Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ralph and the six-foot squash

Last week I paid a visit to my wonderful Italian neighbours whose plum and apple trees I help pick in the fall, Lidia and Ralph. I found them in excellent spirits, though 93-year-old Ralph had a fall and banged his head in his greenhouse the week before.

Lidia doesn't want Ralph gardening alone now, so the day after his fall, Ralph called up his 88-year-old friend, and the two of them planted tomatoes together. Lidia laughed and laughed about it, and said she woke up laughing in the middle of the night because the friend wore his best leather shoes for the job. I'm simply amazed by these people. I hope I'm still able to plant tomatoes at their age!

Lidia poured us all a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream while she was making her wonderful espresso coffee. She also served a delicious cake she had baked just that morning. Her cousin, Mario, was visiting. The three tried their best to keep the conversation going in English, but it often reverted to Italian, and I had moments where I imagined I was in Italy with beloved grandparents. That's the kind of people Ralph and Lidia are.

After our little snack, we went out to the garden and greenhouse where Ralph grows hundreds of tomato plants, peppers, and his most famous plant, a long, thin, zucchini type squash. A few years ago, he made the papers and local TV news with a seven-foot squash that hung from the roof of his greenhouse. He brought its seeds with him when he came to Canada in 1956. When I exclaimed over the idea of growing something so big, he made Mario and me follow him to the basement. On the counter behind his 1970s wet bar was a squash from last year that was at least six feet in length, saved for its seed!

When we went back outside, I planted two rows of onions for Ralph, and he gave me a squash plant to see if I would be able to grow it as well as he does. I've managed to grow Ralph's roma and banana tomatoes successfully in the past.

So now my happy little "Ralph Squash" has a garden box all its own for this summer, and I'm hoping to grow one that, though it may not get to six feet like Ralph's, will at least give me some seed for years to come to always remind me of Ralph and Lidia. One squash is probably more than enough!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The case of the missing mixer

Look Ma, no counter tops!
Did I mention that we are undergoing a "minor" kitchen renovation? Actually, it's turning out to be more "major" than we hoped. When we moved into my dream home 15 years ago, we noticed that the counter tops were pretty worn, but replacing them wasn't as important to us as opening up the wall between kitchen and dining room/living room, so that was our first kitchen reno.

Of course, the counter tops have only gotten worse over time, as have other little problems. We opened up our kitchen space, and no sooner was the wall gone than the little old fridge that came with the home died... and we learned that new fridges wouldn't fit under our old (but still lovely) oak cabinets. So for the past 15 years, our fridge had to sit half-blocking the kitchen window. As for counter space, there was never enough for a gardener who processes a lot of backyard produce.

So when our kitchen windows began clouding up last fall because their seals were done, we did some thinking and planning, and bit the bullet because we knew that changing the windows would lead to a cascade of repairs that meant we might as well take time to renovate the kitchen as a whole.

I find it interesting how just the word "renovation" evokes major excitement in some people. For me, it evokes dread, but I guess I'm not one who watches Home Reno TV channels where renos look so easy and glamourous. We certainly aren't looking for the trendiest new kitchen, or the inevitable setbacks that go with it. Functional is enough when you're trying to live Voluntary Simplicity.

First step -- replace the windows. Easy peasy as we didn't have to lift a finger (other than working to pay for them).

Second step -- remove the old backsplash tiles to allow for new countertop. Quite a bit more work, as we had to make choices about tiles that would match our new arborite. I'm no designer, but I think we did okay. Because Lee is quite particular about having a decent surface for the new backsplash, he put in a lot of hours and muscle removing the tiles and glue from old plaster walls while I was planting our garden.

Third step -- the new built cabinets were installed on Monday, no problem, and the fridge finally took its rightful place after 15 years of warming itself in the kitchen window. I could have kissed Tim, the installer.

Fourth step -- things get complicated. Yesterday morning, the countertop guy came to template everything, old and new. In looking at the removal of our old countertop, he concluded that the bottom cupboards and counter top had been built so well onsite (by the previous owner of our home, who was a finishing carpenter), cutting out the old countertop was impossible because he'd probably end up demolishing all the kitchen drawers since everything fit together so closely. He recommended removing the old arborite with heat and laquer thinner, and applying a new sheet of arborite. A very messy process and a big setback. Just the idea made me groan... and swear.

