Sunday, June 30, 2013

A little national pride on a Sunday

Four summers ago, our family took a train trip across our beautiful country, from Edmonton to Halifax, celebrating Canada Day in Ottawa, and seeing many of the sights of this video (we know them all except the polar bears). We live in a wonderful country, and every Canada Day since, we have a party to celebrate it.

Even if you're not in Canada, feel free to join me in singing a verse of Canada's national anthem, which holds a little prayer... God keep our land glorious and free...

Kudos to Isabel Leung for creating this video.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Simple Suggestion # 170... Plant a tree

I can't believe it's taken me this long to come to this Simple Suggestion! Especially given how much I love trees... When we planted this Russian Olive nine years ago, it was up to my waist. Now it's almost as high as our house, and watching it grow has been wonderful.

Two weekends ago, Edmonton held its first annual "Root for Trees" festival. People of all ages from all over the city gathered at Government House Park and, in spite of less than optimal weather, worked together to increase the size of our urban forest. There was music, food, face painting and a kids' Tree-athlon, and from all reports, everyone had a good time planting baby trees. Brilliant, I say. I wasn't able to attend this year, but I'm already planning on attending next year.

Planting a tree is one of those wonderful things that we can do to leave the world a better place than we found it -- and there are probably dozens of other good reasons for planting trees. Like:

1. Trees combat Global Climate Change. They absorb carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen back into the air.

2. Certain trees have the ability to remove other pollutants from our ecosystems, like ammonia and sulfur dioxide and a whole slew of others that I can't think of at the moment.

3. They can also prevent soil erosion.

4. Our environment benefits when trees shade our homes and streets, cutting our air conditioning needs.

5. Plant a tree, and you won't need to water your yard so often (though heaven knows, this year it's not a problem in Alberta -- for the moment).

6. When it comes to creating oases of shade for people and animals. you can't beat trees. UV rays don't burn kids in treed playgrounds, and the urban canopy is home for many birds, squirrels and other creatures.

7. Fruit trees don't take a lot of space, and provide food for us, birds, and wildlife.

8. Trees can beautify almost any setting, and they satisfy our need for nature in many ways, often without us realizing it.

I could go on and on, but I have a dog who would probably like a walk through our favourite treed park. So I'll leave you with a picture. Here's the oak tree that was planted 57 years ago by the original owners of our home. They also left us two pear trees, for which we are extremely grateful.

In my books, planting a tree is a sign of hope for our future, and a gift to generations to come. So see how many trees you can plant in your lifetime...

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gardening like God does, Part IV

I love rainy days, though they're not the best for running around my yard taking pictures. I'm pretty wet at the moment... but I wanted to show you all the lovely things happening outside.

If you've been following my moodlings for a while, you'll know that I've moved from being a wanna-be tidy gardener with things planted in orderly rows and beds, to gardening like God does. In other words, I've turned too much of my yard into garden and I don't have enough time to whip it all into perfect organization... nor do I feel that neatness is necessary any more. What I have realized is that God doesn't plant things in tidy rows and beds, or grow perfect green rectangles of lawn without weeds, or worry about last year's left-over organic materials (read: natural mulch) strewn around plants and under bushes. She and He just lets the seeds fall where they may, and rejoices when they bloom. So that's what I'm doing, and I must admit that it makes me happier than worrying when something isn't planted in the right place. Since I was small, I was told to bloom where I'm planted, and I'm adopting the same principle for my garden.

Oh, I pull weeds, alright. I have TONS of little elm seeds, dandelions, and creeping charlies, plus I've noticed that clover, daisies, delphiniums and other things need to be pulled up all the time to make space for the stuff that wouldn't otherwise have a chance against the "I-can-grow-anywhere-anytime" bullies (though I must admit I'm having a change of heart about clover on my lawn -- it's green and kinda pretty, Shadow the puppy loves to roll in it, and it fixes nitrogen in the soil, so I think I'll let it stay put). Between maintaining our vegetable garden and weeding everywhere else too, I have plenty to keep me busy. So letting things grow where God plants them only makes sense (if they're not bully plants that want to take over the entire place) -- and I've never had happier bees or birds! They seem to love all the layers in the landscape, tall and short stuff mixed together in one glorious mess, where it's fun to hide and feed.

What makes me happiest is that my daughter has stopped saying, "Mom, don't you think we should clean up the yard?" In early spring, before everything grows, it's hard not to feel that way, except that I know there are plenty of plants under last year's detritus that will grow and hide the leaves and dead-looking stuff. And that dead-looking stuff is actually improving soil conditions by holding in moisture and feeding microorganisms that in turn, will feed the plants.

