Friday, June 29, 2012

A healthy dose of downward mobility, please

The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame. 
The way of Jesus is radically different.  It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.  It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place!  Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing?  Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.
--Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, June 28

Henri Nouwen's got me thinking, again. He gets me thinking every morning when I check my email and find one of his little thoughts in my inbox. But yesterday's stopped me in my tracks. Downward mobility! Brilliant thought!

In a world where the divide between rich and poor continues to widen and our environment is fighting a losing battle, it would help if the idea of downward mobility took hold. The push to keep profits rising and growth increasing has made for more trouble than the EU Summit knows how to handle, and has created huge debts at every level -- from the international to our own back yards. It has wreaked havoc on our planet's limited resources, and on our happiness as human beings. The pressure to be always upwardly mobile has created stresses that mean even children are having panic attacks these days, and families don't have time for each other. It makes me sigh.

It's silly, all of it. Who came up with this idea that there always has to be more, bigger, faster, snazzier ways to live? It's just not good for us, body, mind or soul to be always scrabbling to get to the top of the heap! Most of us could do with a healthy dose of Nouwen's downward mobility, also known as humility, because when we try to exalt ourselves above others, the opportunities for joy and belonging evaporate like the water in a birdbath on a hot summer day. And the planet is desecrated, and relationships fail, and the push for materialism to fill spiritual gaps means the cycle just perpetuates itself.

But Jesus and all wise spiritual leaders chose a different way. Jesus' disciples were waiting for him to be a king, but he was busy showing them that what was really important wasn't money and fame -- it was love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Pretty simple, and not a peep about upward mobility!

After years of living in the limelight as a sought-after spiritual writer and speaker, Henri Nouwen chose the path of downward mobility, living his last years with L'Arche Daybreak in Toronto, Ontario. He discovered the joy of being with people who loved him not for his accomplishments, but for being Henri, their friend and companion. His thoughts about that time make up some of his most moving writings, and underline the beauty and value of relationship with people with disabilities. They love us as we are, and that's a beautiful thing!

What really strikes me about Nouwen's words today is the everlasting life part. I look around our planet and see way too much everlasting death coming from upward mobility. However, if I can stick to Jesus' basic message about love, and love everyone and everything around me, destruction and death aren't a part of the equation at all, except in the natural cycle of life. Why can't the everlasting life of our beautiful planet for generations to come be something for which to strive? And rather than use the word Kingdom, why not substitute the word joy, as in the joy of belonging to and caring for one another? That kind of joy can be here and now if we so choose.

The happiest moments of my life have been those when I have had the opportunity to embrace or be embraced by nature, beauty, and people who love me. Those are moments of everlasting life, little bits of heaven, of the kingdom, if you prefer, of joy because I replay them over and over in my mind with a smile on my face, or tell stories about them, or look for moments like them every day. Ten p.m. rainbows included!

Life's joy comes not from being upwardly mobile, but from living in harmony and love with God's creation, and belonging to each other as God's human family. Really, that's what we all seek in our lives, believers or not. And, as Henri Nouwen says, some downward mobility would probably help!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A ten p.m. rainbow

I was having tea with my friend, Darcy, and catching up on three years worth of life at the dining table when she said, "Look out there!"

Here's what she saw. A rainbow so late at night? How unusual!

We called my girls and husband to come look, and spent the next half hour marveling and running out into the rain to get a better view and take a few pictures. It was a bright double rainbow (my camera didn't capture the "double" very well) in the southwestern sky, with pinkish clouds because of sunset. To the east, the sky was a glittering pinky-gold.

The sun sets in Edmonton at 10:07 these days, so we knew we had a few minutes to watch it before it faded. We set our chairs near the dining room window like it was a small movie screen, and continued our conversation as the rainbow slowly faded away. "Is it still there, or just imprinted on our retinas?" Darcy asked at one point. Even after the rainbow was gone we remained at the window, comfortable in conversation.

What's not to love about a rainbow? The refracting of light into many colours through a prism fascinated me as a child. On the prairies, under big sky, I remember seeing lots of rainbows and double rainbows, but here in my city, trees hide them too easily. When Edmonton used to have a High Level Bridge waterfall, a friend and I walked across under the water. When we looked down over the edge of the bridge, we saw complete circle rainbows!

Wasting hose water to spray rainbows into the sky got me into trouble a few times when I was young. Recalling that, I don't scold my own girls for "making rainbows" in the back yard (unless they're inadvertently spraying me). When an aunt gave us a multifaceted crystal to hang in a window, my daughters' delight at finding themselves spangled with rainbows on a sunny day made me smile: "Look, Mommy, I'm a rainbow!" one exclaimed.

If God is light, and I believe she and he is, then a rainbow seems to me a special sign of God's love, regardless of Noah's story. Love in many colours.

I'm glad Darcy spotted this one. It seemed a fitting ending to a day of friendship... a rainbow to embrace us all.

Have a rainbow day!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Simple Suggestion #127... Fertilize your lawn with compost (or The Great Compost Experiment)

This spring, I looked out at the grass on our boulevardes and noticed something really interesting. There was a definite line of demarcation between our property, where the grass was greener, and our neighbours' properties. I was puzzled about that, until I remembered that my husband had top-dressed the boulevardes with compost to the property lines. Hmmm.

When we built our raised garden beds a few weeks ago, we had some compost/soil mix left over, so we top-dressed the patch of lawn under our pear tree, to make it happy. Since then, the grass there has been growing like crazy, needing mowing twice as often as everywhere else. Of course, it's the shadiest part of our yard, too, and the grass always seems to grow faster there.

