Saturday, October 31, 2009


When I was a university student, I came across a poster of Desiderata, a gentle list of maxims for a happy life. I taped the poster to my wall, where it stayed for years, reminding me to keep life in perspective...

I recently came across my copy of Desiderata again in a bundle of old posters. I still found the words inspiring - so I had the poster laminated. Now it graces my dining room wall. I don't stop to read it often enough, tucked away as it is in a corner - but every time I do, I appreciate the wisdom of the words.

The words may be a little hard to read in the photo, so I've copied them below. In my internet search for the author and the meaning of the title, I discovered that Desiderata, means "desired things" in Latin. This prose poem was written by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer. One site pointed out that there was a publishing error in my poster: Careful (in the last line) is supposed to be cheerful.


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saying GOOD-BYE - to Favorite Clothes

I'm feeling a little sad - I have to part with some "old friends" - CLOTHES that have been my favorites for a long time.

It's not often that my clothes wear out - but of course, those that do are ones I love to wear!

Like this denim shirt I've worn for years and years. The embroidered flowers always cheered me, so I wore it often as a light jacket over a T-shirt or sweater.

A few years ago, the elbow tore, and my mother (an amazing seamstress) mended it, extending its life for a few years. But now I see it now has a few more worn spots. So I think it's time to say Good-bye...

I'm also sad that these loafers that I've worn non-stop for at least 3 years are beginning to tear. They were comfortable the first time I put them on - so comfortable, in fact, that I rarely wore any other shoes!

They have trudged along many a school corridor, and many a dusty street. They became the shoes I could count on , so I wore them when I traveled. Easy to slip off and on, they have walked the streets of Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Jerusalem and Honolulu!

When they were new, a school secretary commented on how comfortable they looked. The last person to notice them and say something had a different kind of comment:

Those are the strangest looking shoes I've ever seen, an elderly gentleman sitting across from me at an airport lounge told me!

Well, they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, I replied, in their defence.

If strangers begin to comment, and they are starting to tear, maybe it's time to let them go!

What should I do - fix these shoes or toss them? I ask one of my sons, who hates to part with old clothes (and hates to shop).

Toss them! he quickly replies. They've had their day!

If even he thinks so, it's probably the right thing to do!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thank God for Babies!

I don't get many opportunities to hold babies anymore - like this sleeping 2-month old.

BABIES ARE SUCH A GIFT! - Full of the warmth of life!

Who knows what challenges - obstacles and opportunities - lie before a young child? So if you have the privilege of holding and hugging a baby, don't forget to pray for him or her: to be healthy and strong... And grow up to be a blessing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From Ottawa to Dallas...

This morning, at 4:30 am, I was on my way to the airport with my son - who was leaving for Dallas, Texas - to spend a few days with my brother's family - and enjoy a football game in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

We had a quick breakfast around 4am - and soon afterward were on our way. At 6am he caught a plane to Toronto (a 45-minute flight - it would take 5 hours by car.) Then at around 9am he was on a direct flight to Dallas. I spoke to him in Toronto by phone, just before he boarded the plane, and watched, three hours later, (on "flight tracker," a computer program which tracks planes in the air) as his plane landed in Dallas - 6 hours after he left Ottawa.

After years of flying, I still have a hard time getting my mind around this AMAZING feat: he ate breakfast with me at 4 am and by noon he was with my brother 2,785 kilometers (1,730.5 miles) away!

I have a hard time comprehending how quickly one can get to Dallas by air - because I've driven there by car half a dozen times myself, and I know how long it takes, even speeding along a highway. It usually took us 5 or 6 days - all five of us packed inside a station wagon (much like the family in Chevy Chase's movie, Vacation) - to get from Ottawa to Dallas (and the same length of time to get back!)

