Thursday, August 30, 2018

Simple Suggestion #277... Plant a local forest

The site of Edmonton's most recently planted food forest

These days, I like to take Shadow for walks to check on the City of Edmonton's latest food forest project. Many Edmontonians got together on Saturday to plant all sorts of food bearing trees and shrubs on the bank of the hill in Strathearn Park.

A view up the hill

City staff from Root for Trees cordoned off an area to be planted and gave volunteers lessons on how to plant saskatoon berries, bilberries, raspberries, gooseberries, nut bearing trees, I think, and I don't know what all. Hundreds of little trees and bushes are now part of the hillside for Edmontonians to enjoy in future summer seasons. And you can bet I'll be picking some of the fruit in a few years, with a little bit of luck!

Raspberries, eventually

I managed to plant 8 sets of raspberry canes before working with two others to set a bunch of bilberry shrubs (which are much like blueberries, I'm told) into the side of the hill. Steps away from us, a few more people planted about 60 Saskatoon berry bushes. The City will water until winter sets in, and hopefully the young saplings will survive the winter and thrive from here on. I'm already praying for good moisture for all those babies next spring!

These little bilberries turn red in the fall --
don't they look nice on the hillside?

To plant a tree or shrub is a wonderful, hopeful thing simply because we expect it to live beyond our years. To plant a public food forest with other Edmontonians who appreciate nature and want to participate in our earth's rejuvenation is a powerful action. It brings to mind the "Commons" shared for the "common good" by townspeople in the middle ages, a piece of local land from which all the locals could benefit.

And really, we've already benefited just from the effort of planting together. Over 120 volunteers, including youngsters from the 59th Edmonton Scouts' Group and many yellow-shirted people from Edmonton's Gayatri Pariwar community, started our little food forest by planting over 1000 edible shrubs in four hours. We enjoyed our time together, sharing stories and chatting quite naturally about environmental actions we are taking in our own lives, further inspiring each other. Working with a group of people who volunteer to plant trees is a way of investing in our community's future, no matter what kind of trees we plant.

I ended my day with a tired body and a joyful spirit... and I look forward to attending more planting events and sharing more pictures of this forest's progress in future moodlings.

So today's Simple Suggestion is an invitation, really, to do some voluntary tree planting in your community, if possible. If you're in the Edmonton area, Root for Trees has a few ongoing and future events requiring volunteers. All you need is a strong back, good shoes, and the desire to make a positive difference ion our world. Go for it!

For more Simple Suggestions, click here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The beauty of three sisters

I'm one of three sisters, and I absolutely love the other two. So when I look at the three sisters in my garden, I often wonder which of the three represents my dearest sisters and which is me. The easy answer would be that the squash plant has yellow flowers that my youngest sister would like (she loves yellow), and the corn is the tallest, which could represent the middle child in our family as she's tallest. So that leaves me as a scarlet runner bean? Well, I do like to wear red, but I guess I might be reading too much into this!

My three sisters garden box has done beautifully this year -- I've never had such tall and productive corn, the beans are blooming beautifully, and there are a few little squash that might amount to something yet if I'm lucky frost-wise. Other years I made the mistake of planting all the sisters at once, but this year I planted the corn first, and when it was five inches tall (two weeks later) I hilled the corn a little and planted the beans. A week after that, I planted the squash. Of course, the idea is that the oldest sister, the corn, supports the climbing beans and squash plants as they grow, the beans give nitrogen to the soil and hold all three sisters close together against the wind by winding through the corn stalks and squash vines, and the squash leaves shade, mulch and protect the trio's feet from weed infestations.

When I look at these sisters' interdependence, I realize that my sisters and I share aspects of all three at different times. We've all been each others' supports, we've all huddled together in tougher times, and we've all sheltered each other through different storms -- though I admit that due to my commitments to husband and kids, I probably haven't been as present to them as they have been to me a lot of the time. L and J, I am so grateful for your presence in my life, your deep friendship, and our sisterhood!

My sisters are patient and loving, and they put up with me when I get a little corny!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Choices, choices

Today's reflection brought to you by
Joshua 24:15-18.

