Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Empty hands

Today's reflection is brought to you by
James 5:1-6 and Mark 9:38-48.

O Christ,
you invite us all
to be your presence in our world.

You ask us
to encourage
everyone who emulates
your goodness and mercy --
no matter their race or creed --
and to show gratitude
to all who embody your kindness.

And though we've been
carefully socialized
to crave luxury
and collect treasures for ourselves,
we know that you call us
to build peace and justice
by sharing what we have
with those in need.

Clearly, it is better for us
to enter your presence
with clean hands --
empty of malice and greed --
than with millstones around our necks.

Simply because we know you
and the love that you have for all,
your abundant Spirit lives in us.

We thank you,
and ask you
to make our hearts free
to share the abundance you give us
without counting the cost.

Let us come to you
with empty hands.


Friday, September 28, 2018

A little more autumn colour

People who follow these moodlings know that I'm a sucker for spring and autumn beauty. I love the shot at the top of these moodlings, taken by my hubby, Lee. Pictures clog this blog because my camera is always in my pocket when Shadow and I go for walks in the shoulder seasons. I don't pretend to be a great photographer, it's just that beauty stops me in my tracks, and Shadow is mostly patient with me trying to capture it. One of these days, I should delete about a million pictures in my computer files. But in the meantime, here's some autumn colour from the last few days.

 A view from Strathearn hill...
and here's a retaining wall near Mill Creek... love the wood pattern...
Heading down into the "Camel Humps"...
Enjoying a zillion different shades of autumn...
The tamaracks are just starting to turn...
same tall one in the middle of the last picture,
from the opposite direction...
A golden grove...
Shadow loves beach combing at the accidental beach...
while I love watery reflections...
and offroading...
with my good walking buddy.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Banishing the Inner Critic

These last few weeks, I've run into several friends at different stages on the parenting journey and it's been wonderful to catch up with them. But what has really been interesting is the common thread that has come up in many of these conversations -- that of parental guilt, a particular affliction experienced by all the mom-friends I've chatted with lately.

As human beings, we are blessed (and sometimes cursed) with self-consciousness. By that, I mean that, as parents, we are often aware of how our well-intended actions sometimes have negative repercussions, and we sometimes become over-critical of ourselves. The danger lies in blaming ourselves for not doing enough or for unintended consequences that were impossible to foresee, and in playing that old "If Only..." game. "If only I had done/said/tried this instead of that..." For some of us, a little voice I call the Inner Critic takes up residence in our heads, ensuring that we're always second-guessing ourselves.

I know the Inner Critic all too well. I suspect many parents do. When the media quotes studies, the educational system sends "helpful" websites, friends make recommendations, or grandparents offer input, these things can play into the Inner Critic's game of frequently reminding us that our parenting seems less than adequate in comparison to the parents who do everything right (and who are those people, anyway? They can't possibly exist!)

Just think for a minute about that dreaded phrase, "Studies have shown..." which ends any number of ways: Studies have shown that parents should feed their children more unprocessed foods, limit their screen time, send them to play outdoors two hours a day, teach them meditation, quiz them on their math facts at every opportunity, enroll them in at least three extra-curricular activities, read to them daily, set up play dates with school friends a few times a week, ensure that they have regular contact with grandparents, teach them to cook, and the list goes on ad infinitum...

It all means that we as parents often feel a level of societal pressure -- and guilt -- and second-guess ourselves more often than necessary. Which, ultimately, isn't helpful. To put it simply, there are not enough hours in a day to do all the things that our Inner Critic -- bolstered by those studies, suggestions, recommendations and websites -- says we should be doing for our kids. Never mind the fact that our kids learn a lot more without us constantly running their lives! (Boredom can lead to unexpected creativity, which is often a good thing, at least in my kids' case.)

I have to hand it to my mom, who told me something like this when my babies were small, "Maria, you're doing your best. You love your kids, but you have to enjoy life, too, or everyone will be miserable. So keep doing your best and don't worry about the rest. The kids will be the people they are meant to be. You're their mom for good reason. Trust that."