So I decided to do a compost experiment on two equivalent sections of lawn. They get full sun most of the day, and they're Julia's soccer space. On June 8th, I added compost to the grass on the right side of the sidewalk and raked it in.

On Friday, June 22nd, I tried to take pictures to show that the right side was longer than the left. It's also greener than the left. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't quite do it justice... and Lee mowed before I could get a better picture.

The left picture below is the untreated side of the yard, and the right is the side that was top-dressed. Can you see the difference? The right is definitely greener, and though you can't really tell from the photo, it's also longer.

My friend, Mark, the Super Master Composter, tells me
Because the carbon in compost will continue to break down over time, topdressing every year with about 1cm of compost is very beneficial. Generally, the ratio is one-third compost, but this amount would overwhelm a lawn, so regular, light applications is the way to go. 
If the soil is quite depleted, topdress three times a year, or core aerate in autumn and apply a double shot of compost to topdress plus fill the plugs. 

So, there you have it. If you want to fertilize your lawn the natural, slow-release way that won't cause chemical burn or make animals sick, compost will do the trick! I applied about a quarter inch of compost, sprinkling it around
with a shovel and raking it in.

Have a happy lawn!

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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Back to God's country

I'm a prairie girl at heart. I lived the first nine-and-a-half years of my life on bald flat prairie in a place known as Saskatchewan. People make jokes about it, like "it's won the award for the World's Worst Place to Play Hide-and-Seek, twenty years in a row." But if you read W. O Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind and it stirs something in your soul, or you like big sky and very distant horizons, Saskatchewan might be the place for you.

It had been a few years since I've been home to God's country, and a dozen years since we last made the journey to Saskatoon. My godmother's big birthday was in January, a time that's not optimal for crossing the prairies, so her kids decided that a late June Surprise Birthday Bash would be just the thing. And it was. The weather was fantastic, the mosquitoes fewer than in Edmonton, and everything came off without a hitch... almost. Unfortunately, my husband ran into Auntie Jo in the shopping mall near her place... had he stayed in The Source for just a few minutes longer, the two wouldn't have crossed paths. But Auntie Jo spotted him, and said, "What are you doing here??" Lee muttered something about just passing through and that we'd see her at church the next day, and the two parted ways. I imagined Auntie Jo being annoyed that we were in town and hadn't been in touch... but she was too busy feeling bad for not having invited us to her place for lunch! So when she walked in to her Surprise Party, she shook her finger at Lee and laughed, absolutely delighted!

It was a nice reunion of many aunts, uncles and cousins, and we finished the day with a barbeque and sing song at my cousin's house. Our girls met some cousins they hadn't met before, and everyone had a good time. We also managed to squeeze in a little nature time along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River on the weekend, and even got to see that Saskatoon Moon trying to peek through the clouds at one point last night.

It was a happy trip, full of simple pleasures. Saskatoon is a nice little city of about 236,000 souls that's experienced a lot of growth since we last visited. I'll post a few pictures below for the benefit of anyone who hasn't been to Saskatoon in a while... or ever. Including some of my lovely, big blue skies...

A Saskatoon park where we stopped for a picnic, 
basketball, and some tree climbing 
(our younger girls are in the trees to the left)...

A walk along the river below Queen's House...

Wild roses are just as abundant in Saskatchewan as Alberta...

The grounds of Queen's House of Retreat...

Our Lady of the Prairies...

Our girls on the riverbank...

A neat spray park on the Riverwalk... water runs down
both North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, 
in which  kids of all ages play...

If only Saskatoon and Edmonton were this close together!

My favourite bridge...

A slightly warped panorama from the Riverwalk...

A new arts centre/theatre on the edge of the river...

Big skies to watch while driving west again...

Ever present telephone poles and prairie...

Nice to see water in the sloughs after years of drought...

And the few grain elevator sentinels left standing...

I still love Saskatchewan, and all my relatives there!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The difference a few years (and a lot of work) can make

The sun is shining, the bees are busy everywhere I look, and life is beautiful in my little corner of the world. After two good rain days, things are shooting up with the long daylight hours we're having this solstice (the sun didn't set until 10:07 last night), and I've been wandering around with my camera, glorying in it all. Can't help myself... it's lovely to have a garden.

It's a fair bit of work, too... and when I look back over the years, I'm amazed at the changes that have come about through many summer work days. Both front yard and back have been transformed into something different than what they were when we moved in. Below you'll see two pictures of our back yard, taken eight years apart.

When we came to this home, there was a large rock garden/fountain that didn't work anymore (top picture). The previous owner had drilled holes through the little concrete pool at its base so mosquitoes couldn't breed there, and the pump was beyond salvaging. The garden itself was lovely, but shot through with crab grass. So in the summer of 2008, we decided to dismantle it so we could have a larger vegetable patch, and we moved the perennials to the front yard.

Taking the dragon's teeth (as we called the fountain) apart was a huge job. Lee took a sledge hammer to it, and discovered that the fountain builder was a serious guy. There was rebar throughout! And more rocks than we knew how to use.

Once all the rubble was moved out of the way(a half-ton truck load) 
we had to sift through the soil to get rid of the crab grass. 
We let it lie fallow that year so we could root out 
any crab grass that we might have missed.

The following spring, we planted potatoes in that patch...

And this year, we moved the dirt around some more
and built raised beds.

True, our boxes aren't as pretty as the original rock garden/fountain,
but we'll be eating well come autumn, when the flowers are long gone. 
And just so you know, many of those flowers are thriving in our front
yard where the people who walk nursing home residents
around our neighbourhood can stop and enjoy them.

