Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My happy place

It's a late Spring this year (my girlfriend tells me the tulips are late at Butchart Gardens, too), and a glorious day here; the sun is shining and the air is fresh but not overly so, and the potential of a new growing season is visible everywhere -- tulips poking out of the ground, buds finally starting to appear on the lilac outside my window, and jackrabbits chasing each other through the park. I felt like I could have walked all day when the dog and I went out this morning, but we had other fish to fry (our basement shower is being replaced and I had to be home to let the workman in at 8 a.m.).

So I'm enjoying my day, but in a different way. I enjoy moodling here (it's one of my favourite creative outlets) and I love gardening. I think I'll go out and knock down all the old perennial stalks so that new ones can take their places soon, and maybe later I'll post a few pictures of the shoots of spring that are poking through my leaf mulched front gardens.

But for the moment, I'll leave you with some pictures of potential -- our back garden, waiting to be planted, and the little greenhouse that Lee and I have been working on since the beginning of August, with its first crop of happy tomato plants.

Last August
This morning
There are also three pepper plants, a few leeks, and some cucumbers... and yesterday I planted some herbs and zinnias. I've run out of little pots for the moment, or I'd be starting more seeds today.

Oh well. Frankly, I feel a little spoiled! And very grateful to my hubby, Lee, for making my greenhouse dream come true!
It's nice to get a jump on gardening season, and to sit in a lawn chair among the happy little plants in the warm sunny room.

My happy place.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Easter Song for a Sunday

With the weather improving and a busy weekend behind us, I almost forgot to post something for this Sunday. But this song has been running through my head in the last week or so. I remember the first time I heard it at my parents' church supplies store on a demo record. The singer, Don Francisco, had a voice with a strong vibrato, something I've never been fond of, but the storytelling and the melody caught my attention.

Dolly's voice also has a strong vibrato (and I seem to have one now, too -- poetic justice?) but I've always loved gospel choirs, and this story... Enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten years in our dream home

I recently found a picture of our house from Spring Break ten years ago. So this morning I thought I'd see if I could take a similar picture of it now. What you see below are two shots of the same place, a little more than ten years apart.

I guess I should have waited for a sunny day -- if it's sunny tomorrow, maybe I'll try again. But even with the sky being grey, you can see that we've made some changes to the yard and the house's exeterior, and the city has moved the lamp post so that its light shines directly into my eyes if I don't close the bedroom blind all the way. There are new sidewalks and curbs, too.

Inside the house, we've knocked out a wall and refinished the floors, painted almost every room, and adapted different spaces to our needs. But the real changes aren't in the house -- they're in its people. Our girls are young women now, soon to fly the nest, and Lee and I are a middle-aged couple instead of thirty-somethings. There's nothing extraordinary about us or our home, except, perhaps, how happy we are living here.

After all, a dream home doesn't have to make the pages of the glossy magazines if it brings contentment and joy...

My house is small,
no mansion for a millionaire.
But there is room for love
and there is room for friends.
That's all I care.
-- Anonymous

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Simple Suggestion #202... Plan a garden... start small!

This idea comes from my Ministry of the Arts Calendar last week... (its image, "A Dao of Gardening" which is a quilted piece by by Karel K. Hendee is to the right). Garden planning is what I'm doing today. This morning my seed order arrived, and yesterday I planted my lettuces and spinach -- they're cold crops and can survive spring's cooler temperatures. It was great to feel the dirt in my hands. Winter has been long enough -- and it's been harder than ever to wait for gardening season!

But planning a garden is the first step. The mistake that many gardeners make right off the bat is that their dreams are bigger than they realize, and a big gardening dream requires more effort than they might be able to offer as "unseasoned" gardeners.

Fortunately for me, when I first started testing my green thumb, there wasn't much for garden space, and that may be what saved my ambitious gardener's soul. Too many wanna-be-gardeners start too big and end up overwhelmed. But I had small kids, and very little time for big dreams, so I planted two tomato plants that first year, and they did just fine because they were about all that I had time to look after. The next year, I had four tomato plants, and a little row of carrots around the edge of the tomato bed. The year after that, I got my hubby to dig up a little bit of the lawn, and we had a few more carrots, tomatoes and a couple of cukes with a wee bit of lettuce. By then, my girls were playing together in the yard, and sometimes helping me with their own little shovels and watering cans.

