1000 posts!

When I launched Following Augustine in early December 2007, I didn’t expect the blog to still be going more than 11 years later and I certainly didn’t expect that I would ever write 1000 posts! According to WordPress, however, which keeps track of all sorts of interesting stats for me, this is it; my 1000th post!

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As many of you are aware, I started the blog to share the year that we spent teaching English in Japan with friends and family back home. Writing has always been a passion of mine and when that year was over I couldn’t simply let the blog die. In the ensuing years, Following Augustine has chronicled our travels to other parts of Asia including a full semester in China,  as well as trips across  Canada, to the USA, Israel, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Saipan. Soon it will be off to Europe!

When I started Following Augustine, I never dreamt that it would someday include a weekly fashion feature. In fact, I probably would have laughed out loud if someone had predicted that. I certainly didn’t visualize it recording a cancer journey either, but life takes unexpected twists and turns and the blog has faithfully followed mine through many ups and downs.

The blog is older than all five of my grandchildren. It has become so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without it, but a blog is nothing without its readers and so today, hats off to those of you who have been with me since the beginning and also to those who have joined me along the way! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Photo of a woman silhouette taking off a hat. Taken in Riga, Latvia.

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Onstage again!

Over my many years of involvement in community theatre one of the greatest joys for me has been sharing the stage with former students. Some of them even got their first taste of acting in my junior high drama classes. Never did I imagine, however, that I would someday act in a play written by one of them!

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❤  This photo absolutely warms my heart. On my right, is my former student Kelly Berg, author of Silent Jim, in his lead role of Marshall Henry Jackson. Standing on my left, in the role of Jesse Longstrand, the blacksmith, is a young man I’ve known since he was a preschooler. I taught him Sunday School back in those days!

Silent Jim is a western murder mystery with a mix of intensely serious moments and hilariously funny ones. Thursday evening was opening night. We performed again on Friday and have two more shows next weekend. Our cast of 23 ranges from preteen actors trying out the stage for the very first time to seasoned veterans like myself.

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Cast photo: Brenda Grove

I have a very small onstage role this year. In fact, I only have nine lines to deliver! Silent Jim is set in the small fictional town of Buffalo Skull in the American west in the late 1870s. In the original version, my character was a judge but, like any western, the play has a lot of roles for male actors and far fewer for females. We had to do a bit of adjusting. There were no female judges in the US in the 1870s, but the first female lawyer, Arabella Mansfield, was called to the Iowa bar in 1869. We could change our judge’s role to that of a lawyer and remain authentic to the time we were portraying. Our lady lawyer needed a name, however, and that’s an interesting side story.

One of the aspects of theatre that I absolutely love is the costuming, especially when we’re doing a period play. What would a lady lawyer have worn in the 1870s, I wondered. I turned to the internet in search of photos and as so often happens when I’m online, I ended up going down a variety of interesting and unrelated rabbit trails. One of them led me to an amazing find; my grandmother’s 1909 graduation photo from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia! 

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Though the photo is apparently signed “Lizzie Walker. Dal. 09.” I know that Gran’s full maiden name was Eliza Clara Walker and that later in life she chose to use her middle name. Though hers wasn’t a law degree, there weren’t a lot of university educated women in her day and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to honour her memory by naming my character after her. My fellow thespians agreed and so I became Clara Walker, Esquire!

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In addition to my small onstage role, I also act as prompter for the first three quarters of the play. I was surprised to discover that I really enjoy that position as I’m fully involved in every moment of the show.

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Curtain call photo: Caity Moore, Clouded Creations

 

Spring jacket

LogoOne spring, many years ago, while shopping for something completely unrelated, I fell in love with a classic anorak in a light beige colour. At the time, I didn’t really need a new spring coat and I did my best to talk myself out of buying it. “I don’t need it,” I told myself. “It will show every speck of dirt,” I continued. My arguments were futile. The jacket insisted on coming home with me and I’m ever so glad it did. I’ve literally worn it until the collar and the cuffs are threadbare. It’s been through the washer innumerable times and always came out looking good.

As much as I still love that old jacket, by the end of last season I had to admit that it was time to begin thinking about a replacement. Then, about a month ago, I was sitting on a bench at the entrance to the fitting rooms in a Reitmans store in Red Deer waiting for my sister-in-law to try on a blouse when I glanced across the store and there it was!

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A classic anorak is a lightweight jacket, long enough to cover the hips and typically with a hood, that protects the wearer against wind and rain; perfect for spring and fall in our part of the world. With a drawstring at the waist, it’s roomy enough to wear over a sweater on chillier days, but can be snugged in for a more fitted look if desired.

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My jacket came in navy and this lovely olive green, both colours that are very much on trend this spring. I don’t know if it will last as long as its predecessor did, but I’m certainly enjoying wearing it now that our weather is finally warming up and the last bits of snow are quickly disappearing!

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Tea, the universal drink

After water, do you know what the world’s most widely consumed beverage is? Would you say coffee? Beer? Wine? Coke? Wrong every time! It’s actually tea!

There was always tea available in our house when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but only plain black tea. We drank green tea on the rare occasions when we went to a Chinese restaurant. Now I drink two mugs of green tea every morning and the basket of other teas in my kitchen cabinet is overflowing.

In Canada, our increasingly multicultural society plays a large part in the growing popularity and availability of so many different teas. Over the years, the world has come to us and it has brought its teas with it.

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.03.21 PMDrinking tea is a tradition that is said to date back to 2737 BCE. According to legend, Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When some dried leaves from the tree blew into the water, Shen Nung decided to try the infusion that was created and found it to his liking. Since then, tea drinking has spread around the world.

While black tea is more popular in Western countries, green tea is preferred in China and Japan where it is a common part of daily life. Green tea is unoxidized, giving it a lighter taste and aroma than black tea. The tea that is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony is matcha which is powdered and not infused. This means that the leaves themselves are consumed resulting in a much higher concentration of the antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that make green tea healthy. For this reason, matcha has become quite trendy.

Taiwanese bubble tea is a modern innovation. This high calorie tea has as its base an iced tea (typically black, green, jasmine or oolong) with milk and a sugary syrup. The “bubbles” are actually tapioca pearls. As much as I like tea, this one has never appealed to me!

From Thailand comes the very popular Thai tea. Made from strong black tea, often spiced with ingredients such as star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom, it’s usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served over ice.

India produces and consumes more tea that any other country in the world. It is best known for it’s chai blends that mix black tea leaves with spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper. Assam is another popular variety of black tea which is grown in the Assam region of India. It is used in many breakfast blends including English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, but is also consumed on its own. It has a strong, malty flavour, a reddish colour, and is high in caffeine. Darjeeling is yet another tea that is grown in India, specifically the mountainous Darjeeling region in the northern part of the country.

In Morocco, drinking tea is more than simply a social custom, it’s also part of doing business. If you find yourself in a Moroccan market, you’ll likely be sat down and offered a glass of mint tea by a vendor wanting to sell you a beautiful carpet. This is touareg tea, a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.

It was Portuguese and Dutch traders who first brought tea to Europe in the early 1600s. By the mid 18th century it had become Britain’s most popular beverage with the East India Company using fast ships called tea clippers to bring the leaves from India and China.

Then there are the herbal teas which aren’t considered “real” tea at all because, unlike black, white, and green teas, they aren’t made from the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Popular among the herbal teas is rooibos or bush tea from South Africa which is made from the leaves of the red bush, a broom-like member of the Fabaceae family.

One of my favourite teas is Earl Grey, a black tea flavoured with oil from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fruit grown mostly in Italy. It is thought to have been named for Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister from November 1830 to July 1834. In addition to regular Earl Grey, I have Vanilla Earl Grey, Lavender Earl Grey, and even Double Bergamot Earl Grey in my collection!

There are apparently all kinds of health benefits to drinking tea, especially green tea. The comparative lack of processing means that it has a higher level of antioxidants and polyphenols. Studies have shown that it may:

  1. lower cholesterol
  2. lower blood pressure
  3. reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
  4. reduce the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  5. lower blood sugar
  6. encourage weight loss
  7. aid digestion
  8. inhibit intestinal inflammation
  9. strengthen the immune system
  10. help fight infection
  11. help fight various cancers
  12. prevent bone loss
  13. reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay
  14. help cells regenerate and repair
  15. help slow down aging
  16. increase mental alertness
  17. lower stress hormone levels
  18. prevent arthritis

If nothing else, it’s a flavourful way to stay hydrated, it contains no calories, and it has less caffeine than coffee.

