Saturday, April 30, 2011

The joys of being a Master Composter/Recycler

This morning, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the new City of Edmonton Master Composter/Recycler graduates of 2011. They're a wonderful bunch, brimming with enthusiasm for their new role as volunteers who will educate more citizens of their communities about Edmonton's world class recycling facilities, and ways to reduce waste. I was able to sit in on presentations about their plans for sharing their new knowledge with the public, and was quite impressed by the breadth of ideas and activities they want to take on as new ambassadors for reducing, reusing, recycling, recovering and a plethora of other R words which our world needs to give more attention now that there are seven billion of us on it.

I was invited to give a little presentation about my own experiences as a Master Composter/Recycler in the last four years, and just the exercise of writing that little talk reminded me what a wonderful thing it is to be counted among the ranks of Edmonton's MCRs. I've met so many wonderful, environmentally-conscious people, and had many opportunities to encourage friends, neighbours and members of my community to become more conscious of ways to be kinder to the planet.

Since my MCR graduation day in May of 2007, lots of good things have happened for me. Not only is my yard composter a happier place, but I have become the proud owner of a four story red wiggler condo. This picture was taken last spring, before a fifth floor was added. I've learned that if you put a tablespoon of worm castings into a litre of water, stir it up, and water with that, houseplants absolutely love it.

I’ve also discovered that being an MCR is a lot of fun through lots of different activities, like talking up Edmonton's world class Recycling Program with any interested person, esp. new neighbours and the Simplicity Study Circles I facilitate. Somehow, that leads to conversations about grass cycling, and rain barrel water conservation and lasagna gardening, and the benefits of the Reuse Centre, and EcoStations and a lot of other good stuff.

Helping friends and family with their composters has been fun, as has encouraging people I know to compost, and being a “leaf thief” from neighbours who don’t compost. My garden is admired by those neighbours, and they are sometimes a little puzzled when I thank them for their contributions.

Facilitating Recycling displays for the city is easier than you’d expect. I took one to a Green Fair in Millwoods (invited by someone from the Green Party), and I’ve helped with displays at the home reno and home and garden shows at the Agricom. Being an introvert, it didn't come naturally at first, but I’ve learned how much fun it can be to stop people in their tracks by offering them a free blue bag or composting brochure.

Doing backyard composting workshops has been a great way to build community. Who knew wine, neighbours, and red wigglers would be the recipe for a fun evening? I’m hoping to host another one this spring through my community league. Last year I also helped my daughter’s Grade Four class set up a vermicomposter that did quite well on the Grade Fours' apple cores and other organic lunch leftovers (that's where our red wiggler condo got its fifth level of occupants).

Helping at the reuse tree display at City Hall has been a great way to get into the spirit of the season. I spent my time there showing off crafty tree ornaments made of recycled items and promoting the city's ReUse Centre across the street, and the bonus was that I got to hear some school choirs sing carols the entire time I was there.

One of my sidelines is facilitating what’s called a Simplicity Study Circle. It’s all about ways to live more simply, with less of an impact on the earth, and bits and pieces of my MCR training is always creeping into workshops. For one event, I actually got a group together to tour the Waste Management Branch. All I can say is that it's an amazing place. Edmonton's recycling success rate is 90%, and visiting the Materials Recycling Facility and seeing the conveyor belts moving recyclables from our blue bags past workers who sort them at incredible speeds is an unforgettable experience.

Two weeks from today, I will be speaking at a Social Justice Symposium that will be dealing with the wastefulness of our economy. When you really think about it, wastefulness is a justice issue, and recycling and composting and doing whatever we can to make it easier for our planet's species to cope with human existence is critically important. My MCR training will come into play at the Symposium as I remind people of the importance of all those R words and share with them the wonders of our city’s recycling programs and facilities as part of their way to take responsibility for each other and the Earth.

In one month’s time, my workplace will be moving to a new facility that will require someone to set up a new recycling program for it. That would be me.

But the bulk of my volunteer time these past four years has been spent out at the Food Bank Plant-a-Row, Grow-a-Row garden at the Edmonton Waste Management Branch during the summers. My girls and I had a lot of fun, mainly hacking out weeds, doing away with potato bugs, and watering. I’m hearing rumours about a new PARGAR in the neighbourhood of the Muttart Conservatory, which is just down the hill from where I live, so we're looking forward to helping out there if we can.

Over the past two years, I’ve become an avid MCR blog reader, just to catch Mark’s wacky humour and spelling mistakes. No, of course I'm just teasing Mark. It's more than that -- I love the information posted on the blog because it brings me up to date on recycling and composting information that may have changed since my course. It has also made me aware of some very interesting events. Thanks to the blog and Mark's invitation, in September, I attended a luncheon at the Westin and heard Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a northern activist, speak about how Climate change is affecting our brothers and sisters in Canada’s northern communities. I suspect that in the future I may be re-moodling a few things from the MCR blog for my moodling friends.

Like many things in life, what you get out of being a Master Composter/Recycler depends upon what you put into it. When I graduated, I thought I’d put in my 35 hours of service to pay back the program and call it good. But volunteering has turned me into a bit of an activist, and it’s been so much fun, they can’t get rid of me that easily. Being at the graduation events today has gotten me re-enthused about my status as an MCR volunteer, and put a few new ideas into my head. I met a new grad named Rahul, and in our five minute conversation, was inspired toward opportunities to connect my workplace with Reuse fairs and the ReUse Centre downtown. Why didn't I think of it before? I guess I just needed to be inspired by the MCR class of 2011.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Awesome stories

Have you read The Book of Awesome yet? I haven't... but I came across this marvellous little video today, and thought I'd share it.

I also checked out Neil Pasricha's blog,, and found a link to a UK Guardian story about Governor Gabrielle Giffords, who is making a slow but steady recovery from the point-blank range gunshot wound she received at a Tucson political rally back in January.

I've heard a lot of complaining from word snobs about the misuse of the word awesome, but why fight it? Life is amazing, and there are so many things to appreciate. Why not give in to awesome and enjoy life's big and little blessings?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Take time to watch the flowers

Last night I finished reading Anne D. LeClaire's book, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence (2009, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-135335-2). The author makes a wonderful case for how silence and stillness need to be incorporated into our noisy, busy lives so that we can nourish our souls. At the end of her book, LeClaire suggests simple ways to make room for silence and one of them really struck me: "Watch the primrose or morning glory open. Be in awe." (p. 218)

It's a bit too early to watch the morning glory or the primrose in Central Alberta... our snowbanks are still in evidence in shady places. Fortunately, my wonderful husband bought me an Easter bouquet this weekend, and a gorgeous yellow lily decided to be my morning glory today. If you don't have a flower to watch open, here's mine. Happy Easter! (At the church I attend, the Easter Season lasts 50 days, so don't mind me -- I'm going to repeat that Easter greeting a few more times and enjoy Easter to the full.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For a good Good Friday

Just a suggestion for observing Good Friday this year: see if you can spend the day mostly in silence. The world is a noisy place that doesn't often give us a chance to think or move beyond its distractions, to go deeper into ourselves to find where God really lives, and emerge refreshed and focused on the important things.

These days, I'm reading a wonderful little book by Anne D. LeClaire, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence (2009, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-135335-2). Here's an excerpt from the flyleaf:
Silence... reminds us to pay attention to the ordinary moments of our existence. In silence we can learn how to listen, become more compassionate, ignite and nurture creativity, uncover our inner yearnings, and ultimately find peace and improve our well-being. By confronting ourselves and learning from the anxiety that arises when we are freed from distraction, we can become whole.
Honestly, it almost sounds like a self-help book, but it reads much better. LeClaire is almost poetic. And she has underlined for me why I appreciate my days off in the quiet of my home. When I don't get a quiet day in a week, I often feel off-balance or stressed in a way that's hard to explain to people who don't "get" silence.

Tonight, Christian churches around the world enter into the three high holy days of Easter, and for our family, the weekend will begin with silence, continue with an inner-city Way of the Cross walk and an evening of  Taize music, move to Easter egg dyeing and music rehearsal, and reach its climax with a Saturday evening Easter Vigil celebration and extended family time on Sunday and Monday. It's my favourite weekend of the year, and there won't be time for any online moodling.

So to you and yours, the blessings of silence and song in these holy days. Have a Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Law of Mother Earth

Great news from Bolivia: for the first time in recorded human history, a country is attempting to pass legislation that will grant nature rights equal to those enjoyed by human beings. These rights include:
  • the right to life and existence
  • the right to continuing life cycles and processes free from human interference
  • the right to pure water
  • the right to clean air
  • the right to balance
  • the right to be unpolluted
  • the right to be free from genetic modification
The Bolivian people are leading the way because their culture has a strong sensitivity about its interdependence with nature, even as many developed nations move further away from that kind of awareness. Much of Bolivia is dependent upon glaciers for water... and we all know what's happening to our planet's glaciers. The people of Bolivia have also seen their share of bizarre weather because of global climate change -- floods, droughts, mudslides and untimely frosts. They see, more clearly than those of us disconnected from nature, that everything, living and non-living, forms an interconnected web that suffers when one thing is given precedence over another. That Bolivians would decide to pass laws declaring that humans are equal to all other entities, and as such, need to stop taking advantage of less vocal parts of creation, is not a surprise when you consider that Pachamama, or Earth Mother, is part of their indigenous belief system. They believe that it's important to respect Earth Mother and work with her to keep things in balance.

It's a good start, but how do these laws play out in reality? Bolivia needs mining capital to keep its economy going, and I imagine there are other less-than-environmentally-friendly practices occurring in the country. But at least they've got the chutzpah to bring forth an attempt to provide safeguards for their environment somehow. It might take them a while to give the laws teeth, but even getting the laws on the books is a sign of the kind of radical change it takes to get the ball rolling in the environment's favour.

I live in a country where all that a lot of our politicians seem to care about is the economy. The people in power refuse to believe in climate change or the need to do anything to protect our environment from further degradation. I wish they would realize, as the Bolivians do, that everything on earth forms a big family, and that they need to treat more than just large corporations with respect. We're heading toward an election, and the head of the only political party that makes the environment a priority wasn't even invited to the national leaders' debates, when she should have been front and center because she understands that, without a healthy environment, there is no economy. Her party may not be organized enough to run a country, but their ideas still deserve to be heard.

Go, President Evo Morales; go people of Bolivia! Maybe you'll wake up the rest of the world's leaders. I hope so.

Friday, April 15, 2011

In time for Easter... Short story #13

After meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the early Christians became strong proponents of the idea that you just never knew where Jesus might turn up, so it was important to be kind to strangers. I've always enjoyed imagining Jesus as the stranger among us in different situations, and what he might say or do.

I wrote this story in 2005, before I ever set foot in the Clothing Room or kibbitzed with a homeless person. A lot of the homeless remind me of Jesus because they call things as they see them, and don't spend money on haircuts. And when I really get to talk with them, I often get the sense that they'd be the kinds of guys with whom Jesus would like to hang out.

It was the strangest thing. Three babies and a toddler were crying for various pain-conscious reasons, and when he came through the sliding doors, silence arrived with him. I looked up, and saw the faces of the four little ones turned toward the scruffy character, and caught looks of surprise on the faces of one grandma, one dad, and two moms as they looked at each other and toward the doors.
He was bearded, with shaggy dark hair that almost hid his eyes. His dirty jeans were patched multiple times, their hems ragged, and beneath them, once-white moon boots made their appearance like the over-sized feet of a cartoon character. His coat was a dirty parka of a colour that couldn’t be guessed under the grime. But the thing that caught my attention almost immediately was the fact that he was wearing large orange and blue rubber gloves.
The babies and toddler looked at him a moment, tears still on their cheeks. The staring caregivers must have made him self-conscious for a moment because he stopped in his tracks, and nodded to them each in turn, which probably made them self-conscious. They looked to their young ones, who resumed their crying, and the moment passed. I found myself wondering if I had imagined it.
The man stood looking around the room at all the signs, momentarily confused. I was about to tell him to come over to the triage desk when Dr. Davis appeared at my elbow, asking about the woman I had just admitted with the nail piercing her forearm. Handing the clipboard to Elise, I pointed her towards the shaggy character before following Dr. Davis to the case room.
I was perhaps three minutes with Dr. Davis before returning to the triage desk. The shaggy man was sitting next to one of the young moms with a baby. The baby was completely calm, staring at the man, who was having a quiet conversation with her mother. Two other babies were still crying.
Elise elbowed me. “Jesus has returned,” she said, and I looked at her, expecting her usual joking smile. Elise was the character nurse in emerge, a slim, energetic thirty-something with an elfin haircut that changed colours as regularly as British royalty changed residences. If practical jokes happened, she was usually behind them, though she was hard to catch in the act. But this time she was in dead earnest, or she was trying to fool me into thinking she was.
“Not another one,” I sighed, taking the clipboard from her, remembering the Jesus who had been brought in at the last full moon by two police officers. That one had gone off his medication, and had to be readmitted to the psych ward for a time.
“No, not another one. This is the real deal.” She pointed to the clipboard where she had entered his info.

Name: Jesus H. Christ.
DOB: March 25, 4 AD, Bethlehem.
Health Care Card: Visitor
Reason for visit: Superficial Bleeding.

            “Jesus H.?” I asked.
            “That’s what he says. Of course, he has no I. D., no health care card, nothing. He says H. stands for Horatio, a name he always liked, even before Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.”
            “And March 25 as birth date?”
            “He says he was born during lambing season, but that fact was ignored for reasons that suited early Christian politicians, who didn’t even bother to get the year right.”
            I rolled my eyes. “And he wouldn’t give you any straight answers? What about the bleeding?”
            Elise took my elbow and turned me to look into her green eyes. “I’m telling you, Tracey, this is the real deal.”
            I waited a few moments for her straight face to dissolve into laughter. It didn’t. She surveyed the waiting room for a second and pulled me into the inner, windowed office behind the triage desk, where she began to whisper rapidly.
            “I tell you, it’s him, with a capital H. I know he doesn’t look like much, but when you talk to him, you’ll see. He’s got this presence thing. It’s like, when you look him in the eye, nothing else even exists.”
            “He’s a hypnotist.”
            “I don’t think so. See for yourself. He’s not like the others that have come in. No raving, no scripture quotes. He’s very soft spoken, and there’s no madness in his eyes, no drugs. And the bleeding…”
            “What about it?”
            Elise didn’t answer. She was looking past me now, watching the man and the young mother he was talking to, who was putting her sleeping infant into a car seat. The two adults stood, watching the baby sleep a moment, then the man reached down and touched the baby’s cheek with an orange, rubber-gloved finger. The woman smiled and gave the grubby one a hug before picking up the car seat and heading for the exit.
            Elise took off after the woman, and caught her at the sliding doors. They had a two minute conversation over the infant in the car seat, Elise took the baby's temperature, and she and the woman were all smiles as mother and baby departed. The Jesus character had picked a seat next to the young father with the feverish toddler. Elise stopped and spoke with Jesus for a moment, and then came back to me. The man with the toddler had followed the discussion between Elise and Jesus, and when she went away, he promptly picked up his child and moved to an empty seat on the other side of the room.
            “What was that all about?” I asked when Elise returned.
            “Ear infection, Mom thought. But it’s gone, and she took baby home.”
            “Elise, have you lost it completely? Ear infections don’t just disappear.”
            “With Jesus, they do,” she grinned at me. “But we’d better do something about his bleeding. He says the gloves are getting a bit full. Stigmata.”
            She left me standing with no response on my lips, and went over to the man, inviting him to follow her to the case room. As they went past the desk, he winked at me.
            Lorraine, the other woman on shift, came out of the case room. “Mr. heart attack is stable for the moment. I told him to get some rest. What have I missed?” she asked.
            “Elise is looking after Jesus.”
            “That scruffy one? It’s not even full moon.” I waited for Lorraine’s usual “I’ve- been-working-in-Emerge-for-28-of-my-33-years-as-a-nurse-and-nothing-that-walks- through-those-doors-can-surprise-me” speech, but it never came, because at that moment, the heart attack patient’s heart monitor started to scream. Lorraine took off to the case room, and a couple of seconds later, I heard her call, “Code blue here, Elise. Can you help? Where’s Ted?”
            Someone had to cover the triage desk, so I did, listening to feet racing to help Lorraine with the drama that was taking place in the room around the corner. An older couple came through the sliding doors, he limping badly, she trying unsuccessfully to hold his weight off his hurt leg, and when I went around the corner to get a wheelchair, I peeked into Mr. heart attack's room and was surprised to see Elise and Lorraine standing, unmoving, at the bedside, whispering with Ted, the resident. Mr. heart attack was sitting propped up on the cot, with a huge bloodstain in the middle of his hospital garb. He was wearing a huge, rather dazed smile.
            I caught Elise’s eye, and she waved me on with a “tell you later” sort of look. Lorraine was white as a sheet, unusual for her.
            I took the wheelchair back to the older couple and helped the man into it.
            “I told him not to go up on the roof, but would he listen?” the woman was muttering.
            “He fell off a roof and only hurt his ankle?” I said, looking at the purple swelling where the old man was removing his sock for me to see.
            He gave a wry grimace and said, “No, I just fell off the bottom rung of the ladder. But I heard something snap. I think it might be broken.”
            I took the particulars from Mr. Dietz, with a fair bit of commentary from Mrs. Dietz, and told them they would have to wait in the sitting area. At least the sick babies had settled down for the most part.
            I was waiting for Elise’s report on what had just happened with Mr. heart attack, but Lorraine returned to the triage desk first.
            “I’ve never seen anything like it.” She sat down on the desk chair and rolled it from side to side in an agitated way. Lorraine was the no-nonsense matron of emerge, in her late fifties, with hair the golden colour it was when she was seventeen, always perfectly coiffed. It was rumoured that she could have retired comfortably in her forties as she had no family to support, and her sarcastic and cynical nature made a lot of us who worked with her wish she had.
She stared at the desk without seeing anything on it, not a sign of her usual sarcasm or cynicism in sight. “I called the Code blue on Mr. Santarosa, and Elise rushed to help me, and that Jesus fellow came right behind her. His one hand was all bloody, just dripping, but he laid it on Mr. Santarosa’s heart before I could get a word out, and he said, “How blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And Mr. Santarosa opened his eyes and smiled, and the heart monitor went right back to what it was supposed to be doing. And Mr. Santarosa said, “Thank you,” and Jesus said, “You’re most welcome.” And Jesus gave Mr. Santarosa a hug, and a high five with his rubber glove hand, and went back to the partition where he had been waiting before. Ted missed everything. Did it really happen?”
            Lorraine’s eyes never left the desk. She seemed to be in shock.
            “Maybe you should go for your break,” I suggested.
            “Good idea,” she said, and got up. But instead of heading through the waiting room toward the cafeteria, she went back around the corner.
            I was feeling impatient to be spelled off the triage desk so I could go around the corner myself and see what was going on, but there was no one else to cover for me. A woman came in with a gangly teenager who was holding an ice compress on his forehead, wearing a bit of a glazed look. Possible concussion from a fall off a skateboard without a helmet, it looked like. I calmed a somewhat hysterical mom and took young Jason’s information before I told them to sit and make sure he didn’t fall asleep until he had been seen.
            Elise returned to the triage room to get more gauze. “It’s a little more than superficial bleeding, if you ask me,” she said, “but he says it comes and goes, and it won’t last the rest of the day.”
            “Stigmata, you said? What the hell is that?” I asked.
            “The wounds Christ suffered on the cross, you know? His hands, his feet, his side?”
“I’ve heard the story, of course, but you can't believe that it's true here. Like stigmata has anything to do with this guy!” I sputtered.
Elise smiled, and I realized that she must be somewhat religious, to know a word like stigmata.
            “You’re religious!” I said. It came out like an accusation.
            “No, just Catholic. You’re the only one who hasn’t talked with him yet, aren’t you, Trace? Maybe you should take this back to Lorraine, and get a little religion yourself.” She handed me the box of gauze and said, “Ted said to wrap his wounds tight. Jesus can’t wrap it tight enough to stop the bleeding himself. Otherwise he wouldn’t be bothering us, he said.”
            This is really ridiculous, I thought, as I walked around the corner. If this guy is supposed to be the Son of God, why is Elise acting like his appearance here is perfectly normal?
            Something made me pause before I slipped behind the partition curtain where Lorraine was working on the Jesus character. He was saying, “Well, you’re doing your best, aren’t you? That’s all God the Father and Mother ask. These kinds of situations require that we trust heavenly timing, but of course you know that. Just keep asking for wisdom, and keep praying about the whole situation, Lorraine. God listens to every prayer, and answers them all, not always as quickly as we like, or exactly as we expect. But you know that, too.”
             Why was I eavesdropping? I shook myself, poked my head around the curtain and handed the gauze to Lorraine, saying the first thing that came into my head, “I thought you were going for your break.”
            “I am,” she said. “I just did his side. You can take care of his feet, okay, Trace? Is that okay with you, Jesus?”
            He nodded and reached out with his wrapped hand to gently squeeze Lorraine’s shoulder. “Go, have a good break. And thanks,” he said. She smiled, said, “No. Thank You,” and left me to deal with his feet.
            “You’re not squeamish, are you?” he asked, as I reached toward his moon boot.
            “Can’t afford to be squeamish in Emerge,” I said, without looking at him. But when I pulled the boot off, my stomach did a small flip. The man had a clear plastic bag over his bare foot, wrapped around the ankle with a rubber band. I felt like I’d pulled a thick, bloody sausage out of the boot. The bag dripped slightly, so I moved the pan that had caught the blood from earlier ministrations. When I pulled the bag off, a cascade of droplets landed in the pan.