Twenty years later, I've got a good-sized garden, but I still make mistakes when it comes to planting... too many leeks last year, not enough cucumbers. I guess the trick is to be realistic, and the best way to determine what works is always to start small, no matter what I'm planting.

So, today's challenge is to come up with a simple plan to grow something edible. For some, it might be a pot of herbs on the window sill, or a few strawberries in a balcony flower box. Start with some good soil, and new seeds. The only real challenges are to actually get the planting done, and develop the habit of watering (and fertilizing, if need be) regularly. Hopefully, the joy of watching things grow strengthens the desire to keep at it. And if, somehow, things don't work out -- well, it's not like it was a huge cost or a ton of effort -- and there's always next year!

Happy Garden Planning!

Looking for more simple suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Encounter

On Thursday morning while walking the dog, I ran into Jesus -- or someone who looked an awful lot like him. Dark of hair, eyes and stubbly beard, he was wearing grubby construction worker clothing, standing on the front step of a new home being built a few blocks from my place, punching a number into his cell phone. Seeing me, he called out, "Good morning!" and as we passed a low fence and Shadow came into his view, he addressed the dog, too, saying, "Hello there, cutie!" A moment later he was having an animated conversation with the person he had called.

I couldn't help but smile. It's not often that I pass a construction zone and am pleasantly engaged by one of the workers, which is what set me to musing for the rest of my walk about Christ hidden in the strangers we meet.

In keeping with that theme, I'll refer you to a short story of an Easter encounter that came to me a few years back, a little gift that keeps on giving in my life.

Click here.

And if you've already read my Easter story, here's a beautiful little video that has been making the rounds, but that I'll leave here for those who have yet to see it... In his day, Christ was an unsung hero, and he calls us all to find ways to share new life with others. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Almost Easter

Here's the snowman Julia and her friend Mikayla made yesterday...

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Good Friday Prayer

Hundreds of people participated in the 33rd annual Good Friday outdoor Way of the Cross walk in downtown Edmonton on March 29, 2013.
Picture from last year's Outdoor Way of the Cross by Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal.

O Christ,
we choose to love
and not to harden our hearts,
even when the incomprehensible happens.
As we remain in your presence with perseverance,
day after day,
and pray with simplicity of heart,
you come and make us into people
who are a leaven of confident trust
by the way we live.
And all that your Gospel calls us to,
all that you ask of us,
you give.

-- Brother Roger of The Taizé Community

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy time

We're coming to one of my favourite weekends of the year, that of Easter. I love it because it is a time of story, ritual, and community, and because Christ chose solidarity with all those who suffer in order to show us what it means to really live. His actions call us to do the same in our lives.

The entire weekend is a grace-filled time in my books, but two ecumenical events stand out for me. The first is the 34th Annual Good Friday Outdoor Way of the Cross that begins at Hope Mission at 10 a.m. Christians from all over will come to be with our inner city brothers and sisters and reflect on the theme, "Be Not Afraid -- Love drives out fear." (1 Jn 4:18). It's threatening to be rainy this year, so I guess we'll be carrying umbrellas on the 1.8 km walk.

The other event is Good Friday Taizé Prayer Around the Cross at 7 p.m. at Providence Renewal Centre (3005 119 St). I love the chapel there, and the meditative music fits the day so well. Praying around the cross with other Christians underlines the importance of Christ's s life for us all no matter our denomination.

Of course, the Easter experience also includes Holy Thursday (today), Saturday's Vigil celebration of the Resurrection, and a whole lot of alleluias on Sunday. Lest you think I'm nothing but a religious nut, I will say that there will also be the fun of egg colouring, a search for chocolate bunnies, and a delicious family barbecue. A blessed Holy time to you all! Here's a lovely footwashing video... Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book review: The Blind Man's Garden

I was up late last night, reading. That's not so unusual, although the older I get, the less often it seems to happen. What is unusual is the aftershock of the book I was reading. It took a night's sleep for it all to sink in, I guess.

