Thursday, April 30, 2015

The palest shades of green

The early leaf time of year is my favourite. Trees do the most amazing Spring things, putting out foliage of intricate shapes and ethereal shades of green. In some pictures from my walk with Shadow this morning, you almost have to strain your eyes to see the palest shades...

* * * * * * *

On another note, tonight sees the graduation of the 2015 crop of wonderful Master Composter Recyclers! The MCR clan is amazing, made up of people who are all about reducing waste, turning organic material into compost, and trying to recycle everything else. The clan gets bigger all the time, with 34 joining the ranks just this year. I got to meet and congratulate them on Tuesday night after they wrote their exam, and to hear some of their plans to share their knowledge with Edmontonians. It was, as usual, a very inspiring evening, and I wish them all the best when it comes to reducing, reusing, recycling, and helping others to do the same. 

Go, MCRs, Go!

Monday, April 27, 2015

That was a whole shootload* of work...

My hubby, who never swears, shocked me a little on Saturday when he used the above phrase (*cleaned up for public consumption) to describe what we've been doing these past two weekends. It was a shootload of work, but now I have the garden of my dreams!

The dream itself came eight years ago during my Master Composter/Recycler course. One of the presenters was Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer. I'd never heard of raised bed gardening (or many of the fancy terms he used, like permaculture) up to that point, and was gardening in rows like my parents and grandparents. When Ron talked about how he raised food on his city lot, it made more sense than what I was doing. I was an instant convert, and signed out library books and started implementing some of the gardening practices Ron had mentioned. In doing so, our yields increased, and my hubby became a convert, too.

And now we're finally getting our garden to where I've always dreamed it could be. The soil for our raised beds is boxed in, preventing it from washing away or becoming compacted along the paths. The weeds that grow on the pathways won't be climbing up the sides and mixing in with the plants, and the soil above ground warms sooner and drains better. The pictures below tell the story of two weekends of good, hard labour.

First, we went out to the garden to plot how many garden boxes we would need to fill our space and still leave room to work near the compost bins.

After concluding that 17 more should suffice, we visited our local hardware stores for some 16 foot long floor joist boards, and bought the straightest ones we could find. Then we helped the guys at the store to cut our boards into 3 foot and five foot lengths using the big power saw, and carted home the pieces in our car. We took two weekends to do it, half at a time.

Below, Lee is cutting our 2x2s that will brace the corners of the boxes.

We developed a system as we went, 
doing a bit of pre-drilling and counting out screws (9 per corner).

It became like a choreography,
and by the time we had made our first ten boxes, 
we could finish assembling one in under ten minutes.

I timed us!

Here, we've got three sides of a box together,
and I'm dancing it around so we can add the fourth.

One more side to go on this one.
Below is last weekend's work set in place.

Here are the first three boxes we made this Saturday,
waiting to be placed.

Once they were all assembled, the "fun" of placing them began.

Lee amazed me with his ability to level the boxes.
He'd shovel dirt paths through my old raised beds, 
and I'd think, "There's no way this box will sit right."
But I'd set the level, and more often than not, it sat straight!

By Saturday at 6 p.m., we had all 17 new boxes placed and 
partly filled with garden dirt. I couldn't lift another shovelful, I was so tired!
The 3 yards of City of Edmonton compost (ordered from a local landscaping co.)
arrived on Saturday but had to wait until Sunday.
We covered the pile below with a shiny silver tarp, 
and joked that it was our own personal UFO.

Sunday after church and brunch, Lee moved wheelbarrows full of compost,
and our girls and I helped dig it into the soil in the boxes. 

With four of us working,
we got it all done in just under three hours. 

Thanks, girls! We celebrated by going for icecream.

And here it is, the garden of my dreams. 
Just waiting for future occupants.

Definitely a shootload of work, but so worth it when we eat fresh vegetables later this year!!
And all because of a dream that began eight years ago in my Master Composter/Recycler course...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Simple Suggestion #231... Develop an "outdoors habit"

The David Suzuki Foundation sends me spam emails that I actually don't mind receiving. And for Earth Day, today, they've sent a good one -- a reminder to join their 30x30 Nature Challenge. Basically, it encourages its participants to get outdoors 30 minutes a day for the month of May.

