Thursday, 27 February 2014


I watched The Nature of Things tonight about allergies and some theories about why children are developing food allergies more frequently these days. One hypothesis holds that being overly fussy about bacteria and germs when kids are small weakens their immune systems, and that exposure to allergens at a young age can decrease allergies later.

I don't know the ins and outs of the science, but I do know what I've observed myself. Kids who grow up outdoors, on farms, with soil and animals and fresh air and germs, seem to be hearty and fresh-skinned, physically strong and a healthier weight. (They also seem to be more cheerful and fearless.) Is it the fresh air? The exposure to the bacteria in the environment? The exercise? The decreased amount of sitting-in-a-dark-basement-with-video-games? Probably a combination of all those.

With my first child, I was hyper vigilant about germs. If he dropped a pacifier or toy, I washed it before giving it back to him. I sterilized baby bottles and boiled water. With my second son, if he dropped his pacifier on the floor, I wiped it on my shirt before I gave it back. My third son kept swiping the dog's rawhide chew sticks to teethe on, until I finally bought him his own.

Son number one has several allergies and food sensitivities. Son number three is almost always healthy.

Not a scientific study, but interesting nonetheless!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Seed saving and my messy method of gardening

I have been reading a book about saving seeds, and how gardeners are preserving not only our food supply but the culture and history surrounding our food. Each seed comes with a story of how it originated, where and how it developed, and the people who have influenced it. Some came over on immigrant ships. Some were developed by careful people deliberately trying to select for certain plant traits. Some were happy surprises when plants co-mingled in gardens. And some came about as plants adapted to local conditions gradually over generations.

The book talks about how to ensure varieties are kept pure and the precautions to take – not planting certain strains too close together, placing protection over the flowers to avoid inadvertent pollination, and not growing certain plants at the same time as others.

I enjoy planting heirloom, open-pollinated varieties and try to avoid engineered hybrids. But my garden is undeniably an experimental lab for riotous genes. Beans, for example, are supposed to pollinate themselves, but mine seem to cross with each other no matter where I plant them in relation to each other. I end up with brown Calypsos, red Molasses-Faced, and other strange mutant combinations of all sorts. Some taste great, some don’t. Some I plant again without tasting them to see what interesting colours come up the next time.

From what I read in this book, I don’t put as much responsible effort into my garden as I really should, though I have been known to play pollinator with my squashes with a paintbrush, in the years when there are few bees. (It works.) A lot of the time I don’t even bother harvesting seeds—I just let them cast themselves wherever they want to in the garden. Without any work on my part, every year I have a lot of radishes, onions, lettuce, huckleberries, strawberries, ground cherries, and cherry tomatoes in my garden, ready to eat—or leave to seed again. If you let some fall and fly where they will, you don’t have to go to any work to enjoy them again the next year. You just can’t get too organized around where they appear.

I admit to running a messy ship, but things seem to turn out fine anyway. Somehow the garden keeps producing. I may not know what I’m doing all the time, but my plants know what to do.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Three shows down and three to go! I have heard several other people say how much it has affected them -- changed them -- to watch these kids put on this show. The energy and enthusiasm and passion they display is contagious. I listen to the 100 + kids belting out those final high notes and I don't know whether to cheer or cry. I hate to see it end.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

In Which Nostalgia Gets the Better of Me

Yesterday I watched a video clip online of my niece swing dancing with her brother at her wedding, and it made both joyful and sad. Joyful because of the sweet moment, and sad because these beautiful children are grown up and leaving home. Somehow it's okay if my children get older. But I don't want my sister's kids to get older. I want them to stay little and cuddly and home. Is that weird? Maybe because I see my kids all the time, I'm more accepting of the gradual aging. But since I only see my sister's children every few years, the changes in them seem more sudden and surprising. I feel the cozy past slipping through my fingers, and I want to reel it back in and return things to how they used to be.

The whole thing made me slip into reveries about my own childhood---which was idyllic---and it's as if I've been watching video clips in my head for the past twenty-four hours. Snuggling between my older brother and sister in the roll-away bed in the carport on a summer evening, reading Tolkien by flashlight. Squished into the recliner beside my grandpa, watching Johnny Cash on TV. Climbing around on the slippery-crunchy haystack, trying to get a peep at the chicks without provoking the mother hen into chasing me. Zipping down what seemed like a mountain but was probably a little hill on the sled with my dad, hearing the rackety sound of the metal runners on the snow. The two tiny frogs named Kermit and Herbert which I kept in a large jar of water in the laundry room. Playing on the swing set in the backyard, dreaming up stories in my head and putting myself in them (Jeck Rex who lived in the mountains with his pet cougar---if I'd been watching Grizzly Adams---or Jeck Rex the orphan who smuggled Jewish children out of Nazi Germany---if I'd been reading Snow Treasure). The sound of Mrs. Condie's voice as she read us The Great Brain. Or sitting with our heads on our desks listening to Mr. Madsen read us Little Britches. (Really, do teachers read aloud to their students anymore? They should.) The spidery water skeeters in the irrigation ditch in front of the house in Idaho. The smell of sage brush and baked earth and the rattle of grasshoppers in the dry summer weeds. The creamy goodness of buttermilk candy poured out onto waxed paper in golden puddles. Oh golly, I need to go make some of that right now.

I know the whole argument that if you live too much in the past, you will miss the joy of the present. I believe that. But really, you can't beat the beautiful childhood I had.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Getting antsy

There was a little sunshine today, just a bit of above-zero temperatures. It was enough to melt some of the snow and send it trickling across the sidewalk, where it promptly refroze into a treacherous sheet. But even that much sunlight raised my spirits and made me feel hopeful. Spring will come eventually! It was as if my energy level rocketed after months of lethargy.

