Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nutrition and cooking education needed

An interesting article in today's StarTribune about a University of Minnesota researcher who is on a mission to educate children and families about healthy eating habits. The need for Americans to improve their diet and exercise habits is extraordinary. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures that 34 percent of adults in the US are obese, while another 34 percent are overweight. Big gulp!

Maybe it is time for schools to teach nutrition and meal preparation.  Many, perhaps most kids don't know how to prepare a well balanced meal.  Isn't this just as important to their health, and the health of our nation, as reading, writing and math, which thanks to our testing systems have become the preeminent subject matters?

It is extremely difficult to change habits, especially when those habits are being developed and reinforced in the home.  Questionable eating habits are also feed by a corporate marketing machine that has encouraged us all to "super size".  Seems we have.  Perhaps they can now move on to a "down size me" campaign?

Thankfully many schools have been removing pop machines from their buildings, despite their roles as cash cows.  If only they produced milk ;-) 

Pictures from the garden, above and below 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Suffering from monkey mind?

Canada Geese in flight
I chuckled when I read an article this morning on a seminar held last August here in the Twin Cities on Mindful Leadership.  One of the presenters, Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, spoke about "monkey mind", which originates from the Chinese term xinyuan.  This caught my attention as I've often felt more distracted than I would care to admit.  I've had my own western definition of this restless state of attention, "puppy mind".  In a world filled with more distractions than ever before the idea of taking regular time out for prayer, meditation or "mindfulness" makes a lot of sense.

"More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm." Buddha

Picured above are a few Canada Geese.  They are gathering in large numbers overnight in he pond.  During the day they fly off for feeding elsewhere.

Pictured below is a Great Blue Heron.  I was surprised to see what a different looking bird it was when it tucked its neck in, seems a bit like an average blue herron.  I guess it helps to stick your neck out if you want to be great.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Servant leadership and paradox

I believe paradox is a perplexing truth that runs through the core of our existence. So, I was thrilled to locate the following writing on servant leadership. One example of the servant leader is modeled in the life of Jesus Christ, who being the Son of God, humbled himself and took on the role of servant. This modeling was exemplified in his washing of his disciples feet. He told them if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and servant of them all (Mark 9:35). Other great world leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi, also modeled servant leadership.  Challenging and inspiring role models!

The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership
  • Strong enough to be weak
  • Successful enough to fail
  • Busy enough to make time
  • Wise enough to say "I don't know"
  • Serious enough to laugh
  • Rich enough to be poor
  • Right enough to say "I'm wrong"
  • Compassionate enough to discipline
  • Mature enough to be childlike
  • Important enough to be last
  • Planned enough to be spontaneous
  • Controlled enough to be flexible
  • Free enough to endure captivity
  • Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
  • Loving enough to be angry
  • Great enough to be anonymous
  • Responsible enough to play
  • Assured enough to be rejected
  • Victorious enough to lose
  • Industrious enough to relax
  • Leading enough to serve
Poem by Brewer --- as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat: the remarkable things ordinary people can do when they let God use them, Dallas Texas, Word, 1987. (p29)

It is through giving we receive is another of life's curious paradoxes that I've witnessed through volunteerism and donations to charity. 

Living in such an affluent society as the United States I'm also challenged by the topsy-turvy concept: We are as rich as our ability to do without things.  I've heard from people who have traveled to "third world nations" about how the people they met we extremely generous and joyful, despite living in economic poverty.  Now that's something to think about, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shoreline restoration

Great Blue Heron take off
 Pictured above is a Great Blue Heron taking off from the shores of Bassett Creek Pond.  Since the big rain earlier this morning the herons and egrets where shore fishing. What you might notice from this picture is that the shoreline was recently cutback by the local parks department.  They cut down lots of rag weed, itch weed, willow trees, etc.  While there was criticism about this dramatic cutback, without it the pond would not be visible by people on the walking trail and would continue to be populated by many noxious plants. Ideally it would be nice to see native plant species along the shoreline. 

I'm pleased to be serving on the board of the Crystal Fund for Community Progress, (CFCP) that is currently working on an effort to enhance Memory Pond Lane and Brownwood Conservation Areas, which boarder 42nd Ave N between Hampshire and Kentucky Avenues in Crystal.  We're learning about shoreline restoration from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They are working with many across the state to educate the public about the importance of natural habitats and how to restore shorelines for the benefit of the environment.  Information is available on their website.

A couple of other great resources to help enhance the water quality in Minnesota lakes and rivers include, Clean Water Minnesota and Minnesota Waters.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two more cents on education debate

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a stellar editorial "We're number 1(1) in the New York Times.  He notes that Newsweek's rating of the top 100 countries in the world has the United States coming in at number 11. Regarding the downturn in our nation's education, Mr. Friedman quotes Washington Post's economics columnist, Paul Samuelson, "The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation.”

There is a related story written by a former school superintendent that is worth a read, No Dentist Left Behind. This looks at the folly of having a dentist totally accountable for their patient's cavities. The dentist/patient analogy is used to illustrate the folly of "leave no child behind", which held teachers and schools accountable for their student's academic achievement.

The challenges teachers face in today's classroom are enormous. We have millions of kids who are living in poverty, coming from single parent homes, many who are also transient.  Just yesterday I visited with a young man at the dog park.  He was there with his little brown dog.  I asked about what school he was attending. He was a Junior at the local High School, Armstrong.  He said he likes the school, and hopes he might graduate from Armstrong, cautioning that he had never lived in a home for more than two years.  He seemed likable and articulate, but also faces tough odds.

So what can we do? 