It's a good idea -- we all need more nature in our lives. The first half of the video above is a lifestyle devoid of fresh air and green space, something that improves human well-being more than any sitcom or computer game ever could. Within two minutes of encountering nature, muscle tension, and heart rate slow. An hour in nature improves memory performance and attention span by 20%. Just think what a whole weekend in nature does for our health!

As a kid whose parents worked most Saturdays, I remember how my sisters and I would often spend much of the day watching Saturday cartoons and kids programming. And how awful I felt after 8 hours in front of the TV. And how I swore I would never do it again, but somehow, often did. Not that I'm the most active person, but over the years I've come to appreciate how important it is to get outside daily, to take a little walk or wander around the yard or neighbourhood to see what's new. It costs nothing, and requires no special equipment. Since I've developed an "outdoors addiction" it blows my mind to think that many people spend 6-10 hours a day in passive, screen-based activities, barely coming out of the gloom.

Of course, it's not essential to sign up for the 30x30 Nature Challenge, though some people appreciate programs that hold them accountable to do what they say they will do. If you're one of those, you can access the Suzuki Foundation's Challenge website by clicking here.

Otherwise, just get outside. For 30 minutes, or more, or maybe a little less, each day. Your body will thank you.

And -- have a Happy Earth Day! I think I'll go spend 30 minutes turning over my compost pile.

P.S. For more Simple Suggestions, click here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Followers are leaders too, sometimes...

I've been moodling a lot about what happened yesterday on my walk with my neighbour. And after writing about it here, I shared my little reflection with a few people. My friend Rodney, who left the comment below it, shared a great little "mockumentary" about leadership and the importance of followers. I can't figure out how to make his link work in the comment section, and since I think the movie has something important to say, I'm posting it here. Take a look. It's only three minutes long.

What I really love about this example of leadership is the emphasis placed on the followers. The sunburned "lone nut" guy does what he has to do, but his efforts are going nowhere until the first follower joins him. And the second. And they're all leaders.

Kind of like what happened yesterday. I think Mary Anne and I were probably wondering if we were nuts, period, until the elderly gentleman joined us in picking up those tiny pieces of ribbon. He was probably the most important guy in the group. He kept complaining that he wasn't being terribly effective because it was hard for him to reach the ground, but he never quit. And when other people came along and saw him working (he might have been closer to ninety), how could they stay un-involved?

Actually, two of the walkers did... but had I realized the importance of the second followers, it would have been nothing for me to say, "Hey, many hands make light work. Why don't you help us?" Except part of me was in observer mode, wondering what they would do. Had any one of us invited them, it would have been hard for them to walk away.

Anyway, in the end, six of us made up our little movement, and it didn't matter who were leaders and who were followers by the time all the glittery stuff was picked up. The bandwagon rolled, and people jumped on. But now I see how it might roll a little differently next time... 

Thanks for the lesson, Rodney Al!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Starting a bandwagon rolling...

This morning my neighbour, Mary Anne, and I came across a sight that caused us some dismay. Near one of our favourite park walkways, someone had held a party, complete with party poppers. In case you've never run across party poppers before (I hadn't, and hope I never do again!) they are little tubes with spring loaded cartridges that shoot tiny bits of sparkly plastic ribbon into the air. You can probably get them at the dollar store, but please don't! They're one of human beings' worst inventions, right up there with confetti mixed with glitter and other stuff that's disposed of for no reason other than human glee or convenience.

We walked past the mess as we started our walk, muttering about people who litter, and on our way home, the universe sent one of those handy but unsightly, blowing-on-the-wind-plastic-grocery-bags across my path. So when we got back to the party poppers site, we bent down and started picking up a thousand little bits of ribbon. Slippery stuff, hard to grab, sticking to our fingers, caught between blades of grass. Sort of like picking needles from haystacks, but not so sharp, thank heavens. It seemed an overwhelming task, as the stuff was spread out in a fifteen foot diameter circle -- but we were determined.

We weren't there for three minutes when an elderly gentleman, likely in his eighties, came walking along with his dog and started to help, though he had two artificial knees that wouldn't allow him to bend very well. Two more people came along and asked what we were doing, but didn't stay to lend a hand. Then another dog walker came, joking that we all must be picking up the tiniest doggie doos in the world on our hands and knees. When he saw how much we still had to collect, he knelt and helped too. Two more walkers joined us, and about fifteen minutes after Mary Anne and I started, the park was back to its natural state. No more tiny, sparkly bits of ribbon blowing around on the grass or ending up in magpies' nests, and we had collected a half-bag of the stuff.

