Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Ancient Prayer

I recently came across this ancient prayer, written 800 years ago by Mechthild of Magdeburg.

O sweet and loving God,
When I stay asleep too long
Oblivious to all Your many blessings,
Then please wake me up,
And sing to me Your joyful song.
It is a song without noise or notes.
It is a song of love beyond words,
Of faith beyond the power of human telling.
I can hear it in my soul,
When you awaken me to Your presence.

I am amazed that these clear, contemporary-sounding words were written so long ago. What did Mechthild of Magdeburg experience to speak so intimately to God? The stream of faith has been running down down through the centuries and I know so little about it!

What voices from our century will still be heard in the future? In our scientific and technologically-focused society - where knowledge is quickly outdated - have we closed the door to the knowledge expressed in this simple, sensitive conversation with God?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Toronto's Urban Wildlife

Toronto must have the most intelligent birds in the world! Enter Toronto's spacious, modern Greyhound bus terminal, and you will see ... pigeons, flying in and out of the motion-sensitive doors. The pigeons have discovered that, if they approach a door, it will slide open, from outdoors or in. So they are always entering and exiting the building - or flying overhead. I found it unnerving, sitting there, waiting for a bus, not knowing what may drop from the sky.

Similarly in a cozy coffee shop in the trendy Distillery area of town, sitting in an upstairs loft, enjoying a latte, I was suddenly aware of a bird flying around. I'm not sure how this small yellow creature got into this old warehouse. Fortunately it wasn't a flock of pigeons, only a small yellow bird.

The city is also full of raccoons, nocturnal visitors you usually only see when garbage is set out to be collected. There must be thousands of them living under decks and rooftop air conditioners - and occasionally in attics of homes.

Build a city on the edge of a forest... and the animals will come!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More About Streets of Gold...

In my English chass, we were discussing myths about life in Canada, especially the common notion that everyone in Canada is rich and, figuratively or literally, streets here are paved with gold.

Then one lady laughingly told us this story.

Her cousins were new immigrants to Canada. Both had jobs and from time to time would send money home to their father. Then the younger brother lost his job, and was no longer able to send any home.

Why is your brother no longer sending us anything? the father asked the older brother on the phone.

Oh, he's very lazy, his brother joked. He sleeps late all the time. The government of Canada throws money on the streets every night, but you have to get up early to pick it up. By the time my brother gets up, the money has all been taken.

The next time the father spoke to his younger son on the phone, he chastised him.

What's this I hear about you sleeping late and not waking up in time to pick the government money up off the streets?

The younger son didn't know what his father was talking about and thought the old man was losing his mind!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Myths and Questionable Truths about Canadian Winters

Myths abound about Canadian winters. Sometimes it's hard to know what to believe!

One Mexican lady - a university chemistry professor in her own country - laughingly told me that she had been fearful about doing her sabbatical year in Canada. People had warned her that Canadian winters were so cold that people's noses and fingers fell off! When she arrived, she anxiously looked around to see what percentage of the population were missing noses. She was literally shocked not to find any!

Tell this story to immigrants from India, Africa or the Far East, and they nod. Yes, they had been told that too before coming to Canada.

So why did you come? I asked.

We were also told that the streets were paved with gold! one lady from Afghanistan replied with a smile.

A man from New Brunswick told me that when he was a child, snow was occasionally so high that it blocked the door of the house. He then had to leave for school through an upstairs bedroom window, then slide off the roof of the porch to the ground.

I found that hard to believe.

You were smaller then. I told him, You probably just thought the snow was that high.

No, he was probably telling the truth, a teacher from New Brunswick assured me. I remember winters when overnight the snow blocked the doorway and no one could get out.

One time, when the dog wanted to go out, we had to lift him up almost to the top of the door frame, where a foot of clear space remained.

Now, I've never spent winter in New Brunswick, but I find all that hard to believe!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Life Without Clocks

My adventuresome cousin Elizabeth once took a rafting vacation down the Nile River in Egypt. Riding down the river on a raft by day, the group camped beside the river at night.

The first thing the guide made us do, she recounted, was to take off our watches. He kept them for the duration of the trip. He wanted us to get a sense of what life used to be like - before we became so obsessed with time.

