Sunday, July 27, 2014

A stroll through the late July garden

A stroll through the garden in late July finds quite a few flowers in bloom. The poppies have finished, as have the lovely mauve verbenas and lavender mints, but the roses are beautiful.

The yellow will bloom steadily now until frost. Their blossoms are about 2.5 inches across.

I have a red one like this right next to it but for some unknown reason I didn't get a picture.

The pink minis will bloom until frost as well, the blossoms are only about an inch wide.These are out in the front bed at curbside.

This rose was planted before my time. The plant is about four feet tall, rangy but the colours are fantastic. They are fucshia when they open but the petals are white at the base, making them look almost transparent. The rose is surrounded by wolf willow which has silver foliage and is a perfect foil for the radiant pink of the rose.

The shasta daisies are at their best now, with about half a dozen large mounds of cheerful blooms. 

Still waiting for the echinaceas to open, there are dozens of bristling buds on their three-foot high stalks, but they are not in any hurry to petal out.

Closer to the entry the lime hosta, veronica, astilbes and ligularia are all doing well. The astilbes are just getting started, and the ligularia leaves are starting to show up. 

A close-up of the veronica - can you spot the visiting bee?

Enough for the moment. I spent about half an hour weeding today but the black cedar mulch was a great idea. The weeds root in that top 2" of mulch and can be yanked out with practically no effort.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Talking at cross-purposes

Let us eavesdrop a moment on the "peace" talks, you know, the meetings where diplomats and mighty poo-bahs with testosterone-fueled egos sit around tables in fancy hotels and give fancy speeches, and pretend to listen to each other, all with the aim of stopping the armies, the bombs, the bazookas and tanks, the slaughter of women and children.  If we could hear what actually goes on I imagine it is exactly as this old story told of two debating monks.


Provided he proposes and wins a debate about Buddhism with the monks who live there, any wandering monk can enter and remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on.

In a small temple in northern Japan two monks dwelt together as brothers. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.

A wandering monk came to the door late one day and asked to enter their temple, properly challenging them to a debate. The elder monk, tired and aching in his old bones, told the younger monk to take his place. "Go and debate him, but request the dialogue take place silence," he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down.

Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said, "Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He has defeated me."

The elder monk was astonished. "Relate the dialogue to me," he said.

"Well," explained the traveler, "first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living life in harmony. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here. I will travel further." With this, he bowed and took his leave.

"Where is that insolent fellow?" asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.

"I understand you won the debate."

"Won nothing! When I catch him I'm going to beat him up."

"Tell me the subject of the debate," asked the elder one.

"Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by pointing out that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, laughing that then between us we have three eyes. So I got mad and was going to punch him, but he jumped up and ran away from me, and that ended it!"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Beyond a wholesome discipline…

There once was a monastery where the rules were very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But every 10 years, each monk was permitted to speak just two words.

After spending his first 10 years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. “It has been 10 years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Bed… hard…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk’s office. “It has been 10 more years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Food… stinks…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Yet another 10 years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, “What are your two words now, after these 10 years?”

“I… quit!” said the monk.

“Well, I can see why,” replied the head monk. “All you ever do is complain.”


I admit a certain sympathy for that poor monk, who was "always" complaining.  Sometimes it feels as if that is what I chiefly do, though I'm actually usually trying to work out a strategy for getting more done than moaning about my lot in life. 

It's difficult to balance my limited energy reserves against what must be done, and when I don't get it right I can end up spending several days in too much pain to do much of anything, which is frustrating. 

But, as I often tell my husband, you just have to do the best you can do. Sometimes that's not much more than sitting in the rocker and watching a video or reading, sometimes it's more. But as much as I tell him that, I feel terribly guilty when I can't keep up.

After a busy week (for me) last week I was exhausted. The last couple of days I've been really tired but today I felt better. I was able to do laundry, make the bed, tidy and dust.  And I made dinner! Just simple steak with mushroom and onions and some bean thread noodles and lentils with a curry and coconut sauce but it was food, hot, on a plate, which is a triumph for me many days. 

But I saw this little photo on Facebook and thought; Well, that's what we do. We do our best, with what we have.

And I guess you can't reasonably ask more of yourself than that, without doing lasting harm.

As Max Ehrmann said in Desiderata:

"Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

KIVA and the peanut farmer

Jiguisseme B Group Kafana Mali

In this Group: Mariam K, Kadia Ali, Mariam O, Saran, Assetou A, Toron, Awa Salif, Maria Modibo, Bintou, Mamine B

This month's KIVA loan goes to the ten members of the Jiguisseme B Group, all married women who are, on average, 38 years old and have three children. Most of them live in traditional families in the commune of Kafana, Sikasso district, Mali.