Party poppers should be outlawed!

We were all pleased with our effort to restore the space to a litter-free place, especially the elderly gent, who makes it his mission to collect garbage in the park on a regular basis, and who commented that Wednesday is Earth Day!

On the way home, I found myself wondering -- if we hadn't started the little clean-up project this morning, would anyone else have? It would have been too much for the elderly fellow on his own. Once he started, he wasn't about to give up, though, artificial knees be darned. Sometimes it only takes one or two committed people to start a bandwagon rolling, and others jump on.

Seen any bandwagons lately that you might give a push?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My daily chore; the dog's daily fun

Every morning, Shadow pup helps me with my daily chore of making the bed. Well, maybe help isn't quite the right word. But he makes me smile, with his "ferocious" sense of fun. I love his play growling, silly dog. See for yourself.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The wonder of pussy willows, and buds, and...

Today is a beautiful day. Shadow pup and I took a walk with camera, and I marveled at the re-emergence of new life. The pussy willows that were just fuzzy buds two weeks ago have turned into kitten tails.

Tiny leaves are coming out on some trees and bushes.

And a coyote was sunning himself on the edge of the ravine (but bolted when I took a step in his direction to try and snap a picture).

Spring is a wonderful season for noticing small -- and amazing -- things. What have you noticed today?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Simple Suggestion #230... Organize a neighbourhood clean-up

Capital City Clean Up 10 Year Logo
I love April, with its warmer sun, longer days, and budding trees. What I don't love is that when the snow is gone, garbage is everywhere. All the stuff that got blown around in our winter storms and lost in snowbanks shows up in our parks and ravines, and often deposits itself under bushes or against curbs, fences, power poles, and between my house and my neighbour's.

Which is why I'm so glad for Capital City Cleanup, a program in my city that encourages residents, schools, businesses and organizations to get involved in making our neighbourhoods cleaner and safer. The Adopt a Block program invites Edmontonians to make a regular habit of picking up litter with family and friends as we walk our neighbourhoods, or favourite park paths or trails, with a volunteer website to register our chosen areas.

And the 28th annual River Valley Clean Up is coming soon, the first Sunday of May. I'm thinking it might be a day to skip church and get involved, hands on, in caring for creation with my kids.

But even if there are no clean up programs where my moodling readers live, it's really easy to start your own. When our kids were smaller, my neighbour and I chose a spring afternoon each year and cleaned the little area park across the street with our kids. It's good to teach our young ones the importance of protecting our environment from pollution and waste, and picking up litter (with appropriate safety precautions in place -- gloves, adult supervision, and a lesson about getting the adults to dispose of sharp or dangerous things) is one simple way to do it.

So this Simple Suggestion is a really a simple challenge in disguise. Why not organize your own neighbourhood clean-up? As we head into spring, if we all clean up more than our own property, we're doing the earth and each other a favour. And we're simply showing respect for the beautiful world in which we live.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Monday morning smile

Image result for Canada post carrierThis morning, Shadow and I took a longer walk than originally intended. It's just that the sky was so blue, and the birds were singing so loudly, and the sun was so warm that somehow, we went twice as far as I had in mind when we set out. This seems to happen more often on beautiful days.

As we walked through the Forest Heights neighbourhood, I heard laughter up ahead. I was expecting to see someone sitting on their front step, chatting on the phone, but no, it was a letter carrier coming toward us. His pace never slowed as he did his rounds, though he was laughing hard. I don't think he saw me as he crossed the street, guffawing loudly at some joke reaching his ears via the headphones he was wearing. It was tempting to run after him and say, "What on earth are you listening to? It must be good -- I want to hear it, too."

Whatever it was, it made him laugh, and it made me smile. And now maybe you're smiling, too.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Alleluias galore!

Tonight is our annual Taizé Easter Prayer, with Alleluias galore! I love the return of the Alleluias after a long Lent without them – and especially in Taizé prayer because they are so many and varied!

If you are able to join us tonight at the First Church of God (9224 82 Street in Edmonton) at 7 p.m., we will be singing alleluia at least a hundred times or more (I counted how many alleluias we sang at a prayer three years ago, and it was something like 261)! Bring a friend if you like – the more, the merrier, and alleluias are supposed to be the merriest!