Three weeks ago, I found Nadeem Aslam's The Blind Man's Garden (Random House 2013, ISBN 978-0-385-67797-4) at my local library. I started reading right away, but several other books took precedence, probably because they were more cheerful. I found Aslam's book a tough read, probably because my world is anything but violent and chaotic since I live in a country that isn't as "heartbroken and sorrowful" as Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11.

More often than not, when I start a book and set it down to read others, it returns to the library unfinished. But after reading just a few pages and setting The Blind Man's Garden aside for almost three weeks, I had to return to it; Aslam's prose is that incredible. I can't quite describe his way with words, but perhaps it is enough to say that he has the eye of one who loves nature, and his descriptions are full of wonder whether he is describing a siege or a night sky. The added bonus is that the story's plot carried enough twists and turns that I didn't want to put it down. I've been up late three nights in a row.

The Blind Man's Garden tells the fictional but believable story of a family in Heer, Pakistan, and their struggles to live as good Muslims in a place caught up in the radicalization of Islam that coincides with the American involvement in Afghanistan. The story's characters reveal many different facets of a society mired in conflict, propaganda, and hysteria: Rohan, the patriarch and former school headmaster has no choice as his life's work is made into an academy for teaching boys to be terrorists; his son Jeo secretly heads into Afghanistan to aid civilians in the war zone with the aid of his foster brother, Mikal, and they meet the Taliban sooner than they expect with disastrous results; and Naheed, Jeo's wife, and her mother, Tara, expose day-to-day challenges in countries where the lack of women's rights is a given. Even the secondary characters will stay with me: the fakir who roams the countryside wearing a heavy load of chain links representing people's prayers, the Catholic priest who operates a school in a country increasingly antagonistic toward Christians, and the young woman with a snow leopard cub and her brother.

The book is clearly written for a western audience, giving insight into a society with which a North American like me has little experience. If these characters and their stories weren't enough to provoke thought, the tale is one of hard-fought redemption, which is one of my favourite themes in literature. I finished the book late last night, and it is only this morning that my eyes are misting over with its harsh beauty. I'd like to read parts of it again, but it has to go back to the library today.

From the flyleaf: "In language as lyrical as it is piercing, in scenes at once beautiful and harrowing, The Blind Man's Garden unflinchingly describes a crucially contemporary yet timeless world in which the line between enemy and ally is indistinct, and where the desire to return home burns brightest of all."

I can't say it better than that. If you're looking for a book to read, I recommend this one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One year of puppyhood

Shadow has been with us a whole year now, and it's been fun watching him grow up. He's changed a lot and is maybe twice the size he was when he arrived, but is still a little dog.

The little white neck-warmer that my husband converted into a puppy sweater last spring doesn't fit anymore... but Shadow is still most definitely a puppy. He loves to play, and tries to play with everything that moves, including unfortunate, grumpy old dogs who don't really remember what it's like to be a pup. He also loves to cuddle, and in the evenings will walk around the house from family member to family member until he's hoisted onto bed or chair to lounge beside the willing. He's got a pretty good life, all in all, going for two walks a day, getting two square meals, and sleeping with one daughter or the other most nights. Last week, he got a spring haircut that took Julia and me almost two hours, and we've decided that we much prefer him with short hair. He looks less like a small black bear and more like a dog. See?

Not bad for a pair of amateurs.

I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I'd be a dog owner, but a year in, I don't mind at all now that Julia is pulling her weight with regards to his care and maintenance. I could do, however, without the chewed up facial tissues that I find in different places! And we're forever finding stolen socks hidden behind the couch...

Here's a 45 second clip of our walk to Gallager park this morning for you all. And for me. It makes me dizzy, but I love the exuberance!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Palm Sunday Hosanna

We've arrived at the end of Lent almost... and are entering into the holiest week of the year. I love how Spring comes along with it in my part of the world. Palm Sunday often allows for outdoor processions around the church... but this weekend has turned out to be chilly and somewhat snowy, with the temperature today barely rising above freezing, so I suspect our Hosannas will all happen indoors.

In Montreal last month I met Sherrian, who recently introduced me to Hillsong United, and since then, I've been exploring some of their music. Here's Hillsong's Hosanna. I love the lyrics in the song's bridge -- "Show me how to love like You have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks yours..."

