Friday, May 29, 2015

Some Friday Flamenco

In my next life, I want to be a Spanish lady and dance Flamenco. It's just incredible to me. My dearest friend lived in Spain for a time, and took lessons, and the whole idea of learning that fancy footwork blows my mind.

Even to be able to play flamenco guitar would be astounding!! Here's a beautiful video -- with the passion, emotion and grace of the dance, not to mention the music. A perfect way to end the week, in my books... I'm stomping my feet in my kitchen!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Making music with Farley

Image result for hands on guitarThis past weekend I had the privilege of serving lunch at the Bissell Centre in the inner city. I've always wanted to do it, but every time our church was invited by the Inner City Pastoral Ministry to provide lunch, other things prevented me from going. This time it worked out.

It amazed me how organized the people at the Bissell are, but then, they've been doing this for years. As volunteers walked in carrying the food donated by our church, we were given different tasks. I really enjoyed making dessert trays and take-away-bags of cookies alongside Annie and her friends, regular workers at the centre who know the ropes and helped me understand how things were done. Listening to the women's gossip, I felt like one of the gang because they certainly didn't hold back on my account!

Serving the meal was also interesting. People picked up plates of sandwiches, a few sweets and cups of coffee and sat at round tables. A few "runners" were given the task of taking trays of fruits and vegetables around the room, and folks would point at what they wanted from a tray. The favourite items were tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, and grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks, things that our homeless brothers and sisters don't often get day-to-day. Carrots, celery, broccoli and apples can be too hard on teeth that rarely receive dental care. Next time I'm invited to help with a Bissell Centre lunch, I'm going to bring grapes and strawberries instead of salmon sandwiches!

The inner city folks who came to lunch were many and varied, but I would guess that 80% were First Nations, with the rest being immigrants or low and no-income caucasians, several with disabilities. There was a couple that reminded me of my grandparents, asking if I had taken guitar lessons. There was a woman whose head kept nodding toward the table until she finally put her head down for a nap. One cheerful fellow's face looked as though he had been in a series of fights, and there was a group of guys hanging out near the bathrooms that I would be afraid to meet in a dark alley. All of them, my brothers and sisters, all of them prophets, reminding me that my life isn't as secure as I imagine, and that community is the place where we are most fully human.

The part of my time at the Bissell that touched me the most was the worship service. I joined Farley, the Centre's musician, to play some music on our guitars. The first thing Farley said to me was that he liked my name, and I told him the same. He actually looked sort of like Farley Mowat, a famous Canadian author, except with curlier hair and a fedora sporting a small, irridescent peacock feather. A very gentle soul, he gave me the sense that he's had a pretty tough life and can really relate to the folks at the Bissell. We agreed that music is invaluable in worship because it touches places deep in the soul, places where words don't reach. Farley commented that often, while watching the people as he sings, he'll catch someone wiping their eyes, and it makes him happy that they can feel safe enough at worship to cry, especially when they have to be so tough out on the streets.

Farley is a masterful guitarist, and following his lead was easy, except when the tears filled my eyes. Praying the New Creed with the inner city family choked me up:

We are not alone.
We live in God's world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating,
Who came in Jesus,
Word made Flesh, to reconcile and make new,
Who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church,
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in creation,
to love and serve others,
to promote justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life,
in death,
in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.

As the service ended with Farley's much quicker and folksier version of "She Flies On" than the one below, I couldn't help but think that -- of all the churches in Edmonton and area -- the worship at the Bissell Centre and places like it is where Jesus would likely attend most regularly...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Pentecost!

Please join us for a special event Sunday evening if you're in the neighbourhood...

If you're not able to join us, here's a special Taizé chant to celebrate the day... It's one of the first chants I ever heard, and one that fills me with an inexplicable, deep joy every time I hear it, the Holy Spirit's doing, I'm sure...

I never used to give the Spirit much thought, as relating to the Father and the Son seemed more natural in my younger life... but of late, it's the third person of the Trinity whose name is on my lips the most, the wild and windy Spirit that creates and blesses in unexpected ways... Come, Holy Spirit, has become my favourite prayer. Simple, yet to the point in every situation!

Words from today's prayer on the Taizé website:

Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your radiant love.
Come, Father of the poor; come, generous Spirit; come, Light of our hearts.
Perfect Comforter, you make peace to dwell in our soul:
Come, Holy Spirit.
Wonderful refreshment, in our labor you offer rest; in our trials, strength:
Come, Holy Spirit.
Kindly Light, enter the inmost depth of our hearts:
Come, Holy Spirit.
Bend our rigidity, inflame our apathy:
Come, Holy Spirit.
Send rain upon our dry ground, heal our wounded souls:
Come, Holy Spirit.
Give us lasting joy: Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your radiant love.
Come, Holy Spirit!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Those gorgeous trees

These days, walks with Shadow are getting longer and longer, as we go from stunningly beautiful tree to astoundingly gorgeous tree, marveling at beauty. Our city had some brilliant planners when it came to our parks, and blossoms abound. I feel so lucky to have been born at this time of year because the trees are a love letter from God, made to order for me (and everyone else). Richard Rohr summed it up perfectly in an email today, talking about Saints Francis and Clare:
Francis and Clare knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any "saved" person always feels beloved, chosen and even "God's favorite" like so many in the Bible. Divine intimacy is always and precisely particular and made to order -- and thus, "intimate."
This time of year, we can all feel intimately loved because God fills the world with beauty!

Look for God's loveletters in your neighbourhood, 
and hear her and his lovesongs via your local songbirds!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Garden time = God time

I haven't been moodling much electronically lately because it's that time of year when there's lots to do. I'm closer to God in my garden than anywhere else on earth, that's for sure. We're partners, God and I, in our work. God gives the growth, and I just position the plants, and make sure God's water gets to them as needed. And I stand around and admire God's work, too.

Admiration is a form of prayer. Anytime you admire something, you're honouring its source, of course. And these days, my admiration knows no bounds.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I've never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch, either...

Can't help but like Kristian Bush's new song, Trailer Hitch, for several reasons. If you know me, you'll know why. Mainly, I'm all for giving gently used items to small charities that make a difference in the lives of those in need... one of which I've been known to volunteer for, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Thanks to Supersu for bringing this catchy tune to my attention!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Simple Suggestion #234... Live in wonder

Spring might be the easiest time to cultivate a heart full of wonder... but really, anytime will do. Our modern media seem to promote the idea that cynicism equals sophistication, but I would say that wonder is better by far because it prevents us from taking life and all its incredible manifestations and blessings for granted. We can grumble and complain about its hassles, or we can look for the really amazing things that are happening all around us all the time:

the spark of life in a bug...
the smell of cut grass...
the intricacy of a snowflake...
the pattern in a piece of wood...
the taste of an apple...
the crispness of a printed page...
the warmth of a hug...
etcetera, etcetera...

I don't profess to be a great musician with my wobbly voice, but I'll take a chance and re-moodle my little music video with images of some of the things that fill me with wonder. It's been a while since I've even thought of it, and watching it again today made me happy. How my girls have grown! Another thing at which to wonder...

Why not marvel at something in your life today? Preferably outdoors, but if the weather isn't great, indoors will do. I've been wandering and wondering around our yard, planting tiny seeds that will become large plants to amaze us all, marveling at the pear blossoms on our tree, and picking a rainbow of tulips to wonder at on my kitchen table... Life is definitely more worth living when you wear a sense of wonderment!

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

Monday, May 11, 2015


The blogosphere is a strange place at times, and blog comments can be interesting, to put it mildly. Not that I get very many. I do love it when real people (especially ones I know) manage to leave ideas or share info in the comment box, but the vast majority of my commentators (and blog watchers) are spambots that don't make a lot of sense. Spambot comments come in batches, and I usually read them just in case a real human being's comment also comes through. But I delete once I'm sure it's all computer generated -- usually some sort of half-gibberish message that tries to flatter an aspiring writer to begin, offers a bit of vague advice, and ends by flogging a link like "houses for sale in mumbai" or "free gucci bags."

Here's just one example. I think I need a translator:
I loved as much as you'll receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish. nonetheless you command get got an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this increase. Check out my link, new xbox games free.
Huh??? This one was all gibberish. With friends like these...

Friday, May 8, 2015

Simple Suggestion #233... ALWAYS shop with reusable bags

Here it is, 27 years later, my very first reusable grocery bag. Way back, when I was living and teaching in small-town Alberta, I bought this green Co-op grocery bag that announces that it's "Helping You Make RESPONSIBLE CHOICES." It has been used thousands of times since then, and gathered a collection of others along the way. It's gotten so that, if I don't have my reusable bags with me, I don't go grocery shopping, or I carry a few items out in my arms.

Plastic shopping bags are a scourge for our planet. Plastic, period, is. So anytime we can cut its use out of our lives, we should. I'm very good at remembering my reusable bags for groceries, but too often forget them when I'm shopping for other items. There's no reason why the clothes I bought my daughter last week couldn't go into our big cloth Pet Planet bag instead of a new plastic one. No reason at all!

Unthinking convenience has become the be all and end all for too many of us consumers. It's time we use our heads and avoid single use items of all shapes and sizes. And mostly, that just means that we need to adjust our habits, and our mind-sets.

So here's the challenge -- to use reusable bags every time you have to buy something. And to nix shopping if you've forgotten your bags. It won't take long to develop a good habit that way!

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What's going on in Alberta?

I love my province too much to compare it to the netherworld, but there are lots of jokes flying around today about that very thing.

You see, Alberta has just come out of a long season of Progressive Conservative government. 44 years of it, actually, and it was starting to look like hell might just freeze over before anything changed in our politics.

But yesterday, Alberta voters did the unthinkable. We voted out the long-standing party that has had a seemingly endless history of entitlement and some rather unscrupulous ways of balancing the budget (read serious cuts to healthcare, social services, and education), and we elected the New Democratic Party with, as opposition, the Wild Rose party, both made up of many ordinary Albertans (rather than people whose political campaign war chests were financed by big business, and who gave their allegiance to the same). The New Democrats have a reputation for a social conscience -- and possibly, a resulting inability to balance a budget -- and the Wild Rose have a fierce concern about raising taxes and a determination to be whistleblowers when it comes to unethical government practices.

The wonder of it all is that almost half of the Alberta New Democrats are women (!), and several are university students, meaning fresh thinking. And with the Progressive Conservatives cut down to ten seats, their past stranglehold on democracy here has suddenly eased. After 44 years of expecting the same old same old, Albertans finally have a government which is planning to strengthen democracy (by changing policy around politics) rather than padding its ability to stay in power, a government  that is more likely to listen to ordinary Albertans instead of running the show as it sees fit.

The funniest thing about all this is how the weather is playing along. We woke this morning to a dump of snow that has continued all day.

Maybe the devil is busy learning how to skate!

Monday, May 4, 2015

An upcoming special event...

Brother Roger Schutz, the founder of the Taizé Community, was born on May 12, 1915, and we are celebrating the anniversary of his birth on Pentecost Sunday, May 24th. The guest of honour is already a Saint in God's heaven, I am sure, but we’ll have birthday cake regardless. All are welcome. Bring a friend!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Sunday lesson from the garden

With the early spring we're having here, I've already turned my winter compost pile and started cleaning up some of last fall's leftover detritus. And I've been moodling about the spiritual lessons my garden gives me...

I've never considered myself to be a particularly great gardener. For one thing, I'm kinda lazy. For another, I'm not terribly persistent. As a result, weeds and grass find their way in among the plants that I'm trying to cultivate, and I often find myself overwhelmed by dandelions or chickweed, especially when I think of the perfection of some peoples' gardens, or of my favourite Butchart Gardens near Victoria, BC.

On Thursday morning, I looked at my front perennial garden and was very tempted to clear away all the organic matter from last fall, leaving only black soil and green shoots. After all, it would look a lot tidier, more Butchart-ish, more like someone actually cared about the yard.

But then, for some unknown reason, Jesus' words came into my head -- "Be perfect as your heavenly father/mother is perfect."

Ha! Like my yard could ever be perfect; like I could ever be perfect. Perfection in this world is a rare thing. Even the things we humans call perfect often aren't, or are only fleetingly so. The perfect rose withers after a few days. The perfect models in magazines are often airbrushed and photoshopped. The perfect piece of fruit has a hidden bruise or a rotten core. The perfect actor might have an over-inflated ego...

As I wondered about how God sees the perfection Jesus was talking about, I started cutting down the dead stalks of my taller plants in my messy yard. And I came upon a lupin growing right in the middle of a patch of bee balm. How did that get there? The wind must have planted it, or maybe the birds. And next to it, there was an echinacea among the golden rudbeckia. And that wasn't all. Everywhere I worked, I found odd combinations of plants growing together, chives and tulips, spurge and sandcherry, all anything but orderly, organized, or perfectly arranged.

That's when it dawned on me that God's idea of perfection is probably wider and wilder than anything we can begin to imagine. Purple lupins among red bergamot. Pink cone flowers mixed in with bright yellow brown-eyed susans. And soil covered with old leaves and sticks and last year's foliage to hold in the moisture so that everything grows better.

And so it is with our lives. Our idea of perfection is too often tied to the orderly, law-abiding, eye-catching, and ego-driven. But God often surprises us: "Why can't I plant yellow and pink together? Why can't I make people straight and gay? Why can't I forgive even those who seem unforgivable? Why can't I love everyone as much as I love you? And what's with this fixation on perfection? Don't you know that you learn and grow the most because of your imperfections? And why can't you see that perfection is defined by loving as I love, forgiving as I forgive, and accepting yourself and others as I accept you?"

I knocked down the dead stalks, left the soil covered with last fall's organic matter, and smiled to myself. The yard doesn't look "perfect" by any means, and never will, but I'm thinking of it as my collaboration with a God whose ways are not human ways and whose thoughts are not human thoughts. Who sees my imperfections as my points of growth. Whose perfection isn't even imaginable. And whose garden colour schemes and other plans are definitely wilder and more imaginative than my own could ever be.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Simple Suggestion #232... Make your own yogurt

My sisters always tease me for having a strange capacity for odd memories. Well, here's another one...

I remember the first time I tasted yogurt. I was 14, and our family was waiting for a ferry on the BC coast to take us to Vancouver Island. Everyone went to the snack shop for treats, and mine was the most exotic of the group's -- peach yogurt. For whatever reason, we hadn't been yogurt people up to that point. At first, I wasn't sure I liked the sour milk undertone, but by the time the little container was empty, I was wishing for more. I was a convert.

I still love yogurt, but I have two major issues with the stuff you buy at the store:

1) The packaging. Every time you bring a container of yogurt home, you're stuck with a plastic container. I know, I know, they can be reused for all sorts of things -- kids' crayons, dog food, plants, you-name-it, but most of us have only so many places we'll employ them before they start piling up. Fortunately, in Edmonton, our Reuse Centre takes certain sizes of containers to be reused by daycares and playschools and people who need them.

They're also recyclable, especially here in Edmonton with our state of the art recycling facilities. But as with most recycling processes, plastic recycling requires a lot of energy, and every time it's recycled, the original product tends to lose quality. Better not to have those containers at all!

2) I have juvenile diabetes, and store-bought yogurt contains way too much sugar -- or sweetener related chemicals -- for my liking.

Fortunately, I have learned a better way to get my yogurt fix, thanks to my friends, awesome MCR and tweeter SuperSu, and her neighbour, Diane, who both taught me a few tricks at our Simplicity Study Circle last year. Making yogurt is easier than I would have believed. Here's how I do it (according to their suggestions/advice):

1. Warm some milk on the stove top to no more than 170 degrees F (75 C) -- not being a candy maker (for obvious, diabetes-related reasons), I had to go buy a candy thermometer for $7, but it was the difference between good yogurt and a mess, so well worth the money. (I discovered , a few times, that accidentally boiled milk makes something more like cheese curds than yogurt, and you can't reuse that product as feed stock for your next batch -- it won't work.)

2. Let the milk cool to 110 degrees, and then spoon in some natural (plain) yogurt that has active bacterial cultures. I used a 2% milk fat variety to start and put in one tablespoon (15 mL) of yogurt per cup (250 mL) of milk. (More isn't better in this case -- putting in too much starter yogurt doesn't make your yogurt any thicker, it just crowds the yogurt bacteria, or so I read on one of the websites SuperSu shared with me).

3. Warm the oven slightly, wrap the yogurt pot in a towel, and set it in the warmed oven (with the oven light on) over night. I tend to make mine before I go to bed, as I like to use my oven some days, but any time of day works, and you don't have to use an oven, though it's important to keep the batch warm. Click here for a website about slow cooker yogurt.

After several hours (about eight in my case), presto, fresh yogurt... that I package into the same plastic yogurt containers I've been using for the last four months, being sure to set aside enough for my next batch of yogurt. So -- I'm not bringing home a plastic container plus a milk carton a week, only the milk carton. Therefore, a bit of a reduction in waste. And there are fewer fossil fuel emissions in my yogurt making (no strawberries trucked from California). And it costs about a third (or less) of what store yogurt costs to make the same amount.

Of course, the yogurt I'm making is not quite the same as the thick and creamy stuff with fruit syrups that you find in the grocery store, which have cornstarch, cream, gelatin, vitamin D, and all sorts of other things added. If you like your yogurt thicker, a fine cheesecloth would be helpful to remove more of the whey water, or so a friend from India tells me. Or you can follow Sue's tip in the comment section below, adding skim milk powder to the mix before letting it set.

But I like mine as is, with cereal or in smoothies -- which have become my favourite breakfast meal because I can use a piece of banana for sweetness and a few frozen Evans cherries from my sisters' tree for colour, maybe mix in a few sprouts that I grow on the windowsill for extra nutrients and blend it all up. And with the honeyberries, raspberries and saskatoon berries that are growing in our yard, I'm looking forward to more yogurt smoothie flavours this summer.

Yogurt making is one more small, self-reliant step I can take in my own food production, one that cuts down on the over abundance of plastic in my life, and it's much simpler than I imagined.

I doff my hat to wise women Diane and Sue for sharing their wisdom with me! And pass it along to you!

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