During the winter months, the women work with the KIVA field partner, Soro Yiriwaso, in order to improve their agricultural businesses. This will be their tenth group loan. The previous loans were all fully and correctly repaid.

Saran (in the yellow dress, standing second from the right in the photo) grows peanuts. She will use her loan to buy fertilizer, herbicide, and pay someone to help her work her acre land. She sells her peanuts in Sikasso. Saran expects to make a profit equal to about $150.00 USD, which will enable her to repay her loan and help her husband to provide for their family's day-to-day expenses.

This is a Group Loan

The other nine members of the group each have a small business which they will invest their $95.00 loan in to improve its profitability. In a group loan, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is part of a larger group of individuals. The group is there to provide support to the members and to provide a system of peer pressure, but groups may or may not be formally bound by a group guarantee. In cases where there is a group guarantee, members of the group are responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members in the case of delinquency or default.

Soro Yiriwaso is a microfinance institution that works primarily in rural and semi-urban areas of Mali to provide underprivileged communities with access to financial services. The organization provides access for disadvantaged clients, particularly women, to new resources and services, fostering solidarity and cooperation among its clients. Kiva lenders’ funds enable Soro Yiriwaso to expand its outreach and target even more under served Malians involved in business and agriculture.

Many Kiva Field Partners implement innovative business practices and offer services in addition to their financial products to meet the needs of the people they serve. For example, many organizations partner with health-focused agencies to provide health care services to their clients who are more likely, as a result of good health, to be able to repay their loan. The inability to treat health related issues, when borrowers did not have access to health care, had the potential to cause them to fall back into the cycle of poverty despite running a successful business.

Other examples include institutions that stress the importance of education. This can mean loans that enable parents to start businesses and bolster their income so they can send their children to school, as well as educational workshops on topics that are not financial in nature, such as the prevention of disease and domestic violence.

This month we doubled our usual loan, in memory of our daughter Mary Margaret Isabel. Please consider joining us as KIVA partners and reaching out to lend a helping hand to a hard working business person. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The illusive mustard seed

There's a story told of a mother who early one morning took her newborn son who had died in the night, to the Buddha, prostrated herself before him and weeping with grief said, "I have heard of your great wisdom Lord. Surely you have a medicine that can bring my baby back to life again."

The Buddha looked on her with deep compassion, knowing that there was nothing he or anyone else could do anything to restore her child to life. But he could not bear to send her away with no hope. So he gently told her, "Yes, there is such a medicine. But to make it I need one ingredient I do not have, which you must search out for me."

"Oh, anything," she responded, "I will get anything you need."

"It is a simple thing," he said. "I need only one mustard seed from a house in this village which has not been visited by death, and has never suffered the grief of parting from one they dearly loved."

The woman rushed off and began calling on her neighbours, explaining what she needed. But at every door she was told with tears of the children, wife or husband, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents who had been called by death, and of the burden of grief lying on every heart.

At the end of the day she went back to the Buddha, heartsick and exhausted, but with understanding. "There is not a single house in the village where death has not come," she said.

"Now you know you are not alone in your grief," the Buddha told her. "Take your child home, pay your respects and bury him. Your grief is everyone's grief. Loss is universal. Remember and honour your child by extending compassion and comfort to all those who also grieve."

And so it is we live with grief and understand that it is universal. She never forgot her child. I know because 43 years ago I also held a dead infant, which no one could restore to life, and I grieved, and I will grieve forever.  Born sleeping one mother called it. One day active and kicking, and then stillness. My breasts, readying themselves to nurse, felt different, less full. There was a bloodstain.

I called the doctor. "Oh," he said, as if he were talking about losing a mitten or a book he hadn't much cared for. "You've lost it, it's died. You'll go into labour within the week. Come to the ER when you do."

The labour was quick. She was born in the car on the way to the hospital. I ducked into the washroom just inside the door and took her out of the leg of my slacks. She was bloody, and wet, and her skin was peeling off like petals falling from a rose. Legs the size of my thumb, such delicacy. The membrane was still around her head, and I was in shock and felt I might faint in the cubicle. I thought they'd let us see her, hold her, once we were in a room, so I didn't take the membrane off. I should have looked at her face. I never even saw my baby girl's face. She lay curled in my two hands.  I didn't want her exposed to the curious stares of the people sitting in the waiting area of the ER. I wrapped her still, small body in toilet tissue.

I walked shakily to the nurse's station and handed her to the nurse behind the desk.  I don't remember anything else except lying on a gurney. The doctor was behind me. He had her, was unwrapping her. I asked if I could hold her. He said no, it was better if I didn't see "it" or touch "it".

I asked my doctor later what they did with her and he said all stillborns under a certain weight were cremated, no birth certificates, no acknowledgement they ever existed.  He said just forget about "it" - pretend it hadn't happened. But how do you carry a child for seven months and "just forget it"?