The trip can be done in 4 days (or 27.5 hours) by car, according to Google Maps: Following our usual route, we went...
Day 1: From Ottawa to Buffalo, NY (approximately 5 1/2 hours of driving - a bit longer if we drove through Toronto)
Day 2: Buffalo. NY to Cincinnati, OH - approximately 7 1/2 hours of driving
Day 3: Cincinnati, OH to Memphis, TN - approximately 7 1/2 hours of driving
Day 4: Memphis, TN to Dallas, TX - about 7 hours of driving

But we never just drove to Dallas! There were interesting stops and detours all along the way. We'd usually stop to shop in Buffalo's outlet malls and visit Niagara Falls, not far away. We also had to see how the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats were made in Louisville, Kentucky... And discovered that Louisville was also the hometown of Mohammad Ali, back when he was known as Cassius Clay. Another time we stopped at the Grand Old Oprey in Nashville, Tennessee, and listened to some country music. We toured Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, Tennessee one year, and even spent some time in Hope, Arkansas, where US President Bill Clinton was born - and discovered it was famous for its watermelons. Then there were the caves and caverns Terry was always discovering. They had to be explored too.

Stopping here and there added a few days to our trips... But we saw the countryside and came to appreciate how large and beautiful this continent really is...

So when my son has an early breakfast in Ottawa and a late lunch in Dallas, it still boggles my mind!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Traveling Mercies: LOVE THE JOURNEY...

Traveling mercies: love the journey,
God is with you, come home safe and sound.

I recently re-read this farewell greeting that the "old people" in Anne Lamott's church use when saying good-bye to friends embarking on a trip. (She refers to it in her book, Traveling Mercies, in the chapter by the same name.)

I have been reflecting on how - to my regret - I don't always love the journey... I say this, not as a traveler on vacation, but as a traveler through life. If I view life as a journey, there are large chunks of it that I endure... but I don't love.

I endured university, hating the study and the exams. But for all that, I'm glad I did it. The discipline produced a body of knowledge, experience ... and skills. And - to be honest - there were many aspects of those years that I did love - the friends, the experience of living in Israel. The adventure - wondering what life had in store. I really did love all that.

I loved having kids - but I found parenting hard at times, especially when they were young and I was irritible from not getting enough sleep! (Then I was down on myself for not being the cheerful mother I wanted to be!)

I loved being a teacher - loved helping students and meeting interesting individuals from all over the world - but hated the marking, and the discipline of having to go in to work every day...

The same is true at my current stage of life - I love the flexibility my days now offer - but I don't feel carefree... As I watch my parents' generation age around me, I realize that this stage of life faces us all - at least, those of us lucky enough to reach an age so rich in years... But it does make me sad to see all those people who were part of my childhood - helping me become the person I now am - reach the age where they need help.

Traveling mercies: love the journey,
God is with you, come home safe and sound.

To love the journey, I need to re-capture the sense of adventure that life was meant to have ... at every stage of life! And of course, it always helps to know that God is with me - and that I'll come home safe and sound!

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Favorite Place to Eat Veggies...

The book, The Artist's Way, recommends going on an Artist's Date once a week. I love this idea. The author, Julia Cameron, suggests going somewhere inspiring - alone - and taking time to relax and be inspired...

I usually treat myself to a meal out in my favorite local vegetarian restaurant, The Table.

Yesterday I went there... and was inspired by the vegetable fritters (my all-time favorite) - and the best chocolate cheese cake in town. (I also had a slice of their other chocolate cake this time - I think it has beets in it...)

I also had a little salad and veggie stew to round out my lunch.

A perfectly inspirational meal!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wisdom for Parents

You're such a mother! my daughter often tells me - when I get too involved in my adult children's lives - or the lives of their friends. (That's a kind way of putting it...)

A while back I found a poem that helped me understand my "parenting problem." I can't remember where I found the poem, but I keep a copy among my favorite things, where I can re-read it from time to time to remind myself that my children live in a different world from the one I lived in when I was their age (just as my parents' growing up years were so very different from my own)...

Our Children Cannot Go Back
by Gladis and Gordon DePree

have come over a long road
to the place where we are now...
in human experience
and in our knowledge of God.

It is an impulse
stemming from good will to say to our children,
"this is the way I have come...
you must learn this way..."