Was it hard to live without your watch? I asked.

Some people really struggled. We are so used to knowing what time it is. It's something we feel we need to know.

Not that long ago that our forefathers - unless they worked for the railway - wouldn't have needed a clock. My great-grandparents on their small farm would have awakened to the crowing rooster in the morning and gone to bed a little after dark .

Always having to watch the time was a stressor for me as a teacher. Every class had to start and end at an exact time. If you messed with the system, someone was sure to be annoyed. Students would grumble if the class started or ended late. Other teachers were upset if you dismissed your class early - their students got up to leave when they heard your class in the hall.

How much this rigidly-scheduled life went against my nature came out in my dreams, especially my recurrent stress-dream. (Every teacher has one - it recurs just before the beginning of a term!)

In my dream, I'm rushing down endless halls, looking for my class. I know that somewhere students are waiting for me, and I'm in trouble because I'm late! I wake up in a panic...

Release from the tyranny of the clock came only during summer vacation.

Which is why I find this stage of life so refreshing.

How do you spend your time now that you've stopped teaching? a former colleague recently asked me.

Well, I get up in the morning and ask myself what I want to do today. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. But there's always lots to do.

Sounds like summer vacation to me, he said.

Yes, that's just what it's like!

Monday, January 26, 2009

African Violets

I love African Violets because they bloom indoors in the middle of winter - just when I need them the most.

This African Violet was a gift when my first child was born. It still blooms every year, like it did in that hospital room in 1980. (Thank you, Jan!)

A few years ago, a neighbor offered me some cuttings that were beginning to sprout. I accepted them gladly, but was disappointed when they grew, but didn't flower the following winter.

This January, just as I was beginning to wonder if they would ever bloom, they surprised me with these beautiful flowers.

Life is sometimes like that - just when you're giving up on something you've hoped for, there it is!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


When I was living in Israel, I met a young Brit who had walked from London to Jerusalem, to raise money for Oxfam, after graduating from university. He had wanted to do something to help others before settling into a "normal" working life.

One day as we were walking in the city, he stopped suddenly and pointed: Look, the sun is setting. Sunrise and sunset were the highlights of my day while I was walking alone across Europe. I have to stop and watch the sun go down.

So we stood in silence, watching the sky turn red and slowly darken.

I still think of him whenever I notice the setting sun, a young man standing alone, gazing at the sky. I also think of all the beautiful sunsets I have missed because I don't take the time to stand and stare.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prayer Dates

It was my first teaching job - I had been there a few years. There had been changes. I don't remember what the issues were - conflicts with admin, perhaps, or students I was having difficulty with - whatever it was, I was complaining again to my friend Judith, who taught at the same school.

Judith - who also attended the same church as I did - suddenly interrupted.

Maybe, instead of complaining all the time, we should pray about these things, she said.

I was surprised at the idea, but agreed to give it a try.

So instead of just complaining, we complained to God... and felt a bit better. So much better, in fact, that we decided to do it every week: have dinner together, and afterward, as we talked over coffee, if we had any problems, we would ask God to help us deal with them.

Eventually Judith and I moved on to different jobs in different places, but the memories of those prayer "dates" with this friend of like faith are with me still.

Since then, I have found a few other people - not many - I have felt comfortable enough to have "prayer dates" with, friends I could trust, who were struggling with some of the same problems I was. Each time, I found the experience helpful.

I also found it helpful to write down what we prayed about to review the next time we met. It is so easy to forget what problems loomed so large in our lives just the week before. The changes can be quite amazing.

And, of course, confidentiality is essential. Praying together is a sacred trust.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Love Clutter

In our early years of our marriage, Terry really struggled with my messiness. He liked a tidy apartment, with everything put away, while I was perpetually surrounded by stuff. Not only that, I got angry every time he wanted to be helpful and put my stuff away!

I remember once, in our tiny kitchen on St. Mathieu Street in Montreal. I was cooking dinner, taking spices and other things out of the cupboards as I needed them. Suddenly I stopped, confused.

Where was the .... (whatever)? It had been there a minute ago! I turned to see Terry carefully putting back into the cupboards everything I had taken out.

What are you doing? I asked, shocked.

