Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The green wall

For the last few years, I've been puzzling about how to have fresh tomatoes in winter without buying the tasteless greenhouse varieties that travel long distances -- and use more energy calories in the fossil fuels that transport them to me than my body could ever derive from them. A first world problem, to be sure, but I can't help it that I love tomatoes all year round. That's why I can and freeze as many as possible every autumn -- but even so, nothing beats a fresh, homegrown tomato!

So this year, we're trying an experiment. We cleared out the corner of our basement nearest to our furnace and moved our grow lights in from the greenhouse (which doesn't get enough sun or heat to grow anything in these darkest wintry days). Lee put up a few shelves on brackets, and I set 18 little tomato plants on them, curious to see how they will grow.

October 18

It's been over 40 days since this picture was taken, and things have been progressing. At first, we had issues with fungus gnats because tomato plants need good moisture or the fruit ends up with blossom end rot, and maybe I was overdoing the watering. Now I'm watering from the bottom, thanks to the recycled lasagna trays under each pot, and the gnats, which come from the top inch or so of the soil, have died down. 

Then, there was the issue of pollination -- which I have been handling with a small water colour paint brush, pretending to be a happy little bumblebee. And last week, I discovered that some of the plants were developing bad cases of powdery mildew fungus, which I spray treated with 1 part milk to 4 parts water solution. A good trick, that. I'm thinking to use it on my rose bushes next summer. 

These tomato plants aren't quite as hearty as I would hope -- maybe I planted the wrong varieties, their roots can't reach down through 3 meters of good soil, and I'm not fertilizing enough (my vermicomposters are just getting going again after being outdoors all summer, so there's no worm casting fertilizer yet, and I refuse to buy chemicals). The bone meal stuff we have leftover from the days before we got wise to more organic means simply isn't soluble. 

At least our plants get stalk thickening breezes from a couple of fans we've set on timers, and they are flowering and fruiting, so we should have a few edible tomatoes somewhere down the road. It's an experiment, and if there's a yield, that will be wonderful. 

Of course, I've already reaped the bonuses of keeping my fingers in the dirt in spite of winter, and of watching things grow!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Social in social justice

Last week, I was asked to write an article for the national social justice newsletter for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I share it here, for reflection purposes, as it sort of ties in with my previous moodling.

The Social in Social Justice 

As a volunteer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I have never questioned the need for social justice for those living under the poverty line. It’s clear with every home visit that there are people in need, but our faith teaches us that if God’s justice truly lived in our land, no one would be struggling to survive. No one would have to choose between food or a roof overhead, and society’s fears about unemployment, crime, addictions, loneliness, and mental health issues would simply cease to be. Instead, we live in a world where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and where racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia continue to take their toll on peoples’ mental health and well-being, especially during this pandemic. 

But even with the corona virus raging, SSVP volunteers continue to think, talk and act toward making social justice a reality. Those who are able in these days continue to deliver groceries and furniture to our sisters and brothers in need while trying to follow the protocols set by our health experts and other community leaders. We continue to engage in advocacy for those who live on the margins by contacting officials who hold power when it comes to improving public policy, and participating in fundraising where possible to increase our capacity for outreach. 

But sometimes I wonder if we’re maybe missing something. I don’t question the need for social justice, I just wonder where the Social part of it is when it comes to really connecting with the marginalized during this pandemic. I wonder, is it enough to make a few phone calls and deliver some groceries? Is a load of furniture really the most important thing for that family of migrants? And even before covid, when Ray used to come to the Clothing Room every week for another pair of mittens because “somebody stole my last pair, and I know I’m only supposed to come once every ninety days, but my hands are cold, and I have a buddy who also needs mittens, and it’s really good to see you, Maria,” was it really mittens that he needed most? 

The Social in social justice is about creating social change for the common good of all, but isn’t it also about building human connection? As a volunteer, I find it easy to focus on the need for justice, the things that we can do to improve the lives of those who are struggling to make ends meet, or to find a job, or to get out of situational domestic violence. 

Providing material things is relatively easy. But often it’s the immaterial that is the deeper need -- the need for community, the need to be seen as a valuable and valued member of society. I guess what I’m wondering about is whether all this doing we are doing doesn’t also need an equally large side order of being during this pandemic. How can we be available for more than just the time it takes to drop things on the doorstep when we are told that we have to keep social distance and it’s cold outside? How, when making contact with someone in need, can we listen more, to offer not just material, but also emotional and spiritual support even when we can’t be so physically present? How do we build up the family of God in a time of pandemic? 

I suspect that while many of the brothers and sisters we serve through our work for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul appreciate the goods we deliver to them, what they really crave is eye contact, a listening ear, some cheerful conversation, and perhaps a heartfelt prayer that things finally go right in their world, a prayer that mentions them, their loved ones, and their needs, and gives them an extra helping of hope. 

 As for Ray, I saw him on the street the other day, and I have no doubt that he was looking for my smile far more than those mittens. It gets lonely on the street sometimes. He was delighted to have a socially-distanced chat when I asked him how he was doing, what was new, and whether he likes living in his sister’s basement. His eyes teared up when I told him that whenever he comes to mind, I pray for him. 

For me, that’s the Social in social justice – a ministry of presence to let the people we serve know that we see, hear, and truly care about them, COVID-19 protocols notwithstanding.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Reflection: When did we see you...?

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Matthew 25:31-46.

I'm not sure you can be any clearer.

The way to bring heaven to earth is

to feed the hungry.

Give drink to the thirsty.

Welcome the stranger.

Clothe the naked.

Care for the sick.

Visit those in prison.

It sounds so simple
but what you are 
really saying
is that we must
stop worrying about ourselves and
work to fix 
the real injustices
that surround us.

We must serve you
not only by loving life's beauty,
but serving 
to alleviate life's harsh realities
and the injustices
we prefer to ignore.

Christ Creator,
give us the courage
to know
ALL of
ALL of creation
as our family,
and to do what must be done.

Help us 
to really understand 
that when one suffers,
all suffer,
and to act
as your hands, 
and heart in our world.


* * * * * * *

Below are a few ways to do what can be done locally in these covid times. If you have suggestions for broader outreach, please share!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Short Story #27 -- Nine-Year-Old, Reimagined

Yesterday when I sat down to work on a Writing Club story (for the club composed of my best friend, Cathy, and me) I was surprised to see that it had been over two years since I'd written the last one, The Killer Whale and the Meadowlark. Cathy suggested the topic for this one -- an opportunity to look back at some event that impacted our younger selves and to respond to it differently.

One of the defining moments of my life was when I was nine years old, and my parents moved our family from small-town Saskatchewan to Alberta's capital city so that they could take over a church supplies store. It was a big adjustment for a little prairie girl. I knew so little about the big wide world, and how was a nine-year-old supposed to handle racism?

One day, helping at my parents' store, I picked up the first badge mentioned in the story below, and when I wore it to school and the kids asked its meaning, they started to call me “Holy-holy.” My nickname didn’t bother me as much as some of the other girls’ nastier nicknames bothered them, but we were all bothered, no question. Here’s that life event reimagined, as my affirmation for anyone who was ever teased or bullied by other kids.

Nine-Year-Old, Reimagined

MCWC #27

November 17, 2020

There was no way around it, these kids were strange.

And loud, and rude, and mean.

Not all of them. But more than I was used to, including the gossipy girls and Tom S and Tommy W. Maybe being a city slicker made you that way. But Diane wasn’t a city slicker in my old hometown, and she had seemed loud and rude and mean sometimes, like these kids. Especially when she swore, and when she tried to make my baby sister eat a mud, leaves and sticks pie. And now it seemed like I was going to a school with lots of Dianes.

Moving from a Saskatchewan hamlet of three hundred to a city of 450,000 was a shock to the system. So was going from a quiet class of 17 to a noisy group of 22. I liked Mrs. Collins, but some of the kids, not so much.

Laurel was paired up with me as soon as I walked into the classroom. She was allowed to pull her desk next to mine so she could help me find my way through the textbooks and activities that the other Grade Fours had already been working through for two months. At first it seemed like she was really excited to show the new girl around, like I was her prize, not to be shared with the other girls. But then at recess two days later, she got into a fight with Tommy W, and I was shocked by the way her fists flew. She seemed to expect me to jump in and help her, but I didn’t understand that until after, when she told me I was useless. After the fight, I overheard her and some of her usual friends whispering about me. The words “small town nobody” filtered into my consciousness, and Laurel abandoned me.

Joan, Karen, and Patricia told me to ignore the mean girls, who were mean to them, too. The unlikely trio who adopted me were quieter than Laurel and her friends, but they were also made fun of by the mean girls, and were picked on relentlessly by Tommy W and Tom S. Patricia’s dad was from the West Indies and her mom was from Holland, so she wasn’t quite as white as the rest of us. She was a small but feisty target for the class bullies’ entertainment, able to shout them down sometimes, backed up by Karen, the tallest kid in our class, and Joan, who invoked her big brother’s name whenever she deemed it necessary to strike real fear into the school bullies’ hearts. They all seemed to know about John, and backed off when she threatened his intervention.

Even so, no one could stop Tom S and Tommy W from chanting at Patricia from a distance, “Paki! Paki! Your dad is a Paki and so are you!” until she was in tears and they ran off laughing.

What on earth was a Paki?

I had no idea or explanation, but Joan, Karen and Patricia would sometimes launch themselves after the Grade Four bully boys and chase them all the way across the school yard, and pull their hair or kick their shins. These chases made me really uncomfortable because I didn’t want to fight like Laurel had. I could see that the boys’ nastiness came out of boredom. It was always a relief when they were busy playing soccer with the Italian kids at recess because they forgot to bother us. But when the Italians got fed up with Tom S and Tommy W’s cheating and kicked the two bullies out of the game, look out! They took it out on Patricia.

Joan, Karen and Patricia seemed kind of strange compared to friends back in my old hometown. They didn’t want to play games at recess. Mostly, they stood around talking about cable TV shows and pretending they were Pinky and the Tuscaderos. They liked to gossip about David Cassidy, Donnie Osmond, or whoever was the flavour of the day on the cover of the latest teen magazine that Joan’s big sisters subscribed to.

And they had so many ‘clubs.’ At recess, I never knew whether it would be The Six Million Dollar Man, Tiger Beat, Fleetwood Mac or any number of other fan clubs from one day to the next. It baffled me, but I tried to seem interested, though I had little idea what they were talking about because my house didn’t have cable TV yet.

After three weeks in Grade Four, Mrs. Collins pulled me aside one recess and asked me how I liked my new school. “It’s okay, I guess,” I said, “and the work is pretty easy so far.”

“Well, Maria, how would you like a bit more of a challenge? The tests Mrs. Hilderink gave you in the Resource Room say that you’re reading way above Grade Four Level, so I was wondering if you would like to go for Grade 5 Language Arts with Sylvia and Simon? This afternoon, Sylvia will take you with her to Mr. Wozny’s room, and help you figure things out.”

Silvia was one of Laurel’s friends, but I soon discovered that, away from Laurel and the rest of the mean girls, she was okay. I didn’t like Mr. Wozny very much, but he was pleased with my reading and writing, and I kept up just fine. Plus I got to know a few of the Grade Five girls, who seemed nice, if a bit aloof.

Mr. Wozny put me in a desk right behind Anna. She and her older sister were the only Chinese Canadian students in the entire school. She was smart and pretty, I thought, and nicer than Sylvia. She had a quiet smile and a sharp sense of humour, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was always having to use it to deflect nasty comments from some of the other Grade Fives, who seemed to be jealous of her.

One Friday morning recess when Joan and Patricia were pretending to be Police Women and had commandeered Francis and Karl to be bad guys, I noticed Anna walking along the edge of the school fence all by herself. I ran over to her, and saw that she was crying.

“Anna, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing you should bother with.”

“No, I want to know.”

She sniffed and used her mittens to dry her eyes. “Michael, Scott, and Greg were just calling me a Chink, like they always do. This time, they tripped me and ran away before the supervision teacher saw it.”

The boys were off in the distance, pointing at us. I frowned and found a crumpled Kleenex in my pocket to give to her. “Is Chink anything like Paki?” I asked.

She gave me a funny look, then laughed out loud. “I guess so. But my family is Chinese, not Pakistani.”

“Neither is Patricia’s family.”

“No, the bullies don’t care what they call people, they just want to pick on someone for being different.”

“But we’re all different.”

“No, you’re white.”

“I know. But they treat me different because I don’t know how to be a city kid. And because my parents run a church supplies store and I’m learning lots about church stuff.”

“That’s not like being Chinese.”

“I guess not, but I think you’re so smart and pretty and funny, and they just need to see it.”

“I don’t think they can,” she sighed. “They just think what they think, and it’s like they all think the same.”

“Well, they need to think different,” I said. “Maybe there's something we can do. In the meantime, can I hang out with you? Karen’s not here today, and I don’t really like being part of the “Police Woman Club.”

“Sure.” Anna smiled a small smile. “I’m not an Angie Dickinson fan either.”

“Who’s she?”

“What else don’t you know, country girl?”

I took a chance and asked Anna a lot of the questions that I had been afraid to ask the other kids in my class since arriving in the city. She told me that Pakistan was closer to China than the West Indies, and that the bullies probably were confusing Patricia with the Pakistanis who were immigrating to Edmonton to get English educations. Anna’s own family had emigrated because things had been difficult for them in China. And Anna knew way more about cable TV shows than I did.

When the recess bell rang, we started back to the school, but Michael, Greg, Scott, Tommy W and Tom S were waiting for us mid-schoolyard.

“Chink, Chink, Chinky-Chink!” Michael, Greg and Scott screamed. “You eat cow stomachs for lunch!”

Tommy W and Tom S circled around me, vying for the older boys’ approval, saying, “Why are you hanging out with the Chink, Small Town Nobody?” Tom S pounded my back with his fist for good measure, watching for the Grade Fives' grins, catching me by surprise. Angry tears jumped to my eyes, but I just stood there, staring them all down.

“Huh,” Tom said. “She doesn’t hit back.”

“Don’t you know that Jesus said to turn the other cheek?” I said quietly. “Leave us alone.”

“Chinky-chink and Holy-holy,” Michael yelled, as Anna and I moved closer together and glared at them. The boys all took up the chant as they ran for the school.

“Are you okay?” Anna asked.

“Yeah, just mad. And I’m thinking about what to do about it.”

When I walked into the Grade Four classroom, Karen was telling Mrs. Collins that she came late because her dad forgot to wake her up. She was eating a cereal bar, and it looked like she had just climbed out of bed and put on her clothes about a minute before. Her socks didn't match and her hair was sticking out all over the place.

“Rooster Tail, Rooster Tail!” Tommy W and Tom S started another chant, and for a few seconds, I was glad they weren’t chanting Holy-holy anymore. But Karen was livid. “Don’t call me that!” she said loudly, her face turning bright red.

Mrs. Collins silenced the boys with a look, and started a Social Studies lesson. But whenever the teacher was distracted by other kids, Tom and Tommy were quietly rude and mean, goading Karen with her new nickname, which they had shortened to Rooster. By the end of the day, she was in tears, too.

When I got home from school, Mom told me that the evening’s plan was to rearrange and reorganize another corner of the new store. When Dad came home, we all had a quick supper and drove back downtown as a family. My sisters went straight to the kids’ corner to look at the picture books and read to each other, but I wandered around aimlessly, thinking about Anna and Karen and the bullies.

“Maria,” Mom called, “would you mind sorting out this box for me? All of these pins have gotten mixed up, so they need to be separated back into their proper compartments.”

There were doves, crosses, rainbows, happy faces, lambs, peace symbols, more different pins than I had ever imagined. I dumped the whole mess out onto a countertop and it took me a good half-hour to sort everything. When I was finished, I had about two dozen pins that didn’t fit into the box with the others, including ten round badges of different fluorescent colours that bore the cryptic message, PBPGINTWMY.

Mom checked on my organizational efforts. “Thank you, Maria, that’s much better.”

“You’re welcome, Mom. There are a few single ones that don't match any of the others. And what do these fluorescent ones mean?”

“I’m not sure. Is there a sticker on the back?”

“Just the company name.”

Mom went to the order desk and pulled out a catalogue. “Let’s see if we can find out. She flipped through the pages until she found it. “Hmm, it seems to be shorthand for ‘Please Be Patient. God Is Not Through With Me Yet.’ But if you have to ask, maybe no one else will know what it means either. Do you want these things?”

“Sure. They give me an idea.”

Monday at school, I gave out my own reinvented fluorescent badges to Anna, Patricia, Karen, Joan and a few other quieter girls on the playground who were picked on by the bully boys, or who the mean girls gossiped about. My badges said IASAKAFABANOWSOKWTTA.

“I-a-sak-a-fab-a what?” Joan tried to pronounce it.

“What does it mean?” everyone asked.

When I told my new friends that it was a new club to protect them from the nasty kids, and what the letters meant, they laughed, but they nodded when I said, “You don’t have to tell the nasty kids what it means. You’re the one who knows who you are. Just point to your badge, walk away, and find other friends with badges. We’re a club, remember?”

The loud, rude and mean kids were flummoxed. “What language is that supposed to be? And what does it mean? What does it mean?”

“That’s for us to know and you to find out,” we replied, and I’m not sure even one of us ever revealed our badges’ secret super powers, probably because it was hard to get the saying right. Even I got it mixed up, but it translated as


Monday, November 16, 2020

#holyroodbenchproject update #5 -- three-and-a-half years later

Just before the snow flew on November 6th, I took one last chilly bike ride to capture a few pictures of some neighbourly benches that have shown up in Holyrood since my last #holyroodbenchproject update two and a half years ago. If you missed my earlier moodlings about the project, you can check out some pretty creative benches and learn how the project began by clicking these links below:

#holyroodbenchproject update #4 -- one year later

For update #5, I'll start with two blue simple beauties:

Blue seems to be a popular bench colour in our neighbourhood.

Since my last #holyroodbenchproject moodling, 
there are a couple of benches that have been repainted...

This brown one has the addition 
of some green grass and blue sky, maybe?

Jane's Doggie Rest Stop 
got spruced up after a hard winter or two.

Brett and Lynn turned their Canada Day red bench into something more romantic.

And the Butterfly bench is now a floral Spot to Stop. Clever rearrangement of letters.

There are a few newer designs, too...

Or maybe this one is simply redone with additional white paint?

This street has at least four benches on it, 
with this zinnia design being the newest.

This bench rests in a little area park rather than being a boulevard bench. 
Very punny.

Be careful how you sit on this one! 
I think it wins in the humour department.

Shadow and I often walk in the neighbourhoods beyond Holyrood, 
and we were delighted to find four neighbourly benches (below)
 next door in Strathearn. The SEESA carpenters' little project 
has spread benches far and wide, building community 
beyond the neighbourhood's boundaries.

Above is Strathearn's counterpoint to Jane's doggie rest stop, I guess.
These playful cats make me smile every time.

I really like this last Holyrood bench below, designed by Jeff Sylvester, a Holyrood resident who is an amazing artist, for a neighbour who wanted a piece of Jeff's art. I'm not sure if the bench has an actual title, but Jeff's murmurations of starlings and cell towers feature in other art on his website. 

The design reminds me of the swirls of Bohemian waxwings that we often see feeding from Holyrood's mountain ash trees in February, and of the crows that I've seen around church cell towers that have been converted to look something like steeples marked with a cross. I once heard a crow inside a tower, seemingly playing with the sound of his voice echoing against its walls. Or maybe there was a nest up there? Regardless, the juxtaposition of nature and technology in this piece of art is thought-provoking, it is beautiful to look at, and is possibly the smoothest SEESA-made bench you'll ever sit on. The bench has a thick coat of resin to give it a show-stopping shine.

I could feel the oncoming snow in the air by the end of my bike ride, so I may have missed a few benches in my hurry to go home and warm up. I suspect there are others that have changed in the past three-and-a-half years. I wonder if more might show up over the next while as covid projects. Not that it matters. I love my neighbourhood and all the good neighbours who make it more walkable by offering some public seating. 

Well done, all!

Friday, November 13, 2020

All tucked in

Growth and diminishment in the cycle of the seasons never ceases to amaze me. I notice it especially in the garden, where just a few days can make a huge difference. 

Now that we have reached the end of this gardening year, I am looking back on things and beginning to think about next year, though I won't get into serious planning until the seed catalogue arrives on the coldest day of January (how does it always manage to do that?) I learned a few things this year... that it's okay to pick barely pink strawberries if I don't want the slugs to get them first, that it's important to tie up Ralph's zucchinili squash or it curls up on the ground and can be mistaken for a snake, that pumpkins work better in full sun, and that I should probably plant half the climbing beans I did last May.

I thought it would be fun to post pictures of our raised bed vegetable garden as it progressed in 2020. 

June 3 -- planting is complete, just as it starts to rain!

June 9 -- warmth and growth

Week of July 12 -- I'm walking around every day,
marveling at how quickly things change.
It seems like those fava beans grew 5 cm overnight!

Didn't take any pictures in August!

September 7 -- Harvest has begun, 
but the everbearing strawberries keep going 
until first frost

September 18 -- Garlic, onions and beans are out,
but there's still a long way to go before snow -- 
thank goodness for my partner,
who wades in when I start to feel overwhelmed!

September 28 -- spreading and shoveling compost into the beds

October 20 -- Snow arrives... 
before I get all the leaves shoveled into the soil!

November 2 -- Thank goodness it doesn't last. 
A few warm days and Lee's help saw the leaves dug in 
and the beds re-covered with more leaves.
Bare soil is dying soil, and fall garlic needs protection
so it comes up in the spring -- 
a lesson I once learned the hard way!

It's been a week now since the snow arrived, and it looks like it's here to stay. But I don't mind -- harvest is in our freezer, our soil is all tucked in under an abundance of autumn leaves and white moisture, and the leaf bin is full for next year's composting and mulching efforts (thanks to the donations of several neighbours).

After a busy season of growth and diminishment, it's time for soil and soul to rejuvenate. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Remembrance in the time of pandemic

In these covid times, Remembrance Day, like everything else, will be a bit strange. Lee and I have been in the habit of trying to attend at least one of the day's events in the past, mostly outdoors. But with covid cases spiking lately, I'm not sure how we will commemorate our veterans and war dead in 2020. So far, all I've noticed is the usual uptick of news clips and online postings featuring soldiers' stories, sung versions of In Flanders Fields, and photos of places and people affected by the Great Wars.

No war is ever great, even though it brings out heroism and courage in people. So this year, I am simply praying for peace, and I invite you to join me. Last night I was able to livestream and record our annual Ecumenical Prayer for Peace with scripture, silence, and meditative chants from the Taizé community, and it seems a few people were online with me during the prayer. The pandemic meant that I was unable to pray and play/sing with our usual musicians' group and other friends that I am really missing -- I think once you pray with people, especially in a time of silence, there's something of an unbreakable bond forged. So online prayer was different, but still a time of peace to pray for world peace.

If you're not sure how to commemorate Remembrance Day this year, I offer this recording of last night's prayer for your use. It would almost be better as a podcast, as there's nothing to see but candles and icon. As I was quite distracted by the details of livestreaming last night, I intend to spend some time on Remembrance Day, to enter into the prayer's true spirit, to reflect on the losses of life that happen when wars occur, and to pray for peace to envelop our hearts, homes and world.

Join me?

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Last Breakfast


"Please. Triple triple."

"Cocoa porridge or chicken vegetable soup?"


Yesterday morning, I was privileged to help with the Last Breakfast at Camp Pekiwewin (Pekiwewin means Welcome Home), a place for the homeless of our city that was created by volunteers from Black Lives Matter and many other groups. When our city shut down the Expo Centre shelter facility at the beginning of the summer, many people stepped up to close the gap. They started by erecting a tepee and sacred fire which were soon surrounded by a small city of tents, situated at the foot of Walterdale Hill and Bridge, across from the city ball park in clear sight of downtown commuters. It survived on volunteer power and donations from the wider community offered by many people who understand the importance of caring for those living on the margins.

I only made it down to camp three times, twice to serve porridge and coffee and once to drop off a donation. I was impressed by the young adults who were in charge and their strong sense of service and social justice. They showed the City of Edmonton that caring for the homeless is not optional, but essential, insisting on the dignity of all those living in the tent community and demanding their rights to a place where they felt safe. 

In effect, Camp Pekiwewin shamed the City into taking action sooner than later to set up shelters for colder weather, and woke many Edmontonians up to the usually hidden fact of homelessness. Now that winter is arriving, the camp is in its last days. Yesterday's meals were the last to be offered by volunteers, and today there will be a closing Round Dance for the community as a whole.

And make no mistake, it was a well-organized community considering that we are in pandemic times. Everyone did their best to live by covid-19 protocols given the roughness of the situation. The people onsite knew each other and looked after each other. One fellow appeared at the kitchen window five or six times yesterday morning, taking away bowls after bowls of porridge, clearly serving his friends -- there was no way a beanpole like him could eat that much, that quickly. Most folks were polite while waiting in line, ensuring that the person ahead of them had picked up all their food before stepping up to the window. There was plenty of good-natured banter, and considerable dismay that this was "The Last Breakfast." The residents are now expected to go to one of three shelters the city has arranged, and the community is saying its farewells to each other.

I couldn't help but feel the weight of sadness in the air, that these friendships and Camp's sense of community is being divided up. Though I definitely wasn't one of the regulars, I felt the camaraderie and sense of purpose in supporting the common good just by the way everyone welcomed and kibbitzed with a relative stranger, and put me to work organizing the kitchen or dishing out porridge. The volunteers, some of whom practically lived onsite, figured out what the community needed and worked very successfully to create it. Social work, medical care, security, food, and clothing were provided by a large group of committed Edmontonians who volunteered their time and resources, and who clearly had a stake in the common good provided for at Camp.

And now, while many of Camp's residents will go to the shelters, I suspect others will retreat into more isolated camps in the River Valley once again. They are the ones I worry about the most. In February during a dog walk, I happened upon a fellow who had built himself a tiny plywood shack in the ravine not far from here. He was friendly, and clearly used to roughing it. He might be able to survive winter, but will he be able to avoid covid-19 with the numbers rising in our city? And if he does get sick, will he be able to access the help he needs? God, I hope so.

This morning, the snow is really coming down. Our health officials tell us the virus is really ramping up. The temptation for those of us living in relative comfort and security is to settle down for a long winter's nap. The challenge, especially in these days of pandemic, is to continue to work for the good of all those around us, to remember to support the foodbanks, the inner city agencies, and the many volunteers and service organizations that help our low-income brothers and sisters. Maybe I can't serve porridge at Camp again, but there are other opportunities to donate or work for the good of those who struggle...

Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society

The Bissell Centre

Boyle Street Community Services

Edmonton Food Bank

Hope Mission

Homeward Trust

The Marian Centre

The Mustard Seed

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A prayer for bridges

On this so-called historic day when the American people are determining their future, I am thinking, once again, about bridges. 

On Friday, my husband and I took a gorgeous but windy walk along the Old Man River in Lethbridge. We were in the southern Alberta city to visit his parents, as it was his dad's birthday. While the folks had their afternoon naps, we drove to the river bottom near Fort Whoop Up and enjoyed a nature walk that took us across two vehicular bridges and under the world's highest and longest train trestle bridge (which I have moodled about before).

On the east side of the Old Man, we wound along the paths of the Helen Shuler Nature Reserve, where the trees sheltered us and the sun was warm.

When we were crossing the Highway 3 Bridge, the wind was almost gale force. It was a relief to cross to the west side and see the High Level Bridge from a different perspective, where coulee hills sheltered us.

Our neighbours to the south have been buffeted by some pretty strong winds since their last election four years ago. Today, I am praying for peace, and for their electoral choices to bring about a place of calm from which good decisions can be made for their future and the future of our world as a whole. May the next four years be a time of building bridges between the hearts of all those who live in the United States, that they may work together to create a country that is founded on justice and peace. Only when all its people are cared for will freedom truly be meaningful.

An Election Prayer

Creator Spirit, Great Wind,
you desire neither suffering nor distress
for all that you have made.
Please guide the hearts of the American people
to remember that they are all one in their desire for a great country.
Show kindness to all who love you and follow your will.
Open the doors that have been closed,
raise the voices of those who have been disenfranchised,
be shelter for those who are poor, imprisoned, blinded by prejudice,
or otherwise downtrodden.
Please, help the citizens to bridge their differences. 
Be the Good News of compassion
to guide the United States
and help its people to be Good News for each other.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Supporting our Healthcare Workers

I don't generally moodle about real-time events, but this is worth posting here. Our healthcare workers need our help and support against a government that is more interested in the financial bottom line than the human one. If you are able, consider helping in one of the ways mentioned below. If you can't give support in person, consider writing letters, using social media, and contacting your MLA directly.

This info was sent to me by Climate Justice Edmonton, some fine people with whom I've had some positive connections in the past. I am happy to share it here, though not happy with our government for causing this crisis for our front line workers in the middle of a pandemic!

Healthcare workers across Alberta started a wildcat strike today.

Workers are protesting privatization and layoffs. The general services and LPN workers who initiated the strike are some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable public sector workers. Their courage is absolutely inspiring.

Never forget: patient care conditions are working conditions! Standing up for these workers shows that patients (all of us!) deserve to receive high quality care within the universal public system. Privatization and layoffs threaten pay for already low-paid workers and the quality of care for patients.

Supporting this strike is essential for us in the environmental/climate justice movement. Climate justice is environmental justice. Climate justice is health justice. Climate justice is racial justice.

Here's how you can show up for healthcare workers right now:
The #1 thing you can do is go to a picket line! You can find out where strikes are happening in this thread. Bring a sign!

Don't have time to stick around? Bring coffee, snacks, and hand/foot warmers. It gets cold standing outside!

If you can't go to a picket line, share support and calls for the Province and AHS to halt the planned layoffs and privatization initiatives on social media.

Click here
 if you have questions! We're happy to connect folks with information and resources.

See you on the picket line!

Friday, October 23, 2020

A good, good woman: a tribute to Auntie Barbara

Auntie Barbara, July 2019
A few weeks ago, one of my favourite aunties took the path to the pearly gates. Though Auntie Barbara lived a hidden life as far as our world is concerned, she had an immeasurable impact in our family and her wider community. She knew the hard work of the farm for many years, and when she and Uncle Steve retired, heavy physical labour was replaced by valuable volunteering. She was hospitable and generous -- with her, there was always room for one more. Though she spoke her mind, she did it gently and kindly, but in a way that left no doubt where she stood on an issue. She was, to put it simply, a good, good woman.

My earliest memories of Auntie Barbara are from when my parents left my sisters and me with her family so Dad and Mom could get away for a few days. I remember her being a warm presence, though at the time I was more interested in her kids than in her. 

For Auntie Barbara, it was no big deal to have three extra kids around, even if the littlest one was pretty homesick. Whenever we visited, it seemed there were always extra people at her family's farm -- in fact, I remember being a bit confused about which kids were my cousins and which were my cousins' cousins because they were all so nice to us.

As I grew, so did my connection with Auntie Barbara. As one of a great multitude of nieces and nephews (77 grandchildren for her parents!), I was always amazed at how she made the rounds, having little personal conversations with anybody and everybody at our big family gatherings. Next to Grandma, I think Auntie Barbara probably knew the most about the whole family, though I could be wrong. Nevertheless, she seemed to possess a natural curiosity that led her to go deeper than just hi-how-are-you conversations. When she asked a question about someone's life, she really wanted to know the answer. I can still picture her frowning and pursing her lips when news wasn't so good, or see her smile and hear her laugh when something was funny.

Auntie Barbara was the eldest of what I like to call a record-breaking family that never made it into Guiness' book because they weren't interested in being World Record holders. She was the firstborn of twelve siblings from the same two parents, all of whom made it past the age of 71. If I've done the math correctly, their collective years add up to 969, a rather impressive number that we all would have liked to see extended a few more years. But it wasn't meant to be.

As the eldest of her family, Barbara was a hard worker, like all my aunties, though she started earliest. Her gardens on the farm and in town were exceptionally pretty (Uncle Steve helped her a fair bit in the gardening department if I'm not mistaken), and her homes were well kept. There was often a quilt in progress somewhere to be found, and hand-me-downs to be shared. She and Uncle Steve raised six wonderful kids, who knew their routines and did their chores, and when we visited, I loved to tag along with them to find barn kittens, feed chickens, and learn about things that town kids like me generally didn't know. 

Besides admiring her as a good, good woman, a loving sister, mom, aunt, grandma and great-grandma, I was impressed by how Auntie followed her own dreams while caring for others. In Grade 8 she had to leave school to help Grandma out at home, but years later, after having her own family, Barbara returned to studies for her High School Diploma and "graduated" with one of her kids. She was a regular contributor to her small town's newspaper, and took some pretty wonderful photos. She'd probably laugh if I told her she was one of the artsiest farm wives I'll ever know, but she was.

When I wrote a story about the faith of my grandparents, it was Auntie Barbara who suggested I send it to be published in a local magazine, and who phoned to congratulate me when it was. Shortly after that, she shared my story with another writer in her town, who offered to include a revised version of it in an anthology of stories called Saskatchewan 2000 Remembers.... Auntie Barbara had several short pieces in the same book, so it made me smile to think we were published "authors" together. Five years later, when a second anthology containing more of her writing was published, she sent me a copy of it as well. Yesterday, I went looking for it and was delighted to rediscover the fact that she had signed it for her niece "with the same interests."

From that time forward, whenever we saw each other, the question was always, "What have you been writing lately?" Though following Simple Moodlings was a challenge for someone who wasn't fond of computers, she did try for a little while. She was always working on writing of some sort, and my mom often passed along clippings of Auntie Barbara's articles from The Prairie Messenger or The Macklin Mirror. Mom tells me that one of the last times she spoke to her eldest sister, Barbara was lamenting the fact that she didn't have enough time to write. She intended to produce a little booklet with some of her life's stories, like Rudy, her younger brother did, but company and events were keeping her from it.

A few years ago, when I admitted to her that I had written a novel for which I couldn't find a publisher, she insisted on reading the manuscript. We had quite a discussion about it afterward, and the story, which was about a girl caught in the sex trade, moved Auntie Barbara to send a donation to the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, an Edmonton organization that helps women leave street life. I might not have known about the donation, but because I had also shared my story with CEASE's director, she sent a note to tell me about Auntie Barbara's gift. I was deeply touched.

Being a lover of handwritten letters, I found a kindred spirit in Auntie Barbara (and a few of her sisters, too). One year when I mailed a very late Christmas letter to her in March, I received an Easter card thanking me for it and saying how nice it was to get mail after the Christmas rush. From then on, I made sure to send my Christmas letter late. Her own epistles arrived at the most unexpected times, like when she got wind of an award I'd received because one of those confusing cousins of my cousins mentioned it to her. Receiving an envelope with her compact handwriting on it was always a treat, as it held her thought as she sat down to write, maybe with one of her special photographs made into a card, often with a clipping of a cartoon or some jokes tucked inside. It was almost like having coffee at her kitchen table.

The last time I actually saw Auntie Barbara was last summer, when Lee and I stopped by her place the weekend of her brother and sister-in-law's 60th wedding anniversary celebrations. It was almost lunch time, so we picked up a few buns and some cold cuts, and when we arrived at her home, as per usual, a few extra folks had appeared. "I guess I didn't make enough chicken noodle soup," she said, "but we can always stretch it a little." Typical Auntie Barbara. Add a little water, salt, and a few more homemade noodles, and there was just enough of her infamous homemade soup to go around, with buns, cold cuts and the ever-present instant coffee that tastes so good anywhere but my own home. Cousin Leon told some hilarious stories, and we all enjoyed a simple meal with a feast of family connection on the side. 

Not too long ago Auntie Barbara called me to find out how my vertigo was, as her daughter, Wendy, was struggling with it too. I had no helpful suggestions for her to pass to my cousin, but was grateful for a little chat. It was the one time we forgot to talk about writing. Auntie told me that she was doing pretty well for being her age, and mentioned her amazement at her total of years creeping toward 90. 