But our children cannot go back
to the land from which we have come.
God has asked us to bring them
to this place
and from here
they must be strong to go on
into a new world
which we may never comprehend.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

If it's Saturday, it must be TIDY-MY-DESK day...

I like to bring things to a close on the weekend - so Saturday is a good day to tidy off my desk. My goal is to see some part (even a small part) of it not cluttered with paper...

So here it is... Full of lovely STUFF - including articles I have torn out of newspapers and magazines.

What to do with all this lovely STUFF?

My "Interesting Info" Files are multiplying - and STUFFED with STUFF...

The perfect solution is to send some of these articles to my kids to read... Surely they will find them interesting!

My mother used to do this to me... (I was rarely interested in what interested her!)

But that doesn't deter me!

Dear kids,
Here are some articles I thought you'd be interested in reading...


Friday, October 23, 2009

Preparing for Spring: Garden Boxes

Gardeners are eternal optimists! There is always next year to plan for - so we prepare in the fall, and wait patiently all winter... for the spring!

One of the tasks on my OCTOBER TO DO LIST was to pick up some old wooden packing boxes that friends of ours (Janet and Greg) had - but didn't need - to make a raised garden (for veggies) - like the ones I saw this year in their yard.

I used to plant vegetables. Freshly-picked produce tastes so good. I also wanted my children to see that vegetables didn't simply come from grocery stores...

But after a few years - memorable ones for the whole family - I stopped. The veggies seemed to ripen just when we were planning to be away. Or the squirrels got to them before we did.

But seeing Janet's garden-in-a-box - one containing beans, another tomatoes and a third carrots - inspired me to try again.

So here they are - leftover packing boxes Greg (Janet's husband) found at work but doesn't need... (I notice that a squirrel is already checking out the one on the right!)

The plan is to fill them with several inches (20 or 30 centimeters) of leaves this fall, and fill them with soil and compost in the spring - and then try vegetable gardening again. It seems to me that I read somewhere that raised garden beds do better than ones planted on the ground. We'll see next year...

Janet says the biggest drawback to the raised beds is that they have to be watered a lot. The water seeps out quickly.

I sprayed them with some leftover spray paint I bought 10 years ago, to spruce up some old cupboard knobs.

I really didn't like the smell - or the environmental effects of the chemicals in the spray propellant - so I'm glad it's gone. I probably won't buy it again...

Do they look tidier now?

Now all I have to do is WAIT FOR SPRING!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teachers Plant Seeds

One of the great things about teaching adults is that the teacher is (usually) appreciated by the students, who have all had some life experience, and see the point in being in school again ... They see how it will help them in their careers and in their lives - otherwise they simply quit - they don't have to be in school.

Occasionally an appreciative student would give me a gift. Here are two that I keep on my desk. I use the flower pot for pens - it's a bit small for flowers - and the plaque usually holds a glass of water or a cup of coffee...

The flower pot says - A teacher plants seeds that bloom over a lifetime.

Both remind me - not only that teachers have a tremendous impact on students' lives, but that - in fact - we all have a unique impact on everyone we meet. We all have the opportunity to make or break someone's day... To give a good or bad impression of what we symbolize, be that a mother, a teacher, a postman, a young person, an old person, a religious person, a white (brown or black) person, a city person, a country person, a salesperson, a customer... The list could go on forever! Most people we encounter will never get to know us, but they will all get an impression about us - often only a first impression. They may never see us again... But they get an impression about us ... and the group of people we represent in their eyes...

Every day we all affect the lives of everyone we meet in some way. Some of the things we say and do will outlive us. I have many memories of people who are long gone - and the fact that I remember them means that they affect me somehow.

Not only teachers - EVERYBODY plants seeds that grow forever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preparing for Winter: Bringing Plants Indoors

One of the scariest things I do before winter arrives is bring a dozen potted plants (that have been outside all summer) back into the house again. I say "scariest" because a former colleague had an infestation of jumping bugs in her house after she brought a tropical tree back indoors after a summer outside!