Thank heavens for Tim, the guy who installed the new built cabinets on Monday. He turned up again yesterday afternoon to check whether the counter tops could, indeed, be removed. "Nothing is impossible," he said, and got to work. He soon discovered that if he took out the sink, he could pry the counters up. No messy laquer thinner required!

Expecting removal and installation in one day (next Thursday) as had been promised, I wasn't exactly prepared when Tim said, "I guess you'll want to empty your bottom cupboards if I'm ripping the old one out right now." After 15 minutes of racing back and forth, they were mostly emptied (I covered our lazy susan pantry corners with towels), and I was laughing at my living room. Pots, pans, waffle iron, tinfoil and wax paper, cutlery holder, potato masher, spatulas and rolling pins all over the place. And our kitchen sink is now out in the garage!

We've been without our dishwasher for two months now (the old one quit as we started this whole process). Of course, the kitchen sink has been really important. Now the laundry sink in the basement has kitchen sink status as we carry basins of dishes down there.

First world problem, for sure. Yes, my back aches with this setup, but at least I'm not carrying jugs of water for miles. This week I am thinking of women all over the globe who don't have the benefit of a sink with running water, never mind hot and cold. How spoiled are we in North America, but we complain when our dishwashers so much as leave a streak!

Tomorrow, we will have new lino installed. For today, I am waiting to hear when the templater will come back to finish the job he started before complications set in.

I am also looking for the hand mixer that I use to mix up my breakfast smoothy. In the fifteen minutes of madness emptying cupboards yesterday, I can't figure out where it went!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Reflection: All are children of God

Image result for god's childrenThis reflection is brought to you by
Romans 8:14-17.

Holy Spirit,
because you lead us ALL,
we are ALL God's children.

We are not slaves
who are afraid of their master,
but children
of a loving God.

You give us the freedom
to call God "Abba" and "Imma"
as Jesus did.

When we use these intimate names
as children do,
we are God's little ones,
God's beloved,
with the very same inheritance
as our brother, Jesus.

This doesn't mean that our lives will be easy
but that,
even in our suffering,
you love us and are with us,
never forsaking us.

Our glory is that you bring us home to you.
Your unconditional love brings us ALL home.

What other inheritance is worth more?

Imma and Abba,
thank you
for loving us
and calling us
ALL your children.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A wonderful place: The Clifford E. Lee Bird Sanctuary

On Sunday morning, Lee, Suzanna and I spent a lovely hour and a half at the Clifford E. Lee Bird Sanctuary, just up the road from Devon, AB. Clifford E. Lee was a philanthropist who left behind a foundation that contributed to worthwhile humanitarian and environmental causes, one of which was to purchase a bit of marshland west of the city in order to conserve it for wildlife and the enjoyment of nature-lovers.

And enjoy it we did. It's free and open to the public from an hour before sunrise to sunset, a lovely, mostly unspoiled place where nature does its thing unhindered. We walked softly and carried a camera, leaving no footprints and taking only memories. Here are a few pictures of our morning...

There are lots of interpretive signs along the path...

with boardwalk above the marshy areas.
We had no trouble from mosquitoes, but it's still early in their season...
might be good to cover up and have bug spray along.

This red wing blackbird greeted us early on our walk...

and this painted lady butterfly seemed to be enjoying the day as much as we were!

Not all of the path is boardwalk, 
and I'm afraid it's not exactly wheelchair accessible,
though there were families pushing strollers...

The chickadees were happy that we brought them a few sunflower seeds. 
How I wish I could play you the yellow warblers' songs!

You can't see her in this picture, but there's a Canada Goose momma out on a nest in the reeds...

Of course, Ducks Unlimited supports the sanctuary
for its waterfowl. We saw many songbirds, mallards and Canada geese...

and one little hare.

If you're looking for a lovely Sunday outing
and some time with nature,
a bird sanctuary is a wonderful way to go!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Reflection: The Spirit among us

The beauty of these middle days of May lends itself perfectly to today's Feast of Pentecost -- it feels like even the trees are rejoicing in the presence of God's creative Spirit! The yellows and purples and pinks are stunning... and the Thunderchild crabapples like the one at the right are showstoppers by themselves!

Every time beauty stops us in our tracks, it is, without question, a spiritual experience. Beauty speaks to us more deeply than mere words because it touches us at a level where head, heart and gut all reside together. A stunning view, a whiff of heavenly fragrance, a haunting melody or a silent stillness, an exquisite flavour, or the caress of a loved one -- all are examples of the Spirit's ability to reach us through our 5 senses and lead us to our spiritual 6th sense where God resides in us.