You give us so many options,
O God,
that we often don't know
whether we are coming or going.

The array of possibilities is dazzling
when we consider
whom we shall serve:

The idol of our economy?

The gods of fame and fortune?

A culture which places possessions
above people?

Those for whom personal wealth
is the only bottom line?

If we listen to the spark of life
you placed in our souls
we know,
that we need to reconnect
with your great fire.

But in a world filled with
too many distractions,
we forget the most important thing --
that you love us --
and we lose our way.

Grant that we may hear
the wisdom of our soul-spark
and respond with the people of Joshua:
"Far be it from us 
that we should forsake you
to serve other gods" 
for you are the only One
for whom life and love
are the bottom line.

Help us to choose life,
to choose love,
to choose you.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Guest Moodler: Sermon on Wisdom

Six years ago today, I posted a sermon on the Bread of Life, delivered by my best friend, Cathy, in her United Church. Today I have the pleasure of posting another of her sermons -- this time reflecting on the very same readings, but with a different theme. Being a little older and wiser, I have to say I really appreciate her sharing about wisdom today, and am grateful to her for allowing me the privilege of posting it here. Enjoy!

Older and Wiser??
August 19, 2018
            When I saw the reading for this week on Jesus as the bread of life something twigged that I’ve done a sermon for this reading before. And sure enough. August 19, 2012… the exact same reading and the exact same date! What a coincidence! I talked about food, it was 9 minutes long and we left church early that day. Some have suggested I just repeat the sermon but I decided to do something new because six years on, I’m older and wiser. Well maybe.

             In our first reading Solomon, a new and very young king of Israel asked God for Wisdom when God was handing out wishes. God was very pleased that Solomon had asked for something so, well, wise. He hadn’t asked for riches or power but something more valuable. “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” it says in Proverbs (16:16). 

             Wisdom does sound like a good thing to have. But what is wisdom and how do we get it? According to those who study such things, wisdom has three factors: Cognition, reflection and compassion. Cognition is what we know and how we think. Experience certainly teaches us a lot. We look back on our youth and say, if I only knew then what I know now. That’s experience. But wisdom is more than just knowing a lot. Being able to reflect on our experiences and gain insight into them and then use that understanding to help ourselves and others is what turns our experience into wisdom. 

             When I was working in nursing homes 20 years ago, I remember being surprised at the number of elderly people I met who did not seem wise. To be honest, there were many who were silly, exasperating and annoying. Don’t get me wrong. I loved them anyway. I learned then that people often carry entrenched patterns of behaviour and personality throughout their lives, and older and wiser doesn’t always apply. But one woman I cared for I remember particularly and thought of as wise. What was the difference? Florence had a multitude of physical ailments: crumbling bones, pain, a tremor, and a heart condition. But whenever I had to take her medication or provide care I would always sneak in some extra time with her. I felt good in her presence. I loved to chat with her. She radiated a quality of peacefulness despite her considerable challenges. She was gracious, grateful, had a good sense of humour, and a genuine interest in others. 

             What I read about wisdom from the definitions I found on the internet may explain the wisdom I found in Florence, the nursing home resident. Wisdom is maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges. Florence certainly displayed those qualities. It’s not like she never complained or expressed pain but she did not allow the hardships to define her. But to get to that point we have to look within. As well as the hardships in the world around us we have to see and acknowledge what is negative within ourselves and own it. We have to accept our negative qualities, learn from them and forgive them, which leads us to have greater empathy for others. Wisdom is characterized by a reduction in self-centeredness. Wise people try to understand situations from multiple perspectives, not just their own. But it is understanding ourselves more fully that allows us to see things through others’ eyes. 

             Someone wrote to me the other day that we really need more sermons on when life doesn’t work out. And I’m aware that in the midst of heartache, broken dreams, devastating illness or loss, fears about the state of our world and its future, that this road map to become wise I’ve just outlined is small comfort. When you have an experience, reflect on it, turn that insight into compassion and you’ll be wise. Poof! No problem. Easy peasy. But while that’s an important formula, I think there is more to it than that.