Thanks, Mom, you gave good advice. But I'm afraid I didn't really trust myself and take all of Mom's words to heart. Missed the last bit about trust, and "don't worry about the rest." So a year ago, just before my youngest turned 18, I found myself in a professional counselor's office, face to face with my parental guilt. It took me three sessions to become aware of and banish my Inner Critic, using some of the same words that my mom gave me: "I've done the very best I could for my kids with the time and energy I had. My kids are wonderful, and they are who they are meant to be, for reasons well beyond my control, thank goodness. I can't listen to unsolicited opinions from my Inner Critic any more. GO AWAY!"

Whew! Freedom! It was like a huge weight was lifted off me.

Of course, Inner Critic tries to come back regularly from her place on the sidelines (most recently, with this morning's radio report about screen time diminishing kids' intelligence and focus, which made me second-guess myself yet again, "Did I let them watch too much CBC for Kids when they were small?") Oh, puh-lease, that's in the past. Get lost, Inner Critic!

Unfortunately, I've noticed her Inner Critic pals lurking around the mom-friends I've seen in these last few weeks, the ones who are struggling with parental guilt, so I tried to pass along my mom's wise words, plus a few of my own:

"You are doing the best you can with what you've been given. You are the best mom for your kids, chosen for them for good reason, and they will be who they are meant to be. Trust that, and tell your Inner Critic to take a hike."

I just hope my friends were able to hear me, and can banish their own Inner Critics or, at least, keep them on the sidelines most of the time.

It's an important part of being a healthy parent.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A gorgeous evening walk

Lee and I took Shadow for a walk this evening, and what a golden evening it was. Pictures can't quite do it justice, but Lee took a couple anyway that I'll just leave here... so I can look back on a golden autumn evening in the dark winter evenings to come...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Asking for the right things

Today's reflection is brought to you by James 3:16 - 4:3.

O God,
for what shall we ask?

Not for the things that cause envy,
that place us higher than others,
not for things that create disorder,
or lead to wickedness of any kind.

we should ask for wisdom from you,
your wisdom in us --
peace and gentleness,
surrender and mercy,
the deepest goodness that invites and includes others.

If we sow peace,
we harvest goodness and peace.

But sometimes,
our desires get the best of us.

It's too easy
to forget all the good we already have
and to want glamour or fame,
brilliance or beauty,
or a wealth of things
that cannot satisfy.

Remind us,
in those moments,
that we should ask for wisdom from you.

Your wisdom in us --
peace and gentleness,
surrender and mercy,
the deepest goodness that invites and includes others.

Help us to ask just for the right things.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Guest Moodler: Going solar in Edmonton

Two weeks ago, my hubby and I went on a hot date (for geeks!) -- a Solar Energy Society of Alberta evening on electric vehicles. We came away convinced that, for the sake of our planet (not to mention our wallets), we should probably sell our present vehicle and go electric. The panel of presenters were very convincing. Now we just need a car company to come up with an electric vehicle high enough to get down our back alley in the winter without getting high-centred (we actually cracked our present crossover vehicle's under-grill trying to get down our alley last winter). Our solar panels produce enough energy that we can easily power our home and an electric vehicle, so we'll get there eventually, and cut our greenhouse gas emissions by half yet again.

Lee recently wrote an update regarding our solar installation and how it's performing, along with suggestions for others who are considering their own solar power. So if you have yet to make it to an SESA event, here's our experience, as told by Lee:

Going Solar in Edmonton

Two Years of Residential Solar Electric Generation

I am writing this post to assist others who may be thinking about a solar electric system installation in Alberta or Canada.  It contains information about our system and actual performance over a two-year period.  I suspect others may have questions about what to consider and hence might learn from our experience.