When I stop for backyard social distance visits with my parents, I often ask for updates about my uncles and aunts. Over the summer, Mom mentioned that her eldest sister had been in and out of hospital a few times, nothing to do with covid, as there haven't been many cases in rural Saskatchewan. But in the beginning of October, my parents called to let me know that Auntie Barbara had gone to hospital and been moved into palliative care, and that her family was gathering to be with her. 

I kept a candle burning through that Sunday evening and all of Monday, as is my habit when I want to be reminded to pray for someone. On Tuesday morning when I lit my candle, which had gotten quite short, it went out within minutes, more quickly than I expected. I was looking for another candle when the phone rang and my mom told me that Auntie Barbara had "gone home" early that morning. Her faith in God was deep and strong, and I have no doubt she's found a huge welcome with all those angels and saints.

In this time of pandemic, attending a funeral three hours away isn't do-able when you come from a city with too many covid infections, so Lee and I were really grateful for the technology that allowed us to attend the service online. There were well over 1600 views by the end of the day, a sign of the many people who valued Auntie Barbara's friendship, more than a full cathedral's worth. None of us shed our tears alone.

Auntie Barbara, I remain so grateful for your friendship, warmth, and kindness. I have no doubt that you have found your way to the Source of All Being and are reunited with Uncle Steve and so many other loved ones. Thank you for being you, and sharing your interests with me. I'll miss you and your after Christmas letters, but will look forward to catching up somewhere in the Great Beyond. In the meantime, I continue to count you among my blessings.

With love,


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The return of Simple Moodlings

I am not a techie in any sense of the word. That I keep these moodlings at all is a tribute to the fact that it's really not that hard to set up a blog. It's maintenance that seems to be the real trick.

So when a few readers told me that my moodlings had disappeared from their inboxes, I was flummoxed (anyone can subscribe to receive Simple Moodlings via email on the side bar on the right side of the homepage). Prior to that, I had received notice that the Blogger interface was being updated in July (which meant a lot of relearning on my part about how to write and configure a blog post) but I wasn't sure why email subscribers were affected. And when I sat down to try to figure it out, no adjustments I could make seemed to fix the problem, and Blogger didn't respond to my queries.

So apparently the last email moodling to reach my readers was on June 14th. And after several frustrating sessions of trying to find a fix, I decided to give up until after garden season. Which means that if you are a subscriber, Simple Moodlings hasn't appeared in your inbox all summer and fall, until now.

At last, harvest is in and we've had our first snow. So this morning I sat down, determined to figure out how to fix my first world problem with this blog. And after all sorts of searching, fiddling, and checking out the advice of different online experts, the problem turned out to be simple: ?max-results=3 and a missing feedburner url (how did it go missing? I'll never know.) Those things probably don't sound like anything important, but I guess they're essential for email subscribers.

I'm quite pleased with myself for figuring it out, though I'm still not sure everything is going to work. So if you have been a faithful reader in the past, if you could be so kind as to drop me a quick note to let me know you received Simple Moodlings via email, I'd appreciate it. Even just an email with YES in the subject line would be helpful. I can be reached at mjbpkrus @gmail.com. And if you want to check out the last 4 months of moodlings, just click here and scroll down.

If you didn't miss Simple Moodlings in your inbox and want to unsubscribe, you'll find a link for that at the bottom of your email, I hope!

With the change in the weather, I'm looking forward to indulging in a bit of creativity with this little love letter to the world. But for now, I think I'll go deal with some zucchinis!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Sunday Song: A Blessing in Disguise by the Lost Dogs

Lately I've been celebrating Sunday mornings with the Community of Emmanuel in the inner city, and I'm loving the contemporary songs that Farley sings (with his mask on). Today's was a definite God moment, and a song that St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate today, probably would have appreciated. Take a moment and listen to the lyrics... and enjoy.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Happy 10th Moodle-versary!

Yep, these moodlings have been online for 10 full years as of today. I can hardly believe how much has happened since my best friend talked me into blogging -- 1563 moodlings, over 31,000 views, 282 Simple Suggestions, and 651 exchanges with readers, not to mention numerous songs, videos, short stories, book reviews, true life anecdotes, jokes, kid-riddles, and other tomfoolery. I'm amazed that my little love letter to the world has gone on this long. And I'm grateful to Cathy, and to you, my readers, for your comments and encouragement over the years.

I enjoy looking back through these writings, some of which I can barely remember having created. My most unforgettable effort was the original series of 50 Laudato Si reflections spread out over a year, which suddenly seem to be enjoying more readership, and of which I am quite proud -- they were a gargantuan effort for someone who was never really fond of writing essays on the writings of others! One a week, more or less!

These moodlings began because I can't stay silent before the huge environmental problems our world is facing. When the pandemic arrived back in March, I took a break from my second batch of Laudato Si Sunday Reflections, but one of these days I might pick them up again... you just never know.

I'm still in the thick of harvest (we started clearing out the raised bed garden boxes today), but once I'm done dealing with pears, plums, tomatoes and whatever else needs my full attention, I have a number of moodlings on my mind that will appear here once again. 

In the meantime, to celebrate this moodle-versary, I think I'll have a piece of yesterday's pear kuchen (pictured above), and go put away the 8 or so cabbages I picked today...