You're leaving a mess. I'm just putting it away!

We were diametrically opposite: I needed to be able to see it; he felt compelled to put it away.

We have come a long way since those early days. Although he still loves a clean house, he has adopted some of my messiness.

Here beside his Lazyboy is the table where he keeps his important papers. (I'm not allowed to touch them!! I might mess them up!)

And me, well, I'm as disorganized as ever. Here is the desk in my study.

I really do plan to tidy it up today - but it feels as if I just tidied it yesterday, and look at it again!

At least, I'm not the only messy person in the world. I just had to tear out this picture of Noam Chomsky in his study.

It reminds me of the apartment of a neighbour I once had, a well-known (unmarried) journalist. Although I never actually entered his apartment (he never had friends over), from the doorway I could see books and papers piled as high as they could go without toppling down.

I do want to better manage the clutter in my life, and even buy books that I hope will help me.

But they sit tidily on the shelf, as unused as the diet books!

I have come to the conclusion that I thrive on clutter. There is a certain richness to it. Imagine all the piles of paper being piles of money! - Wouldn't you feel rich surrounded by it all?

That's how I feel with books, magazines and papers piled up around me. I feel rich with opportunity - ideas to read, digest and enjoy.

And I can usually find what I'm looking for, if nobody moves anything, trying to tidy it up.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Praise of Facebook

Facebook is receiving a lot of negative publicity these days - from lawsuits over whose idea it was to fears that it is harming our ability to relate.

I'm not sure what vision the site creators had when they came up with the idea or who they were gearing it towards, but I personally think it's great!

I signed up several years ago - I don't remember why - probably because I'd heard about it and could explore it only as a member. After looking it over, I didn't go back for more than a year. I had no reason to. I wasn't sure how it would ever benefit me.

Only one of my three 20-something-year-old kids is on Facebook.

Why are you on? I ask him.

So that I can see pictures my friends post. That's the only way I get to see pictures of trips they take or weddings. It's an easy way to share stuff.

So instead of losing track of friends, he's actually keeping up with them.

One criticism leveled at Facebook is that it devalues friendship. Having a lot of friends posted on your list becomes more important than having one or two good friends, real people you do things with, not just names and photos you read about online or even send emails to.

Also that people spend too much time emailing strangers, sometimes pretending to be someone they're not.

No one knows the effects of long-term e-relationships - but doesn't one tire of pseudo-friendships eventually?

I like Facebook because it allows for a class-reunion type of relationship without my having to leave home. As more and more people my age sign up, I'm able to reconnect with old friends I've lost touch with. In that respect, I'm not unlike my son.

A few months ago, I was wondering about a friend I'd shared an apartment with in my single days. We had gone our separate ways and lost contact. I knew she had moved to New Zealand, but couldn't find a recent address. After trying unsuccessfully to find her online, I thought of Facebook - why not give it a try? Sure enough, she was there, and we were able to reconnect.

Another cluster of long-lost friends I'm slowly recovering is a group I worked with years ago.

Will I ever see any of these people again, apart from in photos on Facebook? Maybe. Maybe not.

But that's okay.

There is still something satisfying about hearing how people from our past are doing and finding out what they're up to these days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Power of a Smile

When I picked up this morning's paper, and saw Barack Obama's smiling face, my immediate reaction was to smile back- whatever problems the US faces, he can handle it! I'm glad he's there! Those were my thoughts.

That's the power of a smile.

I recently cut out a newspaper article that stated that happiness is contagious.

I know that sadness is... which is why I avoid sad movies!

From experience at work, I know that positive, happy people are more fun to work with, than those who feel down.

I showed the happiness article to someone who works in customer service.

Boy, do I know that, he said. My job is easy to do well, and it's easy to mess up. It all depends on your attitude, your mood.

Not necessarily your circumstances.

I say that with one elderly gentleman in mind. In the years we attended the same church, he was always cheerful. He loved to talk about books, and to read. In World War II, as a young soldier, he'd been stationed in Egypt, so he loved to talk about travel.

Wasn't the music great today, he'd say after church. That organist really is wonderful with the children. She's so encouraging! This is such a great group of people! So supportive. Just a wonderful place to be.

You only noticed his hearing aid when he'd turn it up or down, depending on who he was talking to. The only time he ever mentioned his health to me was one day when he said: Those doctors are so amazing these days. The things they can do... and he proceeded to tell me what they had done to him that week! To him it was all so fascinating.

In his place, I'd have been complaining about my aches and pains and how much harder life is when you're not well.

So when I didn't see him at church a few weeks ago, I kept looking around, wanting to talk to him. His wife sat down beside me and said, Did you know that Bill passed away a few weeks ago. He had cancer, you know.

That's another thing about happy people - they are really missed when they are gone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Big Day

The day has finally come - Barack Obama's Inauguration.

And were we ready!

Although he is not officially supposed to wear a shirt with a political message on it to work, Terry broke the rule (imagine that!)

It was a hard choice - which shirt to wear?? The in-your-face victory shirt? Or the toned-down inauguration one?

The winner?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Identity Theft... Again

It's happened again - the second time 2 years... my "identity" has been stolen.

The first time, a credit card account was opened in my name by someone in another city. The person maxed out the card and didn't pay the bill. I only discovered this when I happened to open an account at the same financial institution several months later. If I hadn't opened that account, I might only have discovered my poor credit rating when trying to borrow money.

I am still amazed that it happened.

Credit bureaus have access to so much information - did a red flag not alert them to potential fraud when when I suddenly had a new address and social insurance number?

Apparently not. All the fraudsters needed was my name and my date of birth! The credit bureaus then changed my address to the one provided by the fraudster. I later had to send them "proof" that I was still living at my old address. (I wonder if they had to provide proof that I had moved.)

This second time, the scenario was a little different: I got a phone call from someone claiming to be from the fraud department of my credit card company. They wanted to discuss fraudulent activity on my account.

Can I call you back? I asked, certain that this was a hoax.

I quickly called the number on the back of my credit card to report the call. Had their fraud department called me?

Yes, they had. Call them right back.

When I did, the fraud investigator informed me that, although they couldn't give me details, a data base with my credit card information had been "compromised" - so I would need to get a new card.

Cut up that credit card right now, he said. But first I need to know your birth date and the pin number on the back of the card. I readily told him my birth date, but hesitated about the pin number.

I feel very vulnerable revealing it to you, I said.

Well, you just told me your birth date, he snapped back. That's just as dangerous! NEVER give out your birth date!

When I think of all the documents that have my date of birth on them - and how readily I have been conditioned to provide that infomation - I shouldn't be surprised that identity theft is so prevalent.

The RCMP's fraud webste at states there were 7778 complaints in 2006, the year my first identity theft happened.

Now I have to keep reminding myself that my birth date is valuable information: I have to guard it with care.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

It has taken me many years to realize that I am a goal-oriented person. Often I strive anxiously towards some goal, thinking that achieving it will bring me greater fulfillment.

Too often, I forget to enjoy the journey.

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."

I keep a copy of this quote by Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) beside the chair where I sit and drink my coffee in the morning.

Reading it reminds me not to focus so much on what I want to accomplish that day, but to enjoy life where I am, right now, doing what I'm doing, and to be thankful for the journey.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prayer for 2 Husbands

On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the Western Wall - formerly called the Wailing Wall - a sacred Jewish prayer site.

It was Rosh Ha-Shana, the Jewish New Year, so the place was bustling.

When I looked at the people praying beside the wall, I thought of Aliza, my next door neighbor when I lived in Jerusalem. She was not a conventionally religious person - she did not keep a kosher kitchen, for example - but she had a very deep faith in God.

One Friday evening, the eve of the Sabbath, she told me, I went to the Wall to pray that my daughter will find a good husband - and I prayed that you will, too.

She added: I put my prayers on a piece of paper and stuck them in the cracks between the rocks.
This last part in Hebrew was "Samti petek" - (literally, I put a note.)

For weeks, if not months, she continued this practice. Again and again, she would tell me: Samti petek... and I would smile.

Eventually her daughter moved to New York City, and I returned to Canada.

Was it co-incidence that both she and I met our husbands not long afterward?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Knit Socks

I have loved knitting sweaters since high school, but I always viewed knitting socks as a higher knitting form - one I could never aspire to.