See why I love my little corner of the world? 
The promise of good food, and enough beauty 
to make me happy. Come visit anytime!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another L'Arche AGM

Today's a big day around here... our L'Arche Edmonton Annual General Meeting is tonight, and I'm looking forward to it, and especially the community report, which involves pretty much everyone in the community in a show-and-tell session... There's much yet to do to prepare, so I'm just going to post a beautiful image from L'Arche Canada. God bless our community as we embark upon a new Mandate together!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Simple Suggestion #126... Listen for bees

Bees are among my favourite creatures. It's taken me most of my life to be able to say that, as, when I was young, a small boy at a campground where we were staying somehow got into a hornet's nest or a wild bee colony, and the sound of his screams still echoes in my memory. I was afraid of anything that buzzed for a long time... until I had children of my own and determined that they would not carry their mother's phobias.

So from the time they were little, I taught my girls to watch bees, and listen for them as they visited the poppies in our yard. I often find one daughter or another paying rapt attention to a little fuzzy black and yellow insect as it finds its way in and out of flowers, collecting nectar and sharing pollen around. The girls aren't afraid, but they do respect bees, especially since Julia was stung once. She was perhaps five, and came screaming into the house, showing me where it hurt. Uncertain what to do, I called my mom, who reminded me of an email that had been making the rounds, saying, "Put a copper penny on a bee sting." So I did, and within minutes, the welt was gone and Julia was back to her happy little self. So there's something to file away in your first aid folder!

This month, the David Suzuki Foundation has a 30x30 Challenge campaign on, encouraging people to get out into nature for at least 30 minutes each day in June. Spending time in nature has been proven beneficial to our physical, mental and emotional health... and I think listening for bees fits right in there, too. Bees are quiet and unobtrusive, and nature wouldn't manage nearly so well without them. They carry lessons for us, too. In particular, I'm thinking of the one in Mary Poppins' song Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down:
The honey bees that fetch the nectar from the flowers to the comb
never tire of ever buzzing to and fro,
because they take a little nip from every flower that they sip
and hence, they find their task is not a grind.
So today's suggestion is to find a field of dandelions, or a patch of blooming chives like I did, and sit still and pay attention to the bees as they humbly go about their work. Their short wings and fuzzy back ends make them seem like little bumbling clowns, and their happy hum while I was taking pictures has made a rather grey day into one that seems a little sunnier, somehow. They do so much, and thanklessly, that they deserve a little appreciation... and we all feel better when we take a nature break. Guaranteed!

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Day for Dad

It's impossible to buy a gift for my husband when it comes to Father's Day... but we had a lovely Father's Day all the same. He helped us lead music at church, and we took a long and lovely walk as a family through our neighbourhood and across the Mill Creek Ravine to a nice coffee shoppe, where we played Hangman and drank some delicious cold drinks. After an equally lovely walk home, I gave him a haircut, and finished making Father's Day supper... which we ate out in the gazebo with the rest of my family.

It turned out to be a lovely evening, and we spent a good part of it out on the front street, watching our girls drive a little remote control Tesla convertible up and down the road, around obstacles, and in figure 8s around my sister's legs. Soon the car drove up to Lee bearing an "I love you mail service" banner, and his Father's Day card:

My girls are so fortunate to have Lee as their dad. He's been the kind of Dad who horses around with them, helps them with homework, takes an interest in their activities, attends their concerts, and peppers them with Dad-isms on a regular basis ("I guess if that's supper, we've had it," being the most regular one). He's a solid character, and best of all, he loves and is loved by their mother, which makes for a solid family life -- for which we can never be too grateful in a world where divorce is all too common. 

Last year on Father's Day, I toasted my dad (and it still all holds true!), but today, I toast my husband, who is everything a good dad can be. Lee, your girls love you... all four of us!

Flowers for a Sunday

My front yard is starting to pop... flowers all over the place! My philosophy this season of dizziness is -- if it's not a weed, it might as well bloom where God planted it! Even if you're not a gardener, here's something amazing... that makes me wonder at our Creator and all his/her marvels, even the ones we don't think of as having souls! Could we be wrong about that?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Short Story #16... Martha's Garden

A few years ago, a fellow like Larry lived in our neighbourhood and startled Mary, my back door neighbour one morning. I took that event and wrote a happy ending for both Mary and Larry, in a writing club story from May, 2006. When I rediscovered it this week, I had completely forgotten the ending. The whole story still delights me, though I lost Mary to cancer in 2009, and Larry has long since left our neighbourhood.

Somehow, it seems fitting to share this today -- less time moodling means more time for me in the garden! Enjoy!