And if we’re too far away from you, here are a few alleluias from Taizé just for you. Happy Easter!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Simple Suggestion #229... Count your steps

For about the past year, I've added one small thing to my daily wardrobe -- a pedometer that hooks to my belt. It tells me, every evening, how far I've walked during the day, and encourages me to get more exercise.

You'd think that having a dog might be enough encouragement, but being a lapdog, Shadow is happy to lounge around for much of the day, and I could just as easily get exercise without him. But I know that walking is good for us both, and Health Canada recommends that Canadians make an effort to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.

For me, that usually translates into at least a half hour of concerted effort, going outside, breathing fresh air, and striding briskly. On days when my pedometer reads less than my 10,000 steps, I don't feel quite as good, somehow. Maybe I'm lacking the endorphins provided by that extra exercise? Shadow seems a bit more lethargic, too, when we miss a walk, but then, in the evenings, he has too much puppy energy and tears around the house out of boredom!

Walking is probably the best exercise there is. It doesn't require any memberships or special equipment, you don't have to drive to a facility to participate, and you can do it indoors or outdoors, depending on the season. Best of all, your steps matter -- all day long. If you go outside, you can have a little nature fix, too, listening to the birds or checking out the scenery -- and things are always changing, have you noticed? Today, the tulips in some yards are a little taller than yesterday. The house that's being rebuilt around the corner has some windows installed since I last walked that way. I like making walking into an opportunity to notice and appreciate things in my world.

But if that's not where you're at, and you like the idea of more motivational, competitive options, there are walking websites that feature challenges to encourage participation, usually connected to different pedometers, which aren't that expensive. Mine cost me nothing, thanks to a library share program I participated in -- and when I returned the pedometer kit after the three week loan period, the program, called UWalk, sent me a free pedometer to encourage my further participation.

For Christmas, I bought three more pedometers (at about $15 ea) for my daughters, and we all joined the UWalk website ( for a "walk Alberta" challenge, our cumulative steps taking us from Coutts, in the very south of our province, all the way to Hay River, North West Territories. Wouldn't have made it in our 100 day deadline without the help of my sisters. Right now, some of us are tracking our steps for the distance to Radium Hotsprings, BC, one of our favourite summer vacation places.

Most pedometers these days have some sort of tracking website or way to log steps in order to encourage a pedometer "habit." My little "accessory" motivates me to walk further than I would otherwise -- I'll admit there have been a few evenings when I probably would have settled into couch potato mode, but when I saw that I had only 8500 steps, Shadow and I took Lee with us for another little walk, which Lee also appreciated. It's also fun, on busy days working in the garden, to be surprised when my pedometer reads over 20,000 steps. That means I walked 16 km just in my own yard! Sometimes, the number of steps spent cleaning the house surprises me, too!

There are all sorts of ways to keep tabs on our exercise levels and encourage a healthier and less sedentary lifestyle, but counting steps is one of the easiest for me. How do you motivate yourself toward fitness?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A heavenly surprise party

My friend Cristina has had a rough year. Last March, her dad died after a lengthy illness. In January, her younger brother, Joe, died because of a brain tumour. A week later her mom went into the hospital, and I attended her mom's funeral this morning. It's just too much. It's impossible to understand.

But I loved being in the Italian church, surrounded by Italian families, hearing prayers in a language other than English, knowing the words were the same by the repetition of key phrases like nei secoli dei secoli, amen (forever and ever, amen). But as is often the case when I can't quite follow what is going on, my mind wandered, and I found myself imagining all of Mrs. S.'s loved ones gathering in one of heaven's antechambers, waiting there for her to come through the door.

"Surprise!" Mr. S., Joe, and numerous friends and relatives shout, people that she hasn't seen for ages, some that she has completely forgotten but now completely remembers. She walks around in a daze, being hugged by everyone in the room, many of whom are murmuring, "So good to see you, Cleonice!" "Cleonice, you look wonderful!" "Welcome to paradise!"

The biggest embrace and welcome of all comes from God, of course! Then the doors to the antechamber open, and everyone in the crowded room moves into the huge banquet hall that holds all of heaven. Mrs. S. is rubbing shoulders with all the saints.

I found myself smiling at the thought. Her suffering over, Mrs. S. is very happy, I'm sure, and looking forward to the day that she can welcome the rest of her family into the fullness of God's embrace, to when she can shout, "Surprise!"

