Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#66... Donate blood

My paternal grandfather had a lot of trouble with his hips... and as a result, had many surgeries to repair them, involving more than a few blood transfusions. So I always had this idea that when I reached the age of 18, I would become a blood donor in honour of Grandpa. Sadly, three months before I reached the age of majority, I discovered that I had Juvenile (Type 1) Diabetes. Since people with diabetes can't donate, my career as a blood donor ended before it began, and I was more than a little miffed. I would never get to lie on one of those cots with the feeling that I might be saving a life, and I would never get to eat the donut reward that the nice nurses offered. As someone with diabetes, I give many tubes of blood at the lab, but I can't give it to someone who really needs it.

And there are lots of people who really need it, especially during these summer months. A friend who is an orthopedic surgeon has lots of trauma stories to tell this time of year, and is working long hours because of traffic, workplace and leisure (ATV) accidents. Quite often, when we get to the long weekends of summer, there are media campaigns for blood donations because our hospitals run short. So if you're healthy and have a little time on your hands, consider paying a visit to a Blood Donor Clinic. Relax on one of those cots, maybe save a life, and have a donut (or whatever they serve these days) for me, too. Give the gift of life!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Simple Suggestion #65... Join a co-operative

When I was a young mom, there was a baby-sitting cooperative in my neighbourhood. Basically, the young parents of the neighbourhood would look after each others' kids and pay each other co-op tokens that would allow for having their own children looked after in return. No money changed hands, but the parents and little ones of the neighbourhood got to know each other and many friendships were formed. I never did get my act together enough to join that co-op, but when my girls reached playschool age, wouldn't you know that there was a cooperative playschool that had been formed by many of those same parents? And so I did get to know them, and their children, as we all took turns helping out on a regular basis as part of the playschool's requirements.

Any well-organized system that allows for an exchange of services without a lot of money changing hands is a good thing because it provides a place where people meet and share and get to know one another -- and they use less of the planet's resources in the process. There are still plenty of co-operatives, but it takes a bit of looking to find them. Community leagues are a good place to connect with folks who know something about co-operatives like community gardens, carpools, fruit rescue groups, and other organizations that thrive when like-minded people with similar needs come together and work out ways to meet their needs without duplication of services or overuse of "stuff." Edmonton has several housing co-operatives (does everyone need their own washer and dryer?). A few of the men I know have something like a "Tool Co-op" because a mitre saws isn't a daily use item. It just takes a little bit of creative thinking and sharing...

Co-operative living is a brilliant and creative way to combat the overly-individualistic outlook that consumer society endorses. We don't all need to run out to the mall to buy everything if we share what possessions, talents and abilities we have! If you're part of a co-operative, leave me a comment -- I'd love to hear about it!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

#64 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Drink more tap water

Depending on your size, your body is made up of somewhere between 55 and 78% water, says Wikipedia. If that's the case, this suggestion makes a lot of sense. Drinking water is probably the simplest thing we can do to maintain good health, because we need water to remove toxins from our bodily systems. Being just 2% dehydrated can impair our physical and mental function; it only takes 15% dehydration for a person to die of thirst.

And now for a brief commercial interlude:

The Horn of Africa is a place where the necessity of water is a critical issue at the moment. A few weeks ago, the only thing on the news was how drought and resulting famine have brought the region to its knees in pleas for help for our starving and suffering brothers and sisters there. But as with so many of these crushingly devastating stories, it seems that bad-news-fatigue has set in, journalists have turned elsewhere, and we haven't been hearing much about Africa lately, or about how we can be involved. So before I go any further, I'm going to put in a little plug for the best organization I know of that is working in the region. Development and Peace is an arm of Caritas International, which has workers on the ground in crisis spots all over the world. As I understand it, CI's overhead seems to be pretty low because it employs people in each region to work for their community's welfare rather than sending in "outsiders" to deliver aid, so of all the agencies that are working to alleviate the suffering in Africa, I choose to support Caritas International through Development and Peace. It works for me. I hope everyone finds a way to help that works for them!

Now back to our program.

My husband and I have raised our kids to be water drinkers from their early days. When I was small, fruit juices were for special occasions only, and that carried over into the life of my own family. I suspect that's part of the reason that our girls haven't yet had any fillings or other issues with their teeth. Water is the simplest and possibly healthiest way to satisfy thirst, though we know it's not as pure as it used to be. But these days, everything else we can drink has additives that aren't necessarily healthy either, or preservatives for a long shelf life.

(Small digression (it's a day for them) -- My sister just sent me a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. Calvin is holding a bottle of soda pop, saying, "In the commercials, this soda greatly increases one's sex appeal." Hobbes looks on as Calvin chugs it down, then emits a large "BUR-UR-URP!!" Hobbes says, "Evidently, a little license on Madison Avenue's part," as Calvin mutters, "Phoo! Right up my nose.")