            No matter what, I thought to myself as I washed his foot and prepared the gauze, no matter what, don’t look him in the eye. He’s got to be a hypnotist. There’s no other explanation. He can’t be who he says he is. It’s just not possible.
            I worked quietly and efficiently, cleansing the wound, which seemed to go right through his foot, but was bleeding much less than the arm of the nail punctured woman, much less than I would have expected. I packed it with gauze and wrapped it tightly. Only when I finished did I forget my vow and look up at him for a sign that it was feeling okay, only to find him sitting with his eyes closed.
            “Does it hurt?” I found myself asking.
            “Not as much as yesterday,” he replied, his eyes still closed. “I can tell that you’re a good and dedicated nurse,” he said, “just by the feel of your hands. Do you like your work?”
            I thanked him for the compliment, and took off the second boot to find the other foot in the same state as the first. As for answering his question, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My curiosity about this man was great, but my fear was greater. If I started to tell him about feeling burnt out, if I was honest with him at all, if I asked the question that was on my heart, everything might lead to more questions with answers that might mean that I would have to make changes, or start believing in something. So I worked away in silence, as he sat with his eyes closed, offering no further comment.
            When I finished, I cleaned up the area as he pulled the moon boots back on.
            “Aren’t those all bloody inside?” I asked, looking down at them.
            His shoulders shrugged as if to say beggars can’t be choosers. He stood up, and I unexpectedly found myself looking him in the eye, unable to make myself look away. They were ordinary, dark eyes. If there was any hypnotic power in them, it didn’t grab me.
            “Thanks,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand, his warm, strong fingers sticking out of all that gauze. He smiled, and I smiled back. Then I remembered the rubber gloves in the basin on the cart beside me.
            “Did you want me to wash these out?” I asked.
            “I’m sure I won’t be needing them anymore,” he said. “It usually settles down on the second day. Thanks again,” he said, and pushed the curtain back on his way out.
            Something in me didn’t want him to go. I put down the basin and followed at a distance. He stuck his head into Mr. Santarosa’s room and said, “Take it easy, friend.” Then he walked out past the triage desk, waving a gauzy hand at Elise, who was with a new arrival. It looked like she blew him a kiss.
            I walked over to the triage desk, watching the man leave, but he didn’t, not right away. He stopped beside Mr. Broken Ankle Dietz’s wheelchair a moment, grinned at the old man, and when the old man grinned back, he turned to Mrs. Dietz and said, “I hear he’s falling off ladders just so he doesn’t have to help you with household chores.”
            Mrs. Dietz looked a little nervous, but she chuckled all the same. “Something like that,” she said.
            “You should tell him those kinds of tactics don’t work for long.” He put his hand on Mr. Dietz’s shoulder before moving over to Concussion Jason.
            Elise was standing in front of me. “So?” she said. “Tell me he’s not the real thing.”
            “He’s not the real thing,” I mumbled, my eyes not leaving him as he touched Jason’s head and continued moving around the room from patient to patient like a doctor doing rounds. Elise turned and watched, too. We couldn’t hear everything he said, but he spoke to or touched every person in the room, with the exception of the man with the feverish toddler. The child, his face still flushed, had wandered over to the corner where a few beat up toys were kept to entertain kids well enough to play. As the Jesus character was straightening up from talking to a woman with a croupy baby that hadn’t yet been called to the case room, he took a step backward, not realizing that the toddler, who was bringing a three-wheeled truck back to his dad, was right behind him. The collision made the little guy fall on his bottom. I held my breath, but he didn’t cry, and his dad didn’t have time to react as Jesus picked the boy up and set him back on his feet. He looked up at the stranger, held out his truck for him to see, and toddled back to his dad. The Jesus character smiled at the dad, turned, and walked out the sliding doors.
            “He’s not the real thing -- how could he be the real thing?” I turned to Elise. “It’s a crazy idea.”
            “Don’t look at me,” she said. “He’s the one who said he’s Jesus.” But she smiled to herself as she took the clipboard and called the woman with the croupy baby to the case room.
            When Lorraine came back from her break, I took the man with the toddler to the back. The symptoms seemed to have vanished, he said, and it was true. There was nothing wrong with the child. Normal colour, normal temperature, and he was hungry for the first time in three days, said the father, who was handing him digestive cookie after digestive cookie. Ted came in to check on the boy, and we sent him home a few moments later.
            “Are you sure it’s not a full moon?” Ted asked, as he was filling out the paperwork.
            “That was Monday,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
            “It’s been a strange evening,” he said. “Did you know that our heart attack patient was discharged ten minutes ago? No sign of a heart attack, arteries as clear as can be. A strange evening.”
            And it got stranger. When Lorraine came back from her break, she took Mr. and Mrs. Dietz back to the case room. There was nothing wrong with Mr. Dietz’s ankle, not even any bruising, she said. Mr. Dietz said it started feeling better about the time the homeless guy came and teased his wife.
            I tried to argue with Lorraine. I had seen the bruising.
            “I’m sure you did,” she replied, not willing to argue for once. “Its disappearance was Jesus’ doing,” she shrugged, without a trace of sarcasm or cynicism.
            The lump on Jason’s head had miraculously disappeared, too. His mother was practically speechless. “I saw his head hit the sidewalk with my own eyes,” she kept saying. I had seen the swelling purple contusion, and was sure there would be concussion. But Ted couldn’t find it, and Jason said that when the homeless guy touched him, the pain went away immediately. Ted just shook his head in an amazement that grew with every non-case we saw over the next hour. In all, about ten people came and left without treatment, having lost their symptoms before arriving in the case room. But then everyone who arrived after the Jesus character was gone needed treatment, so things returned to normal for the rest of the shift, if you can call a room of sick and injured people normal.
            I tried not to think about it, but my thoughts kept returning to the question I never had the nerve to speak out loud earlier in the day. What if it really was Jesus whose feet I had bandaged?
            “You’re preoccupied, Trace,” Elise said, as we finished end of shift paperwork.
            I sighed. “It’s that Jesus character.”
            “What about him?”
            “You really think it was Jesus.” It was a statement, not a question.
            “Why not? The son of God probably does as he pleases.” She looked at me steadily, as if to dare me to argue with her. I still had the feeling that she would burst out laughing at any moment as if the whole shift had been her best practical joke yet.
            “But if it really was Jesus, how could you act like it was no big deal that the so-called Son of God came to Emerge?” I asked.
            “Well, it was no big deal at first when he came to the land of Israel, either, was it?”
            “Elise!” I wanted a straight answer. “Be honest. What makes you think it really was him?”
            She was quiet a moment. Finally she said, “Lots of things. All the people who were healed tonight. His unassuming personality. His kindness. The way he listened to people. The way he talked with them. Didn’t you see it? Who would hug a grubby, homeless dude, or even talk to him? But they all talked to him, and some of them hugged him. And have you noticed the change in Lorraine? Then there was the way he didn’t force himself on anybody. Especially you, who weren’t ready for him. And he was very affirming.”
I thought about how he had complimented me. I thought about how I had decided not to make eye contact, only to look up and find him sitting quietly, with his eyes closed. Had he known what I was thinking? He certainly hadn’t forced anything.
 “And, of course, there was the full moon,” Elise said, as if that was the final, and strongest argument.
            “The full moon? That was on Monday.”
            “Yes, the Paschal moon,” she murmured. “First full moon after the spring equinox. Yesterday was Good Friday, which would explain all that blood. But you won’t find that on this report.” She put her papers into a file folder, tossed it into the outbox, picked up her coat, and said, “I think it was him with a capital H. Why couldn’t it be? I mean, I never exactly pictured him as a homeless guy, but he was pretty much homeless in the Bible, too, wandering from place to place. I did imagine him to be kind and unassuming and warm and caring to everyone.”  She started walking away, but turned back to say, “And if it wasn’t him with a capital H, does that really make any difference to all the little miracles that happened here today? To all the little miracles here everyday?”
            I flipped my pen over my fingers, trying to think of an argument, but nothing came to my overloaded brain.
“Have a Happy Easter,” she said, as she pulled on her coat. “He IS risen, you know, every time we act with kindness, which is every day in Emerge. It’s why I love my job.” She grinned, and headed down the hallway.
            I sat there, watching her moving away from me. As she reached the double doors, I called after her, “Elise?”
            “Are you going to Easter Services tomorrow?”
            “Could I come with you?”  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A prayer to start our day at the Clothing Room

