

It's not easy to be like you.

Please help us.

+Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A sense of urgency

On Thanksgiving Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of a group of the world's top climate scientists, released their 6th report since 1974. It's scary, but hopeful.

And today, one year to the day before our next federal election, I finally sat down with a green highlighter pen to read a 34-page summary of it, which I then packaged up and took to the office of my member of parliament. I added a letter requesting that she do everything she possibly can to encourage the alignment of Canada's climate policies with what the scientists tell us we must do before 2030 in order to avoid more climate and human catastrophes. The document I dropped off had a lot of green text. I was just going to highlight the important parts, but it's all important!

The report came out on October 6th (click here to read it for yourself), but was shuffled to the bottom of the news cycle by most media outlets, something that makes no sense to me. We're talking about our future here, and hundreds of scientists from all over the world are in agreement, telling us that we need to make changes now or

  • we will see a lot more intense climate and weather extremes, and an increase in droughts, floods, wildfires and weather events that will make travel to our favourite places less possible (the Skyline Trail in Jasper is no longer recommended for hikers because of fire danger, a friend's trip to Mexico has been cancelled because of Hurricane Willa, many friends' summer vacations were spoiled by smoke that stretched from the coast to Ontario this summer... see the pattern?)
  • we will lose many more ecosystems (our coral reefs and marine ice are disappearing already)
  • more species loss and extinction will result in further loss of biodiversity, which has already impoverished our planet and us as a species in many ways
  • climate zones will continue to change, bringing desert regions to higher latitudes
  • oceans will continue to acidify, currents will continue to change, and invasive species will get around more than they already have (if you think zebra mussels in the Great Lakes are bad enough, just wait...)
  • there will be more risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, water supplies, human security and economy
  • disadvantaged, vulnerable and often indigenous populations, especially those in the tropics and southern hemisphere, will suffer the most
  • urban heat islands, already in the news this summer where people were dying from extreme temperatures in large cities, will only increase as temperatures climb
  • food production in extreme weather will be more difficult, and water stress is already a concern in many countries
There are things we can do, and that's why this report is so important. It reminds us that it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by lowering energy use, increasing energy efficiency, and working to implement the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals because action on them can create synergies between countries in the areas of health, clean energy, responsible consumption and production, the health of our oceans -- and get cities and communities working together for the benefit of all.

None of this will be easy, because governments like to talk more than act. So we have to push...

All of it will require a willingness to make sacrifices and change our ways. It might start with accepting that we need to tighten our belts and pay a carbon tax to kick start an economy that relies less on fossil fuels. That we might have to drive less and walk or carpool more get by with fewer pipelines and more solar and wind energy. That we give up on those tropical vacations altogether for the sake of our grand kids' futures. And eat less meat. And waste less of the earth's resources, using what we already have until it wears out. And remember that we are not entitled to waste things, but that we are to share them, especially with those in the developing world...

Whatever we do, we only have until 2030 to do it. Less than 12 years. So let's start now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

River walking

It's been an emotionally heavy week, so I've been seeking solace in nature. I've probably walked 75 km, most of it along our wonderful river.

Edmonton is blessed with the most unspoiled and beautiful river valley, with at least 20 major urban parks, all of which I've walked through at one time or other, and 160 km of maintained trails. There are many paths for cycling, cross country skiing in the winter, walking and hiking, but Shadow and I have been doing a fair bit of "off-roading" of late, taking what I call coyote trails to be closer to nature and the water. When my heart and mind are in turmoil, there's something really soothing about the gentleness of the water's movement in the North Saskatchewan. Something timeless and eternal, that makes me feel like my struggles are but a ripple in the stream of life. River walking grounds me.


And there are other serendipities in walking the valley. A lengthy conversation about conservation with a fellow hiker. A pretty group of mallards who leave little wakes behind them when they paddle hard against the current. An unexpected golden delicious apple tree (probably planted years ago by someone who tossed their apple core) with sweet, ice cold fruit hanging just within reach.


For me, a walk in the valley is like a big hug from God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sunday Reflection: One of us

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 4: 14-16.

You've already gone before us,
O Christ,
passing through the heavens
and making a place for us.