But what I love most of all are the surprises God gives me. This year, it's flame-like gaillardia, or blanket flowers, that have popped up in several places. The phlox that a friend gave me three years ago has finally decided to bloom. The rhubarb was looking sickly last year, but it's going gangbusters now, and there are purple headed chives and multi-coloured columbine all over the place. My lupins are all purple this year too (where did the pink ones go? or are they still planning to bloom?) and I've never had a lot of luck with growing echinacea, but one has appeared out of nowhere near some daisies. Best of all, there are lots of lilies, rudbeckia,  bergamot, nasturtiums, asters and poppies still to come.

Don't get me wrong -- I love gardens of all kinds, and am very impressed by neatly manicured yards and the huge amount of work that goes into keeping them so perfectly tidy. I have a few friends and relatives whose well-kept yards put mine to shame. But I'm also grateful that I have so many flowers to enjoy, growing right where they've reseeded themselves, right where God and the birds and the wind planted them.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Watery thoughts on a Sunday

There's been some excitement in Alberta for the last couple of days, and not the good kind. If you haven't heard about it where you live, people south of here are experiencing flooding due to some pretty heavy rainstorms... High River, Bragg Creek, and parts of Calgary are under water. And some of that water is moving really fast. My heart goes out to all those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, and to those who have lost loved ones, pets, and possessions.

We've heard for ages about droughts and floods due to climate change in other parts of the world (our daughter was in Germany earlier this month when there was flooding there). It seems the climate change phenomenon has finally come home to roost here, too. I have a number of relatives who were either on alert, have been evacuated, or have been stranded by flooding in the past three days. Cougar Creek, near my cousin Teresa's house, is actually a raging river. I've passed it many times when it was bone dry, so it's almost hard to imagine, except for the non-stop news reports and videos posted online.

Edmonton is under a flood alert, too, but I don't think we'll have serious issues unless we get the kind of 100 mm rainstorm they had in the Rockies on Wednesday/Thursday. Here's what our river looked like today -- a bit high, but not jumping the banks yet.

The problem is that people aren't connecting the dots... that these weather aberrations are directly linked to our highly consumptive lifestyles. Mindless living without considering the impact we are having on this gorgeous planet God gave us is creating conditions like the incredible melting of polar ice that leads to climate alteration and storms that cause so much damage and danger. It's time to rethink how we live, to use less of everything, and to walk more lightly on our earth in an effort to bring nature and humanity's impact on it back into balance.

With these things weighing heavily on my mind, I leave you with a beautiful but somewhat sombre piece of music by Camille St. Saens from his Carnival of the Animals. It ends on a lighter note... which is how I hope humanity's story ends, too.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The L'Arche AGM has me thinking...

For the past six months or so, my visits to my workplace have been rare, because I'm in the so-called enviable position of working from home. Trying to write the 40-year history of our L'Arche community requires a lot of concentration, and sharing the office at the Community Centre with two others and friends from the Day Program (Thomas, Sandy, Harry, Glen* and others) who stop by to chat, while enjoyable, isn't exactly conducive to the kind of word wrestling I've been doing of late. To put it plainly, I write better at home, without interruptions.

But the last couple of weeks, I've enjoyed going to work more frequently because of preparations for yesterday's Annual General Meeting. There were stakeholder packages to prepare and mail out, new documents to be copied for the Board members' binders, files to be organized, and the Day Program to be commissioned to make special, coloured and laminated voting cards for all our voting members to wave during our voting procedures. Besides accomplishing these things, I made one special trip on Tuesday to bring Shadow, our puppy, to meet my Day Program friends, at which time he was immediately scooped up and loved by Leanne. At last night's meeting she asked me, "How's your doggie?"

Yesterday was a busier than average day for me (for which I'm paying with dizziness today), but it reminded me why I love L'Arche so much. From a conversation with a colleague who was hoping I'd apply for an internally posted position, to an unexpected hug from Leanne, to a fond farewell to two Board members who have been amazing, to a powerpoint that was deeply touching and had our community leader sniffling as she tried to go on with other community presentations, it was a lovely day.