In most places in North America, we are fortunate to have good drinking water, often filtered or treated through systems paid for by our municipalities or federal projects. It's only been since a company for selling Evian water was formed in 1829 that bottled water has become marketing's version of "The Emperor's New Clothes," a status symbol of sorts. Remember the uproar a few years ago when it was discovered that a particular brand of bottled water was actually straight out of Calgary's taps? The drink of the elite was the same as that of commoners!! Of course, it costs more for a litre of bottled water than a litre of gasoline... and in many parts of the world, bottled water has become a justice issue as large companies have privatized water sources and forced people to pay for their right to drink water. In the last few years, Development and Peace has developed an anti-bottled water campaign designed to make people aware of the follies of bottled water. Here's one of their little ads:

And if you want to take D&P's pledge to make your life a bottled-water free zone, you can do that here. There's also more info on the Development and Peace website about their campaign. I don't know about you, but I'm interested in keeping a billion plastic bottles out of our waste stream, especially when I consider that it takes three bottles worth of water just to make one of those darn plastic bottles! And let's not forget the carcinogenic toxins that leach out of that plastic into the water it contains!

Bottled water is an ecologically unfriendly fad that has mostly had its day, but water is still important to life. So to do something good for ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the developing world, and the planet, let's avoid the use of bottled water by carrying our own water bottles with us or by drinking from our taps, and take advantage of the true pause that refreshes!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dill pickles...

Every year, I'm always surprised at how easy it is to make dill pickles. I guess I grew up thinking that anything that came out of a jar had to involve a huge amount of effort -- but pickled cucumbers certainly don't. Or at least, I don't feel like it's a lot of effort with a garden in my back yard that's producing lots of cukes at the moment, and a few sprigs of dill here and there. You can find the same stuff at any farmer's market these days. The tricky part is learning what to do with them. Fortunately, I got some good coaching from back alley Mary, God rest her, my dear gardening buddy and neighbour whom I miss fiercely this time of year.

In her honour, I'm going to share with you my dill pickle recipe, in the hope that it inspires you to do something about preserving your own food rather than buying it off the shelf. This recipe is an amalgamation of the recipes of my friend Mary and my auntie Cathy, adjusted to suit the tastes of my family, who prefer their pickles with dill and garlic and not much else. My first pickles had store bought pickling spice because Mary's recipe called for it, but my girls say that pickles don't need anything but dill and garlic, and I tend to agree. My aunt's recipe called for sugar, but since I have diabetes, that went out the window... and I cut the salt a bit, too.

14 cups water
2 cups vinegar
1/2 cup salt
dill flowers (the heads when yellow, without seeds) and leaves

Here's what I do: Wash seven or eight 32 oz/1 litre jars in hot soapy water, rinse, and let dry upside down. Boil sealer jar lids for about ten minutes to soften rings. Put a dill head and leaves in each jar along with a clove of garlic, peeled and sliced in half. Pack cukes tightly into jars while brine comes to a boil on the stove (today I added a few carrots to one jar because I was a few cukes short). Arrange filled jars in sink and pour in brine. Put on sealer lids and tighten just until there is resistance.

Here's the fun part: set jars on cookie sheet and set them in a 300 F/150 C degree oven for an hour. When they're done, pull them out and listen to the lids seal with a POP! In about ten days, you'll have delicious pickles that you made yourself. My kids like them a little sharper than this recipe, so I've taken to doubling the vinegar and cutting the water by two cups...

So there you have it -- my secret dill pickle recipe that is no longer a secret. If you have any preserve recipes that you want to share, send them my way!

Friday, August 26, 2011

#63... Laugh often

Just a quick moodling today, as I want to make some dill pickles, and maybe some pies with neighbour Dave's apples if I'm so motivated. Actually, it's the dill pickles that lead me to today's subject...

Two days ago, I went out and thoroughly combed the cucumber patch, and came up with two pails of cukes for today's pickling. This morning, I went out to check again... and was surprised by four humungous green vegetables, two of them snuggled close together, much too big for pickle jars.

I think cucumbers are one of God's best jokes because they make me laugh out loud every time I find a large one. We gardeners think we've done a good job of picking... but I'm sure God grins as our eyes spot Her surprises, green fruit pretending to be green leaves just a few days earlier, suddenly huge.

Of course, you don't have to be a gardener to laugh with delight at just about anything amazing that you come across in your day.

Here's a shot of today's harvest. Fava beans make me laugh, too!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Look left...

Look right...

And you'll see that it's harvest time. The potato plants are starting to turn and there are big fleshy potatoes under them. The tomatoes are reddening a few at a time. The cukes are blooming to beat the band. The kohlrabi is big and round, and there are lots of beets... and probably too many carrots. It's my favourite time of year!

Here's an afternoon's worth of work... beans and peas mostly picked, and enough cucumbers for a few jars of dills. It's taking some time and effort, so I haven't been moodling much, and I'm not sure when I'll get back to my Simple Suggestions, but does it really matter? Written creativity is being superseded by garden work, but don't worry -- I'm in my happy place!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simple Suggestion #62... Speak gently and thoughtfully

It's funny... often I have no idea what I will moodle when I type up these topics... but then something happens. When I typed #62 into my post listing last week, I was clueless as to how I would flesh it out. But this morning, my fingers are flying.

In July, a prominent Canadian politician held a press conference to let Canadians know that he was stepping back from politics in order to devote his energies to fighting a second bout of cancer, but that he would likely be back in the fall. My dearest friend, a palliative care nurse, told me about it when we saw her during our vacation -- we hadn't been following the news at all -- and she said he had a look about him that made her wonder whether he would make it. Serious statement, coming from a palliative care nurse. Yesterday, I woke up just before my radio station aired the news that he had died. Given Cathy's assessment a month ago, I shouldn't have been surprised, but we all are. He seemed invincible, somehow.