Martha's Garden

I was bent way over, as far as you can bend when you’re eighty-four, pulling grass out of the edge of my garden plot, contemplating planting cucumbers. It was a lovely, cool morning, and I was happy to be out in the garden in my just-out-of-bed hair and housedress and slippers. You can do that when you’re my age and not care who sees you. As I turned to reach for the dandelion digger, a loud shout came over my fence.
            “OH MY GOD!”
            I screamed. I didn’t mean to. I was startled and it just came out. I wheeled around and saw a brown face with matted brown hair passing on the other side of the fence. He seemed almost as surprised as me. I guess my scream startled him.
            “GOD ALMIGHTY!” he yelled. And he kept on walking.
            I stood there, heart pounding, thinking maybe I shouldn't go out in my just-out-of-bed hair and housedress and slippers after all. I went to the fence and looked down the alleyway behind the man. He was pushing a shopping cart loaded high with garbage bags, yelling, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” and other things that included that F word and Jesus. Didn’t he know you’re not supposed to take the name of the Lord your God in vain?
            That was the first time I saw him, the man I labelled Lazarus, or the Shouting Man. Lazarus for the poor beggar at the gates of the rich man in one of Jesus Christ’s parables.
            The second time I saw Lazarus, he was under a tree across from my usual mailbox. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him except he happened to yell “GOD ALMIGHTY!” and a few other things I would never repeat. At first I was angry, thinking I should take him to task for yelling at old women, but then I realized he wasn’t looking at me, he was laying there looking up at the tree branches. Maybe he was yelling at God, I thought, and then I wondered if he was maybe angry at God or some such. His shopping cart was poking out between the spruce trees, and that’s when I realized he was probably homeless. That in itself would be reason enough to be angry at God.
            Not long after that, I passed him on my way to the mailbox. He was just standing on the corner with his shopping cart, and this time I got a really good look at him while pretending not to look. He was pretty clean for a homeless man, at least clothing wise, though his hair certainly could have used a brush. It was thick and curly, and there was grass in it. He didn’t make eye contact, just looked down at the pavement, and didn’t say a word. Not even “OH MY GOD!” though I was bracing myself in case he did shout.
            I felt a little nervous about passing him again on the way home. If he didn’t shout at me the first time, he might the second. So I kept walking to my old school chum’s house, where I stopped for tea.
            Martha is never surprised to see me. That’s because people our age have an unwritten rule about hospitality that says anyone can drop in on anyone, anytime. My daughter was horrified when I told her about that rule. She said, “I couldn’t let people in if my house wasn’t clean, Mother!” I just told her that people my age don’t visit to see the condition of other peoples’ houses. We just visit. Martha and I have known each other since first grade, and we always have reasons to visit.
            Martha made my tea the way I like it, strong with two splashes of milk. While we shuffled our way out into the garden with our tea cups and tea biscuits, I told her about the Shouting Man.
            “You must mean Larry,” she said.
            I almost choked on my tea biscuit. “You know him?”
            “Sure, he’s Alice’s son. You remember me telling you about Alice, the organist at church? The one whose son was seriously injured while working in construction? Well, he fell quite a ways off a roof one day, and when he came out of the coma, he saw both his legs in casts and said, “Oh my God.” And because of his brain injury, it stuck. And then someone told him where he was and what had happened, and he said, “God Almighty.” And it stuck, too. And then a nurse came in to adjust his position, and that was pretty painful, I guess, because he said a whole bunch of other things that stuck. So he swears a lot, and loudly, but he’s harmless.”
            I was quiet for a minute, thinking how I had heard Larry use all those words that stuck. And I was reminded how my mother had always told my brother not to make faces at me, because one day his face might get stuck as God’s justice. I always liked the idea of James stuck with his eyes crossed and his tongue out, but I didn’t like that Larry was stuck with the words he was stuck with.
            “So if he’s Alice’s son, why is he walking around like a homeless man?” I asked.
            “Well, he lives with Alice, but it’s hard on her, you can imagine, having her son just yelling like that all the time. So he goes out around the neighbourhood to give her poor nerves a rest. And he’s always looking for things to help pay his way, because her pension isn’t enough to support the two of them. That’s why he has the shopping cart. He collects bottles, and whatever fixable junk people put out with their garbage.”
            “Poor man,” I said.
            “You don’t know the half of it. Can you imagine what it would be like to be him?” Martha asked. “He can’t hold a job with all that shouting he does, not to mention the rest of the damage to his brain, and people are pretty afraid of him, and Alice just found out she has breast cancer, and she’s all worried about how he’s going to get along when she’s gone. I just tell her she’s too young for cancer to get her this time; she’s only sixty-eight, but she says something will get her eventually, and it’s hard enough for her to convince Larry he should keep on living without her illness as a worry on top of everything. She hasn’t told him yet.”
            I sighed. The difficulties some people live through.
            “So I asked Alice if I could get Larry to rototill my vegetable patch this week,” Martha continued, "and she said he'd be pleased to do it. I'll pay him as well as I can. I also called Marilyn at the church because they just lost their caretaker, and she hired Larry to do the church flowerbeds the day before yesterday. I explained Larry's situation, and told her the noise of the rototiller would drown his cursing out, and it did. Larry told her that it was funny, but after working with something that loud, his need to shout seemed to decrease. Alice said so, too. He slept without shouting that night.”
            I still hadn’t had my garden plot turned either. “Do you think he could till my garden, too?” I asked.
            “I expect he’d be happy do it. And come to think of it, Cora, and Myrt, and Irma, and Marge and Cliff will need their gardens done too.”
            “Why don’t we just start a neighbourhood rototilling service for seniors?” I mused.
            “I thought about that, but it's not enough. Of course, once rototilling season is done, there’s a lot of other things to be done. I wonder if Larry would mow lawns and trim hedges and things like that? I’m sure there are enough of us who would like that kind of help around the neighbourhood. Where did you see Larry? Maybe we should go find him and find out what he thinks of the idea.”
            So we did. We finished our tea, and went back the way I came, and sure enough, there was Larry, same intersection, just the opposite corner. Just standing there, looking at the pavement, shouting “GOD ALMIGHTY!”