             There is a wisdom in the world that is deeper than the psychological processing of our minds and behaviours. We see this in children who come up with surprising gems of wisdom. The same can be said for people we would describe as unsophisticated or “simple”. I spent years working with people with intellectual disabilities who taught me more about being real than I ever taught them. There is the wisdom of nature: the amazing world of animals, and how plants and insects and other species find a way to thrive and survive. And there is the deep wisdom of your own being. You know there have been times in your life when you acted on wisdom from within yourself that steered you in the right direction at the right time. I think of the two times in my life, twenty-five years apart, when I experienced an overwhelming urgency to come home while living or vacationing abroad, and cutting my plans short and getting home in time to be with my parents when they needed me most even though I had no idea beforehand. In the first case, my Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer 10 days after I moved home, and in the second, this spring, I cut my vacation short to go to my Dad, who died 3 days after I arrived, much, much sooner than anyone could have predicted. 

             If there is this deep wisdom flowing through the universe and us, and I believe there is, then I think it is that wisdom that sustains us through the difficult times and ultimately changes us for the better. 

             How can we trust and cultivate that wisdom from God? How can we grow in the wisdom we need to make a difference in the world and in our own ability to cope with the challenges of life? I do think we have to work at it and the first step is to desire wisdom and to ask for it. 

             Solomon was not older and wiser when he became King. But he had the wisdom to know what to ask for to be the kind of ruler that was needed and that he wanted to be. He knew he needed more wisdom and God blessed him with that and more. We might be in position where we have a steep learning curve ahead. Or we recognize things aren’t working for us and life is full of dissatisfaction, and we might think there’s got to be a better way and cry for help. This is a cry for wisdom. Or we are visited by tragedy and the suffering leaves us unable to imagine going on, and shaking our fists at God in anger and asking why. That honest response can be a call for wisdom. And when we call for wisdom, wisdom answers. Hear from Proverbs, which are the Proverbs of Solomon: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honour you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a fair garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” (4:7-9)There is a line in one of our hymns that God is wiser than despair. We too can be wiser than despair. And what a gift to the world we can be when we are. 

             So there is working on ourselves to gain wisdom and there is asking for wisdom. But there is another beautiful way we become wise, and that is by being with wise people. Richard Rohr, a wise man and author, says, “Transformed people transform people.” What that means is by being in the presence of someone wise, holy or transformed, we are changed ourselves. The reverse also applies. If you do your own inner work and gain wisdom, others you are with will gain something from you that you don’t even realize you are giving. Think of the wise people in your life… grandparents or other relatives, teachers, people in this church. Remember how it felt, or feels to be around them. I think of one of my grandmothers. My memories with her are coloured by a sense of unconditional love, safety, wonder, and desire to learn and become my best self. When we hang out with wise people they hold up a mirror of positive acceptance which helps us discover our potential for wisdom within. I think of all my nursing mentors, including my own mother, who showed me the art of nursing with compassion and intuition. Not only does a mentor like this give us a model to emulate but they too give us the encouragement to believe in our own abilities. 

             I think of all the farmers I grew up with who seemed to be wise by absorbing the wisdom of the land and the cycles of nature and I think of my own farmer father who faced his death earlier this year with such grace and wisdom that I have rarely seen. 

             I think of the people of this church. When I sit up in the choir, I am surrounded by the wisdom of those other choir women. Their collective life experience, their joy (we laugh a lot) and their compassion inspire me constantly. I have so many examples of women I want to be when I grow up. We need wise elders as models for our own aging. And I think of the many members of this church whose lives I’ve been privileged to share in a deeper way in my role as Parish Nurse, hearing their amazing life stories and seeing their compassion and humility in the face of living through incredibly challenging times like a world war, or the loss of a child. I am humbled and inspired by the people of this church every day. 

             Finally, we as a church are inspired and changed by the wisdom of Jesus. We know the stories of Jesus and have a template for a moral, compassionate life. But there is something more here, something deeper than pretty stories. 