Today I took the photos from Hawaii off of the camera card, and looking at the tawny sand and pearl-blue sea brought back the memory of the rush of waves. Heat! Sun! Serenity.

Wedding Today!

My lovely niece Sarah is getting married today! I'm so happy for them both I'm giddy. I wish so much that I could be there, but circumstances and finances just wouldn't allow it. But my heart is there in the thick of things, across the continent. I'm praying for good weather for all those travelling to be there.

This is the first "grandchild" wedding for my parents, who are currently in England serving as missionaries for a year. They won't be able to attend either, but I'm sure the family will take advantage of the miracle of Skype later on. I tend to be the last person to get on the technology bandwagon (I don't even own a cell phone), but I am so grateful for this modern invention that lets me see the face of my granddaughter and keep in touch with my family. Thank you to whoever invented Skype! It makes the miles seem shorter. I don't know how I survived without it, all those isolated years when my children were small.

Sarah and Jake met because of Swing Dance, and I thought of them last night as I attended dance class. It seemed an appropriate thing to do on Valentine's Day. I wish them every happiness and I'm confident that a wonderful future lies ahead of them. Life can be tough and marriage requires a lot of sacrifice and hard work, but they have been well equipped to face it together. And they have a terrific family behind them.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Looking for a Bass Drummer

St. Andrews Pipes and Drums Mississauga is looking for an experienced or student bass drummer interested in growing with us toward competition readiness. Guidance and instruction for the drum corps is provided by Doug Stronach, recognized as one of the best. For more information please contact This is a fun and dedicated group of people and great environment for students of all ages.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Watching the Olympics Seems Different This Year

Am I the only one who feels it, or are the stories coming out of the Olympics especially heartwarming this year? It seems every day there is something neat in the newspaper -- not just wins and triumphs, but stories of kindnesses, thoughtfulness, sacrifice. Athletes just being nice to other athletes, whether on their own teams or not. Those who have helped others are as talked-about as the ones who won the medals. Maybe it's this way all the time, but the media hasn't emphasized it so much before. Or maybe there's just a stronger spirit of friendliness blanketing the Olympics this time around. Whatever it is, I hope the stories keep coming. It makes these sports more enjoyable to watch and bolsters my hope for humans.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Teenagers: A Huge Contrast

At 2:30 this morning I was awakened by shouting in the street. I peeked out the curtain to see six black-clad older teenagers standing in the middle of the intersection in front of my house under the street light. They were yelling obscenities and taking turns with a glowing object that looked from that distance to be a bottle but which I assume was a glass pipe or bong. One looked especially wobbly on his legs and kept bending over to grasp his knees as if he were going to be sick. For a half an hour of racket,  I vacillated between asking the police to do a drive-by to break them up and just waiting for the cold temperature to drive them away. Finally a taxi appeared and took them off. Poor taxi driver.

I couldn't help but contrast that with the way I had spent the previous evening. A youth group from our church, including my son, is putting on a musical, and we have spent every Saturday evening for months at rehearsals. I drive the carpool, and the distance is such that I don't want to drive all the way home again, only to return to pick them up at 9 p.m. So I hang out at the church during practices. I spend hours sitting and crocheting while watching these lively, clean-cut, healthy-looking kids learn dance routines and songs, ham it up on stage, and fiddle with microphones and costumes. It's all coming neatly together -- performances in two weeks -- and I am continually impressed with their talent and their friendliness toward each other. I am overwhelmed with a sense of how unique these people are. I mean, how often do you see a bunch of teenage boys, arms linked at the elbow, walking out into the parking lot singing show tunes at the tops of their lungs? The costumes are modest and brilliant, the kids are polite and genuinely seem to enjoy each other's company, and the noisy herd is slowly transforming into a theatrical troupe. These aren't professional actors or kids who even have an ambition to go into acting or singing, necessarily. But they are all joined in a common cause for the sheer fun of it. The directors are looking a bit frazzled at the edges, but the kids come away from rehearsals pumped with excitement and enthusiasm. You don't see them walking away from nine hours of school with that kind of energy.

In all these months I have not overheard a single swear word or unkind comment. I have seen a lot of people encouraging and helping each other, sharing, draping of arms around shoulders, and some good-natured teasing. How have these kids managed to keep themselves relatively unspotted from their drug-using, directionless peers? How have they maintained such undying cheerfulness in such a bleak world as modern high school? Because it isn't an act -- they really are this good. I look at the row of handsome faces and broad smiles and the word that comes to mind is pure.

I wish my son lived closer to some of these kids and could attend the same school. I think it's valuable to get them together, to let them form friendships, to show them they are not alone in the world in their beliefs. How do we maintain that once the show is over? I fret at the thought that some of these great kids could slip into the flow of depression and hopelessness of ordinary teen life and forget that they truly are extraordinary. And I fear that we adults too often take one glance and plop kids into the general category of "Oh. Teenagers" without taking the time to really look at them and see how remarkable they are.

The price to put on this show? Thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. The admission cost? Free of charge. Having faith and hope in the rising generation? Priceless.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hello to China

There is a place on my blog where I can track who is reading what I write. There is a world map, and the countries light up in pale green if someone in that country is reading the blog. I understand the green cast of the U.S., Russia, Canada and England, because I have family there. Poland, Germany, and Australia are friends. But who in China could possibly be reading this stuff? My niece used to live in Hong Kong, but she's been home quite a while, and I know of no one else there. So whoever you are in China, please leave me a comment and let me know who you are. I'd love to hear from you!