Tonight, we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with music, silence, food and friendship (7 p.m. at Assumption Church, 9040 95 Avenue, and you're most welcome to join us). We will sing the chant below to invite the Spirit to heal our world's heartaches -- and our own. It is one of those haunting melodies that reminds me that God's creative Spirit is always with us; all we need is to ask:

Come, Holy Spirit,
be with me today.

Help me to say
what you want me to say.

Help me to do
what you need me to do.

Let me rest in your love
and let others rest, too.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What's going down in the yard, episode 1

It's a busy time, but the weather is so warm, all I feel like doing today is taking pictures. So I'll show you what's been going down in my yard of late...

my brilliant husband built a platform for our rainwater tank
so that we can use gravity to water the garden...
now we just need some rain...

our little fountain is back in operation
and the Saskatoon and Haskap berry bushes are in full bloom...

tomatoes are hardened off and strawberry beds are ready to go...

except for a bit of frozen compost still in the middle bin,
the composter is in full swing...

tulips are making appearances...

and we've never had so many violas!

Our sandcherry is leafing out...

and anemones are blooming.
Okay, enough goofing off. 
Time to get out there and plant some veggies!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday reflection: Honeybees' eucharistic prayer

This gorgeous Spring Sunday morning, 
as I sit beneath our blooming pear tree,
it hums with the wing-song of thousands of bees.

As they take sweet nectar from the blossoms
I feel their gratitude.

I am experiencing the eucharistic prayer of bees.

It's as though they are saying,
"Lord, it is good to be here.
Thank you!"
And with them, I say a Great "AMEN!"

And Happy Mother's Day to all Moms...
Especially mine!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

It's Compost Awareness Week!

It's that time of year once again...  Compost Awareness Week, which falls right at the time when people who compost get on with waking up their compost piles after a winter of collecting compostable kitchen scraps.

Some of my winter scraps feed my basement vermi-composting condo, but we produce so much more than the red wigglers can handle that most end up outside during the winter, sitting on top of my compost heap in the snow, waiting to be mixed in with last fall's yard waste. Unfortunately, kitchen scraps don't compost a lot in our chilly winters. The bin pictured above was mostly thawed stuff from the tops of our 3-bin system, mixed with water and more leaves so that the pile would be aerated enough for the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms to start cooking the pile. It's already starting to work, as you can see from the picture below, taken 24 hours later...

In two months or so, this will all be glorious black stuff. Maybe even sooner if I keep stirring every two weeks and keep it nice and wet.

Composting really isn't all that difficult if you remember the four necessary ingredients of greens, browns, water, and air. Collect your kitchen scraps (greens), mix them with leaves from last fall (browns -- I have enough to share if you need some), wet everything down (water), and don't forget to "fluff" the pile now and then so that all the living things that do the composting can breathe (air). Keep it as damp as a wrung-out sponge (things rot better when they're wet), and you're away.

The City of Edmonton has a wonderful webpage with plenty of information about composting, plus there's Compost 'S cool at the John Janzen Nature Centre, where you can learn from  the expert seen in this cool video (if you click here). Or, if you like, you can contact me. I'm thinking about setting up a Wine, Cheese and Composting party for my neighbourhood over the next couple of weeks. I've done it once before, and it was lots of fun.

The best thing about composting is the black gold that it creates. There's nothing like compost for enriching soil -- it's so much better than chemical fertilizers because it is naturally occurring. If you garden like God does and let leaves accumulate around your plants, you'll notice an improvement in your soil where the leaves begin to self-compost. And if you make and spread compost on your lawn, you'll notice an improvement in just a few days. The picture below is from last year -- the right side of the lawn is where we raked in compost.

Composting is a great way to give back to our planet, which gives us so much. I like the idea of feeding our soil by "recycling" the nutrients we don't absorb as human beings. If you've never tried composting, there's no better time to start than these early days of May!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sunday reflection: Love

This reflection is brought to you by
1 John 4: 7-10.

O God,
let us love
because you are the Great love,
and we are all a piece of you.

You loved us first,
and you have sent so many people
through the centuries
to teach us what love is
(and sometimes, what it is not) --
our parents and families,
our friends and neighbours,
people of time and history.

People who are selfless
and welcoming and accepting
touch us
because they are most like you.

Help us to see your love and be your love
to all that surrounds us;
to live love
by loving all that you have made.