System Design Parameters:

Physical Configuration:
-          Total panels = 24:
o   20 panels on the garage, 4 panels on the house
-          Total installed estimated maximum capacity - ~6.24 kW
-          1 microinverter for each two panels
-          Panel Manufacturer: Canadian Solar, 260P, 260W
-          Microinverter Manufacturer: APSystems
Orientation – south facing
Inclination of panels -- ~20 degrees on the garage and house

Considerations for Installation and Design:

·       Roofing: For asphalt shingled roof installations like ours, the support stands for the panels have mounts that fit under the existing shingles.  This keeps things sealed on your roof envelop.  Before you install such a system, it is highly recommended to re-shingle your roof with long life shingles.  We chose ones with a 25 to 30 year lifespan.  Our solar electric system should last at least that long.  Replacing shingles around a solar panel installation is a major undertaking.  It is best to think ahead and delay this issue as long as you can.
·       Snow: The steeper the panels are inclined on the roof, the more likely that snow will fall off by itself during the winter.  During a sunny day, light penetrates the snow cover on the panels and warms the snow so it falls off naturally.  For Edmonton, the optimal angle to maximize solar energy collection is about 50 degrees.  To minimize wind sheer issues, panels are typically installed parallel to the roof surface for residential applications, so ideally panels should be installed on steeper roof sections.  Something to watch out for when you select the location of your panels, is don’t place them near sidewalks or other areas you typically walk under.  You may have a sudden icy surprise on your head as the panels shed snow or find a slippery section on your sidewalk that is difficult to keep ice free.
·       Electrical: These systems use direct current near the panels which is converted to alternating current that can be used in your house.  Engaging a qualified electrician is highly recommended due to inherent dangers (shock and fire) during and after improper installation.  Another consideration is to check your electrical panel before installation.  We had enough spare capacity to connect the system, but some houses may not.  An electrical panel upgrade can be expensive.
·       Protection from Rodents and Leaves: Our system’s panels are raised slightly above our roof to allow for airflow.  To protect against gnawing rodents (they apparently enjoy chewing through cables) and leaves and other build up, a protective mesh was installed around the bottom of our panels along the roof line.
·       Rebates: Check if rebates for solar installations are available in your community or province.  They can make a significant difference for your installation costs (saving you thousands) and reduce the payback period for your system.
·       Electrical Maintenance: Photovoltaic (PV) systems are relatively low maintenance and worry-free – almost.  One of the microinverters was defective and failed in October 2016 and this was not noticed by us and repaired until April 2017.  As a result, the electrical generation performance for part of 2016 and early 2017 is slightly lower than would have been expected (~1/12th loss).  From a practical perspective:
o   I recommend that you check system performance from month-to-month.  Our  microinverter manufacturer has a website that shows individual panel performance.  It is fascinating to watch as your panels produce electricity throughout the day and it also makes detecting issues very easy provided you check for them periodically.  An email alert for system failures would be a nice feature… in case any manufacturers are reading this post.
o   As electronics for these systems can fail earlier than expected, it is a good idea to get a warranty.  It is worth the peace of mind.
o   When you pick an installation company, remember that ongoing service should be a consideration.  When the occasional malfunction occurs, it is nice to know you can rely on the installing company to perform the needed service.  The one we chose came and fixed things quickly once we noticed the outage.
·       Other Maintenance:
o   Washing: Keep an eye out for dust and other build up on the panels.  Dust, bird droppings and other build up can reduce system capacity.  Washing them gently with water from time to time should be considered.
o   Trees and other shadowing: When we installed our system, I trimmed the top of a tree next to the system to reduce the amount of shadowing during later afternoon.  It is time to do this again.