You've also been one of us
and experienced the joys and failures
that we face as human beings,
but without sin.


Your own human life
was a brief moment in time.

Now you live in each one of us,
knowing our sins and struggles.
our hurts and happiness,
and walking with us
through our dark places
and into your light.

We know that you are with us,
closer than our very breath,
in the thrumming of our heartbeats.

You are holding us with compassion and grace,
most especially when we are in need.

Thank you,
Jesus,
for being one of us,
and being one with us.

+Amen


Monday, October 15, 2018

Sunday reflection on a Monday: An undivided heart

Image by Jay (my words)
Today's reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 4: 12-13, a day late because I forgot to hit the publish button! Oops.

Your word,
O God,
is your living and active self,
a sword
that comes to separate me
from my illusions.

Too often
I divide what you have made
into opposing camps,
forgetting
that without darkness,
light cannot exist,
that joy is sweeter
once I've known sorrow,
and that my soul
needs its body
in spite of its aging
and imperfections.

But you see clearly
where my real divisions are.

You understand me
better than I know my own mind.

Depending on the day,
my divided heart fools me
into thinking myself and others
better or worse than we really are,
but you see through me
and love me
in spite of my illusions.

Though it be painful,
show me the places
where I need to grow,
to love,
and to live
according to your will for me

Give me
an undivided heart,
and lead me to wholeness.

Let me forget myself
and follow you alone.

+Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Easy (and excellent!) tomato sauce

Ready for roasting
My best friend, Cathy, has been a parish nurse for the last ten years or so. In her travels, she's met and helped lots of folks. Most recently, she connected with Molly, who is in her 90s, and who shared a wonderful recipe for tomato sauce, which Cathy passed along to me.

With the gazillion tomatoes my garden produced this summer, I've used the recipe three times already, and adapted it to make spaghetti sauce (adding some onions, peppers, herbs and lemon juice to thin it out a bit and provide a little extra citric acid for canning purposes). But the basic recipe is just so good, thick, concentrated and tastier than any paste in a store bought can) and I've raved about it to enough friends that it would probably be good to post it here in an effort to share something really yummy. The first time I made it, we put it on homemade pizza... and I will never buy any kind of pizza sauce ever again. Mmmm mmmmm!

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
(makes about 3 cups)

Ingredients:
12 vine-ripened tomatoes, in season
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
herbs or other seasonings as desired

1. Preheat oven to 375° F, or 190° C.
2. Remove the stems from the tomatoes, making a hole into which you can insert a garlic clove deep into the tomato.
3. Insert the garlic cloves, and put the tomatoes into an oven-proof baking dish.
4. Brush tomatoes with olive oil and bake for three hours, uncovered. They may look a bit blackened in spots, but don't worry, this just adds to the flavour.
5. When tomatoes have cooled, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a food processor or blender, leaving all liquid behind.
6. Process for about 10 seconds and taste. Add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired.
7. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze. (I like to drop my paste by dollops into paper cupcake cups and set in my freezer, then transfer to a plastic bag for freezer storage.)

Molly's recipe comes from an old cookbook page, probably long out of print, on which the author attributes the recipe to their uncle Uncle Bernie. God bless you, Uncle Bernie, wherever you are -- this recipe is better than gold. Gold could never taste this good! And thank you, Molly and Cathy, for sharing it with me.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Rules about love

This reflection is brought to you
by Mark 10: 2-16.

O God,
we are all
your beloved children,
but sometimes
we forget that.

When we doubt your love for us,
things soon spin out of control.

When we doubt your love for others,
doubly so.

When we say
that you have made rules about love
that aren't loving,
we are putting the wrong words into your mouth.

We need to understand
that sometimes
we can be mistaken
when it comes to love
as you see it.

And so we learn hard lessons --
about acceptance,
about forgiving others,
about forgiving ourselves.

We want to become like the little children
you took into your arms and blessed,
that we may recognize
all true forms of love
and allow them to flourish
as you do.

Thank you for loving us.

Help us to be your love
in every corner of our lives.

+Amen.


As I write this today, I am thinking of my neighbours, L&M, two really lovely gentlemen neighbours who were recently married. Their marriage provides them with a blessing for their 17-year committed relationship, and essential spousal rights and benefits. I fail to see how the acceptance of their marriage denigrates my own in any way, as I know that many marriages are simply about loving companionship, and we have no lack of human population on our planet. In my humble opinion, the Church's treatment of our gay sisters and brothers and its black and white rules about disallowing gay marriage need to be challenged in the way Jesus challenges the pharisees about their hardness of heart when it came to the Mosaic divorce laws in today's readings.

Love is love.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Patron Saint of simplicity

A little pocket-sized gift
from my daughter -- from
www.JenNortonArtStudio.com
Today is the Feast Day of my favourite Saint, Francis of Assisi, from whom our present Pope takes his name. I fell in love with Saint Francis when I was a kid, and have read about him at every opportunity. Followers of these moodlings might notice that I write about him at every opportunity as well. He's one of the main inspirations for all the work I did with Laudato Si Reflections a few years back. As there's not a lot more I can add, today I'm looking back at past moodlings about Francesco, and listing them here for any interested readers. He makes me happy because he points us to what's really important in life -- loving the marginalized, caring for creation, and following Christ. May he bless your day as well!

St. Francis, the Patron saint of Simplicity
Walking with St. Francis, the earthiest Saint
Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #1
Celebrating the original Francis
Simple Suggestion #139... Count your squares
Book Review: The Passionate Troubadour
God and St. Francis talk about lawns

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Simple Suggestion #279... Offer constructive input

How much trash do you set out for collectors each week?

I suspect that's a question that a lot of people can't really answer, simply because we have fairly efficient waste management systems in North America. We throw something out, and it goes away, so we generally don't have to deal with a buildup of trash. But how would life change if we had to take more personal responsibility to get rid of our own garbage?

I ask these questions because Edmonton is currently reassessing how to handle its recycling and waste. China is no longer a market for our plastics, the Edmonton Waste Management composting facility is in need of roof repairs, and plans to divert 90% of Edmontonians' waste from the landfill have never quite reached the mark. All of these issues seemed to converge in the past year, bringing attention to the fact we can do better in dealing with our trash.

So the City is offering Edmontonians an opportunity to think outside the box and offer input on how our garbage is handled. Those already in the know reduce their waste by recycling, grasscycling, composting, shopping in ways that reduce packaging waste... and the list goes on. But what should we do about the waste that we can't seem to reduce, reuse or recycle?

There are a few different ways to offer constructive input regarding this issue. The City will be hosting a series of drop-in public engagement sessions where Edmontonians can discuss options. Click here for a list of opportunities to participate. There's also an online survey for those who can't make it to the sessions. And there's a waste calculator to help Edmontonians give some thought to the waste we do create, and how much energy and human effort it takes to get rid of it. I'm hoping that this whole exercise will bring some awareness to ways that we can reduce our waste and the impact that it is having on our neighbourhoods and our world.

This is just one issue where we can offer practical and constructive input from our personal experience. There are many more. We need to speak up about things that matter to us, whatever they may be, and take every opportunity to make our world a better place.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Empty hands

Today's reflection is brought to you by
James 5:1-6 and Mark 9:38-48.

O Christ,
you invite us all
to be your presence in our world.

You ask us
to encourage
everyone who emulates
your goodness and mercy --
no matter their race or creed --
and to show gratitude
to all who embody your kindness.

And though we've been
carefully socialized
to crave luxury
and collect treasures for ourselves,
we know that you call us
to build peace and justice
by sharing what we have
with those in need.

Clearly, it is better for us
to enter your presence
with clean hands --
empty of malice and greed --
than with millstones around our necks.

Simply because we know you
and the love that you have for all,
your abundant Spirit lives in us.

We thank you,
and ask you
to make our hearts free
to share the abundance you give us
without counting the cost.

Let us come to you
with empty hands.

+Amen.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A little more autumn colour

People who follow these moodlings know that I'm a sucker for spring and autumn beauty. I love the shot at the top of these moodlings, taken by my hubby, Lee. Pictures clog this blog because my camera is always in my pocket when Shadow and I go for walks in the shoulder seasons. I don't pretend to be a great photographer, it's just that beauty stops me in my tracks, and Shadow is mostly patient with me trying to capture it. One of these days, I should delete about a million pictures in my computer files. But in the meantime, here's some autumn colour from the last few days.