Today is my day at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Clothing Room. For various reasons, I missed a month of my Thursdays there, and going back last week felt like a homecoming. I forgot how much I love kibbitzing with the homeless guys until we were kibbitzing. And, a new thing: our little group of volunteers started the day with a beautiful prayer. I couldn't see through the tears in my eyes by the time we got to the end of it:

Lord Jesus, You promised that whatever we do for the least of your brothers & sisters, we do it for You. You promised that whenever we reach out to the poor and needy, to the hungry, the imprisoned, the unwanted, the misunderstood, or the lonely, we meet You.
Lord Jesus, Your humility amazes me. Rather than coming to us in great displays of power & might, you choose to show us Your face in the poor, the sick, and the outcast.  Open my eyes to see You. Help me to recognise your presence in every person in need, whether it’s the people coming for help, or the friends I work with. Give me the courage to step out of my comfort zone, and to be the person You need me to be in every situation I may face today.
Lord, today help me to be Your hands & feet, Your compassion & joy. I want to become like You! 

And this morning, the scriptures align -- my morning meditation is the reading from Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Amazing how that works, isn't it?

4:30 p.m. It was an interesting day at the Clothing Room. I didn't think we'd have very many people as Edmonton is experiencing an April snowstorm that blew snow into my face as I walked from where I parked two blocks away from the centre. If I couldn't find parking, how many others wouldn't bother to come? But Don and Ryan, a pair of homeless brothers, showed up for the second week in a row, snow thick in their hair. I told Ryan I wanted to brush the wet clods of snow out of his hair, so he stood still and let me do it before picking up a hoodie so he wouldn't have to repeat the process later on.

We had fun with "name that odd object." A black, curved wire stand of some sort was found in the odds and ends box, and I took it around the Distribution Centre to see if anyone could figure it out. No one did, and now I'm wishing I'd brought it home, taken a picture, and played "name that odd object" online. Someone must have a website where you can send pictures of odd objects.

Four young Muslim girls came in, and were delighted to leave with four beautiful stuffed animals as well as some clothing. And just before we closed at noon, two Ethiopian boys came looking for swimming trunks. Their English wasn't great, but their smiles certainly were. They each found one t-shirt, and thanked me politely before they left.

Denis came in, asking in French if it would be alright if he "shopped." I suprised him and myself by responding in French, and he seemed genuinely happy that I did, even though his English is excellent.

And a bit of a mystery was partially solved today. In September I moodled about it:

Then there are the four sisters. They seem to alternate their visits, coming in pairs every two weeks, going through our racks and picking out the high quality ladies wear, mostly. They have each registered with four or more children, and we wonder: are they supplying their families and running their own clothing shop on the side, or are they outfitting friends and neighbours as well? Perhaps they don’t have access to laundry facilities? Their English isn’t good enough for us to know.
Today I decided to approach one of the sisters and ask her why she takes so much clothing so often. Her eyes filled with tears as she haltingly told me about her brother, who lives in the mountains in Cambodia. "No food, no clothes, my brother and his family. I take clothes to send." It doesn't help me to understand why they go for the high end women's clothing, but it makes me less inclined to fret when they take more than I think they should. I really don't know the full situation.

It was an interesting day, a good day. Any day that I understand people a little better might even be rated excellent. I don't think I need to wait until the King decides whether I'm a sheep or a goat. I'm already blessed just to know the people I met today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Simple solutions

Since I put honey in my hair yesterday, I've been mind-moodling (as opposed to pen- or type-moodling) about how great it is when we can be self-reliant and come up with simple answers rather than over-complicated, chemically-laden, or super-processed commercial solutions. That goes for just about anything.

As often happens, when I was emptying my inbox this morning, I found this wonderful little video that dovetails nicely with my mind-moodlings on self-reliance. It contains a very simple solution to a huge health problem in the developing world.

Not 30 minutes after posting this moodling initally, the universe aligned again, and I reviewed another email from a friend. It carried another great simple idea, this time to deal with global hunger.

If people can put their heads together and come up with things like these to save lives, it gives me hope that we will also find solutions to other important planetary issues... But we have to keep in mind what Mother Teresa and the Buster Brothers say: "If you can't feed a hundred people, feed one." If we can't solve an entire massive problem, perhaps we can solve one part of it, and maybe that will inspire someone else to solve another piece of it, and so on. You just never know how your actions might make things better, and just a little better is still better...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to have healthier spiky hair

I wear my hair really short. It's simple to keep, and because my hair is so thick, it gets waves in all the wrong places when it gets to a certain length. I had really long hair a while back, but I gave it to the Canadian Cancer society, along with $3000 that I collected as a fundraiser. They shaved me bald, an interesting experience in the middle of January! While I enjoyed and still dream of braiding my long hair, now it's shot through with coarse, springy grey and works better with a short, care-free, spiky look. I can do my hair in less than three minutes, and I don't have to bother with clips, elastics, or other hair paraphernalia.

But to make hair spike, some sort of "product" (as stylists like to say) is required. Just to prove that I still have a lot to learn, I'll admit that even after all my postings on the toxic chemicals found in hair and beauty products, I made a mistake last week. As I was walking through the beauty section in my grocery store, I was seduced by a little jar of pomade, the least smelly on the shelf (because parfum is one of the worst ingredients for folks with allergies). It wasn't until I got home that I realized how stupid that was. To my credit, I haven't used the stuff, so it's returnable. But the fact that I picked it up at all still bothers me! What was I thinking?? Sucked in by consumer culture yet again.

This morning, I took a hard look at the ingredient list of that little plastic jar, and of course, every single component sounds like it comes out of a chemist's lab. So I checked them all against David Suzuki's list of "the Dirty Dozen" toxic chemicals in beauty products, and "messy look paste" contains the entire paraben family as well as 26 other substances unknown to me.

So if I don't want to invite Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Isobutyl, and Butyl Paraben and their other relatives to live on (or in) me, what's the solution to cute spiky hair (rather than Mom's curly cauliflower head, as my girls like to put it)? I thought hard about it this morning. What naturally occuring substance is similar in texture to "messy look paste?"

Honey, honey! Not the gooey, drippy kind. No, put it in the fridge for a while and let it solidify or crystallize.

My father-in-law is a farmer who has beehives on his land, and the beekeeper pays rent by bringing Dad pails of honey, which he so kindly passes on to me. I mussed a bit (about an eighth of a teaspoon) into my damp hair this morning,  let it dry, and voila! Spiky hair that's not too sticky and might even get some sort of benefit from the healthy good things that bees put into honey. I wonder if maple syrple might work, too?

We've been doing our best to reduce chemical everything in our family life, but we have a long way to go. I'm sure there are a hundred blogs out there about simple and healthy replacements for almost any chemically-based consumer product out there. Like baking soda in place of cleansers. Alum rocks for deodorants. Vinegar and water instead of window cleaner. And I'm sure I can't be the first person to spike up my hair with a tiny dab of honey!

P.S. Thanks, Dad! I'll bet you never imagined anything like this when you gave me that sweet stuff!

P.S. Again (August 13th) -- after I posted this back in April, my husband wondered aloud if the honey option might be a bad thing in the summer when it came to being outdoors. I'm happy to report that it has yet to attract any flies, bees, wasps or other unsavoury critters! I also have done a comparison between the feel of honey and messy hair paste, and they are remarkably similar once they're in my hair, though honey is slightly stickier. And I'm amazed at how many people have read this moodling. Healthy solutions to all!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do yourself a favour...

Please, on the next sunny Spring morning at about 8 a.m., step outside and have a listen. I highly recommend spending at least five minutes paying attention to the birds. This morning their love songs were just incredible!

Especially these guys. I guarantee that their music, in symphony with all the other Spring songsters, will give your spirits a lift and get your day off to a great start.

I'll be moodling about more simple Spring pleasures over the next weeks, no doubt...

Friday, April 8, 2011

A L'Arche welcome

This morning at work, I was asked to help one of my colleagues with a little story she was writing for our monthly newsletter, and it brought back the memory of my own welcome to the L'Arche Edmonton community.

Our community leader, a friend whom I've known since university, had invited me to go for an autumn walk with her because she wanted discuss the possibility of having me work for her on a part-time basis. When I arrived at the Community Centre, I didn't realize that there would be a group of core members from the Day Program to greet me. A few of them gathered around, and Darren, a non-verbal core member who had been standing beside the door when I arrived, came up behind me and very gently put his hands around my neck.

I was more than a little surprised, but having worked with people with disabilities before, I turned to my community leader-friend and said, "Is this a hug?" just as she said, "that's a hug." We both had to smile.

I see Darren almost daily now. Usually he is sitting at a table, using wax crayons to make multicoloured swaths on paper that are often used for greeting cards and the Day Program's art sales. Occasionally he lets out a hoot of delight, or waves his hands in a particular way to make himself understood. I've learned that he has a particular fondness for swings. At one Friday hot lunch, I found out that he LOVES ketchup on absolutely everything, and that he likes it even more if he can convince one of his friends to go the the kitchen and get it for him. He doesn't have to speak for the L'Arche community to understand him or his heart's desires.

I haven't quite gotten the hang of Darren's sign language, but I enjoy watching the people who have in their interactions with him. One thing's certain: I'll never forget how he gave me my first L'Arche hug.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Someone of whom I'm proud

Many years ago, I had the privilege of being a teacher for three years. I have fond memories of my students, though I'm only intermittently in touch with one or two of them. I like to be reminded of them now and again.

Yesterday an email reminded me of a fellow who was in my class when I was a rookie. Shane was a pretty quiet little guy with deep dimples and a mischievous gleam in his eye. He drew many pictures for me, a few of which I still possess, and he loved to sing. He was the kid who always asked me to get my guitar out if we had a few spare minutes at the end of a school day.

Yesterday's email wasn't from Shane, but it was all about his burgeoning career as a country and western artist. I watched this video, and was amazed at the way he plays guitar, that strong right shoulder moving with the rhythm. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to see him perform on the Canada Day stage in Ottawa as the Snowbird jet team flew over. I felt quite proud of my former student, and happy for him. I hope life as a musician is treating him well.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A dozen reasons to have a garden

My tomato plants are an endless source of happiness to me as I'm waiting for my favourite time of year, which is called Gardening Season. True, it takes time and energy to bring tomatoes from seedling to harvest, but it's a process that makes me happy to the bone. Nothing tastes as good as a tomato I've grown myself. Or a carrot. Or a potato. You get the idea.

Now that the snow is melting in a serious way, I'm having garden dreams, and thinking and planning what our almost 900 square foot garden will hold this summer. And I'm thinking about all the reasons that everyone should have a patch of dirt for themselves:

1. Fresh air and exercise are good for the body.

2. Watching things grow is good for the soul.

3. Being involved in nature's life cycles is good for the psyche.

4. Digging your own dirt means that huge machines aren't spending enormous amounts of fossil fuels tilling the soil.

5. Planting your own seeds means other huge machines aren't adding tons of carbon to the atmosphere.

6. Pulling your own weeds, while a mindless task, is good for stress reduction.

7. Adding compost from your own compost pile (every gardener needs one!) fertilizes plants without extracting chemicals from the earth.

8. You control the chemicals that you might employ to get rid of bugs or weeds, but if you're like me, you see bugs and weeds as an important and necessary part of our ecosystem, and do your best to live with them.

9. Harvesting your own vegetables means more huge machines aren't polluting the air we breathe.

10. Making a salad (or anything else) from your own back yard means your food hasn't been sprayed with preservatives or picked before it's ripe.

11. It's handy not to have to run to the grocery store.

12. Things grown in the back yard also save your wallet and the environment a lot of shipping and transportation costs.

13. Sharing the bounty with friends and neighbours feels great, but good luck getting rid of zucchini!

Okay, so it's a Baker's dozen, but they're all good reasons. Of course, not everyone has the privilege of tending a garden, so the next best thing is to buy food at a farmer's market where you can meet and chat with the people who grow real food, instead of purchasing what Michael Pollan called "food-like substances" that have been processed beyond recognition.

Sometimes, I daydream about what it would be like if everyone on the planet was able to be involved in growing their own food. I've never met a miserable gardener, so I suspect the world would be a much simpler, happier, healthier, better place.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Could be better, could be worse

How much of your life do you live on autopilot? I asked that question of myself this morning as I drove halfway down our back lane and couldn't recall whether I'd hit the button to close the garage door. So I backed up to be sure that it was closed, and of course it was. And last week, as I left work, I couldn't remember if I'd turned on the answering service. It was a good thing I went back. The answering service was on, but I'd left a window open.

Incidents like these give me pause, because they make me aware that I'm not always present to my own life. And I suspect I'm not the only one. Life these days seems designed to be full of distractions that prevent us from being aware of how we're living or even of those with whom we live. Did you know that it's estimated that the average North American sees 3000 commercial ads every day via billboards, TV and the internet? I didn't look for stats about auditory distractions, but as someone whose concentration is thrown off by music or chatter, I can vouch for the fact that there's plenty to take our minds off the people or activities with which we are supposed to be engaged at any given time. It's gotten to the point that I don't drive with the radio on anymore, and when my girls get home from school, I have to turn the radio/stereo/computer off so I can be fully present if they need me. Otherwise, I'm answering their questions on autopilot, and that can lead to all sorts of difficulties!

I found myself thinking about that autopilot function as I left the hospital this morning. My 89-year-old friend who was the young airman that I moodled about in It was the knickers that did it is being treated for pneumonia. When I asked him how he was, he said, "could be better, could be worse." He's very tired and weak, and it was an effort to hear him above the hospital noise. Focusing on my friend was even more difficult when a nurse came in and began speaking loudly to the man in the next bed. I worked hard to shut out everything but my friend's voice, and was rewarded with a wonderful story before a physiotherapist came to get him up for some exercise.

Those ten minutes that I was putting all my effort into listening to one voice underlined for me the importance of turning off the autopilot function and paying close attention to what's going on. Had I allowed my mind to wander into autopilot mode, nodding and saying, "uh huh," without really hearing, I would have missed something special. I know that my time with my friend is limited because cancer and age have brought him to a precarious state of health. He's also very aware that his time is short, but the look-on-the-bright-side attitude that he's exhibited for the almost eighteen years I've known him is undiminished. "Could be better, could be worse" isn't something a lot of people in his condition are able to say.

My friend is living the moment, never mind autopilot, and inspires me to do the same. My attention levels could be better, or worse. More often than not, it's up to me to decide because I can focus my mind to turn off or cut out the distractions. Sometimes all it takes is shutting off "the media." Why not aim for better? Especially since we never know when we will run out of time to be attentive to the ones we love.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Springtime in the Rockies

This weekend, our family took a little break in the mountains. We were all really tired and in need of some down time, so we didn't even go skiing. We just got a room with a kitchenette and hung out together. We had lots of good chat time, one meal at a marvelous Greek restaurant, plenty of swimming at the hotel's indoor pool, some lovely strolls through town, a stop at a wonderful bakery, a visit to the Athabasca Icefalls

-- we've never seen a waterfall frozen before -- a log in the fireplace, some interesting TV movies and  books. It was a good, good weekend.

Saturday was cloudy and snowy, which was fine by us, because it fit with our lazy mood. The chilly wind bit our cheeks when we went out, and if I hadn't seen the cracks in the Athabasca River ice, it might have been November rather than April.

Sunday turned out to be a glorious spring sunshine day that had me singing all the mountain songs I could think of on our drive home. I couldn't help myself!

"How Great Thou Art" always comes to mind in the mountains. Especially the lines that go, "when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze." How can a soul not sing with vistas like this? Of course, I was looking up to lofty mountain grandeur when I took these shots, looking for the right angle while wearing just a light sweater. I'm happy to report that Spring is returning to the Rockies, brooks, gentle breezes and all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Slowing down to appreciate the simple things

When we live in haste, we end up taking so many things for granted. As a result, we miss out completely on a lot of the best things in life.

Here's a lovely little video from Greece that wins Maria's Appreciation Award for the week. As with last Sunday's video (which has since become my favourite song) this one deserves some sort of prize -- especially with the little twist at the end. Slow down, and enjoy.