·       Thinking Ahead:

o   Electric Cars: When we installed our system, we purposefully built it so we could add extra capacity for an electric vehicle in the future.  Our installation company recommended at least 8kW for a combined home/car system.  Cable sizing and placement, physical space for additional panels and electrical panel capacity are key considerations.
o   Battery Backup: Our system is a grid-connected configuration.  This is apparently the most common type of system installed today.  When it does not detect an energized electrical grid, the inverters do not produce electricity.  This avoids feeding electricity into a de-energized electrical grid during an outage and potentially putting your local utility workers in harms way.  This has two implications: 1) the system will not provide backup electricity during an electrical outage, and 2) if a battery backup system is installed for such a scenario, it needs to be disconnected from the electrical grid during an outage and / or allow for solar recharging of batteries in a disconnected situation.  A local Alberta company, Eguana Technologies, seems to have a system that will work for this situation.  This is an area I am still investigating and would be interested in the experience of others.

Observations of Actual System Performance:
On warm days, our panels produce up to 40 kilowatt hours in a day.
We had a several cm of snow on the 13th, and not much sun since...
·       Time of year and snow does make a difference for electrical generation.  Don’t expect too much electricity generation in the months of December and January.  The sun is just too low in the sky to generate very much.  I tried to remove snow from the panels in December but saw limited electrical generation.  Even 6 inches (15 cm) of snow pretty much stopped the panels from working.  In the shoulder months of November and February, the amount of electrical generation increased appreciably when temperatures rose sufficiently for the panels to shed their snow load by themselves.
·       Total Yearly Solar Electric Generation:
o   Year one (June 2016 to May 2017): 5824 kWh (see note above about failed inverter)
o   Year two (June 2017 to June 2018): 6023 kWh

·       Generation Pattern - The following chart shows how much electricity was generated by our system at various times of the year from June 2016 to May 2018.

(Maria's note: We don't have to think too much about our solar panels. They do their work, we do ours, and it's all good, especially because we're not contributing more than we have to when it comes to greenhouse gases. We think solar is a great way to go!)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Reflection: "Who do you say that I am?"

Today's reading is brought to you by Mark 8:27.

I've never met John, 
or Elijah, 
or any of those prophets 
your disciples would name,
but I think I know you.

Your eyes twinkle
even when you're serious.

Your hands are gentle
as you touch,
and embrace.

You move with purpose
to help others, 
speaking less
and doing more.

You pray alone in quiet places.

You're all about hospitality and celebration.

You see us all as your brothers,
your sisters, your mothers.

You are a storyteller extraordinaire.

You spread your arms wide
to invite outsiders in,
and turn "insiders" inside-out.

You aren't afraid 
to call out hypocrisy.

You also notice beauty,
and truth,
and praise it where you find it.

You stand up for little ones.

You invite everyone
into your light.

You offer your suffering
so we can learn to live with our own.

You are peace, 
and hope,

You are the one
we are all called to be,
Blessed and Beloved.

Make us into you.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Simple Suggestion #278... Change for Climate

With hurricanes Florence, Helene, and Isaac, and Super Typhoon Mangkut besieging different places today, and with the weather abnormalities, droughts and wildfires we've seen across our planet this summer, it's past time to do everything we can to slow climate change. I suspect those who follow these moodlings are already taking as many steps as we can to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions... but maybe there are still a few that we haven't considered. The Simple Suggestions moodled here are designed to get us thinking about ways to work, live, consume, be entertained, and travel in ways that do less harm to our planet, but there's no way I've covered every option!

Change for Climate is one of the City of Edmonton's efforts toward making Edmontonians aware of ways that we can live more lightly on our earth, for the sake of our future. For too long, we've been too relaxed about changing our living and consumption patterns, but suddenly we seem to be at a "tipping point." This isn't a future problem, it's here now. Weeks of smoky grey skies and the early snowstorm that damaged crops and tied up this morning's traffic are bringing reality home, I hope. We clearly have to do more to lessen our impact on our environment.

So today's Simple Suggestion is to check out the programs and 30 actions (and counting) suggested at Change for Climate if you haven't yet, to see what more you can do. Even if you're not from Edmonton, the ideas are applicable almost anywhere. Some are easy, others more difficult. But we can all do something.