            “Yoo hoo, Larry!” Martha called.
            Larry looked up and smiled when he saw her. Kind of a dopey smile, but it lit up his whole face. “GOD ALMIGHTY!” he said again.
            I was afraid to go closer, but Martha bustled right over. “Larry, my friend Anne and I were talking, and we think we have a good business idea for you, I mean, besides the stuff you collect. What would you think about doing yard work for us and our friends? We know lots of seniors who could use your services.”
            Larry said that F word connected to Jesus in the calmest voice I’d ever heard come out of him, and added, “You think that would be possible?”
            “Well, I need my lawn mowed. And Anne would like you to till her garden,” Martha said, turning to me.
            I nodded, saying, "And I wouldn't mind if you would push my lawnmower around, either."
            “O MY GOD! But won’t your friends get mad because of my language?” Larry asked Martha.
            “We can explain your situation. They’ll understand, and if I can get used to you, so can they, right Anne?”
            I nodded again, and forced myself to say, “We’ll all get used to you. It’s not like you’re swearing on purpose, is it?”
            “GOD ALMIGHTY!” said Larry. “Of course I don’t mean to swear. But I don’t have a lawnmower,” Larry said.
            “Most of us have our own lawnmowers, but if people don't, you can use mine,” Martha said, “and the rototiller, and all the garden stuff you need. I’ve got everything in my shed. Why don’t you come on over to my house right now and I’ll show you what’s there?”
            Larry agreed, so Martha turned back to her house, and I decided to go along, too, because I wasn’t sure I trusted the Shouting Man to be alone with my friend Martha. Larry followed after us with his shopping cart, shouting a fair bit of the way.
When we got to Martha’s house, Larry parked the cart under her front window and followed us around to the back yard. As he came around the corner, he stopped mid-shout, “GOD ALMI—”
I turned to see what was going on, and there stood Larry, his mouth wide open, nothing coming out. Puzzled, I turned to Martha.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” she said to Larry.
He sat down on the nearest bench, closed his mouth, and just looked and looked.
Martha’s garden was already a profusion of flowers for late May. There were yellow and orange poppies, purple periwinkles and violas, pink phlox and dianthus, blooming fruit trees and chives and stuff I had never really noticed, I was so used to Martha’s back yard. Her flower beds were terraced, and there were hanging pots dripping flowers under the trees and trellises that I took for granted. Larry didn’t. He looked and looked and looked.
“The vegetable plot and garden shed are behind the fruit trees,” Martha said, pointing, but Larry didn’t move, except for his eyes, all over the garden.
Finally, he got up, quietly, and followed Martha to see the garden tools.
The whole time he was in Martha’s garden, not a hint of a shout or a curse came out of the man. He stood with her as she took inventory, then he shook Martha’s hand, told her she had beautiful flowers, and thanked her.
“You’re most welcome, Larry. And anytime you want to spend time in my garden, you’re most welcome.”
            So that’s how the Shouting Man started spending some quiet time in Martha’s garden, and how he came to start a neighbourhood business. Martha was quite the business woman; I have to hand it to her. She got a slew of seniors from church and around the neighbourhood to hire Larry, and he had a full schedule of yard work for the whole summer. She did his books and wrote his receipts. Then when fall came, Larry had lots of yard cleanup work. And when the snow flew, you guessed it, he was in charge of clearing peoples’ walks.
Larry bought a rototiller that could convert to a snow blower with some of the money he made. At my suggestion, he called his business Shouting Man Enterprises, and for Christmas, Martha and I got him some good denim shirts and embroidered a little Shouting Man logo on the pockets. Funny thing, though – Martha said he never shouted once in her yard, winter or summer.
            Alice, Larry’s mom, had a mastectomy and chemo, and other than losing her hair and being sickish for a while, seemed to do alright. Larry’s business went quite well, and I didn’t see him out with his shopping cart very often anymore.
But then one afternoon, just over a year after I first laid eyes on the Shouting Man, my doorbell rang.
“GOD ALMIGHTY!” I heard, before I even got to the door. Larry never came to my house unless he had work to do, and I hadn’t scheduled anything, unless I had forgotten.
There he stood in his usual overalls and Shouting Man shirt. Perhaps I had forgotten. “Good afternoon, Larry,” I said.
“JESUS CHRIST! GOD DAMN IT! FUCK OFF!” In one fluid movement, Larry opened the door, grabbed my coat off its hook and said, “Come with me!”
“What? What’s going on?”
            Larry held my coat and pushed it onto me, saying, “GOD ALMIGHTY! No time!”
I grabbed onto his arm, and we rushed down the sidewalk towards Martha’s.
“Is Martha alright?” I asked breathlessly.
“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” was Larry’s response.
“Is she hurt?” I tried again, feeling panicky.
“Larry! Should we call 911?”
That question only made him use other expletives involving the Son of God over and over, until he sounded like a hoarse dog barking.
I gave up and decided there was nothing for it but to hurry. Larry seemed so frantic that I was frightened to think about what we might find in Martha’s garden. It was the longest walk to Martha's I’d ever taken, our steps punctuated by Larry’s shouting. People stared as we went, but I didn’t care. If I could have run, I would have.
We turned the corner onto Martha’s street, and everything looked normal and quiet, other than a few extra cars parked near Martha’s. Had she died and no one told me? I hadn’t talked to her in a couple of days! My heart was pounding like never before, and I’ll never forget Larry’s wild eyes.
We turned up Martha’s sidewalk and around the side of her house, me puffing like a labouring locomotive. As we rounded the corner into the back yard, I was shocked to see Alice, Marge and Cliff, Myrt, Irma, and Cora, and a few other seniors I didn’t know very well holding a long HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner, and Marilyn the church secretary standing behind a table with a large cake.
I must have looked bewildered, because Alice came and took my hand and led me to see the cake. It was all decked out in flowers, real pansies and nasturtiums in the icing, and it said, "HAPPY 85th Birthday!"
“But Martha’s birthday isn’t until tomorrow,” I murmured.
“Larry wanted to have a surprise party for her today because he has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately, he forgot to invite you until just now,” Alice explained.
“Well, for heaven’s sake, Larry, you scared me out of my wits!” I scolded.
Larry grinned. “GOD ALMIGHTY! Sorry,” was all he said.
A moment later, we were all shouting, “SURPRISE!” and Martha was standing on her back step, mouth open in wonder. Larry had pulled it off.
The next time Larry mowed my lawn, I heard the usual shouts and curses coming from my back yard over the buzz of the mower, along with the odd “SURPRISE!”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grasscycling, Part II