My thoughts and prayers are with Cristina, Anna, Pina, and all of Mrs. S.'s loved ones. May their grief be a gentle reminder of their love.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Simple Suggestion #228... Bake some Easter bread

Julia and I are quite proud of ourselves. We took our lovely Ukrainian neighbour's recipe, and made our first ever paska -- and it turned out better than I would have imagined. It's not as difficult as I expected, and we had fun decorating them. See how pretty?

In case you want to try it, here's how we did it:

Olga's Paska

2 c lukewarm water
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp active dry yeast

Mix water, sugar and yeast. Let stand about 10 minutes.

2 c scalded milk
6 whole eggs and 6 egg yolks
1 c sugar (or a bit less)
1/2 c margarine or butter, melted
1/2 c oil
1 tbsp slat
1 tsp lemon flavouring (optional)
16-18c flour (I found 16 total to be enough)

Add sugar, salt and butter to scalded milk and stir. Mix in oil, and flavouring (if using -- I didn't have any). Beat eggs until light. Add to the milk mixture. Add 4 c flour and beat well. Add the yeast and mix. Add 10-12 c flour and knead until smooth and satiny (it took me about 15 minutes). Add more flour as necessary if the dough is sticky.

Put dough in a large bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down and let riase again until doubled.

Shape dough into round loaves (I made four in 8 inch greased cake pans). Use a bit of the dough for decoration -- braids, twists, ropes, rosettes, etc. (It helps to have a bit of water on hand for manipulating the dough when it comes to rolling it out for braids if the dough isn't sticky).

Flatten the bottom of the decorative bits and moisten slightly before placing them on the loaves. Bake in a moderate oven (350 F) for 1/2  hour. Reduce the heat to 300F and bake until bread is golden and almost done. Brush bread with beaten glaze (1 beaten egg, 3 tbsp. water and 1 tsp sugar) and bake for another 10 minutes. If the bread is darkening too quickly, cover with moistened brown paper or a bit of tinfoil. (I couldn't figure out how to do this in my convection oven without it blowing around, so one of them got a bit darker than the others...)

See the Easter Lily?
Didn't Julia do a great job decorating this one with flowers? Now I just need to get a better grasp on bread baking in a convection oven so that things come out evenly baked. It was an enjoyable activity, and we can't wait to taste our creations (and give a few away) tomorrow!

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Triduum starts here

The cross from Taize
It's Thursday of Holy Week, one of my favourite weeks of the year. I'm finding, though, that my whole understanding of Jesus' death has changed. It's not so much about him saving us from our sins. I mean, what kind of God would demand an atrocity -- the death of one of his and her children -- to atone for other atrocities known as sin?

No, I think this weekend is about Jesus being with us in our struggles and our human suffering. He went through a most horrific end in solidarity with his human brothers and sisters all over the world who experience oppression, injustice, and personal disaster. It's as if he's saying to us, "See, I am with you. Don't be afraid. Love wins in the end."

So this weekend is not about the institution of the priesthood, or salvific death, or the "happy fault" and "necessary sin of Adam that won for us so great a redeemer." It's about getting through the struggles of life, with God's help, and reaching paradise with our brother who showed us the way. It's a weekend to remind us that God is all about mercy, justice, and love, not vengeance. It's a reminder of the resurrection of each one of us to a life of joy and celebration -- the now and the not yet. It's an opportunity to remember those embroiled in their own struggles, and to be in solidarity with them through prayer and action.

If you're looking for a special ways to mark this Easter Triduum, I invite you to join me tomorrow at 2 different events:

1) The Outdoor Way of the Cross. Participants will meet at 10 a.m. at Immigration Hall, 10035 105 A Avenue and walk an outdoor route with stops for reflection along the way. I find this to be particularly meaningful, as the messages given at each station often put us in touch with the struggles of our inner city brothers and sisters, and communities working against injustice in other parts of the world. Afterward there are refreshments with the inner city community.

2) Good Friday Taize Prayer Around the Cross, 7 p.m. at Providence Renewal Centre Chapel (3005 119 Street). An opportunity to pray for the world with Christians of all denominations, using song and silence at the foot of the cross. It's always very beautiful.

And Saturday evening, I'll celebrate the resurrection at Easter Vigil with my family. I hope you, my readers, will find special ways to celebrate the fact that life does not end -- our God loves us too much for that!

Happy Triduum!