 A view from Strathearn hill...
and here's a retaining wall near Mill Creek... love the wood pattern...
Heading down into the "Camel Humps"...
Enjoying a zillion different shades of autumn...
The tamaracks are just starting to turn...
same tall one in the middle of the last picture,
from the opposite direction...
A golden grove...
Shadow loves beach combing at the accidental beach...
while I love watery reflections...
and offroading...
with my good walking buddy.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Banishing the Inner Critic

These last few weeks, I've run into several friends at different stages on the parenting journey and it's been wonderful to catch up with them. But what has really been interesting is the common thread that has come up in many of these conversations -- that of parental guilt, a particular affliction experienced by all the mom-friends I've chatted with lately.

As human beings, we are blessed (and sometimes cursed) with self-consciousness. By that, I mean that, as parents, we are often aware of how our well-intended actions sometimes have negative repercussions, and we sometimes become over-critical of ourselves. The danger lies in blaming ourselves for not doing enough or for unintended consequences that were impossible to foresee, and in playing that old "If Only..." game. "If only I had done/said/tried this instead of that..." For some of us, a little voice I call the Inner Critic takes up residence in our heads, ensuring that we're always second-guessing ourselves.

I know the Inner Critic all too well. I suspect many parents do. When the media quotes studies, the educational system sends "helpful" websites, friends make recommendations, or grandparents offer input, these things can play into the Inner Critic's game of frequently reminding us that our parenting seems less than adequate in comparison to the parents who do everything right (and who are those people, anyway? They can't possibly exist!)

Just think for a minute about that dreaded phrase, "Studies have shown..." which ends any number of ways: Studies have shown that parents should feed their children more unprocessed foods, limit their screen time, send them to play outdoors two hours a day, teach them meditation, quiz them on their math facts at every opportunity, enroll them in at least three extra-curricular activities, read to them daily, set up play dates with school friends a few times a week, ensure that they have regular contact with grandparents, teach them to cook, and the list goes on ad infinitum...

It all means that we as parents often feel a level of societal pressure -- and guilt -- and second-guess ourselves more often than necessary. Which, ultimately, isn't helpful. To put it simply, there are not enough hours in a day to do all the things that our Inner Critic -- bolstered by those studies, suggestions, recommendations and websites -- says we should be doing for our kids. Never mind the fact that our kids learn a lot more without us constantly running their lives! (Boredom can lead to unexpected creativity, which is often a good thing, at least in my kids' case.)

I have to hand it to my mom, who told me something like this when my babies were small, "Maria, you're doing your best. You love your kids, but you have to enjoy life, too, or everyone will be miserable. So keep doing your best and don't worry about the rest. The kids will be the people they are meant to be. You're their mom for good reason. Trust that."

Thanks, Mom, you gave good advice. But I'm afraid I didn't really trust myself and take all of Mom's words to heart. Missed the last bit about trust, and "don't worry about the rest." So a year ago, just before my youngest turned 18, I found myself in a professional counselor's office, face to face with my parental guilt. It took me three sessions to become aware of and banish my Inner Critic, using some of the same words that my mom gave me: "I've done the very best I could for my kids with the time and energy I had. My kids are wonderful, and they are who they are meant to be, for reasons well beyond my control, thank goodness. I can't listen to unsolicited opinions from my Inner Critic any more. GO AWAY!"

Whew! Freedom! It was like a huge weight was lifted off me.

Of course, Inner Critic tries to come back regularly from her place on the sidelines (most recently, with this morning's radio report about screen time diminishing kids' intelligence and focus, which made me second-guess myself yet again, "Did I let them watch too much CBC for Kids when they were small?") Oh, puh-lease, that's in the past. Get lost, Inner Critic!

Unfortunately, I've noticed her Inner Critic pals lurking around the mom-friends I've seen in these last few weeks, the ones who are struggling with parental guilt, so I tried to pass along my mom's wise words, plus a few of my own:

"You are doing the best you can with what you've been given. You are the best mom for your kids, chosen for them for good reason, and they will be who they are meant to be. Trust that, and tell your Inner Critic to take a hike."

I just hope my friends were able to hear me, and can banish their own Inner Critics or, at least, keep them on the sidelines most of the time.

It's an important part of being a healthy parent.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A gorgeous evening walk

Lee and I took Shadow for a walk this evening, and what a golden evening it was. Pictures can't quite do it justice, but Lee took a couple anyway that I'll just leave here... so I can look back on a golden autumn evening in the dark winter evenings to come...




Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Asking for the right things

Today's reflection is brought to you by James 3:16 - 4:3.

O God,
for what shall we ask?

Not for the things that cause envy,
that place us higher than others,
not for things that create disorder,
or lead to wickedness of any kind.

No,
we should ask for wisdom from you,
your wisdom in us --
peace and gentleness,
surrender and mercy,
the deepest goodness that invites and includes others.

If we sow peace,
we harvest goodness and peace.

But sometimes,
our desires get the best of us.

It's too easy
to forget all the good we already have
and to want glamour or fame,
brilliance or beauty,
or a wealth of things
that cannot satisfy.

Remind us,
in those moments,
that we should ask for wisdom from you.

Your wisdom in us --
peace and gentleness,
surrender and mercy,
the deepest goodness that invites and includes others.

Help us to ask just for the right things.

+Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Guest Moodler: Going solar in Edmonton

Two weeks ago, my hubby and I went on a hot date (for geeks!) -- a Solar Energy Society of Alberta evening on electric vehicles. We came away convinced that, for the sake of our planet (not to mention our wallets), we should probably sell our present vehicle and go electric. The panel of presenters were very convincing. Now we just need a car company to come up with an electric vehicle high enough to get down our back alley in the winter without getting high-centred (we actually cracked our present crossover vehicle's under-grill trying to get down our alley last winter). Our solar panels produce enough energy that we can easily power our home and an electric vehicle, so we'll get there eventually, and cut our greenhouse gas emissions by half yet again.

Lee recently wrote an update regarding our solar installation and how it's performing, along with suggestions for others who are considering their own solar power. So if you have yet to make it to an SESA event, here's our experience, as told by Lee:

Going Solar in Edmonton

Two Years of Residential Solar Electric Generation

I am writing this post to assist others who may be thinking about a solar electric system installation in Alberta or Canada.  It contains information about our system and actual performance over a two-year period.  I suspect others may have questions about what to consider and hence might learn from our experience.

System Design Parameters:

Physical Configuration:
-          Total panels = 24:
o   20 panels on the garage, 4 panels on the house
-          Total installed estimated maximum capacity - ~6.24 kW
-          1 microinverter for each two panels
-          Panel Manufacturer: Canadian Solar, 260P, 260W
-          Microinverter Manufacturer: APSystems
Orientation – south facing
Inclination of panels -- ~20 degrees on the garage and house

Considerations for Installation and Design:

·       Roofing: For asphalt shingled roof installations like ours, the support stands for the panels have mounts that fit under the existing shingles.  This keeps things sealed on your roof envelop.  Before you install such a system, it is highly recommended to re-shingle your roof with long life shingles.  We chose ones with a 25 to 30 year lifespan.  Our solar electric system should last at least that long.  Replacing shingles around a solar panel installation is a major undertaking.  It is best to think ahead and delay this issue as long as you can.
·       Snow: The steeper the panels are inclined on the roof, the more likely that snow will fall off by itself during the winter.  During a sunny day, light penetrates the snow cover on the panels and warms the snow so it falls off naturally.  For Edmonton, the optimal angle to maximize solar energy collection is about 50 degrees.  To minimize wind sheer issues, panels are typically installed parallel to the roof surface for residential applications, so ideally panels should be installed on steeper roof sections.  Something to watch out for when you select the location of your panels, is don’t place them near sidewalks or other areas you typically walk under.  You may have a sudden icy surprise on your head as the panels shed snow or find a slippery section on your sidewalk that is difficult to keep ice free.
·       Electrical: These systems use direct current near the panels which is converted to alternating current that can be used in your house.  Engaging a qualified electrician is highly recommended due to inherent dangers (shock and fire) during and after improper installation.  Another consideration is to check your electrical panel before installation.  We had enough spare capacity to connect the system, but some houses may not.  An electrical panel upgrade can be expensive.
·       Protection from Rodents and Leaves: Our system’s panels are raised slightly above our roof to allow for airflow.  To protect against gnawing rodents (they apparently enjoy chewing through cables) and leaves and other build up, a protective mesh was installed around the bottom of our panels along the roof line.
·       Rebates: Check if rebates for solar installations are available in your community or province.  They can make a significant difference for your installation costs (saving you thousands) and reduce the payback period for your system.
·       Electrical Maintenance: Photovoltaic (PV) systems are relatively low maintenance and worry-free – almost.  One of the microinverters was defective and failed in October 2016 and this was not noticed by us and repaired until April 2017.  As a result, the electrical generation performance for part of 2016 and early 2017 is slightly lower than would have been expected (~1/12th loss).  From a practical perspective:
o   I recommend that you check system performance from month-to-month.  Our  microinverter manufacturer has a website that shows individual panel performance.  It is fascinating to watch as your panels produce electricity throughout the day and it also makes detecting issues very easy provided you check for them periodically.  An email alert for system failures would be a nice feature… in case any manufacturers are reading this post.
o   As electronics for these systems can fail earlier than expected, it is a good idea to get a warranty.  It is worth the peace of mind.
o   When you pick an installation company, remember that ongoing service should be a consideration.  When the occasional malfunction occurs, it is nice to know you can rely on the installing company to perform the needed service.  The one we chose came and fixed things quickly once we noticed the outage.
·       Other Maintenance:
o   Washing: Keep an eye out for dust and other build up on the panels.  Dust, bird droppings and other build up can reduce system capacity.  Washing them gently with water from time to time should be considered.
o   Trees and other shadowing: When we installed our system, I trimmed the top of a tree next to the system to reduce the amount of shadowing during later afternoon.  It is time to do this again.

·       Thinking Ahead:

o   Electric Cars: When we installed our system, we purposefully built it so we could add extra capacity for an electric vehicle in the future.  Our installation company recommended at least 8kW for a combined home/car system.  Cable sizing and placement, physical space for additional panels and electrical panel capacity are key considerations.
o   Battery Backup: Our system is a grid-connected configuration.  This is apparently the most common type of system installed today.  When it does not detect an energized electrical grid, the inverters do not produce electricity.  This avoids feeding electricity into a de-energized electrical grid during an outage and potentially putting your local utility workers in harms way.  This has two implications: 1) the system will not provide backup electricity during an electrical outage, and 2) if a battery backup system is installed for such a scenario, it needs to be disconnected from the electrical grid during an outage and / or allow for solar recharging of batteries in a disconnected situation.  A local Alberta company, Eguana Technologies, seems to have a system that will work for this situation.  This is an area I am still investigating and would be interested in the experience of others.

Observations of Actual System Performance:
On warm days, our panels produce up to 40 kilowatt hours in a day.
We had a several cm of snow on the 13th, and not much sun since...
·       Time of year and snow does make a difference for electrical generation.  Don’t expect too much electricity generation in the months of December and January.  The sun is just too low in the sky to generate very much.  I tried to remove snow from the panels in December but saw limited electrical generation.  Even 6 inches (15 cm) of snow pretty much stopped the panels from working.  In the shoulder months of November and February, the amount of electrical generation increased appreciably when temperatures rose sufficiently for the panels to shed their snow load by themselves.
·       Total Yearly Solar Electric Generation:
o   Year one (June 2016 to May 2017): 5824 kWh (see note above about failed inverter)
o   Year two (June 2017 to June 2018): 6023 kWh

·       Generation Pattern - The following chart shows how much electricity was generated by our system at various times of the year from June 2016 to May 2018.




(Maria's note: We don't have to think too much about our solar panels. They do their work, we do ours, and it's all good, especially because we're not contributing more than we have to when it comes to greenhouse gases. We think solar is a great way to go!)