             In our reading from John, Jesus talks about being the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven. Then he tells his disciples that the bread is his flesh and they must eat it and drink his blood to have life. Talking about eating flesh and drinking blood is too gross for me. Too many horror movie images. But eating bread, I can think about that. I love bread. And bread as body works symbolically. That’s why I made the little bread bodies for the children. And of course there is the sacrament of communion, the ritual that Jesus gave us. When we eat bread or anything else we take it into ourselves. It becomes us. We chew on it and chewing on something is a metaphor for thinking things over, reflecting and processing, one of those steps of wisdom I mentioned at the beginning.        
             Jesus wants to pass on his wisdom which he received from his Father, our God. Eat me, Jesus says. I am the bread you want that satisfies, that gives life. Take me in, chew on me. How do we do this? By spending time with him. We do this when we come together in worship. We do this when we read the bible, not just reading the stories but chewing on them, taking them in through repetition and study. We spend time directly with the wisdom of Jesus in the mystery of silence and in prayer. And we do this indirectly as well, by spending time with those who have taken the wisdom of Jesus into their own cells. We have a library here in our church of good books, of spiritual wisdom just waiting to be feasted upon, wisdom from the path of Jesus and from parallel paths of other faiths. There are wise people in your own life to remember and give thanks for. There are wise people around us on every side whose wisdom will rub off on us. There is the created world to spend time in and absorb its wisdom. There are sources of wisdom all around us if we have an open heart and eyes to see and the desire to eat some good bread. 
Bon appetite! 

Let us pray. 
Jesus, we ask you for this bread of life, 
for wisdom, 
for life in all its fullness 
that we may be filled and give to others from that fullness. 


Thursday, August 16, 2018

What to DO about our smoky skies

Edmonton this afternoon...
With so many wildfires in British Columbia (and other places) this summer, Western North America is under a pall of smoke. I live less than five kilometers from our downtown skyscrapers, and it's not easy to see them through the haze.

"This sucks!" "It's so gross out there!" "I feel like I'm suffocating!" are all comments I've heard in the past 24 hours. But the big question is:

What are we going to DO about it?

We need to get past the complaining and see how the way we live is contributing to the problem. Human beings are the most influential species in our planet's web of life. I know there are people who don't believe in climate change, but to them I say, "Look at the skies. It's here. And what are we going to DO about it?"

"There's nothing I can do," is a cop out, especially when we get into the car to drive somewhere for a cup of coffee. Couldn't we reduce our impact on the environment by choosing to
cut down our use of fossil fuels,
conserve resources,
reduce, reuse, recycle, and
sacrifice a few comforts and pleasures for the sake of being able to breathe?

My neighbour with asthma certainly hopes so.

For the past 8 years, almost, I've been moodling here occasionally about Simple Suggestions that we can follow to increase our own health and community well-being. I was delighted when Pope Francis came out with Laudato Si, his letter to the world about how we are to care for our only home and the poor (who are most affected by climate change). And now these smoky skies are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we need to get serious about changing our lifestyles and cutting greenhouse gases, pollution, and waste of the earth's resources, just like Pope Francis and many other wise people say.

Maybe it's time to stop dissing our environmentalists and start listening to them.

Today I offer, once again, a few resources to help us think about what we can DO about our smoky skies. Check these out to
The thing is, we have to go on living. But we have the power to DO things better than we have been. So let's stop complaining, and start making a difference!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Simple Suggestion #276... Use compost instead of fertilizer

I've been growing an organic garden for a couple of years now -- no pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. And the key to it all is using compost instead of Miracle Gro. Instead of adding blue stuff to my water, every two or three weeks I simply put a couple of handsful of compost at the base of plants that need to be fertilized... and allow watering to trickle the compost's nutrients down through the soil to the roots. This year's tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peppers and annuals are doing very well with this method.

Simple, homemade fertilizer from my compost pile is much better for the planet than these chemical compounds that are made in factories and trucked long distances that increase the greenhouse gases in our already stressed atmosphere. It's not that hard to do, and it's satisfying to work with natural processes to enrich soil and grow my own food. And the results are wonderful to witness!