Back at the beginning of May, I made a Simple Suggestion (#120) about grasscycling. Well, now my wonderful city has come up with a great contest to encourage more people to grasscycle... meaning, let your clippings lie instead of bagging them and wasting all the resources it takes to dispose of them. Really, it's the healthiest thing you can do for your lawn, because the nitrogen in the clippings returns to the grass' roots, and as mulch, it prevents the lawn from getting dehydrated in drier weather.

And even if you don't live in Edmonton, please give some serious consideration to the idea of letting nature take care of your grass clippings instead of forcing your local waste management folks to deal with them. It's another indirect way to help save the planet.

And here's a great little video starring my friend Gary (he's a great guy!), who explains everything you need to know about grasscycling. If there's still something you don't understand, don't hesitate to contact me, your grasscycling-Master-Composter/Recycler-moodler!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Simple Suggestion #125... Read together

My youngest daughter, on the verge of adolescence, is becoming very independent, which is a good thing. Every time she takes responsibility for her own room, her own activities and her own care means less fuss for me. Being 6 and nearly 4 years younger than her sisters, Julia sometimes hounds them for attention when she's bored, but she's getting much better at doing her own thing.

Reading is usually her entertainment of choice, and it has long been something we've done together. We used to bring home library bags crammed full to overflowing with books, so many that I wrecked my shoulder lugging one around ten years ago (acupuncture fixed it, but that's another moodling for another day). We would sit together on the couch for hours, looking at pictures and reading stories... until suddenly, picture books were no longer the thing, and comic books became Julia's reading of choice.

Ever try reading a comic book to a child? Somehow, it doesn't work, or at least, it didn't for me. The comic book phase seems like it will never end because Archie and friends come out with a new issue weekly, and ever since we saw the Avengers movie, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow have come home in the library bag, too. I have a hard enough time following those stories' illustrations -- reading them aloud would never make any sense because their story lines are so visually demanding.

So on Friday, when we stopped at the library and Julia headed straight for the comic book section, I decided to find something different for her. On the Young Readers Choice Award shelves were a selection of novels, and among them, I found Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Square Fish (MacMillan) 2008, ISBN 978-0-312-65930-1). I read the flyleaf to Julia, and she shrugged noncommittally. So I announced, "I think we'll have to read this one together."

Sunday was a rainy, perfect day for reading a book together, but could I convince Julia? She was lost in her comic books and didn't want to read with me. So I started reading about Calpurnia all by myself, and found myself laughing aloud at a girl who decided to cut her hair an inch per week since her mother wouldn't hear of a girl with short hair no matter the Texas heat. Callie reported that it took four weeks for Viola, the cook, to notice, and she just looked at her suspiciously and didn't say a word.

My laughter convinced Julia that I might have found a story worth sharing, so at bedtime, we read together for a half an hour, our enjoyment magnified as we paused to comment on something funny, or to question how something was worded, or to wonder where the story was headed. The first of many wonderful bedtimes!

I've always loved to read books aloud. As a teacher, I made sure to have Miss P.'s reading time at the end of each day, and if it somehow got missed, my students complained vociferously, and I felt cheated. I was recently joking to my husband that since I'm no longer teaching, and since our girls have moved beyond the "read to me, Mommy" phase of their lives, I should start a read-aloud club for kids at the public library so I can read to other peoples' kids. Or volunteer at a senior's home. I don't need a large group -- just one other person is all that's necessary for sharing an enjoyable story. Six years ago, the last time I was dizzy, my husband painted our garage doors as I read him The DaVinci Code. I had read it on my own earlier, but enjoyed the second reading with Lee a lot more because of the conversations that erupted here and there as we went.

In January of 2011, my friend, Charleen, started a book club for a group of her friends. So far, we've managed to read and discuss eight books, and while I love book club conversations after we've completed the book, I often wish I had the group to read along with me so that we could discuss things along the way. Then we wouldn't have the excuse that we can't remember parts of the story. But who has the kind of time that a read-along book club would take?

Julia and me, that's who. But there will come a day when she'll be too busy, so I'll have to go looking for someone else with whom to read.

Is there someone with whom you can enjoy a good book? If so, count yourself lucky, indeed! And if not, and sharing good literature is something you think you'd like to do, check with your nearest nursing home... That's my plan for the future, because I sure hope someone will read to me when I'm at that stage of life!

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

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A little dancing for a Sunday

Here's another beautiful video for a Sunday... I seem to go on and on about music and song in my moodlings, but being a rather uncoordinated person these days, I find this movie about dance to be inspiring, too... another reason to get my balance back, somehow. It also reminds me of my L'Arche friends and their love of dance. Everything God gave us is for praise and celebration, our bodies included, so why not dance a little today? Let the Spirit move!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Simple Suggestion #124... Listen to some long-haired music

On Tuesday evening, my music teacher sister invited her sisters to attend a fundraising concert being held by a tiny but very talented contingent of child musicians who will be participating in the Canadian Music Competitions in Toronto in July. The 9 performers ranged in age from 7 to 14 years old, and they knocked our socks off!! My sister teaches music in school to one of the grade two girls, and when the concert was over, she turned to me, shaking her head. "What must A. think of school music classes?" she laughed. "She was clapping ti-ti-tahs when she was three! What I teach is so far in her past, it's unbelievable!"