So every year when I bring my pots back into the house, I keep them far from indoor plants. The past few years, I have put them in the basement, but - as I forget to water them there - I have decided this year to put them on a stand beside this sunny window in an upstairs bedroom ... until next spring.

Oh, yes, and for the first night, I shut the bedroom door ... and checked the windows and furniture carefully for creepy-crawlies the next day!

The poor plants look a little bedraggled after I trimmed them back. Hopefully they'll readjust to the indoor climate and survive another winter - to go outside again!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sometimes Things Change Quickly...

I don't read the newspaper very often in the morning, but this morning, when I brought the paper in I noticed a front page story about an explosion downtown (in a boiler room) that has changed many lives... those injured (and their families) and those in shock. Their workplace probably doesn't seem all that safe any more.

Yesterday's newspaper also had a front page picture that made me stop and read ... about a house that had burst into flames in the middle of the night when a drunk driver crashed ran into it, hitting the gas meter (and gas line), causing a sudden, massive fire that destroyed everything the family owned. Fortunately the family escaped unscathed.

These sudden "changes" remind me of something that happened to a friend I saw a few days ago when she came by to pick up some hosta plants I had dug up for her. I noticed she had a cast on one hand.

What happened?

She told me that she had been standing at the side of a busy street, looking left, watching oncoming traffic - wanting to cross - and hadn't noticed that a truck parked on a driveway beside her on her right had begun to back up. Had she heard it beeping? If so, it didn't register ... until out of the corner of her eye she realized a white shape was right beside her, and was going to hit her. Before she could get out of the way, it knocked her onto the street, where the driver saw her and immediately stopped. Had she fallen backwards- or had he not been looking in his rear-view mirror, he would never have known he had hit her until he had run over her...

The bone she broke in her fall reminded her - and me - that everything can change in a moment.

Maybe I'm writing all of this because I need to remind myself to appreciate life when nothing changes - or appears to change. So often I'm impatiently waiting for everything to be perfect ... for every problem (or perceived problem) to be fixed.

The truth is that life as I know it is pretty perfect the way it is right now... (messy desk, linty floor, dishes in the sink, and all...)

And when changes I would like to see around me aren't happening as quickly as I would like them to, I should still be grateful ... because sometimes changes happen quickly, and that isn't necessarily good!

So today I'm really thankful... Thankful for all the good things in my life - And especially that my friend Janet (with her broken wrist) is fine...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking Small Bites (Out of a Big Challenge)

I just finished raking two garbage cans of pine needles from the big pine tree out front - I also tied up some vines - and pulled some burrs... There is so much left to do in the yard, but I think I'll leave it for tomorrow.

There are other tasks to be done... I'd like to take several bags of books and clothing to the Nearly-New Store - and deliver some more winter garments to my mother. (She has limited closet space in her new residence, so out-of-season clothing is stored here at my home.)

It occurs to me, that I am capable of taking only small bites out of any large task. My husband, on the other hand, likes to do the whole thing in one go - a cleaning or gardening Blitzkrieg, so to speak. But that's not how I work. I need to take small (reflective) steps.

In the early years of our marriage, when we changed apartments annually, he would insist on unpacking everything - and scrubbing the whole apartment - the day we arrived at our new home. Everything had to be cleaned and put away before he could rest that night.

I used to argue with him - but I don't waste my (or his) energy doing that any more. Now I just let him go and do it, helping as much as I can, but mainly staying out of his way! His way of tackling house-cleaning or yard work just doesn't work for me.

So tomorrow I'll be probably be back doing more yard work... Perhaps I'll dig out the compost heap and move a few plants. And perhaps a little more organizing indoors. A little bit here, a little bit there. (Or should I say: A little bite here, a little bite there?!)

Which may be why I feel it never ends... (Because, in fact, it never does!)

My husband, on the other hand, works on a larger task until it's done - and then it's DONE! Then he sits back and watches TV!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gardening in October

This is put-my-garden-to-sleep-for-the-winter month... so there is always a sense of sadness as I go outdoors to garden in October. Nights are now slightly frosty, a sign that I have to move my outdoor pots of flowers indoors - where they don't THRIVE as much as SURVIVE until spring comes again!