May your love shine through us
so that we can embrace everyone
and everything
with your love.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

#holyroodbenchproject update #4 -- one year later

Shadow-dog and I have discovered a couple more #holyroodbenchproject spots during our neighbourhood walks. The carpenters at SEESA have made and sold 80 benches beyond the 20 they built for the original project, so people who like the idea of a neighbourly bench have been able to buy and set out their own, and not just in Holyrood. A neighbour I spoke with yesterday said that she saw a painted bench on the north side of the city, so word of this brilliant idea has gotten around.

It's a wonderful thing when neighbours offer hospitality to neighbours by providing a spot to sit, especially in neighbourhoods with seniors who like to take walks. I was delighted to see that the First Church of God recently put out a bench... churches are definitely places that attract seniors!

My new favourite bench has a bit of a story that goes with it. It's situated on the boulevard where the "Dog Lady" lived. She was known to a lot of dogs and their owners who ambled past her home on 95th Avenue.

Jane's love for meeting neighbourhood canines was such that, on the corner of her lawn, she put out a few rocks inscribed with permanent ink: "Doggie Rest Stop, "Paws" for a Drink." There was also a little airtight container marked "Two Treats per Tail, love Grandma" filled with dog snacks, as well as a dutch oven pot filled with ice water (she must have taken the pot in every night, refilled it and set it in her freezer in order to supply passing pooches with water that was cold all day long).

I remember the Dog Lady's delight at meeting Shadow on one of his first walks around the neighbourhood as a puppy five years ago. If she was outside and we happened to walk by, she always greeted him by name, and though I'm sure we humans probably introduced ourselves at some point, to me, she was always the Dog Lady, and to her, I was Shadow's Mom. Shadow definitely knew the doggie corner of her yard and went straight to it without fail, hoping that we would give him a treat, which we often did.

Last spring we noticed that the "Two Treats per Tail" container had disappeared, though the pot of water still made its appearance. But it wasn't replenished as often, and eventually filled with brackish water and rain. We wondered if the Dog Lady had gone on holidays. Finally, the watering spot for dogs disappeared completely, and we wondered if Jane was okay.

When this bench appeared this Spring, I asked a few of her nearer neighbours about it, and one of them told me that Jane had died. Apparently, her children were the ones who designed and painted the bench, and they put it out in her honour just a few weeks ago. The stones are gone from the corner, and the house is shuttered, likely awaiting a new occupant.

It's always sad for a neighbourhood to lose kind people like Jane. She never asked for anything in return for her kindnesses, but simply enjoyed connecting with her community through her love for dogs. Thanks to this wonderful bench, built by SEESA carpenters and decorated by her children, her legacy as the neighbourhood Dog Lady will last for years to come.

Thanks, Jane, for your consideration for our pets. May you meet all sorts of four-legged friends on the other side...

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

For more about the #holyroodbenchproject:

The #holyroodbenchproject
The #holyroodbenchproject -- an update
#holyroodbenchproject update #2 -- special edition
#holyroodbenchproject update #3 -- two blue benches

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Shifting territory

The park where Shadow-dog and I often walk is an interesting place. Early in the last century, people mined into the river bank below it for coal to heat their homes, so there were a few coal mines in the ravine under the tennis courts near McNally School. They've been sealed off for years, and though I remember seeing boarded up areas in the ravine as a kid, I'm not sure how easy it is to find the tunnels anymore. Even if you could find them, they're definitely not safe enough to visit!

From above, it's not too hard to tell where they once were -- just look for rolling, humpy territory toward the edges of the park. The landscape is shifting, and for the past twenty years or so, the City has had to adjust bike paths and put in monitors to keep track of the slumping areas of the riverbank.

Every spring, a few more trees and bushes seem to slide down the side of the hill, and this year is no exception. With the snow-melt, it appears that good sections of the lost coal mines must have collapsed even further, and it's interesting to see how the edge of the cliff is shifting.

A few more of my favourite black balsam trees have fallen from the edge and slid down a few feet, leaving a pretty sharp drop. It makes me wonder how much further the collapse will reach into the park. There used to be a fair bit of space between the soccer/football area and the ravine edge for families to sit and watch games, but the area is getting narrower every year.

I grew up with this park looking quite different, with a curvy bike path travelling its edge, and a lot of flat field. Now the chain link fences are showing signs of marching into the ravine with some of the trees. 

One thing's sure -- it's probably not a good idea to walk along the edge on wet days, or you might find yourself riding shifting territory...

right down to the bottom with the caution signs!

Nature definitely has a way of filling in gaps and creating something new and different in the process!