The final performer of the evening was a young woman from the school my daughters attend. L. played Beethoven's Concerto 3, Opus 37, First Movement. Her grace and elegance were visible as she played... and the music, inspiring. All the young people who took the stage had poise and talent far beyond anything I'll ever possess... and the music they played was incredible. I had goosebumps several times as little hands flew up and down the piano, playing trills and arpeggios whose complexity I will never understand or hope to mimic. Then there were the kids who played guitar, violin and cello. Whoa. Their accomplishments were mind-blowing. And it's amazing to think that there are hundreds like them from all over the country, with a passion for playing classical music, and playing it well. I wish them all the best, and I'd love to be a fly on the wall in their concert halls in Toronto!

Tuesday evening also reminded me of something I've been neglecting lately... my appreciation for classical music. Any hack can do what I do with a guitar, but hearing the young guitarist play Handel on Tuesday night made me vow to come home and listen to people who really know the nuances of music. As my other sister remarked, listening to classical music offers us a good reminder of how far human beings have evolved over the centuries... and, I would add, of how deep the human soul can be. Perhaps that's why it's so soothing... it reaches our souls.

Today is laundry day, and I need to bake cookies, so I think that I'll put Beethoven's Symphonies on the stereo and perhaps curl up with a good book. It's been a very dizzy week, so why not? Maybe I'll find my equilibrium in good music.

In case you're in the mood to join me, here's a bit of the piece that L. played -- unfortunately, it quits before it reaches the really amazing part about 15 minutes along in the full version, which can be found here. I tried to find a video with a young person playing, but didn't succeed. So you'll just have to imagine a lovely 14-year-old girl at the piano instead, fingers skipping along with the same sort of certainty. Wow!

Daniel Barenboim - Beethoven - Piano Concerto No... by medicitv

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Today's the day to Speak Out!

Today in my country, many environmental and other organizations such as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Pembina Institute are acting as one in calling on our government leaders to rethink Bill C-38, a budget bill which will weaken many of our country's most important environmental protection measures and silence Canadians who seek to defend our beautiful natural heritage from over-development. So it's time to get involved. For the past week, my inbox has received a few reminders from the David Suzuki Foundation about doing my part to act for our environment by signing a petition and contacting government officials.

If you're reading this in Canada and this is the first you've heard of BlackOutSpeakOut, you can find a short list of their list of concerns here. You'll find the homepage here. If you love nature and democracy, now's your chance to prove it by getting involved. If you're not the type to endorse the political activities of environmental activist groups, why not at least write a letter to your government official and let them know that you love nature and want to see it protected? Even if you're not Canadian... our world leaders need to be reminded more often that we all depend on our environment for life!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Moodler: Trinity Sunday sermon on Friendship

My dearest friend came to join our family for confirmation and graduation this past week, and we had a lot of good talking time together. She presided at her church this morning while her minister (D.) and his wife (J.) were away. Her sermon took on a life of its own after a wonderful conversation in our local coffee shop, thanks to the Trinity. Happy Trinity Sunday! And best wishes to D. & J. in their retirement! Though I don't know them personally, I know them well from Cathy's stories of them over the years...