The fact that many people, even my daughters, referred to him by just his first name says a lot about the man. He was a perpetually optimistic go-getter, always rallying people around him toward higher ideals and better behaviour toward one another, and especially toward the poor and marginalized. He was a strong advocate for the homeless, which made him a good man in my eyes. In the past twenty-four hours, the airwaves have been full of stories about him and people's response to his passing. Even those who didn't like his political leanings held him in rather high esteem -- the comment forums on our news sites bear witness to the respect he engendered.

What has touched us most, perhaps, is the letter he left to the Canadian public, the full text of which can be read here. After offering his trademark encouragement to his political party colleagues, to other Canadians fighting cancer, to young people, and, well, to all of us, he closed his letter with these words:
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
In a world that is full of too much noise and too many useless words, it's good to remind ourselves that usually, the best words are the simplest ones. At the end of his life, Jack Layton proved it. Well done, good and faithful servant.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wasn't that a par--?

Well, in spite of my big mouth, it all came together. We surprised the heck out of my mom on her milestone birthday last week. Even though I had accidentally let the cat out of the bag, it didn't matter, because there were TWO "cats." The first was a dinner cruise on the Edmonton Queen, a picture of which I posted at the end of Thursday's moodling. But the second "cat," well, that was the real one -- an Open House in my back yard from 2-11 p.m., complete with barbecue and family sing song. My girls decorated a lot of cupcakes, my dad behaved rather deceitfully toward his wife, my sisters and husband rustled up salad, chairs, umbrellas and groceries, and 40 guests, including a few we weren't expecting, showed up to honour the birthday girl, each bringing a flower. The look on Mom's face when her Saskatchewan relatives walked through the gate and sang Happy Birthday was too good for words! And we had enough sunny weather to kill the mosquitoes so Charleen could come to the par--!

Here's a picture that sums up the day...

Today is another very special birthday, one that I wish we could mark with just as much fanfare and celebration, but it seems our girl is happy to have a quieter celebration. We love you, Suz!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guest Moodler: Sermon on Enough...

My dearest friend, the one who encouraged me to start these moodlings, is a wonderful writer herself. She's also a parish nurse in a small United Church community on Vancouver Island. What follows is her sermon from last Sunday, which I think is brilliant! See for yourself.

Sermon on Enough
August 14, 2011
Cathy Coulter
          I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Martha and Mary. It‘s about women with real personalities. It’s a timeless situation that anyone can relate to…someone’s doing all the work and someone’s having all the fun. But I’ve always felt a little unhappy about the ending. I’m on Martha’s side in this story.  Martha’s doing the work that needs to be done, while Mary’s sitting around and Martha has the courage to speak out about the injustice of it. And Jesus chides her for it. Is it just me, or does this seem unfair?
          In this story, I imagine Martha wanted to make a nice meal for Jesus. Is that so bad? If you want a meal, not even a nice meal, just any meal, or a place to sleep or a clean house to eat or sleep in, there’s work to be done, and somebody has to do it.  Our lives are full of work to be done and somebody has to do it. Our church is full of work to be done and somebody has to do it.
          Somebody has to teach Sunday School.
          Somebody has to serve and clean up coffee.
          Somebody has to chair the board or the committees.
          Somebody has to usher, organize Harvest Fair booths, sit on Presbytery, fold the bulletins, set up garage sales, make sandwiches, feed the hungry, advocate for the marginalized, save the environment, speak out for justice and bring world peace.
          I remember from as early as high school, taking on projects because I felt they were essential and somebody had to do them. When I was 20 years old, a friend of mine called me BC which stood for Busy Cathy. I constantly overbooked myself because so many things were essential to me.
          Take Christmas, for an example. There are all those traditions that make it such a beautiful time of year. Staying in touch through Christmas cards, the decorations, the lights, the special baking, either travelling to or hosting family and friends. Add that to your regular work and family and community commitments and it can be too much. And yet I don’t want to give up any of it.
          I think if I use my time more efficiently, I can do it all. I’ll get everything done on my list and then I’ll be caught up and life will be perfect. Somewhere, there’s a land that I dream of where my to-do list gets done. People tell me it’s a myth but I hold out hope.
          To be honest, I’m not as busy as the Busy Cathy of my younger days. I’ve learned to be discerning and with age, to let go of things, even if I want to do them or think they’re important, even if that means they’ll fold. I’ve learned that I can’t do it all.  But I still find I’m tired. And I’m not the only one.
          I imagine Martha was tired. I think there are a lot of good people doing good things who are tired. And perhaps they pray, “Lord, can’t you tell my sister or someone to help me with this work, this good work that needs to be done to bring your kingdom on earth.”
          Well, a few weeks ago, I learned a new word that became my new favourite word. And I think it’s the word that Jesus was saying to Martha. That word is “enough”.
          Jesus was saying, “Martha, enough.”
          Jesus was saying:
          “Martha, you’ve done enough. There is enough food. The house is clean enough.”
          “Martha, you are enough. You are a worthy, valued child of God. You do not have to prove anything, or pay back anything by working harder and longer.
          “Martha, I, Jesus am enough. I am all that you need. Trust in God. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything that you need will be showered upon you with unimaginable abundance. In fact, look around. It already has been.”
          “Martha, you’ve only got me here for a little while and this life goes very fast and before you know it, it will have passed you by and guess what, Martha? That to-do list is never going to get completed.”
          My new favourite word. It’s the word I need to learn right now. I found this word in a book called “A life of being, having and doing enough” by Wayne Muller who also wrote an earlier book called “Sabbath” about how we need to build a Sabbath day, or day of rest, back into our lives. In his book about enough Muller says, “We have forgotten what enough feels like.”
          Our society is one that never says, “Enough”. It says, “More.” “Buy more, eat more, make more money, renovate more, travel more, text more, email more, watch more on TV, know more.” This more, more, more mantra has thrown off our internal thermostat so that we no longer know what is enough.
          Let’s talk about having enough first. I was visiting a friend in Edmonton and her parents went to tour one of those new homes that are raffled off in a hospital lottery. The house had an entertainment room with a bar and seven TV’s on the walls, I guess to watch 7 different sports or 7 different movies at the same time. The house also had a dog washer, like a mini car wash for a dog. I’d never heard of such a thing. The house was so full of excess; my friend’s father said it felt sinful. I think he’s right. It’s sinful to use up our planet’s resources on “too much” when so many don’t have enough.
          We’re wrecking the planet because we don’t know when to say “enough”.
          How about food in our society? We’ve got so much of it, and the environment and animal damaging factory farms are so efficient, that we can get novelty food like a “Baconator” or KFC‘s “Double Down” which is 2 pieces of fried chicken sandwiching some bacon and cheese. To me, it’s too much. It’s sinful when we don’t remember how precious food is anymore.
          Our “enough” thermostats are off. We don’t know when we have enough house, enough food, enough material goods.
          Let’s talk about doing enough. Wayne Muller says that the good work we are called to do “will never, ever be finished…not by us, not in our lifetime.” The work of caring for each other and the planet is not our work, it is the work.  It was our great grandparents’ work and it will be our great grandchildren’s work. We might never think we’ve made even a dent in all that needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and despair or not bother because it’s too overwhelming.  All we can do is work each day with faithfulness and hope and each night say it is enough for one day.
          Everyone is too busy, whether it‘s doing the good work we‘re called to do or busy in the many ways our society tells us we should be busy.  It’s a badge of honour to be so busy. And what about those who due to age or slowed-down abilities or illness can no longer be as busy as they once were. They feel terrible. They feel useless. They no longer feel like they are a contributing member of the community. They feel like a burden.
          I think they’re wrong to feel this way.
          Jean Vanier, the Canadian who founded L’Arche, a worldwide network of communities for mentally disabled people is called a living saint and is a particular mentor of mine. He learned through living with the severely disabled, that they became his teachers rather than the other way around. He used the term, the poor, as Jesus does, to refer to those that society doesn’t see as contributing members. Jean Vanier says it is in the poor that we meet God. Jean Vanier also pointed out more than once that Jesus did not say: ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor’, but ‘Blessed are the poor’.
          You who can no longer do as much as you used to do, are blessed and a blessing. Jesus didn’t find those who weren’t busy contributing members of society a burden. That’s who he hung out with much of the time. And Jesus said that Mary, who was sitting still and listening to him, chose the right thing.
          This leads me to the third way of enough, and that’s being enough. We are enough. Our life is a gift. We don’t have to work to pay it off. We just have to be grateful. Like the poem by Mary Oliver says,
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

What that means to me is we have to listen to our deepest selves, that tell us what we love, what we are, and what we are called to do. That is the spirit of God working in us. That is our enough.
          Finally, God is enough. We don’t need to worry. That’s why we love the 23rd Psalm. It tells us not to worry, not to fear. It tells us that God is enough. Read the Psalm over again this week and think about enough.
          And what about all the work that needs to be done and somebody has to do it….who’s going to make that nice meal for Jesus if not Martha? What if all the Marthas become Marys. Well, I don’t have the answer for that. But I believe the answer will come.  It will come out of more stillness, more listening and less busyness. And it will be enough.
          Let us pray.
          God, thank you for all that you give us, all that we are, all that you are. Let us know it is enough so we may become instantly generous with whatever we have leftover, that all may have and know enough. In Jesus’ name.

Friday, August 19, 2011

#61/100 Simple Suggestions... Grow your own herbs

I'm a latecomer to the world of herbs, but I guess you could say I'm an all out convert. Especially since I've been acquiring some wonderful recipes that call for different herbs, and a neighbour gave me Lois Hole's book, Herbs and Edible Flowers: Gardening for the Kitchen (2000, Hole's, ISBN 0-9682791-3-9). Oh, the flavours I can grow in my own back yard!

Basil, both this wonderful purple, and a green one,

Oregano, a must for my canned spaghetti sauce,

Sage, which just smells so good and is great in my mom's chicken dressing,

Lemon Balm makes a lovely tea,

Dill is essential for our pickled cucumbers,

and I'm really looking forward to making some Tabouli next week with my Parsley!

I didn't take pictures of Mint, Savoury, Rosemary, Thyme or Cilantro, but they're out there, too. My herb collection has been expanding over the years as friends have introduced me to new ones. My sister-in-law gave me a pot of herbs for my birthday three years ago, and that, coupled with my girlfriend's gift of lemon balm, started the herb patch idea. This year I'll have enough to dry and use through the winter.

Even if I didn't have the herb patch, I think I'd have to try to grow a little pot of herbs on a windowsill somewhere. They're a simple way to improve flavour (even just a little dill in scrambled eggs!) and please the palate... and growing them makes me happy!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

#60... Live a day without any plans

Ever done this? Summer vacation is probably the easiest time to do it, but I'd like to suggest that sometimes it's a good thing to throw plans out the window and live spontaneously at other times of the year, too. Clear the schedule and follow my nose. Or, as my husband likes to say, "go adventuring." We've been known to go to church on Saturday so that Sunday is totally free...

Two summers ago, our family took a carefully planned trip across Canada by train. Every day we had certain things to do... but when we reached the Maritimes, we discovered that various family members didn't tolerate winding coastal roads particularly well because of motion sickness. So rather than stick to our planned lighthouse tour day, we spent a "no plans day" at Risser's Beach, NS, just going with the flow. And what a wonderful day it was!

A laid-back day, to be sure, but one we all appreciated, and remember fondly, probably because it was a day devoid of plan or expectation, one where we could just "be." We managed a day or two like this on this year's vacation, too.

Since Risser's Beach, I've tried to make room for "no plans days," and find that quite often, they begin with something going wrong, or at least, not according to plan. It would be easy to get upset and stressed, but the times that I've thrown the plans out the window, cleared the calendar and made room for the unplanned, I've been pleasantly surprised by serendipities or God-incidences that were better than what was planned. For example, have you ever had a day hijacked by a friend or relative unexpectedly dropping by -- and having a wonderful, unanticipated heart to heart chat?

For the more adventurous -- why not aim for days without any plans? If you can find a day off or an off day and leave it open for following your nose, it could be interesting to see what or who comes along to fill it. As the "Adventure" poem in my grade two Keepsake Book says:
It's one of those days
When a blue wind blows
And I like to go out
And follow my nose.
If I go by myself
I go down the street
Where the candy shop is
For something to eat;
But if Scrappy goes too,
We take quite a jog --
'Cause you never go straight
By the nose of a dog.
And maybe that's the whole point... sometimes, detours bring unexpected joys, and plan-free days leave us more open to those opportunites. Life isn't a straight line, though we often seem to be planning it that way. But as my spiritual director likes to say, "Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans."

Or live plan-free now and then, and laugh with God at her surprises...

Happy Birthday, Mom!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#59 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Shop at a farmer's market

This summer, we visited Seattle, and saw the famous Pike Place Market, one of the oldest farmer's markets in the U.S. We thoroughly enjoyed walking through, eating some tasty treats, and seeing all the fish, food, flowers and produce available there. It was a fun, happening place. We got quite a kick out of a busker with a trained parrot that did all sorts of tricks and turned somersaults on anyone's hand...

Here in Edmonton, we're fortunate to have a couple of pretty amazing Saturday farmer's markets, and there's a good one out in Sherwood Park on Thursday evenings, too. I love the atmosphere at all of them -- inevitably, shoppers run into people they know, there's kibbitzing at the stalls, the "fast" foods are of the delicious, home-made variety, sometimes there's busking, and always there's good humour. Best of all, though, is produce that has come short distances in comparison to what we find in big grocery stores, and it's sold by the people who grew it and probably picked it fresh in the days before the market. Shopping at a farmer's market is a way to do good things for the planet, local producers, and your palate. What's not to love?

So this suggestion is really a challenge to those who have never shopped at a Farmer's Market. Go. See. Taste. Enjoy the atmosphere. And get hooked!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Simple Suggestion #58... Donate all clothing you haven't worn in the past year

I believe that whoever invented the walk-in closet should be made to wear every item in one all at once, for a week. Closets that hold too many clothes cause us to take their contents for granted and create waste. Even our 1950s closet (six feet wide, three feet deep, or 2 m x1 m -- 1 m of which is my space) can hold things that rarely get worn -- and why bother keeping rarely worn things unless I'm planning on wearing them again? And why bother buying clothes that I'm not going to wear on a regular basis?

The trick is to have just enough clothing for daily wear, and a few items for special occasions. Then, when something wears out, it's a pleasure to buy and appreciate something new. If we keep our clothing to a minimum, it becomes obvious that a walk-in closet is excessive. Maybe it could be converted into space we can use for a more enjoyable activity than storing clothes?

The beginning of the school year is a great time to donate those extra items to agencies that help the less fortunate (like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, where I spend my Thursdays) so that our needier inner-city families can find clothing for their back-to-schoolers. They'll soon be needing winter clothing, too, so don't forget to donate the too-small snowsuits and winter boots! But please... and any clothing volunteer will echo this sentiment a thousand times... don't donate anything you or your family wouldn't wear yourself. If in doubt, throw it out!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Simple Suggestion #57... Hang a bird feeder

Here's a really simple one. Birdfeeders can be made out of all sorts of things with a bit of creativity, and birdfood is easily purchased at many grocery stores. Having wild birds and their song around us connects us to nature... I've already moodled a few times about the importance of nature to our physical and mental health. Well, hang a feeder, and you're guaranteed a few natural visitors, maybe some you've never noticed before.

We get endless enjoyment from watching birds zoom around our yard, having foodfights at the bird feeders in our pear tree, waiting for their turns at our suet ball in the lilac bush in the winter. Sparrows, nutchatches, finches, Pine Siskins, chickadees, Downy woodpeckers and all sorts of others I can't think of at the moment catch our attention on a pretty regular basis. And last year, my parents gave me a hanging bird bath for Christmas, something I'd never seen before. I finally hung it last week, and am waiting to catch someone splashing around so I can post a picture for you.

When I type suggestions like these, I often wonder if readers understand the connection between some of these suggestions and simple living/voluntary simplicity. The thing is, we can voluntarily do simple things -- we don't have to do or buy expensive or complicated things to find great joy in life. And for me, birdfeeders are part of that kind of joy.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Laughing at myself

I haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time. And I've honestly never laughed so hard at my own stupidity. Here's the story...

My mom is having a milestone birthday next week, and she's such a fantastic person that my sisters and I just couldn't imagine it going unmarked. So we made a simple little plan, but we didn't say anything about the plan to Mom because she hates being fussed over. And somehow, in our minds, it became a... shhhhhh... SURPRISE. But how could anything we do surprise her, when she knows we love her and want to do something special for her?

My folks and sisters have been away for the last little while, but last night we connected via Skype. It was great to spend time with them all, as we haven't been together since July 15th, and we're used to being together a lot. They were watching our team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who unfortunately lost to Calgary, and we were kind of hanging out via Skype. I could see my mom and sisters on my screen, sitting on a motel bed, them giving me game updates, we girls shooting the breeze about various things and Dad probably wishing we'd be quiet so he could hear the game better.

Unfortunately, we got to talking about mosquitoes.

My friend Charleen is in a wheelchair and unable to defend herself from the nasty little critters who are outdoing themselves in regard to nastiness this year (we're all pretty indefensible, they're so persistent!). She's also Mom's friend, and I really want her to be able to join us to celebrate Mom, so all week I've been saying to my daughters, "we have to pray for hot sunny weather to kill off the mosquitoes so Charleen can come to the party."

The problem is that last night, it came out before I could think: "We have to pray for hot sunny weather to kill off the mosquitoes so Charleen can come to the par--"

I stopped, the word unfinished, my mouth hanging open, my brain wildly searching for a way out, but there was none, so I turned to the side and fell off my chair onto the kitchen floor, convulsing with laughter. I BLEW IT! I could hear my sisters just killing themselves. "AHHH HAHAHAHA...." "The look on your face was priceless!" While my dad, on the other side of the room (unable to see the Skype screen) was saying, "What's going on? What happened?!" "Maria BLEW IT! She BLEW IT! Mom knows about the PAR--!"

I was crying, I was laughing so hard. I'm almost at that state again as I type this. We must have laughed for a good ten minutes while my dad muttered things like, "I was hoping you guys would get off of Skype before somebody let the cat out of the bag!" Mom, God bless her, said, "I guess we'd better keep praying for hot sunny weather," which made us all laugh for another five minutes.

So, the moral of the story? Belly laughing, even at yourself, is good for body and soul. AND it's pretty much impossible to surprise the people you love with a big mouth like mine, but does that really matter? I suspect that a high percentage of surprisees end up pretending that they're surprised by their surprisers. Of course, it's the thought that counts -- and Mom still has no real idea of what we've planned for her! We love you, Mom!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time to "move the planet"

No, no, I'm not talking about "feeling the earth move," hee hee. Rather, here's a little challenge to mark on your calendar for September 24th (I'm giving lots of advance notice)...

It's a challenge much like WWF's annual April Earth Hour, only this time, it involves transportation rather than electricity. Organizers are billing it as a global movement, which, I suppose it is when you realize that a lot of people on our planet already get around without using fossil fuels. Unfortunately, many of us in North America have a lot to learn in that regard. Carbon emissions on our planet are already too high, and we're seeing the results of them in climate instabilities all over the globe. Today, the people of Somalia in particular are on my mind, but they certainly aren't the only ones in dire climate straits.

So here's the challenge, according to the Moving Planet website:

The goal [of the day] is to get moving beyond fossil fuels—both symbolically by pouring into the streets in the thousands on foot, bicycle and other means of sustainable movement, and politically by bringing powerful demands to our leaders that day to move beyond fossil fuels to a 350ppm world. Mobilizing for individual and community solutions will continue to be important—but one of the main goals for Moving Planet is to demand government action, especially in places where governments are stalling on climate action despite the overwhelming urgency of the science. (

In many centres, including my own, people will be gathering to form a procession that will travel on foot, bike, or other human powered travel, to a rally where government leaders will hopefully hear them! This is what my city's page says:

Let’s move Edmonton. Let’s show the world we’re willing to move beyond fossil fuels.
On September 24 let’s bike, walk, dance, skip or hop our way to the Alberta Legislature and shout out loud, three-five-zero! That’s the number in parts per million that many scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Where are we today? Three-nine-four, nearly 50 ppm over the limit!
So on September 24 let’s gather at the Alberta Legislature and tell our government that we’re willing to do what it takes to help the world bring the number down to three-five-zero. That we're willing to move beyond fossil fuels.
Event Schedule:
11:00 AM: Meet at the northwest corner 105thStreet and Whyte Avenue—once the site of an Esso gas station, now a fenced-in, toxic brownfield that Imperial Oil has been remediating for more than 13 years.
11:15: Move—by bike or by foot—to the Alberta Legislature.
12 noon – 1:00: Rally at the Legislature: music, speeches and the presentation of our message.
Of course, it's one thing to say that we're willing to move beyond fossil fuels, but another thing altogether to actually do it. Personally, I wouldn't want to have to get through an Alberta winter without my furnace! At least, not until I get my house solarized or something (my husband's dream). Even so, if we're going to make a real change, it takes time, and someone has to give the bandwagon a push and get our legislators thinking in the right directions.

If you're interested in joining the movement, you can see about events in your area by going here. And if there's no event where you are, start your own... or participate by travelling without fossil fuels that day. Even if rallies aren't your thing, spread the word! The more, the merrier!

My bike and I are heading to a rally on the 24th of September. Maybe I'll see you there!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

#56 of 100... Buy electricity from a wind power provider

Ever heard of Bullfrog Power? About three years ago, I was being my Master Composter/Recycler Volunteer self at a trade show (educating the public about ways to reduce their contributions to the landfill) when a volunteer from another booth brought me a brochure about buying electricity from greener sources. A lot of Alberta's energy is derived from coal-based electricity (we have huge coal pits that provide fuel for the Genessee power plants west of Edmonton), and unfortunately, coal power contributes a lot of greenhouse gases to our planet.

The lovely volunteer girl offered me a new alternative energy option. Nope, I'm not talking about nuclear power, especially not since the March near melt down at Fukushima. More like this:

Her brochure explained that for a little more money each year, we could buy wind energy rather than the coal power offered by our energy provider. And being interested in reducing our emissions and trying to leave a smaller carbon footprint so future generations have a fighting chance, we hopped on board with many other Bullfrog customers. Alternative energy sources have to replace fossil fuels if we want to slow global climate instability and end resource wars. The way we see it, that little bit extra we pay each month is our investment in a cleaner, healthier and happier future, not just for us, but for our brothers and sisters all across the globe. Definitely worth the price!

Are you able to buy electricity from an alternate energy provider? It might take a bit of effort to find out... but if you learn that the option doesn't exist where you are, if you ask your energy provider what they're doing to develop non-fossil fuel energy sources, perhaps they'll consider coming up with different options once they know consumers like you prefer them. My husband's cousin in Canada's far north tells us that even the remote community of Cambridge Bay is trying to come up with more sustainable energy options. If they can do it way up in the Land of the Midnight Sun, there's no excuse for the rest of the planet.

Anyway... today's Simple Suggestion is an encouragement to look at where your electricity comes from and see how sustainable it could be with a little encouragement from you. There's no such thing as a perfectly clean energy source -- even solar panels and wind turbines require a fair bit of fossil fuel energy input before they're up and running -- but over the long term, they're more environmentally friendly than the others.

And just in case you're interested, here's how our clean energy provider explains itself:

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#55... Learn massage

Here's a suggestion I have yet to take myself. Sure, I can rub my husband's sore muscles until they feel better, but I don't really know what I'm doing, and sometimes I fear that I'm doing more harm than good. Even so, a gentle back, foot or head massage can do wonders to relax both massager and massagee. Touch is a powerful tool that seems to get short shrift in a world where political correctness seems to indicate that we keep one another at arm's length. The simplicity of a massage, even just a momentary shoulder rub, can create a sense of connectedness and peace in a stressful situation, removing heartache as much as or more than muscle fatigue.

I'm sure professional massage therapists would suggest that if you don't know what you're doing, don't do it, but I say, if I'm gentle, my touch can be a good thing. My youngest would definitely agree, as she often asks for a light back rub before bed. So why not? It may be a while before I actually get to learn massage officially. In the meantime, unofficial can be good too. Just ask Julia.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

#54 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Make soup from scratch

I used to be a canned/boxed soup girl. There's no shame in that -- like a lot of other people my age whose parents both worked, I was pretty much raised with Campbell's and Lipton, and honestly didn't even know what I was missing, except for the times that we went to family reunions and I couldn't get enough of my aunties' garden soups, or Grandma's homemade chicken noodle.

I never even gave thought to making my own soup from scratch until one day when my college cafeteria served an amazing, creamy, spinach and carrot soup. It was so good that I walked into the cafeteria kitchen and asked Lalita, the cook, for the recipe. She was happy to share, so armed with my first really good soup recipe, I began my soup career, which really took off when I started my own vegetable garden.

Since then, I've found and developed many favourite recipes, or had them handed to me by friends -- or my girls. Shrimp and hotroot soup from eldest daughter's library find, a Redwall cookbook. Stone soup (middle daughter found the stone, and the story, and we did as it said, pretty much, guessing at amounts). Pumpkin and cardamom cream bisque (from the Blue Flame Kitchen lady on the radio). Slow cooker cabbage roll soup. And on it goes. As a result, boxed and canned soups have pretty much vanished from our pantry. Instead, in the fall, as the garden comes in, you can find me at the stove stirring our garden herbs and produce into all sorts of delectable minestrones, chowders and borschts.

Cathy's Best Beet Borscht

Campbells and Lipton have nothing on the flavours that come from our garden! And I'll say it again -- there's nothing like a fifty foot diet (how far do canned soups travel? and how long have they been stuck in that can losing food value?) I also love the fact that there's nothing unpronounceable in my soups (my husband, too. He's got an MSG allergy, which is reason enough to make almost everything from scratch.) It's also kind of fun to ignore the packaged food aisles at the grocery store, to thumb my nose at the highly processed "food-like substances" offered there. I tend to cook up big batches of soups and freeze them (we bought a 21 cu ft freezer, and I could probably use another), so there are no preservatives involved, and they can be "fast food" on busy days. My kids appreciate soups too, because they're hearty and often served for supper with fresh homemade bread or biscuits -- a full meal deal.

Just recently, two friends offered me favourite soup recipes, and now I'm gathering ingredients for days when garden vegetables are plentiful, the girls have gone back to school, and heavenly aromas fill my kitchen the way they did my grandma's. I feel a cosmic connection to her at times like that. Making soup from scratch is a simple and satisfying activity, good for body and soul.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Simple Suggestion #53/100... Tell stories

Five years ago, my dad gave me a wonderful gift. He wrote his "memoirs," the story of his life before we came to Edmonton when I was nine. I was thrilled to read his account of growing up on the prairies, moving to Saskatoon, attending school and college, meeting my mom, having a family and starting his career. Now I'm just waiting for him to continue with the story of his life as a small business owner, philanthropist, volunteer, musician, and golfing and curling star... hey, Dad?

Stories are so important to who we are. Reading my dad's story helped me to understand a few things about him -- and myself by association -- in a way that I hadn't before. The events of our lives shape us and our way of thinking and being -- to the point that we can look back in history and connect the dots of those past events to the present moment. But if we don't give a thought to our stories, do the dots get connected? Was it Seneca who said, "the unexamined life is not worth living"? Maybe he knew that sharing a story was one way of examining life, holding a moment up for others to see, and seeing it from a new angle ourselves.

This morning I went back to work at L'Arche and heard some wonderful stories from a friend who is just back from Trosly, France, and a retreat with Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche. The story of L'Arche has been told and retold by Jean since the first home for people with and without disabilities was founded on August 5, 1964. In the retelling of that story, L'Arche communities have been founded around the world, communities built on Jean Vanier's understanding that people matter most and that every person has a gift to share with others whether they have a visible disability or not (many of us hide our disabilities). My friend feels very blessed to have heard the story again, and reports that its message is still as strong and inspiring as ever.

Of course, not all stories are equal.  Even so, less inspiring tales of frustration, joyful anecdotes and humourous tidbits reveal that we are all human and have much in common. Telling stories is a way to connect, to empathize, to rejoice, to entertain. As a writer, I love to entertain with both written and spoken word. I had a lot of fun at lunch today regaling my friends with the story of my adrenaline rush (see yesterday's moodling). I'll probably never go on a rollercoaster like that again, but my quaking knees certainly made for a good story (especially if you know what a calm person I usually am!)

In telling our stories to others, sometimes we discover more about who we are, as Donald Miller did. He was invited to "edit" his life story for a movie screenplay, and... well, ended up writing a funny, quirky, touching and inspiring book about the experience called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing my Life (2009, Nelson. ISBN 9780785213062). I guess you could say that Don became more of the person he wanted to be by paying closer attention to his story. If you haven't read it, it's a perfect treat anytime.

So, rather than letting the TV or internet tell me stories that demand passive spectators, perhaps I'll be an active participant in sharing my own oral history with someone today, as human beings have from the very beginning. If I imagine my own story as a narrative being passed on to generations to come, perhaps I'll discover what's really important. Telling a story is a simple activity that costs nothing but breath and voice, wastes no natural resources, exercises awareness, memory and intellect, and creates community.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I did during my summer vacation

In the last three weeks, I waded across a mountain stream,

said hello to a mountain goat,

 ran across a glacier,

 saw a marvel of engineering,

 slept really well in my favourite fresh air bed,

experienced a total adrenaline rush,

stood back as some guys threw fish around at a world famous market,

walked a labyrinth,

ate fantastic seafood
with a friend I hadn't seen in 23 years,

swam in a lake,

visited an artist's studio,

glimpsed a pod of orcas from a ferry,

built sandcastles,

took walks with my favourite friend,

did some beachcombing,

climbed a mountain,

had a boat ride,

enjoyed some icecream

and "food heaven"
(baked eggplant with sour cream sauce, pomegranate, and delicious mid-east spices
prepared by aforementioned favourite friend),

followed a trail of murals all the way to a fantastic performance of 
"Fiddler on the Roof,"

visited my favourite garden,

rode a killer whale on a very pretty carousel,

watched fireworks (two nights in a row!),

heard "Symphony Splash" at a sun-drenched harbour,

met "Sammy the Seal" at Fisherman's Wharf,

checked out the most recent Winter Olympics venue,

spent seven hours roaming and relaxing in Stanley Park,

drove home down pretty valleys,