Have a blessed Holy Week, all!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Little Free Library update

It's been almost a year and a half since I posted a moodling about Edmonton's first Little Free Library in my neighbourhood... and I'll admit to borrowing books from it (and contributing some of my own) while out for walks with Shadow-pup during the year I discovered it.

But over the winter, I sort of forgot about it -- until last week, when my girls and I were enjoying a walk with Shadow-pup and ended up near the first Little Free Library (#4025) that made it onto the website's map in Edmonton. And lo and behold, if there isn't another Little Free Library a half block away at the Centre d'arts visuel de l'Alberta (9103 95 Ave) -- this one with French books! I love its rainbow colours!

Little Free Libraries are "take a book, return a book" neighbourhood gathering places where people can share their favourite stories. All that's needed is a waterproof home for the books like the first one that Vera, Joe and Karl built, an 'administrator' who keeps things in order, and and people who want to participate. And if the libraries are registered online, people know where to find them. I see there's one in Sherwood Park now, too; Cold Lake has one, and Calgary has 23! I suspect not all of Edmonton's have been registered with the website, as our little Francophone one doesn't show up on the map... yet.

I'm tempted to start my own... but since there are two within a fifteen minute walk of my place, it's not really necessary -- I can support them. But if your neighbourhood isn't on the map and you have books you'd like to share, it's worth a thought... It's just another wise way to keep good books out of the landfill and in the hands of avid readers. I've got three Little Free Library books on the go at the moment...

Here's a great little vid that gives you the idea in under three minutes. Enjoy... and consider the possibilities!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Simple Suggestion #201... Consider your food's sources

a view in our greenhouse today...
 Black Prince heirloom tomato plants
Wow, what a great bunch of people at this most recent round of Simplicity Study Circles. They're teaching me a lot -- and last night's discussion was the best one I've attended yet on the topic of Simplicity and Diet, just for all that I learned.

To be honest, I'm not the best at carrying through on this Simple Suggestion -- but as I've admitted often in the past, I'm no expert in Simplicity, but a traveller on the path toward a simpler, saner and more sustainable way of life. When it comes to food, growing, canning and freezing the organic bounty from our own backyard is my main effort toward ensuring that our family is eating healthy and local foods. But there is so much more that can be done, as last night's discussion made clear. For example, a wee conversation before we even got the circle started showed me that it wouldn't be that difficult to make my own yogurt -- and it would save on the hundreds of non-biodegradable plastic containers my family seems to collect because of the commercially produced store-bought variety we favour. So now I'm looking into how to make my own yogurt...

It's so easy to take our food for granted, to forget where it comes from and how it affects our bodies and our planet, and to allow the food system and its marketers to dictate to us how and what to eat. But the commercial food system is deeply flawed -- filled with Genetically Modified Organisms and super-processed foods that contribute to all sorts of health problems like obesity, heart disease and early-onset dementia, not to mention the impact its production is having on our only planet. And in the quest for greater food diversity and globalization, unsustainable food chains have been developed the world over. It is estimated that the average mouthful of North American food travels 1500 km from where it is produced to where it is consumed, contributing mightily to the planet's dis-ease through the increase in fossil fuel emissions and global climate change. Do we really need to eat strawberries from Argentina in January? Or can we learn to preserve the ones that grow at our local u-picks in the summer in jams, sauces and tarts, or support locals who make preserves and sell them at our local farmers' markets?

Today's challenge is one I know that I need to take to heart more often than I do. Producing food for my family in our garden is one thing, but being aware of the food system's conundrums is another. I know I should eat fewer animal products, but does it make sense to eat almonds all the way from California as protein instead? Where is my food coming from? Can I find more local sources that are using better farming practices and fewer pesticides in food production? And am I doing all I can to avoid processed foods that contain too much sugar, salt and fat?

There's always room for improvement, as we all acknowledged in our discussion last night. As consumers, we have power to push for improvements at our local food stores and suppliers, by asking hard questions about where our food is coming from and whether it could be sourced more locally.

Changing our diets can seem scary or overwhelming, but less so if we take one small step at a time. This is mine: instead of taking the convenient way out and buying my yogurt at the store, I have found two friends who are willing to share their own methods and expertise (thanks Su and Diane!), so guess what I'll soon be doing...? Watch for a yogurt moodling, coming soon...