There were three moments/events in particular that really touched me. The first was the presentation by Shalom house about how they like to pray. They have been faithful participants in the "A Taste of Taizé Prayer" nights that I've been organizing for the past few years... and last night, they held their own version of Taizé Prayer, encouraging everyone at the AGM to sing and pray along with them to this video of Ubi Caritas:

I'll admit that a tear trickled down my cheek. I had been musing about moving our Taizé  Prayer to other parts of the city, but seeing how much Shalom House (and others in L'Arche) appreciate being able to attend, I'm rethinking that idea. Somehow, we'll have to continue in the southeast, perhaps in different churches, so Shalom can continue to join us.

The second special moment was when one of our non-verbal core members was invited to present a farewell gift to one of the board members whom he has known for many years, and included a heartfelt hug. Frank might not be able to speak, but the message in that embrace was clear to everyone present, and I'm sure it was how we were all feeling towards Norm and Dan, plus a little extra on Frank's part. Norm is his buddy...

The final moment was a simple gesture by Bill, the founding member of our community. When he saw me come into the room for refreshments after the meeting, he patted the seat beside him to say, "Come sit here," in his warm and welcoming way. So I sat and chatted with him for a few minutes. Bill is the core member who most reminds me of my uncle Louis, and I was happy just to sit quietly with him when our conversation ran out.

All of these moments have me thinking about all the good things at work that I miss while working in solitude. I'm more efficient here, but is it really that enviable to work from home? I'm thinking, not always.

I use pseudonyms online for all my L'Arche friends.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Simple Suggestion #169... Grow your own herbal tea

I've been told that if you plant mint, it takes over your yard... and honestly, I wouldn't mind, because I love mint tea. Unfortunately, having mint run rampant through my flower beds has not been a problem thus far -- I can't even find last year's mint. So I was delighted when a neighbour brought me a few shoots to try again this year. I've spread them out among the lupines, columbines, and day lilies that you see at the top of my moodlings these days. Maybe they'll do better there.

I can pick a little fresh mint any time now... and if I add some lemon balm (right), that will make a really lovely tea. Not sure where my camomile went, but between the herbs I have growing in various places in my yard, I should be able to come up with an herbal tisane to rival the decaf fair trade coffee that's been my main morning beverage of late. I have yet to try brewing bergamot, lavender, sage, or thyme, but growing my own back yard tea is one step I can take to reduce my dependence on the fossil fuels required to transport coffees and other teas great distances for my enjoyment. And self reliance is always a good thing. Come autumn, I'll dry these tea herbs in the dehydrator another friend gave me so I can enjoy them through the winter. Maybe I'll give up on decaf permanently.

Along with the picture at the top of my moodlings these days, here are a few more photos of what's been happening in my yard. Maybe I'll pick me some lemon balm and mint right now, and take a cuppa tea out with me as I survey my little garden domain from my sitting stone...

The burgundy iris is in bloom...

...ladybugs on patrol among the lupines...

...finally got around to emptying the elm seeds that were sprouting 
in the rain water that's been collecting in our bird bath...

And here's my sitting stone, surrounded by Stella D'oro day lilies for the moment.
A good place to slow down and enjoy the little things in life with a cup of herbal tea...

Looking for more simple suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A tiny little musician on Father's Day

This weekend, I had another opportunity to attend a concert given by some very talented young Edmontonians who will be going to this year's Canadian Music Competition (if you want to read my raves from last year, click here). My sister wonders why she teaches music to the young lady in the video below -- this was A.'s performance at last year's competition, when she played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17K 453, the first movement. Last night I sat there shaking my head with amazement, or sat with my eyes closed, listening to 9-year-old A.'s fingers dance over the keys as she played Haydn's concerto Hob 18. 11 in D Major 1st Movement.

A. has such adult poise and grace at the keyboards, and has also taken up violin. But watching her childlike excitement at intermission last night (once her piece had been played), I suspect she enjoys the simplicity of school music classes, too, having the opportunity to just be a kid like other kids, and making music with her friends, instead of all alone in music practice.

Happy Father's Day to all dads who make music lessons possible. I'm thinking especially of my own dad, whose love of singing and music meant that though I never really liked piano lessons, I grew up singing in different choirs and music groups... and now I have one of my own to enjoy, of which he is part. My dad still has the best voice of all. Time for a singsong, Dad? I remember how we used to always sing, Love is a beautiful song, la la, la la la, la la... and of course, I still love you!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Simple Suggestion #168... Be e-free

I've been thinking about this one for a while... and about the way electronic devices are taking over peoples' lives. Mine included -- my family bought me an iPod for my birthday, and I've enjoyed listening to music as I work in my garden. The problem is all the other stuff on the little gadget -- email, FaceBook, snapchat and the most evil Words With Friends ( ha -- I have really been enjoying playing the internet version of Scrabble with my sisters, a couple of words a day, though I've never been very good at the game). I would guess that I've only used my iPod for listening to music maybe 20% of the time!