Reflection on Friendship
Cathy Coulter
 June 3, 2012

When I found out that today is Trinity Sunday, I was a little dismayed. I had another topic in mind and the Trinity did not fit. I thought I’d say, “Today is Trinity Sunday” and then move on to what I really wanted to talk about which is friendship. But I think God had something better planned.
I was in Edmonton this past week, visiting a good friend, speaking of friendship and she’s got a religious education background. We went to a coffee shop and I read to her what I had so far for this sermon and as I read, I knew it was all wrong. I could see from her expression it wasn’t working.  When I finished, she said, “What about the Trinity? Aren’t you going to tie that in?” I said, “But my theme is friendship” and she said, “The Trinity is all about friendship.”
Our God is not the old man up in the heavens sitting on a throne all by himself. Our God is a relational God. The Trinity is a constellation of relationships between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as we likely grew up hearing, or a newer expression: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The three persons of the Trinity are in relationship with each other. This we can understand because, created in the image of God, we are relational beings. Not only do we have the Trinity as a model of relationship, but we are also gathered into that friendship; we are part of it.
My friend explained the Trinity to me like this: God is in everything around us but not visible except with the eyes of faith. Jesus is the embodiment of God, God with skin on. Jesus lived a human life and is someone we can all relate to. The Holy Spirit is the overarching Love that unites us, the Spirit that moves in us and leads us to seek relationship with God. When we pray, it is not us who pray, but the Spirit who prays in us, said St. Paul. I remember the novel “The Shack” that made the rounds a few years ago. William Paul Young, the author makes God, the Father/Mother, Jesus and the Holy Spirit into characters in the story, characters that demonstrate a beautiful friendship with each other. There is a flow of love among the three persons of the Trinity and we can’t help but be participants in that love.
We are made for friendship and I have been fortunate to have a friendship that feels like it’s been created out of that kind of love. It’s a friendship that is into its 5th decade and that’s with Maria, the friend in the coffee shop who gave me a lesson about the Trinity and the girl in my Grade One picture. That’s where we met, in Grade One in Plenty, Saskatchewan. We didn’t get to know each other well in those early years and her family moved to Edmonton when we started Grade Four. But because my grandparents lived in Edmonton, I’d call her once in a while when we went to visit and we became pen pals. We both liked to express ourselves through writing, we both needed a friend to commiserate with about not being popular, and very gradually we discovered a kindred spirit in each other. Our letters became longer – often close to twenty pages –they became more frequent - often crossing in the mail - and our letters became something we both treasured. We wrote through school, university, summer jobs, and permanent jobs, one of us living abroad, one of us getting married. Twenty four years after the first letter in Grade Four, we were curious to see how many there were, and we got together for a letter counting event which included a lot of hilarity and shrieks as we delved into letters we’d written through our teens, twenties, and thirties. Between the two of us, we had 428 letters.
That friendship grew to include lots of face to face time as I lived in Edmonton for 5 years in my moving around. We are in touch almost every day, mostly by computer these days. I can’t imagine my life without Maria. She is truly a soulmate. Years ago, she shared one of her favourite songs with me. It was written by a folksinger named Joan MacIsaac.  If you Google it on YouTube, you can hear the original and also see one of Maria singing it with her budgie accompanying her. This is how it goes:
          I hover over your left shoulder. I am the sunshine in your eyes.
          Though you don’t know it, I’m right with you
          In the shadow that is walking by your side.
          The miles between us, they don’t mean a thing.
          We conquered them so many years ago.
I hover over your left shoulder and I just wanted you to know,
I wanted you to know.
That’s the Spirit hovering over our left shoulders. That’s the love between us. And we never need to say good-bye because of that.
Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite spiritual writers and he tells a story in his book “Reaching Out” about reuniting with a friend and them sitting together in conversation and in silence. After some peaceful silence the friend said to Henri, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.” Henri writes, “I did not feel startled, surprised or in need of protesting, but I could only say, ‘It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.’ “Yes,” the friend said, “He is indeed in our midst.” And then he said, “From now on, where you go or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.” I love that image.
We have had another example of friendship in our church and that, of course is with D. and J. They have been wonderful friends and we don’t want to say good-bye to them. I don’t want to say good-bye. When I started coming to this church 6 years ago, I felt so lucky to have found a church with D. and J. in it. D. gives such a good sermon. His humour and comic sense of timing make us laugh and feel so good but what really stands out is his message. Every time, his sermons give me a new way to consider something, a way to expand the boundaries of my life and I can honestly say, my life has changed for the better because of D.’s sermons. Thirty-some years of ministry shows in the depth of his wisdom. I have gone to D. on more than one occasion for some advice but I remember one occasion in particular when I was really struggling with an ethical issue and with a few words of his wisdom everything became so clear for me and I felt a huge weight lifted. And J….well, I would like to be just like J. when I grow up.   I’ve seen how she generates such love and respect in the kids of the youth group and Sunday Journey, how she displays such love and respect toward every person in off the street. Her grace and clear thinking under pressure and her grace and compassion at all times with all people make her someone I so admire. Together, J. and D. have changed this church and changed us for the better, opening our vision as well as our doors, showing us how to live with respect in creation and in harmony with everyone we encounter. And yet, they remain completely humble. There is a reason I am gushing about them when they are not here. I think they would be uncomfortable with the gushing. And I want to gush.
What is it that makes D. and J. so special? The answer is simply, Love. I found a perfect description of J. and D. in the Bible. See if this sounds like them:
          D. and J. are patient and kind; they are not jealous or conceited or proud. J. and D. are not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; they do not keep a record of wrongs. D. and J. are not happy with evil, but are happy with the truth. They never give up. Their faith, hope and patience never fail.
D. has the gift of inspired preaching...we’ve all heard him…but it’s love we’re hearing. J. has enough faith to move mountains…we’ve seen her quiet persistence… but it’s love that is at work. D. and J. are God with skin on in the way that we all are when we care for God’s creation and each other. And the warm feeling that we get when we think about them, the love that flows when we are with them? That’s the Holy Spirit.  That’s us gathered in and participating in the love of the Trinity.
We don’t have to say good-bye to J. and D. because the Holy Spirit is going to be in us hovering over their left shoulders and in them hovering over ours, especially as they head into new adventures and we head into new directions. From now on, wherever they go, no matter how far they travel, the ground between them and us will be holy ground.
But it isn’t easy to let them go! And it isn’t easy for them to leave. J. is cleaning house! The nooks and crannies and cupboards are getting a thorough going over and are going to be perfect. D. is having a hard time fathoming a Saturday night with nothing to do. After 36 years of a shared ministry, there is a strong possibility that they might feel a bit lost as they make the transition away from a life of being available 24/7. So let’s acknowledge our sadness that they are leaving us and then let’s focus on loving them into retirement. Let’s pour out love on them the way the woman with the alabaster jar poured the expensive ointment on Jesus. Let’s fill the cash purse that Fred is collecting to overflowing. Let’s really tell them how they made a difference in our lives in the paper squares that are going into the scrapbook. Let’s get lots of pictures after church which Lucy and Marta and others will be snapping as we leave.
Let’s pack this church for the next three Sundays. And finally, and most especially, in loving D. and J. into retirement, let’s not forget their legacy of love but work even harder to make this church a beacon of kindness, justice and humility as we walk with God, follow Jesus and open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A psalm for the Class of 2012

Last night our eldest daughter graduated from High School. It was a beautiful, wonderful evening, and the entire pew full of family and friends burst our buttons with pride, wept a few happy tears, and snapped too many photos. I could write pages about it, but I'm too misty-eyed!

For me, the high point of the evening was hearing our girl sing the gorgeous old Dameans' version of Psalm 16 at the graduation mass, one that my family has sung many times, and one that Christina loves. Her voice rang clear as a bell in the basilica... in a prayer that I hope can be taken to heart by all our graduates this year:

You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.
Keep me safe, O God,
You are my hope.
You alone will be my saving God.
You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.
You have taught me love,
You who fashioned all,
Wonderful indeed are your holy ones.
You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.
I will bless you, Lord,
you who counsel me.
Even in the night I rejoice in you.
You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.
Now my heart is glad,
my soul is filled with joy.
Never will my Lord abandon me!
You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.

May the Class of 2012 hold onto the promises in this psalm and be guided to joy. We love you, Christina!