To prove my point, here's this year's garden tour by video, posted mainly for my own benefit (I can look back on my moodlings and remember how I've done things in the past) and for any other interested gardeners. Note to self for next year: plant the snow peas like the scarlet runner beans this year, and continue to use leaf mulch around tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. I tried this method for the first time this year thanks to a Master Composter refresher course back in May called "How to compost without using a compost bin." Mulching really cut down this year's weeding for me. And I'm not kidding -- if anyone wants to grow Ralph's Romas, let me know -- I should have extra seed this year.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sunday Reflection on a Monday: God's true sustainability

Today's reflection is brought to you by 1 Kings 19:4-8 and John 6:51a.

Sometimes I feel like Elijah,
O God,
because the world gets to be a bit much.

Last week's blue skies obliterated
by grey smoke.

Wildfires, floods and earthquakes.

The inhumanity of some human beings.

It is enough
to make me want to lie down under my own broom tree and say,
"It is enough."

Elijah was right --
we are no better than our ancestors.

Our continuing path
of ignorance,
and over-consumption
has brought us to the point
that our planet
and many of its peoples
are choking because of our excesses.

But today you give me a clear blue sky,
as if to say,
"Get up and eat,
otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

Human beings aren't so good at sustainability,
but you are.

You offer yourself to sustain us
through all the good things of our world,
blue skies included.

You send prophets with plans
to help us care
for widows, orphans and strangers in our midst
and lately,
you bring to our attention
many who are calling us
to live in harmony with one another
and all of your creatures.

Do we hear them?

You give us your life and spirit
so that we may walk in your strength
for those mystical 40 days and nights
in spite of the troubles,
and ecological disasters
that wear us down.

Help us to listen to your wise ones.

Make us willing to sacrifice
all that makes our world unhealthy.

Help us to move beyond lip service
to your true sustainability,
O Creator of this life-filled planet.

Show us how to do what must be done.

Teach us to change bad habits for good,
even if they're less convenient.

Remind us often
that you are with us,
ministering to us
through small signs of hope
and the encouragement of those around us.

Come what may,
whoever eats of this bread
will live forever.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Ralph's lavatera

My lavatera
Two weeks ago, I returned from walking the dog to find my 93-year-old neighbour, Ralph, standing in my back yard, checking out my garden. I was delighted to see him.

He'd been out on an errand, and decided to stop by since he hadn't seen me for a while (we took our summer vacation). "I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered," he said. "What's the name of that flower you gave me?"

When I visited Ralph and Lidia back in May, the day he gave me his amazing squash plant, I gave him a tiny potted lavatera plant that I had started from seed.

"It's big," he said when he visited. "Did you plant any in your garden?"

I told him I had, and after we toured my vegetable garden and I showed him how his amazing squash was climbing our greenhouse, we went to the front yard and I showed him my laughable lavatera.

To be fair, my front gardens are competing with several large elm trees, so it's a real challenge for bedding plants to get enough nutrients to even bloom.

This afternoon I went for coffee with Lidia and Ralph, and took a picture of them with their lavatera bush, promising not to put their picture on the internet, and laughing about how small my lavatera are in comparison.

I told Ralph that his green thumb is much greener than mine.

It made him smile like he makes me smile. I can't help but love my Italian neighbours.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday reflection: How to be new

This reflection is brought to you by Ephesians 4: 17-24.

O Christ,
as members of your family,
we are called to live as you live.

Not just using our intellects,
but living with wide open hearts,
accepting life's many differences and possibilities
without judgment.

In these times,
there is no excuse
for ignorance
or hardness of heart.

We are to live in your truth,
to be sensitive to the needs of others as you are,
and to give of ourselves with abandon as you do
in those who are selfless.

We learn your way
not only
by studying your life,
saying prayers,
and singing worship songs,
by being your hands and feet where needed,
living in unity with goodness wherever we find it,
and resting our hearts in yours each day.

The old life
of greed-caused misery
which is still too present on our suffering earth
can only pass away
if we recognize you in ourselves and all creatures,
and if we wear your Spirit like a bright cloak
to light our way in all that we do.

Make us new,
O God.