I started bringing my plants indoors when I had a classroom with a wall of windows, so the flowers bloomed all winter - and I put them outdoors again at the beginning of summer vacation. But I no longer have a sunny classroom. The basement room where I store them (near a window) is never very bright, but they do SURVIVE until spring, when they bloom outdoors again!

I also need to rake up the pine needles that litter the lawn. We've lived in this house for more than 20 years, and this pine tree beside the house was large when we moved in. But a few years ago it began to shed massive amounts of needles in the fall and winter. Is it a sign of healthy growth? A new stage in the life of the tree? The tree seems too healthy to be dying. But it sheds more needles than the other half dozen evergreens we have around the yard.

Last week, I gathered three garbage cans full of needles. I filled another yesterday - in the bare section - and it looks as if I can fill one or two more from what rests on on the ground. (Fortunately the city collects yard waste every two weeks, so it will be composted.)

I also need to trim back some dead flowers - and trees that have seeded themselves in my flower bed.

And before adding them to my big compost heap in the back yard, I should try to dig it out - and move the ready-to-use compost to a pile where I can access it more easily.

So much to do. So little time. Unless a few SUNNY DAYS make October gardening pleasurable, if not FUN!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Shopping" in Mother's Closet

I read recently that a major clutter-problem stems from people's reluctance to part with old clothing, even when it no longer fits ... or is no longer in style. I'll bear that in mind as I sort through my winter things. Maybe it's time to weed out clothes I haven't worn for years.

My closet is full of garments I haven't worn in ... I don't know how long. But before donating them to the Nearly-New Shop at church, I show them to my daughter - to see what she thinks.

Why don't you wear this sweater, Mom? she asks me. It's in style again...

Then maybe I will.

I show her a few items I can no longer fit into... and discover, not only that they fit her, but that she would actually wear them!

This mauve leather skirt is now in her closet. (I always loved the detail on the high waist!)

This necklace appeals to her, too... (How old is it? Did I buy it with babysitting money when I was in my teens?)

My mother's cast-off sweater is apparently in style again, too.

I've read a few articles suggesting people "shop" in their own closets during hard economic times, my daughter tells me. But shopping in my mother's (or grandmother's) closet is even better: It's full of "vintage" clothing!

(But that's only because - contrary to closet-organizing wisdom - neither of us get rid of garments, even when they're no longer in style!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Knitting again!

It's been rainy the past week or so... (so I can't get out and do any yard work). And there's only so much housework I can do! ...

So I accompanied a friend to her favorite Ottawa yarn store, and - of course - couldn't resist buying some yarn for myself.

(Not that I don't have any in my yarn stash...)

But these lovely colors - which I found in a backroom SALE bin - were irresistible!

So here I go again - knitting another pair of colorful socks for myself. I do wear my wool socks a lot indoors in winter. I'm using Kim Goddard's basic sock pattern - one I've used before (for the socks below) so I knows they will fit well. I knit the whole leg part in knit 2, purl 2 rib - for a snug fit.

I always love using variegated yarn... It's so much fun seeing what designs "magically" emerge when the colors change.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nostalgia: Discovering Our Neighborhood

October is the month we discovered our neighborhood and our house. I remember distinctly turning off a busy street into ...

...the peace and beauty of our neighborhood.

The trees seemed so welcoming! The whole place had the feeling of home.

More than two dozen years have passed since then, and I still feel the same way.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Be of Good Cheer!

Not long ago, I was feeling a little down... Rainy days do that to me. (And we've had plenty of those the past few weeks...) Perhaps it was realizing that summer was over - days were getting shorter - and my period of winter "hibernation" indoors was soon to begin.

Then the words BE OF GOOD CHEER popped into my mind. Where do they come from? The Bible, perhaps? I did a quick google search (What would I do without Google?!) and discovered - according to one reference - that this expression appears 7 times in the Bible, always during times of adversity. The expression is found in other quotes as well. The website,, - lists some by Helen Keller, Bill Clinton and others.

So I wrote BE OF GOOD CHEER down on a scrap of paper and put it beside my "reading chair" - the place where I have my first cup of coffee in the morning, as I read and reflect on my day.

Is it possible that I can choose to be cheerful and optimistic? It seems to be the case - because when I look at my little reminder, I smile. I want to be happy because - whatever the weather outside - I contribute to the indoor climate of my home... I live here... so I want it to be a pleasant, cheerful place.

Are happiness (and grumpiness) attitudes I can cultivate by choice?

I can't think of any place in the Bible where God commands us to be sad... And the beauty of nature (even in the rain!) usually fills me with amazement, not sadness - if I stop to think about it. Problems at times overwhelm me, but I can be sad even when things are going right! And if they're not... God reminds us (in the Old Testament book of Exodus) that He can make paths through the sea and create springs of water - to satisfy thousands - in the desert, figuratively as well as literally...

Sometimes I'm unhappy when nothing is going wrong! All I need for my mood to change is for my husband to remind me to Count my blessings!

Maybe that's it - to be cheerful I need to look up, beyond myself. Then do something that gives me joy - like bake a cake - and perhaps share its deliciousness with someone else!

And then there's the choice component of it... Perhaps cheerfulness - like peace - sometimes requires a little effort! ... Especially in the rain!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where would you meet?

I've been going through papers ... again ... and came across a few I had been reluctant to toss. They date back to my teaching days ... a few brochures I picked up one year at a Fire Prevention Week assembly.

I remember going through the points with my children every few years, when they were still living at home: Where would we meet if we were all running out of a smoke-filled house? What exits could we use if we were upstairs ... or in the basement ... and the stairway was blocked with smoke?

Did I really need these reminders of what to do and what not to do in the event of a fire...? I looked them over and tossed them out ... then (to be on the safe side) yelled at Terry, who was watching TV in the next room... "Where would we meet if a fire broke out in the house and we weren't together?"

"In front of Bill's."

Good, he remembered our old plan... (People sometimes rush back into a burning building to try to save loved ones, who may, in fact, have left the building. This usually happens when they haven't seen them outside... So establishing a meeting place is important.)

"Just checking!"

The fire prevention assembly at our school was often led by one of the teachers I worked with, who was also a volunteer fireman in the small town where he lived. I remember him telling me that he never traveled without a roll of duct tape in his suitcase.

"If the fire alarm ever goes off in the hotel I'm in, if I can't get to an exit easily, I put duct tape around the door to seal out the smoke - people usually die of smoke inhalation in a fire," he said.

I also remember him reminding us that fire needs oxygen to burn - so if a frying pan catches on fire, cover it with a lid - the fire will go out...

I remember another critical tip from a different Fire Prevention Week assembly. If you smell smoke, wake everyone up and get them out - BEFORE you investigate the source of the smell...

Passing on that tip was a guest speaker who spoke from his own tragic experience... He and his son-in-law - who was up with the baby - had been watching TV late one night while the rest of the family slept. When they smelled smoke, they went outside to investigate, not thinking that their house was on fire. They didn't wake the rest of the family up... so they all perished in their sleep. The distraught father and son-in-law had been unable to go back in.

I was recently staying with a relative, where I slept in a basement bedroom. I appreciated it when they showed me how to dislodge the bars in the windows in case of a fire... (It's easy to assume nothing will ever go wrong...)

And finally - a tip I picked up from another relative who had to vacate her home when a house down the street sprang a gas leak: Try to take all essential medicine with you if you have to evacuate. In fact, keep it in a bag near the door, in case you have to leave quickly. It takes time to get a prescription filled, and sometimes (as in her case), you don't know how long you will be gone...

These are a few of the safety pointers people need to think about from time to time. I'm sure the internet has more. I noticed some on Wikipedia.

Families should discuss fire safety regularly - and people who live alone should take time to reflect on what they would do if they ever smelled smoke or needed to evacuate home quickly. It never hurts to have a plan.

There! Having said all that, I can toss my fire safety brochures away, knowing that I can review them here and online.

But then again, maybe I should have kept them... to rediscover and review again on another tidying-up day!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Appreciating Our Freedom

I used to view everything that happened BEFORE I was born as ANCIENT HISTORY, and of little interest to me... But the older I get, the less distant ANCIENT HISTORY seems. I have, after all, lived for more than half a century. And in my mind (now) that really doesn't seem like such a long time!

That may be why I have become more interested in history than ever before - it seems less distant than it once did. And rather than view history as something that happened LONG, LONG AGO, I am now often amazed at how much has changed in so little time!

I think of rights I so often take for granted - like the right of women in Canada to vote. That law was passed in my mother's lifetime... in the past 90 years.

The right to free public education in Canada probably dates back to around the same time. I say, in Canada, because I know, from speaking with immigrants and refugees from all over the world, that some countries still do not give children a free education - or women the right to vote.

When I started to teach (in a British school) at the age of 22... (not that long ago...) women were paid according to a different salary scale than men, who were paid more for doing the same job! In fact, I can remember when the law guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work was passed in Canada, not that many years ago.

So when I read (as I did this morning) about the history of Biblical translation into English, I am shocked and amazed that we have had the FREEDOM to read the Bible in our own language for only about 400 years! (Four of my mother's lifetimes...) Previous to that, only Greek and Latin scholars could read it ... and many other ancient writings. In 1536 (less than 500 years ago), William Tyndale was burned at stake for translating the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament into English...

I wonder if we truly appreciate how far we have come - and the struggles so many had to endure - to get us the FREEDOMS we enjoy today...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Confessions of a Crack Weeder

Gardening is hard work... often unappreciated hard work! And it has always been that way!

I realized this after reading British poet (and gardener), Rudyard Kipling's words, written a hundred years ago:

“Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made

By singing - 'Oh how beautiful!' and sitting in the shade,

While better men than we go out and start their working lives

At grubbing weeds from gravel paths with broken dinner knives”*

There is a lot of thankless work involved in gardening. One of the obstacles all gardeners face is persistent WEEDS. Kipling's gardener friends toiled to get them out of gravel paths. I'm trying to get them out of my brick driveway - which sprouts more and more uninvited plants each year.

And instead of using a broken dinner knife, I have a special tool called a 'Crack Weeder.' (Yes, that's really what it's called!)

I was so excited when I discovered it - after watching some maintenance workers weeding the cracks in the sidewalk in one of the city parks.
I immediately went out and bought my own Crack Weeder at my neighborhood Home Depot store. I thought my crack weeding problems would be over...

The plan was to do a little every day, until the driveway and walkway looked as good as new!

Now for my confession... I never did manage to get rid of all the weeds.

While I was working on one part of the driveway (hunched over, sitting on my little chair), they came back with a vengeance in another part! With all the rain we had, the weeds grew quickly... So I gave up... And the weeds won... this year!

But next year, I plan to try again. I have also come to the realization that I also need to find something (vinegar?) to put into the cracks to deter plants from growing back! But I don't want to ruin the soil...

Maybe I need to go to a British gardening website and see what they are using... After all, they have several hundred years' head start on me!

(By the way, the lines of poetry I quoted above are from 'The Glory of the Garden', by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1911.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Observing a Day of Rest

I was chatting with a neighbor who had recently retired. We were discussing our gardens.

There's always so much to do, I commented.

Yes, he replied. But I have decided to observe a day of rest. I try not to do anything one day a week.

Oh, I said, somewhat surprised. I try to take Sundays off as well. I especially try to avoid shopping. If God wants me to have a day of rest, I assume I need it ... and I'll take it!

Rest is, I think, an undervalued gift. Many of us complain about having too much to do - yet we have a hard time doing nothing, taking a day off.

In Israel, the day of rest (Saturday) is a quiet day on the streets. Shops are closed until sundown, when everything bursts to life again. For many, the morning is spent praying in the synagogue, then families go for walks (driving is also forbidden) and have friends over for tea and cake (Ugat Shabbat) in the afternoon. Observant Jews disconnect doorbells and telephones, so it is fine to just drop in on friends unannounced! The Sabbath is a quiet social time - as friends and family take time to reconnect. Others take time to nap.

I have often wondered how society would be different if we observed the other rests mentioned in the Bible too (as outlined by Moses in The Law) ... Letting the ground lie fallow every 7 years, an agricultural law which is also the origin of taking a year's Sabbatical from teaching. Was this Sabbatical rest meant only for the land, or did shopkeepers in the towns observe it too? I know that professors on Sabbaticals are expected to work - doing research, perhaps, or studying at a different university. This mental disengagement from teaching was expected to refresh and renew the academic. Would we all benefit from a year off of our regular jobs every 7 years? Would we see a boost in productivity and creativity if we tried to observe it? What would the financial repercussions be?

And what about the biggest rest of all mentioned in the Bible? The Jubilee - when all debts were canceled and the land lay at rest... What would happen if we observed that one as well, every 50 years? Would there be economic collapse or economic renewal?

We will probably never know!

Friday, October 2, 2009

You may leave IT, but IT never leaves you...

The urge to correct others is a lifelong habit that teachers (like me) find hard to break. We've done it for so many years - in fact, it was what we were expected (even paid) to do! To put it another way, You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can never take the classroom out of the teacher.

So today, walking through a college campus near my house, on my way to the supermarket, I overheard two young women talking.

How many residences does this college have? one asked her friend.

Her friend corrected her: Residi. Not residences. It's one of those words with a Latin ending.

So how many residi are there here?

It was all I could do to keep myself from turning around and saying: Residences is the plural of residence. Residence doesn't end in "U-S". Only words that end in "U-S" sometimes have a plural that ends in "I" (like STIMULUS AND STIMULI).

But I didn't. Was I right or was I wrong? Was this a teaching moment - as teachers often refer to it - or would I have looked like a grumpy old teacher?!!

Beside the residence, a van was parked - it belongs to the catering division of the college, and I've seen it before. I regretted not having my camera with me, as I noticed they had still not corrected the punctuation error that has annoyed me for years. The side of the van, airbrushed with pictures of delicious food, has the motto -

Our goal is simple; to help you with yours.

There should be a colon [:] not a semi-colon [;] after the word "simple." A colon introduces an explanation. In other words, it completes the idea by stating what the goal is.

Do I run up to the driver and point out that one would think that a college van would be free from grammar errors? My family will be happy to know that I didn't - though I wanted someone to be aware.

I remember reading about a dedicated group of people who went around correcting spelling errors on public signs. They eventually got arrested because one of the signs they "corrected" was a priceless historic artifact!

They were probably former English teachers (like me) who couldn't let go! After correcting thousands (if not millions) of errors in students' writing... it's hard to stop!

How else can I explain my mother (another former teacher) at 90 still correcting my spelling mistakes?!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Favorite Part of a Book: the Preface

I usually read the preface before I tackle any book - books that have prefaces, that is. In the preface the author usually summarizes his or her main premise, which often gets lost in the actual writing. (I'm not sure why that is, though I have some theories... And I have concluded that many books I read should end about a hundred pages before they do... Or do I just have a short attention-span?!)

I recently bought an interesting new book - The Gift of Thanks by Margaret Visser, an author whom I admire. I found the preface fascinating! In it, she mentions that "German sociologist George Simmell claimed that gratitude is what ... holds ... society together," and she (Margaret Visser) would go so far as to say that "gratitude contributes to the spiritual well-being of every person, but especially of those who are thankful."

As a parent who derives great joy from hearing my children express appreciation for what they have, I felt that this book had a lot to offer. And it does. But for now, I'm a little bogged down in a discussion of why some cultures (like Japanese) would say "I'm sorry" when we (in English) would say "Thank you." And how in our culture and language (English) we say "Thank you" more than many other cultures.

But I'm plodding along, hoping to get to the meat of the matter in the near future - and by that I mean, why it is important for all of us to be grateful.