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A prayer from ThinkFast

Click on this image to go to
the Share Lent page...
This weekend, a group of youth including our three daughters attended a Share Lent (Development and Peace/Caritas Internationalis) ThinkFast at which they played and prayed and haven't eaten since 9:30 yesterday morning. We've actually fasted as a family, and will break our fast in two hours or so at morning mass at our parish. We've experienced something about hunger even as we learned a lot about its causes, food production, and Development and Peace/Caritas Internationalis' partners in the developing world, and we raised some funds to for projects led by the people in their own countries rather than by well-meaning but often misinformed aid workers. The more I learn, the more I understand that it is better to help people work for themselves than it is for outsiders to come in and bring our idea of what aid looks like. The people in the developing world know what they need better than any outsider could!

Today, I'm posting the prayer with which we began and will end our ThinkFast.

Thank you for the smile of the child:
eyes bright, belly full, licking
the last caked crumbs from his spoon.

Thank you for the pride of the woman:
arms spread, palms stretched, heavy
with her first year's harvest.

Thank you for the joy of the man:
coming home to his family's future 
with fair payment for his crops.

Thank you for the love
of the neighbour:
seeing another's need, sharing
from the little she owns.

Thank you for the hope that we share:
determination that all should enjoy
the richness of your harvest.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sticking with the prophets

For every new dollar generated in Canada since 1999, 66 cents of that dollar has gone to the wealthiest 20% of families. For every new dollar in real wealth generated in Canada since 1999, the upper middle class captured 23 cents, while the bottom 60 percent of families had to settle for the last dime.
(Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, April 2014)

I woke up this morning to my usual radio show announcing that the wealthiest 86 individuals and families in Canada have the same net worth as the poorest 34% of Canadians -- and it was enough to make me want to cover my head with a pillow. But I got up and looked up the report above (click on its title and you can see it for yourself) because I wanted to know how it was possible. After reading bar graphs compiled from Stats Canada information and skimming the rest of the report, my heart was heavier than ever. Knowing that those wealthy 86 could buy all of the privately held assets of several Atlantic Provinces and still have billions to spare (p.10-11) isn't something to brag about in my books. Basically, it means that too many people are living below the poverty line while too few are living the high life. What about solidarity and equity?

The report goes on to recommend closing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to avoid paying taxes on capital gains and increasing income tax in the higher tax brackets. But my recommendation would be that every one of those top 86 wealthiest families and individuals could meet and hang out with someone like Maria, a client who came into the Clothing Room when I was volunteering there last week.

Maria and I hit it off right away because, of course, we both have the same name. She hadn't been into SSVP's clothing room for over a year, and she came because she and her man had defaulted on rent and been kicked out of their apartment. Because all their possessions had been left behind, she stopped at Sobey's to get a few grocery bags to bring to SSVP to fill with clothes... and while at Sobey's, she spotted five gorgeous roses that she "just had to buy." As I helped her find things she needed, I noticed the floral package and commented on it, and she said, "I just needed something pretty today, so I bought them." She opened the package so I could see her roses: white, yellow, coral, pink and red, and I oohed and ahhed appropriately, and called another volunteer to have a look. 

That's when Maria decided to give the flowers to me. "No one appreciates them at my rooming house. They all judge me for buying flowers. They don't understand how I need beauty. So you have them." I protested that they were hers, that her rooming house needed beauty too, but she was insistent... and how long does a person protest a gift before insulting the giver? I gave her a hug and found a vase for the roses, setting them out on the registration desk for everyone to enjoy. "They look nice there," she said, stopping to smell them before taking her bags of clothes and heading out the door. "Be sure to enjoy them."

The top 86 wealthiest Canadians could use some people like Maria in their lives. Her generosity even in her poverty is a sign that we shouldn't hoard what we have, but share it to the best of our ability. She reminded me that relationship is more important than possessions, and that though wealth is often a wedge that divides people, solidarity and love are the glue that hold us together as a human family. As my favourite humanitarian says:
The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets, they always reveal God's design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the things that are essential.
-- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 186.