Tea, the healing beverage that knows no borders! 

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That’s 3 of my grandchildren on the cup!

Parents, please vaccinate your children!

When I learned that only slightly more than 80% of the children who attend the same school as two of my grandsons have been vaccinated, I was more than a little concerned! They live in Vancouver where there has been an outbreak of measles this month. Nine cases have been confirmed. The number grew from four to nine in less than 24 hours! At the centre of the outbreak is a family whose three children were not vaccinated due to concerns that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine might cause autism, a belief that has been scientifically debunked.

It may not be a popular opinion, but I don’t think that children should be allowed to attend public schools or any other kids’ programming if they haven’t been vaccinated (unless there’s a valid documented health reason why they shouldn’t be). Vaccines don’t just protect the people getting vaccinated; they protect everyone around them. The more people in a community who are vaccinated, the harder it is for a disease to spread. Having grown up with a dearly loved brother who was severely brain damaged by measles related encephalitis as an infant, I feel very strongly about this!

Some years ago, popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, who lost a daughter to measles encephalitis at the age of seven, had this to say:

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything. 

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

I feel all sleepy,” she said. 

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her. 

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is ask your doctor to administer it. 

I couldn’t agree more! In my opinion, people who refuse to have their children vaccinated are putting their lives at risk. Roald Dahl went on to say:

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunized? They are almost non-existent. In a district of around 300 000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunization! That is about a million to one chance. I would think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunization. 

I can only assume that parents who have been blessed with perfectly healthy children and refuse to safeguard their health by immunizing them are completely oblivious to the risk they are running. As a parent who has lost a child and a grandparent who has watched a beloved grandchild fight for life; as a sister whose brother never had the opportunity to realize his potential and a daughter who saw her parents’ grief over that, that makes me livid!

Vaccines save lives! It’s as simple as that. There are no treatments or cures for diseases like measles, mumps and polio. The only proven way to protect your child is with vaccines. Parents, please just vaccinate your children!

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Check your facts please!

One of my pet peeves is the amount of false or misleading information that people post or repost on social media. How is it that seemingly intelligent and honest people can be so gullible, so naive, as to believe everything they read? Just because you see something on Facebook, on somebody’s blog, or in an email doesn’t mean that it’s true!

As a teacher, it was part of my job to insist that students learn to check their sources and back up their statements with fact. Perhaps that’s why it bothers me so much when I see people spreading false information like dandelion seeds on the wind. It’s more important than ever to be critical online. The amount of misinformation that is spread on the web is absolutely staggering!

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Some of the false information that is spread on the internet consists of ridiculous hoaxes that play on people’s fears, like the ones that are continually circulating warning us that Facebook is about to make everything we’ve ever posted public. Others are more damaging. Here’s a little video that explains this more clearly than I ever could.

In addition to scams and hoaxes, politics and religion are particularly hot topics for false information, but it goes far beyond those topics. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people repost missing person reports only to discover when I check that the person has already been found safe and sound, sometimes many months or even years before! I can only assume that people repost these things because they simply don’t know how to distinguish fact from fiction or they don’t know how to fact check.

How to spot bogus stories

  1.  The author is anonymous. If it were true, why wouldn’t the author put their name on it?
  2. On a similar note, beware of quotes from famous people. The internet is rife with false quotes attributed to everyone from Albert Einstein to Abraham Lincoln to Adolph Hitler.
  3. The message is riddled with spelling mistakes. This is pretty much a sure sign that it’s false. Why would you trust someone who doesn’t even bother to use spellcheck?
  4. The message itself argues that it isn’t false. “THIS IS NOT A HOAX!’ likely means that it is and “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” is probably a sure sign that it isn’t.
  5. And then there’s the old adage, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  6. Perhaps above all else, be skeptical!

How to fact check

  1.  Ask the person who has posted the story if it can be verified. If they can’t offer any evidence for the claims that are being made, perhaps they aren’t true.
  2. Check the date and time that the original post was published.
  3. Consider the source. Is it reputable? For example, the internet is rife with wacky health advice. Use the search feature on the Mayo Clinic website to check for accurate information.
  4. If it’s a news item that seems questionable, check to see if other news sources are reporting it.
  5. If a news source is unfamiliar, go to their About tab. It may acknowledge the site’s bias or say that it’s satirical.
  6. Do a Google search. If you don’t find what you’re looking for right away, try other search terms. Whenever I see a missing person report on Facebook, I google the person’s name (eg. John Doe missing) and I can almost always find out immediately whether or not the person has already been located.
  7. Use one of the following fact checking sites. Again, you may have to try different search terms to find what you’re looking for. Be as specific as you can.
    • Snopes.com  Snopes is an excellent go-to for checking out hoaxes, rumours, urban legends, false quotes, etc. The number of topics that they cover is astounding and the site is constantly updated.
    • TruthorFiction.com  TruthorFiction is another excellent site that provides the truth about a wide variety of rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, hoaxes, scams, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests, and calls to action.
    • Hoax-Slayer.com  Hoax-Slayer is yet another recommended site that is dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, thwarting internet scammers, combating spam, and educating web users about email and internet security issues.
    • FactCheck.org  FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit site that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in American politics.

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So how should you respond to someone who reposts false information? Keep it light. The goal isn’t to make anyone feel foolish. Assume that they weren’t intentionally trying to mislead anyone. Perhaps suggest a site where they can get accurate information about the topic or provide a link to the Snopes article that debunks the myth or rumour that they’ve reposted. Most people will respond well to gentle correction. The ones who boggle my mind are those who respond with something like “I know, but I thought it was interesting anyway” when I point out that they’ve posted something false. So far, I’ve managed to bite my tongue, metaphorically speaking, but in cases like that I’m sorely tempted to be less than polite!

And lastly, what do you do if you share something online and subsequently discover that it’s not true? It isn’t easy to put the genie back in the bottle, but by all means, try! Admit your mistake and do your best to correct it.

One word for 2019

After choosing one word to guide me each of the past two years, I’ve been thinking hard for awhile now about what word to choose for 2019. My word for 2017 was Still and for 2018 I chose Grace. I was absolutely amazed over the past year at how often and in how many different contexts the word grace cropped up. It was even chosen as part of the name of an new online ministry to hurting women that I’m involved in, Renewal By Grace!

As a lover of words, choosing one word for each year is a perfect exercise for me. There’s even a whole #OneWord365 movement on the internet urging members to choose just one word to focus on every day, all year long; a word that sums up who they want to be or how they want to live.

After considering and rejecting numerous possibilities for the coming year, I finally settled on Inspire.

It took awhile for me to accept that inspire was an appropriate choice. At first I wondered if it was arrogant to want to be an inspiration to other people. After all, one of the characteristics of a woman of grace is humility. Would choosing inspire as my word for 2019 be the opposite of that?

In addition to choosing a word each year, I select a scripture verse to go along with it. When I searched for a Bible verse about inspiring others, I found many about being an encourager. Encourage is, after all, a synonym for inspire. That convinced me that the word I’d chosen was, in fact, an acceptable one. The scripture passage that I chose is very simple. The first part of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” It’s not a stretch to imagine that saying “Therefore inspire one another…”

Once I settled on my word, I began to think about why I’d chosen it. Why do I want to be an inspiration and to whom? Perhaps it’s the teacher in me. After all, much of what a teacher does is to try to inspire his or her students to learn, to grow, to become all that they can be. Perhaps it’s also the desire to live a life of significance even in retirement.

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As I think about being an inspiration to others, I’m reminded of the verses in Titus 3 that urge older women to be an example to younger women and to teach them the ways of godliness. My life is full of younger women… daughters, friends, students past and present, even some I’ve never met but who read my blog regularly. I am often inspired by them. Perhaps I can also be an inspiration to them this coming year through the words I say, the things I write, and the way I live my life.

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Have you ever thought of choosing one word to guide you through a new year? Can I inspire you to give it a try? Happy New Year!