Have you noticed that you can't go anywhere any more without seeing someone twiddling on a smart phone or some other internet connected gadget? Even our family conversations have been interrupted with people checking Google for some piece of trivia or sharing some video that, in the past, wouldn't have been essential to any possible conversation. The immediacy of information and instant messaging has the world hooked, and somehow, I'm not convinced that's good for us as human beings.

So today's suggestion is simple -- and difficult -- for our internet addicted age: Be e-free one day each week, and if not one day a week, at least several conscious hours a day. I've decided that I'm going to avoid all electronic devices for one full day a week (I usually write my Sunday moodling before Sunday anyway) and find other things to do. Outdoors, perhaps. Or in my library. Maybe I'll sort my photo albums, or do some knitting (the weather's supposed to be lousy this weekend), or put on my rain gear and pull a few weeds. I'll find some non-electronics-related activities to fill my day, and give my brain a break, like this three minute video suggests... Care to join me???

Looking for more Simple Suggestions?

Nah, take a break from your computer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What to say? What to do?

I'm at a loss today. A far away friend of mine has suffered an injustice, one of many straws that's on the verge of breaking the camel's back. She's been let down many times, and I feel powerless to help. My old standby question of what would Jesus do doesn't even have an answer. She's so far away that I can't reach her, and inviting her to come live here won't solve the basic issues with which she's struggling because Alberta is more expensive, not less. She's losing her faith in herself, her pride, her sense of self-worth. I don't know what to say or how to help.

All I know is that I love my friend, and she deserves better than this.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Sister Jeannette!

When I met Sister Jeannette almost 30 years ago, I had several nuns in my life, all of them good women, so the title Sister told me that she was someone special, someone I could trust... and that has been the truth. My friend celebrated her 50th anniversary as one of the Filles de Jesus yesterday. She is a small woman with a big laugh, a wonderful sense of humour, and a heart as big as the world. Unfortunately, she and her kind are becoming really rare.

My youngest daughter, Julia, has always had a special friendship with Sister Jeannette, so we kind of invited ourselves to the Golden Jubilee mass, and once we were there, the woman being celebrated was so happy to see us that we got invited downstairs to the banquet, too. It was a lovely celebration of Sister Jeannette and Sister Frances, whom I didn't know. The two joined the fjs at the same time, and their celebration touched me deeply. I've known Sister Jeannette since I was a teenager, and thinking about all the young people she has touched (including my own daughters) and all the good work she's accomplished because she gave her life as a gift to God made me happy... and sad. Happy for her successful ministry over the last 50 years and the fact that I know her, and sad that my kids and grandkids may not have my many memories of good women like her, simply because there are so few women choosing religious life anymore.

But perhaps there's good reason for that. Perhaps people are finally waking up to the fact that it's not just sisters, priests, monks and ministers who are called by God. Every single one of us has a special call, and though I used to be one of those brainwashed Catholics who felt that those who were called to the priesthood or religious life were super-special in God's eyes and I was off the hook, now I know that's just not true. We are all called to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. So thinking one vocation more special than another is wrong-headed, and certainly not helpful in a world that needs every single person on the planet to use their gifts and to pull together to make God's love real. None of us are off the hook!

And I'm also sure that it's time for women in particular who want to commit themselves to God to have more than one way to do it. Women who felt called by God in Sister Jeannette's day had no choice except the convent... because the men in Rome who tightened up the rules about priesthood back in the Middle Ages were afraid to share the Church's power with anyone who wasn't a celibate male. These days, it would make more sense to me if women who hear God's call to ministry have the choice of deciding whether they want to join a religious community of women and/or to serve as a priest, like many Roman Catholic Women Priests do now.

Of course, none of this is to say that Sister Jeannette is not special. She definitely is, and I have always appreciated her faith and love and joy -- joy above all -- in my encounters with her. She's the kind of woman whose love for God makes everyone who meets her want to know God, too, and she's easier to talk with than many priests I know. The fact that she has been a faithful Fille de Jesus for 50 years when the institutional Church has done so little for religious women only impresses me with her perseverance in staying close to God (though I suspect she'd like to be a more radical feminist, she won't abandon her community).

I fully expect the Holy Spirit will see to it that there will always be good, faithful people like Sister Jeannette who will do the kinds of things she has done with her life, though perhaps someday, they will be free to live their vocations as they see fit. Perhaps they won't even need titles like Sister or Father.

But then my question is, when I first meet them, how will I know that the person I'm meeting is a Sister Jeannette kind of person??? I guess I'll know them by their actions and their love; St. Francis' saying will be my proof -- "Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary."

Sister Jeannette definitely doesn't need to use words.

Here's the song that ended her celebration -- one of my favourite hymns.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Julia's garden

My youngest daughter has decided that she wants to be a farmer. Her best friend's family is connected to a farm, and the two girls have a dream about running the farm and growing their own food. So I wasn't surprised when, back in January, Julia announced that she wanted her own garden space this spring.

She asked for two tomato plants and some carrot and cucumber seeds, and when we were shopping for a few bedding plants, she begged for pansies, and planted them next to her garden box. Her cucumbers are up, a few carrots have sprouted, and the one tomato plant that didn't succumb to a cut worm is doing alright. Her sudden interest in gardening inspired her older sister to ask for a box, too, and Suzanna planted pumpkins in hers, which I expect will try to take over our backyard lawn space. But that's okay from our family's "grow food, not lawn" point of view!

I'll leave you with a quotation I like, and some pictures of what's blooming in my yard. More to come!
I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology. True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer ‘without ceasing.’ Likewise, true gardeners never cease to garden, not even in their sleep, because gardening is not just something they do. It is how they live.
 - Vigen Guroian, The Fragrance of God

See the happy little bee in the nearest flower?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Simple Suggestion #167... Visit/tour your local waste and/or recycling facility

Did you know that this is Environment Week? It's a time to think about ways to live more lightly in our environment and reduce our ecological footprint... in particular, the things our lives leave behind, a.k.a. waste.

Recently, my hubby and daughter ran into a garbage parade in St. Petersburg. They probably would have missed it but for the drummers who created a soundscape that Lee and Christina followed, only to find a group of people dressed up in all sorts of garbage-y looking costumes (a plastic bag-wearing lady on stilts, some men dressed in piles of newspapers or recycled bottles, and a host of others) pushing a great ball of glued-together trash down the park path.

The green squad, as Lee called them, seemed to be doing their best to get their community to think about waste. I remember reading somewhere that Moscow's landfills were supposed to be full by now, so it would have been interesting to find out about the waste situation in the Russian Federation. Of course, Christina and Lee were too surprised by the whole thing to think to ask questions. They took it all in, and took a few pictures just for me, because they knew I'd find it interesting.

Here in Edmonton, we have our own green squad of sorts -- a group of volunteers known as Master Composter/Recyclers who do their best to reduce waste and to educate others to do the same. As one of that crowd, I'm always rubbing shoulders with other MC/Rs who have done some pretty amazing things in order to cut down what goes into their garbage cans each week. They go beyond the usual composting and recycling in order to have less waste before they even start an ordinary day. As far as I know, the group hasn't tried a garbage parade yet (though the City's Michael Recycle mascot makes appearances at different events). Hey, a garbage parade could be fun, and get folks thinking...

But there's nothing to get us thinking about reducing waste like people who know how to do it... or like a tour of our local landfill and waste management service. Just seeing the amount of stuff that gets "dumped" in a short period of time makes a person think about how terrible it is to have to throw away anything at all. If we want a healthier environment, reducing waste is key... and if we want to reduce waste, buying less is critically important -- less packaging, fewer chemically compounded items, and nothing that we don't NEED.

The City of Edmonton actually gives tours of its recycling facilities and transfer station, especially this Environment Week. And there are lots of other Environment Week activities going on, that you can read about by clicking here.

So, this week's simple suggestion is to educate yourself about where your garbage goes and how you can reduce it by visiting local waste and recycling facilities. Our environment will thank you.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A whimsical Sunday video

Remember last week, how I moodled about the whimsical movie featuring the Trinity? Well, I've learned that it was part of a TV series called Insight, put out by Paulist Communications in the seventies and eighties. I can't find Jesus B.C., but here's a little video called The Sixth Day that runs along the same lines, with the same sort of gentle humour. I like stuff like this, because it uses imagination to take the Bible story a little further, and I'm sure God has a huge sense of humour about these things! Keenan Wynn plays God, Marty Feldman of the amazing eyes is the Archangel Josh, and Randolph Mantooth is Adam. Enjoy!