As the video says, it's time to change for climate, before climate changes everything.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ralph’s squash... and tomatoes, and a bunch of other produce

With a four-letter s-word dreaded by all (but especially gardeners!) in the forecast for tomorrow or the next day, perhaps it's time to wrap up a few harvest moodlings. I went out to pick today because I'm afraid covering my cucumbers and tomatoes won't work too well if 10-15 cm of white stuff arrive by Thursday morning and flatten my blankets. Lee and I harvested the last of the peas and beans on the weekend, and it sounds like it's time to bring more produce indoors...

But first, I want to show you Ralph's squash plant... It did pretty well in spite of the fact that I wasn't around to tie it up at the right time, and I probably should have removed half its branches and blossoms if I wanted a six-foot squash like the one for which Ralph is famous. 

But a six-foot squash is more summer zucchini eating than our family wants to do. The large gold squash  (below) will give me seed for next year, but the small ones are tender and probably better for eating, which is what we prefer! The seeds are in the large bulbs at the ends, and if any of my readers would like to try growing their own, I'm guessing I'll have seed to spare! Just say the word and it's yours!

I planted two of Ralph's roma tomatoes... and got at least 30 extra large, almost seedless fruit that will be great for tomato paste. And three of his banana tomato plants gave me at least three gallons of long skinnies, which  means I'll be making spaghetti sauce for a day or two. And there are lots of other tomatoes for eating, salsa and bruschetta...

Ralph's romas
Ralph's banana tomatoes

Our peppers did well enough that I picked a small peck...

We got decent crops of cukes, cabbages, and corn on the cob. I think I'll leave the root vegetables to fend for themselves in the coming storm. There's more than enough to do with what's come in just today!

Thank you, God, for an abundant harvest, and thanks, Mom, for the extra buckets!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday Reflection: We're all God's favourites

The cover of an amazing book by Peter Spier
Today's reflection is brought to you by James 2:1-5.

We are all your children,
equally favoured by you,
who love everyone.

How we dress,
how smart we are,
the colour of our skin,
our sexuality or the gender we present as --
these things matter not a whit
in your estimation.

We are the ones who make distinctions
and judge between people,
choosing favourites
and forgetting that we are all
equally beloved.

Help us,
O God,
to know,
to feel within our bones,
that whether we are
artists or biologists,
CEOs or drag queens,
educators or farmers,
gay or heterosexual,
illustrious or jobless,
keyed-up or laid-back,
maestros or nannies,
outgoing or prickly,
quirky or reserved,
simple or technically gifted,
unbelievable or verifiable,
wholehearted or xenophobic,
yogic or zealous,
we are
through and through,
loved by you --
and meant to be loved by all.

Open us to love
all that you have created
the way you love --
without distinction.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Sunday Reflection on a Monday: First fruits

Today's reflection is brought to you by
James 1: 17-27.

O God,
are the source of all perfect gifts
and all generosity.

When we give,
it is your bounty that we are giving;
that we have to give is ours
because you created

All our freedom,
and talents,
are your presence in us,
meant to be shared.

We are to offer ourselves
like the first fruits of harvest
laid on your altar.

We are to give ourselves
by serving you
in those who are today's widows and orphans:
our sisters and brothers in need,
and receiving the gifts of self
that they offer us in return.

We are to be
"quick to listen,
slow to speak,
slow to anger..."
and more than hearers of your word,
but doers.

there is no point to any religion.

Help us all to share ourselves
without concern for what it costs us,
and without thought of any reward.

Doing everything and giving all
for love of you,
in love with you and your creation,
is already enough.


* * * * * 

This Sunday reflection is a bit late because it is harvest season. We picked over 60 gallons of pears this Labour Day weekend, and would be happy to share our first fruits with anyone who would like some!!! Send me an email (contact info on the sidebar) if you need an address to come and get them (bring your own container).