Mothers were shamed for grieving a stillborn baby then. You were told not to cry, not to "worry" your husband with it, and not to even acknowledge your loss. And for many years I didn't. I soldiered on, and stayed quiet, until I just couldn't bear to do it anymore. 

"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to."  ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross 

Mary Margaret Isabel born sleeping 17 July 1971


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Waiting for Daisy

It's been a month since the landscapers came out and weeded the flower beds, then covered the earth in black cedar mulch. We had lots of rain for a couple of weeks, and for the last few days we've had what passes for hot weather in Calgary, days ranging from 23 - 31 C (73-88 F). The garden has grown like crazy.

Typically not everything has thrived. Several of the petunias I bought turned up their toes and died, as did every geranium. (Was it something I said?) I didn't know geraniums were so picky.You see them blooming like crazy all over town.

 The purple mints that were so lovely earlier have now finished but both the rose bushes I planted last spring survived the winter, as did the mini-rose with orange blooms down in the front of the bed.

The purple sage and the shasta daisies are dancing around nicely with the roses and pink verbena in the front bed. If you look closely you can the coarse foliage of the echinaceas and their fattening buds.

The bed beyond the bike rack has a native shrub called wolf willow, which has silver, granular textured leaves, and a large species rose which is red on the outside edges and white inside. This is a pretty spectacular combination, but between the bike rack and a moving van I couldn't get a good vantage point for a picture, maybe next time.

So at the moment the garden beds are a riot of colour. The poppies threw themselves into producing saucer-sized blossoms that were so vibrantly red they gave my cheap little camera lens a seizure. But they were a short lived delight.

To make up for the brevity of the poppies the Plaintain Lily Hosta has been blooming like mad for weeks. Though I failed to get a good photo you can see how many flowers it has on it.

My eyes are so bad I can't see if a picture is in focus. I take several and hope one will be good. This time I didn't get a good picture. This part of the garden sees only a bit of dappled morning sun, and is home to several hostas, a false spirea which is hanging on by its toenails and a lovely fern at the back, which you almost have to imagine in this photo. 

Two or three pale pink volunteer poppies bloomed right among the stand of purple veronicas, on the other side of the walk, but I was dealing with the flood at the time and had no chance to grab my camera and get a picture. Shame, the combination of frilled pink poppies and lavender spikes of veronica was lovely.

The lime green hosta is thriving next to the veronicas. It's shaded most of the day. Behind the veronica, though hard to see here, is the morning star ligularia. Its huge purple-green leaves wilt down every day, and come back up as the day cools. The flowers are just like big yellow daisies or sunflowers, but the foliage is so interesting.

Closer to the doors the purple-leaved coral bells are blooming, the tiny blossoms hover above the plants like pale pink fireflies, as in all but bright sunlight the stalks are so fine as to be nearly invisible.

And in my little un-raked Zen garden of gravel and three stones, the sedums I planted last year survived being completely covered in a mound of ice and have covered the base of the standing stone once more. They are even beginning to bloom, little splashes of yellow on the green. 

It's what I wait for all year long. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The 24 Hour Channel called 'Monkey Mind'


A learned professor of Asian religions traveled a long distance to visit a revered Zen master. The professor was excited by the opportunity to visit the master, and eager to share his theories on how this practice developed or another was influenced by some other teaching. He talked and talked and talked, until his throat was parched.

The master called for a tea tray, set out two cups and began to pour tea into the first cup, and poured and poured and poured. The tea filled and then overflowed the cup, spilled across the table and into the lap of the professor.

When people hear this story most will identify with the Zen master. We all know people like the professor, people who don’t know when to shut up. But the truth is that we’re very much like the professor, you and certainly me. It’s a human thing.

There's a commentator in my head, constantly regretting, planning, judging, worrying, fretting, feeling irritated, or fearful, angry or anxious, excited, happy, goofy or scolding. The voice in my head is like that visiting professor - it never shuts up.

Through practice I've learned how to quiet the commentator, at least some of the time. There are still days when it screams what an awful person I am and all I want to do is sit in a corner and sob, usually because I've said or done something that hurt someone else.

And when my commentator, what the Buddha called 'Monkey Mind', will not shut up and I have no strength or energy left to do battle with it, I have to shut it out, change the channel as it were. Sometimes this is through music or a dvd, not recommended ways to deal with the commentator but the best I can do at that particular time, and I leave working on taming my monkey mind to another day. Sometimes it works out well, and I like to think at any rate, patience may overcome what force cannot. A hot shower and a good night's sleep have been the cure for many a midnight's calamity.

Tao de Ching  Verse 15 

…when a man is in turmoil
how shall he find peace

Save by staying patient till the stream clears?

How can a man's life keep its course

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair.