Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Straw and the city dweller

I remember playing in the barn with my cousins as a kid, moving straw bales around and creating little forts where we would play with the barn cat's latest litter of kittens. Straw was also in the stalls with the milk cow, in the chicken coop, and trailing out into the barn yard. We came in from our adventures with straw in our hair, itchy bits in our clothes and stalks poking through our socks. I never really gave it much thought -- it was just part of life on the farm.

And for the past year, it's been a useful part of my life in the city, too. Over a year ago, my hubby and I "rescued" some straw bales from our local tobogganing hill. They were going to be collected by the city and taken for composting, but a friend who works with the City's Master Composter/Recycler Program had the great idea of collecting a dumpster-ful for local gardeners' use. When we turned up to claim some from the park where they were to be picked up, the city workers didn't know anything about a straw bale bin. They suggested that we just go get what we need from any tobogganing hill before the bales were taken away. So Lee and I did just that, laughing at how funny it might seem to passersby that a middle-aged couple was kidnapping straw bales!

And guess what? I did it again this year -- got "permission" from my friend, the City composting expert, and collected two bales from the top of the same hill this time -- picture a grey-haired woman huffing and puffing, sweating buckets on the hottest day of April, lugging two 60-80 pound (30+ kilo) bales across the hill and over a guardrail to put in the back of her vehicle. It felt a little strange, to say the least... what would I say if someone questioned me? Not that straw bales are highly valued commodities in a city... but still. I'd have to tell the truth and hope my questioner would laugh along with me about my strange gardener's compulsion!

I gathered bales this second year running because the straw I spread in my garden last year did several wonderful things. To my thinking intially, its most important job was to protect my strawberries from rot, thread worms and slugs. And after that, it would keep the paths between the boxes from turning to mud -- it definitely worked like a charm in that regard. But in actuality, the biggest benefit was how much less weeding I had to do between my raised boxes. Prior to spreading straw, I spent many summer hours hoeing the pathways to clear them of portulaca and chickweed, pulling up small elm trees that had seeded themselves, and digging dandelions and other nuisance weeds. Last summer, straw made a huge difference -- it smothered most of those problems as it broke down into soft organic matter, and I vowed that it would always have a place in my garden.

Yesterday, I took apart this year's bales, packed straw around the transplants in my new strawberry boxes, and spread the rest of the bales between the garden boxes like last summer. There's a thicker layer now, so I probably won't need any more bales next year. If weeds do show up, they're easy to pull because their roots can't cling to anything substantial. Of course, the straw may bring its own seeds and weeds, but green wheat stems springing up are easy to spot and pull, and weeds peter out pretty quickly when they can't reach deep enough to root in soil.

So to all you gardeners out there who are thinking about how to deal with dirt paths in your gardens, I'd highly recommend avoiding pebbles/rocks/stones/tiles (which eventually end up with enough dirt blown in to provide plenty of weed habitat, and we all know how hard it is to dig weeds out of stony ground). Try lowly straw instead. f you don't have a tobogganing hill with a few bales to spare, you can always find some at garden centres. Straw is a great way to reduce the garden workload, speaking from experience!

And it's pretty nice having a little bit of farm in the city.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

Yates Thompson MS 26 - Szukaj w GoogleThe picture I took of an altarpiece at the Louvre three years ago didn't focus clearly enough, but this image I found via Google gives you the idea (the page didn't give me any details about artist or location, sorry)... But you can see the feet of Christ rising up into the air, and Mary and the apostles watching him go. I had never seen the Ascension depicted that way before, and it made me laugh out loud.

And I imagine the two men in white being similarly amused as they stood near the group and asked, "Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? (Acts 1:11)

It's an apt question, even today. For some reason, for many people, heaven is a place "up there," and God is a person "up there." I suspect that the deeper meaning of the angels' question could be construed to be, Why do you look up to find God? Do you not see that God is present all around you, all the time? In the people that cross your path, the environment that surrounds you, the creation that God has given to please your eye, from the smallest flower to the vast starry skies? Do you not recognize God's presence in beauty, goodness, harmony, justice, kindness, passion, peace, truth and unconditional love?

Heaven isn't just the sky that received Christ on the day of his Ascension. It's part of daily life here and now, if only we can recognize it. So instead of looking up to the sky, I think I'll use all my senses to find my own little pieces of heaven, to see God's love in my days this week -- to look into the eyes of someone who loves me, to listen to the song of the birds early in the morning, to enjoy the fragrance of a lilac tree, the rich flavour of my morning coffee, and the warmth and comfort of my bed at night. If not for God, would any of it exist? And would I know enough to see it as God's love for me?

Where will you look for God and heaven today?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Good tired

It's been a week of hard work to put in the garden and get the yard in shape. At the end of every day, I drag myself into the house to put myself to bed. But my Tai chi through the winter has paid off in that I have yet to be stiff from all the digging, hauling and planting... just my feet are tired!

Here's what's been happening in our yard...

The tulips I dreamed of all winter did not disappoint...

The Emily Carr rosebush that Lee gave me 
for my birthday started to bloom...

My generous guy also built and installed two raised bed boxes
(for the pumpkins and zucchinis that need more space 
than our back garden has to offer) and he also 
moved two yards of compost around...

Julia's Mother's Day present found a home among the flowers...

The vegetable garden was planted 
and staked, ready for tall stuff like 
scarlet runner beans and snow peas.
I just need to spread fresh straw for 
pathways and strawberries...

And there's been garden salad every night...

It feels good to know that everything is finally planted, our greenhouse is empty and shut down until September, and we're just waiting for sun, rain and the growth of good things. I love this season of great potential and God's beauty ever ancient and new. To all my fellow gardeners, blessings on your efforts!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sustainable lawn care encouragement...

Bagging your lawn clippings and taking them to the trash has to be one of the biggest wastes of energy -- and lawn nutrients in the form of naturally occurring nitrogen in the mowed stems that sift in, break down, feed, and protect the roots of the remaining grass. The City of Edmonton has come up with some goofy little ads to remind us of simple ways to have a healthier lawn -- going bagless and mowing high.

For the sake of readers far afield, I thought I'd share two ads that have recently come to my attention. The basset belly metric idea made me laugh out loud (like we all have a basset hound in our back pocket for measurement!), and I kept waiting for the grass monster to grab the guy, but maybe that was beyond the CGI budget for this year... Enjoy! And don't forget to leave the bag off your lawnmower. It's better for the environment -- and your lawn!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A gift on my birthday

Today is my birthday, and besides being exhausted from a long weekend working in the garden, I'm luxuriating in the many blessings in my life. I took Shadow for a lovely walk, I'll plant a few more vegetables before the rain that's supposed to arrive tonight, and I'm thinking I might go visit a dear friend in the hospital this afternoon... and take her a birthday cupcake.

And I will listen to some beautiful music... including the piece below. I had never run into Ah, perdona al primo affetto until I attended the music recital of my nephew's girlfriend back in March. Louise sang it with another B. Mus graduate, and their voices blended as beautifully as the voices in the video below. It's a gorgeous piece of music from Mozart's opera, La Clemenza di Tito, the story of an emperor whose clemency knows no bounds in the end, and this video is my favourite of the versions of Ah, perdona that you can find online.

Music is a gift that keeps on giving in my life, and it's been a while since I've shared any with my readers... so enjoy!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

All in one and one in all

It's funny how
the same piece of scripture
comes around every so often,
and each time,
I hear something different.

Today I heard Christ say
"I am in my Father/Mother,
and you in me,
and I in you"
(John 14:20).

So I imagine this:

A person within a person within a person.
God, Father and Mother, being the biggest person, of course.
And Christ and I
sharing the same outline,
within the great oneness of God.
Ultimately, all in one and one in all.
And that is what we all are.
Every person,
is one with all that is in God, 
part of God's life,
along with all the creatures
God made.
And wouldn't it be a different world
if, instead of seeing ourselves
as separate entities
that operate independently,
we could see ourselves
and all other creatures
as part of God
all the time?
of heaven.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Simple Suggestion #122 revisited... Learn to like dandelions

When I first wrote this moodling about dandelions in 2012, I had a much different attitude toward them than I do today. I spent hours and hours with my "weed hound," digging them out of our lawn in the company of my neighbour, Olga, who was doing the same in her yard. We were in solidarity, complaining about how the seeds from the little area park across the street blew into our yards and messed up our turf.

Since then, Olga has moved into senior's housing, we've used lasagna gardening to replace our front lawn with a big perennial bed, and my view of dandelions has changed. I've come to see them as a valuable part of our Edmonton ecosystems, providing the earliest food source for our bee populations.

Bees, both wild and domestic, aren't as plentiful as they used to be, thanks to climate change, pesticides and herbicides. Every year I seem to run across bees that aren't doing well, that seem to be reeling from illness (pesticide use?) or maybe it's just exhaustion because they work so hard. Regardless, the bee deaths I keep witnessing have distressed me to the point that it's a lot harder to pull up all the yellow flowers that so many of us view as the scourge of the green rectangles we cultivate in front of our homes.

So I've come up with something of a compromise. I let the yellow flowers bloom, and when they turn white, I pick and toss them if I have time. White seed heads aren't much use to bees anyway, and using so many hours of my life digging weeds isn't a great way to spend energy when I could be planting more flowers.

I've come to a place where I can live with imperfection in my yard, especially if it means more food for our bumbling friends. So rather than digging up all those dandies, I keep them down to a dull roar by pulling them when I can. Sometimes after a good rain I am lucky and get them out right to the end of their roots, but most times, they have a chance to bloom again later in the season. More bee food.

And it's okay, because perfect green rectangles are highly overrated, and our pollinators can't be! Our planet's food chain would be much more secure if we could garden like God does, playing no favourites -- and just learn to like dandelions, or at least put up with a few here and there!

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

When life gets a little overwhelming

My Sunday reflection is a day late this week because there's a lot to carry right now. One of our daughters has been suffering due to low iron levels and related health issues, our youngest is finding life challenging in other ways, and last week, my in-laws, who live 500 km (300 miles) away, went through a health crisis of their own, leaving us feeling a bit helpless to come up with assistance for them in a hurry. Thank goodness neighbours and friends stepped in to help out for the time it took my husband's brothers to drive to be with them.

This weekend, Lee and I made the five-and-a-half-hour journey to help out with cooking and other things that needed attention, leaving our kids to fend for themselves (fortunately, they're of an age to manage life without us for the most part). I was on call to help Lee's mom through Saturday night/Sunday morning, and felt like a bit of zombie when we arrived home last night with just enough time for me to pull together a few things for last night's ecumenical prayer, have supper, and drive to the church that was hosting the prayer.

I was feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and somewhat grumpy when I arrived. Some kind of Mother's Day this was turning out to be, I was thinking. But the community that gathered for the prayer and the music we sang together put everything into perspective once again, especially the Taizé chant below:

Retourne, mon âme à ton repos,
car le Seigneur ta fait du bien.
Il a gardé mon âme de la mort.
Il essuira pour toujours les larmes de nos yeux. 
Return, my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has been good to you.
God rescued my soul from death.
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
It was a perfect reminder that we are all loved and cared for even when we're feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or grumpy. Hands much gentler than our own will wipe away our tears and hold us to God's heart, and serenity will return. It always does when we turn our struggles over to the Source of everything.

Thank you, God!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The #holyroodbenchproject

A neighbourly bench across
from SEESA
Holyrood is a lovely, walkable neighbourhood, and it's getting nicer all the time thanks to the South East Edmonton Seniors' Association (SEESA) and a special project by their woodworking workshop.

The Holyrood Bench Project (#holyroodbenchproject) is the brainchild of Kimberly Buehler, the Executive Director at SEESA. She's had a bench on the grassy boulevard in front of her house for the last four years, and has enjoyed watching people stop to appreciate a little break during their strolls. She says that people of all ages use the bench -- seniors who want to rest a little, parents who let their kids run ahead and wait at the bench, newspaper readers, and those having a lunch break or coffee.

Kim and Myrna, a SEESA member
who will also have a bench
in front of her home
This spring, SEESA received funding for the project from Age Friendly Edmonton and the Holyrood Community League also offered support, allowing Kim to approach some of the seniors with bench plans in hand. She asked if they would consider building boulevard benches similar to hers as part of a community project. She expected the project would keep the workshop busy for a couple of months, but the woodworkers finished all 20 benches in two weeks flat (they have a pretty slick workshop and some very handy carpenters). They stacked the benches outside as they were made, in spite of a few snowy days in April. Around that time, I heard about the project through a neighbour who thought we should have a bench near our little area park.

I contacted Kim to let her know that we were interested, and two weeks ago, I went to SEESA to pick up a bench, a gift card for $25 to buy stain at Rona, and hardware (chain and padlock) to attach it to one of the elms on the boulevard in front of our house. Steve and Harvey, two of the builders extraordinaire, loaded the bench into the back of my vehicle, I signed an agreement saying that we would keep the bench where the public could enjoy it, we would maintain it, and leave it with the property should we ever sell our home.
Harvey and Steve in the SEESA woodworking workshop

Then it was just a matter of sanding, staining and decorating... and now there's a community bench on a boulevard near my house, a resting place in a neighbourhood where many people like to walk (we joke that we live on a 5-dog-per-hour street). People can sit and enjoy the view of the little park across the street, or my messy perennial front yard, and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to meet a few more neighbours when they stop by. And as a dog walker, I'm really looking forward to finding more #holyroodbenchproject seating areas in our neighbourhood.

Thanks to Kim, Steve, Harvey and the rest of the marvelous carpenters at SEESA, we're building community in Holyrood, one bench at a time.

(If you live in Holyrood and have a home for a boulevard bench, there are seven still available at the time of this moodling. Contact Kim at SEESA -- benchproject@

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Pigeon Lake break

Lee and I decided we needed a little break from the city this weekend, so we booked a B&B at Pigeon Lake for two nights and spent a lot of time in the great outdoors on a lovely day in early May. Baby green started to show itself in the trees, and the sun was warm. Below are some pictures of our Saturday...

It was a gorgeous morning. 
We drove to the Provincial Park and walked the beach
until we found a curious sight...

These yurts, complete with wrap around deck,
fridge, barbecue, dining set and bunks that can sleep 4-8 people
are part of the "glamping" (glamourous camping) craze, 
costs ranging from $120-140 per night. 
I guess they're heated, too!

So nice to sit in the warm sunshine, listen to the birds, 
and watch the ducks on the lake...

Ice piled up on the beach...

but it won't last long... lots of open water.

The buds on these trees probably popped on Sunday...

We drove around to the northeast side of the lake to
see Rundle Mission, part of Alberta's colonial and missionary history.
Not enough indigenous history for my liking, but interesting all the same.

I love red Adirondack chairs! 
Especially when contrasted by weathered wood.

The stories of the missionaries who came 
to convert the "heathens" made me so sad...
especially when I read that Chief Maskepetoon 
was a peace loving man called 
'the Ghandi of the Prairies' by Grant MacEwan.

We spotted a bald eagle on the edge of the lake
but she flew off before we got a really good picture.

When I was in my teens, I drank from this artesian well...
but it wouldn't be a good idea anymore.

We drove west to Alder Flats, and found Ponderosa City, 
population 2, as far as we could tell.
It's a little mock up of a Western town 
in almost the middle of nowhere, 
but when you walk into the mercantile,
this is what you see:

Everything a cowboy or cowgirl could ever need, 
plus a little restaurant with excellent cinnamon buns!

But the lake called us back east again... the melting ice 
was so interesting. Chunks of it...

or finger-like shards. It was like the ice was alive,
moving, crackling, tinkling, roaring.

Really, the whole day was a perfect break.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A weekend in God's creation

No time to moodle this weekend... I spent all my time enjoying God's creation. But I'll leave you this picture of a piece of rainbow over a partially frozen Pigeon Lake.

The Lord is my shepherd,
my heart's true home,
the one who thaws my anger
and fills me with peace.
God's goodness and kindness surround me with light, and I know that we are never alone.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Simple Suggestion # 265... Exercise without equipment

My grandmothers have been on my mind these last few days (today is Grandma P.'s birthday), and I've been musing + doodling = moodling about how they stayed fit. Neither of them would have bothered with spin classes or exercise circuits like you see at Curves -- present fitness trends would have made no sense to them. Their daily routines maintaining home and garden offered more exercise in a day than most couch potato North Americans do in a week, I'm guessing. Consequently, our sedentary lifestyles and desk work haven't done us a lot of favours as human beings, so many of us buy into exercise equipment -- that unfortunately often sits idle.

But there are better ways to use the planet's resources, and hundreds of ways to stay fit without a visit to Fitness Depot (or whatever other exercise retail outlet you care to name) to purchase exercise gadgets or machines. How about walking part way to work (if all the way is too far)? Sweeping the sidewalk, or raking the yard? General yard work seems to put on lots of miles for me, as does walking the dog. Hand washing the car when it gets too dirty to touch is an excellent workout. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of other possibilities in daily life, plus online exercise suggestions and programs that require nothing but your body and some space to move.

About ten years ago, I took a Taoist tai chi class and have been practicing ever since, more or less. No equipment required, and what I really like is that it's gentle and sort of meditative -- plus when I'm finished, my muscles tell me I've had a good core workout. My husband didn't believe that tai chi was all that, but after a day of yard work, he was complaining of stiffness and I was just fine.

Below is a video of some of the tai chi foundation exercises in case you're looking for a gentle program to get your muscles moving. It looks so simple that it's easy to overdo it the first time unless you pay close attention to what your body is telling you.

The world's many cultures have come up with hundreds, if not thousands of different ways to keep both physically and spiritually fit. My sister-in-law is a wonderful therapeutic yoga instructor who teaches really amazing exercises that improve overall health, and there are all sorts of other paths to fitness and health where we only need to use our bodies rather than the earth's resources.

What's your favourite form of equipment-free exercise?

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