My grandmother used to knit "skating socks" for her children and grandchildren. I don't know of any that have survived, apart from these that belong to my cousin.

They are probably around 50 years old.

When I would watch my grandmother use her 4 double pointed needles (where stitches could fall off both ends), I knew it would be pointless for me to even try!

Then a few years ago, I heard about a knitter who managed to knit a sock a day (or so she claimed) by taking her knitting with her everywhere she went.

I was inspired to see if I could do the same!

I must confess, I have never managed that feat, but I can finish a sock in a week, if I try.

Here are some socks I have made. I prefer yarn that knits up in a pattern - it adds interest to watch the designs grow.

My favorite pattern for basic socks (for a size 8 or 9 shoe) is by Kim Goddard. You can find it at:

It's free to download and use.

Although I usually start knitting the socks on 4 double pointed needles, I often switch to round needles after finishing the stretch ribbing on top.

The downside of being a knitter is that it is easier to buy yarn than to actually knit it! Here is my sock yarn bin - you need one 50 gram ball for each sock, so I buy 2 balls of yarn at a time.

You can never have too much yarn!

Although I haven't done any fancy socks, I did receive this lovely pair as a gift. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the delicate lace-work. Some people enjoy complicated challenges - I prefer the simpler kind.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter Indoors

When winter truly settles in and the weather is freezing cold outside, changes occur in our house as well.


The air becomes very dry, and skin becomes extra sensitive. Over the years, we've accumulated quite an assortment of creams to soothe our dry hands.

Terry's favorite is Herbacin kamille hand cream from Germany (in the green tube)

I still haven't found the perfect hand cream, but for years have used Avon's moisture therapy, in the white tube on the left.

Some quilting friends swear by Burt's Bees carrot night cream (not day cream) to heal fingers pricked by needles while quilting. I sometimes try it on my winter-dry hands as well. (The biggest disadvantage of the carrot cream is that it spreads its orange color to fabrics.)

To solve the sore thumb problem, I I finally invested in a leather thimble to protect my thumb when I quilt. (Those 40% off coupons at Michael's can be very useful!)

But my favorite defense against the cold winter weather is cooking. Today I decided to warm the house with baked vegetables and a small pork roast.

Going online to (my favorite recipe source), I did a search for "oven-baked vegetables".

I wanted to bake some cauliflower and potatoes that I had on hand. One recipe suggested creating a medley of autumn vegetables, including carrots and onions. After cutting the vegetables (2 potatoes, 2 small onions, 1 carrot, and half a head of caultiflower) into largish pieces, I mixed a tablespoon of olive oil with almost a cup of broth and a teaspoon of thyme. This I poured over the vegetables, stirring to coat, and baked them covered for about half an hour at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the same time, I roasted a small roast of pork from Dinners by Design -

After half an hour, I uncovered the vegetables to brown them. At the same time, I added a mix of apples and raisins to the roast, and continued to bake them all for another half hour or so.

In the end they looked, smelled and tasted great.

In winter, we have to pamper ourselves a bit just to get by!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More winter


It's really cold out today! (-25 degrees Celsius or -13 degrees Fahrenheit)Canadians love to talk about the weather. It's safer than discussing politics - it's something we can all agree on. How does our family respond to this extreme cold? We block all possible cold air drafts.


We pile snow against the door from the outside since snow amazingly insulates from cold!
(If we have to use that door, yes, the snow will fall in!) I personally try to forget the weather by doing things I love indoors, like COOKING (and eating) warm, yummy things, like this cherry crisp

KNITTING is also a winter thing I love to do... though I do it all year long, when I'm waiting in doctors' offices, trains or airports.

Sometimes I like what I've knit - at other times, I just give it away. QUILTING is another winter passion of mine.

This is the first time I'm using my new Grace EZ 3 quilt frame. I like it a lot.

BUT most important for me in winter is to enjoy the sun that streams in through the windows,
even on the coldest days,


and the flowers that grow indoors! ENJOY YOUR DAY!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This is the view from my window today - snow, blowing snow. The only reminder that spring will eventually be here are the dormant plants peering through the snow.

This is my first posting. It is a little like the barren landscape outside. But winter only lasts a while - 100 days or so. Then spring will be back.