1. Volunteer as you're able in a school. Most schools are set up to handle tutors, teacher aids, etc.
2. Become a mentor. Kids don't care how much adults know until they know how much they care.
3. Help fund a classroom need.  There is an electronic resource called DonorsChoose that makes this simple to find effort needing support in a school in your area. 
4. Watch the upcoming film, Waiting for Superman, coming out soon in theaters. This movie discusses the national crisis in education. Locally I believe that it will be showing at the Lagoon Theater.
5. Don't buy into worship of athletes. Instead, let's provide greater respect for teachers and others in education. Kids notice where our attention is going and what gets rewarded.  How about going to a school music performance instead of a professional ball game?
6. Read, write or take a class yourself. Kids may or may not do what we tell them, but they most always do what they see us doing.
7. Have high expectations of kids.  Even young people coming from adverse circumstances can thrive when they have caring adults in their lives. Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith wrote about their 30 year longitudinal study on the power of resilience, Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hidden park treasure

Pictures above were taken at Hagemeister Pond Preserve, a lovely park tucked away in my fair city of Crystal, Minnesota.  The street address is 6427 41st Avenue North.  The park has a gazebo with picnic benches on a hill overlooking the pond. Additionally, a walking trail and floating walkway over a portion of the pond provide for a lovely place to stroll and observe nature.

I believe a large portion of the reserve was donated to the city by a devoted resident, Mr. Hagemeister, a long time chemistry teacher in the Robbinsdale School District.  Gary Joselyn, a former Crystal city council and school board member donated the rear 16,000 square feet of his property to the city of Crystal in 2003. What a great legacy this park has become!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ode to cross country running

Watching the Hopkins Cross Country Invitational yesterday inspired me to write the following varation on the classic "Over the River" song.

XC version of Over the River *

Over the river and through the wood,
it’s cross country running we will go.
The coach knows the way,
so let’s not delay,
while the winds they start to blow, oh!

Over the river and through the wood,
it’s cross country running we will go.
We’ll run through the rain,
And hardly complain,
as our muscles tell us no, oh!

Over the river and through the wood,
it’s cross country running we will go.
We'll actually have fun,
while on a long run,
as we get into the flow, oh!

Over the river and through the wood,
it’s cross country running we will go.
We'll all sing these lyrics,
to pick up our spirits,
before we begin to slow, oh!

(Repeat from beginning and continue until done with run)

* Best sung when halfway delirious on a long run

Friday, September 10, 2010

Preening behavior of Great Egrets

Preening pair of egrets
Egrets fishing
By the shore of the Bassett Creek Pond I laid down and observed a couple of Great Egerts earlier this week.  I discovered they spend far more time in preening behavior than even a typical teenager. 

In addition to preening, these lovely birds also wondered slowly through the pond, patiently waiting for minnows to appear within their reach.
It seems one of the Egrets wanted to show me just  how well he/she had preened and to my surprise flew ashore nearby.  I was impressed.  Wish I could clean up that nicely!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Benefits of airing out laundry

An article in the StarTribune noted how most Chinese, even the affluent, are resistant to using clothes driers to replace drying their laundry outside.  Even though the government mandated its citizens not to dry their laundry outside in Shanghai, during this summer's World's Expo, most of the people didn't stop this practice.  My wife can attest to this, as she witnessed many clothes out on lines during her month teaching in Shanghai this summer. You can spot laundry on the porch, pictured at left, of an apartment building in Shaghai. With limited space for drying, many in Asia wash their clothes on an almost daily basis.
Pictured below is our laundry line, which we use regularly throughout the spring, summer and fall months.  One of its unique features is that it's retractable.  Thus, the line can be pulled out only when needed.

Some of the benefits to line drying laundry outside:

1.  Fresh smell of clothes, towels, sheets, etc.
2.  Saves resources, no gas or electricity involved!
3.  Easy on the clothes - no tumbling needed
4.  Sunlight leaves the clothes cleaner
5.  Connects us to the outdoors, especially good for those of us who spend most of our time inside.

One great reason you might not want to air out your laundry would be if its dirty... but then why would anyone want to air out dirty laundry?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dramatic difference in perspective

I love foggy mornings.  So, it was a great pleasure this weekend to paddle a canoe in the dense fog of a Wisconsin lake.  As you might imagine, the lake was considerably warmer than the cool 45 degree morning air.  My primary mission was to take a picture of the sun burning through the fog, which I captured above.

On my paddle back from the morning shoot I was fascinated by the dramatic difference between a clearing view of the shore, facing west, and the foggy scene of the rising sun over the lake.  I took the following to pictures within a minute of each other, and the difference is dramatic based simply on the direction of focus.

I wonder how much time I'm inadvertently focused on the fog versus seeing the clarity that comes from facing another direction, illuminated by the light?  Gentle readers, please don't answer this question for me ;-)

Foggy view into the sun

A view facing west, away from the sun

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

State Fair and keeping the life balance

I had a "letter of the day" in the Star Tribune yesterday, which follows.  I must confess that I didn't get to the fair this year, but did get to go kayaking around the Apostle Islands :-)  I'm thinking next year will likely be our family outing to the state fair; cheese curds, fried onion blossom, chocolate malt and all!

State Fair's great, but don't neglect BWCA

Given the huge number of calories accumulated from eating the food, and the massive crowds and loud noises from the State Fair, I would recommend an antidote: For every day at the fair, one week canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or a week hiking the Kekekabic Trail, or biking across the state, or perhaps kayaking around Lake Superior's Apostle Islands. The State Fair is great, but for our physical and mental health it can be even better for us if balanced by some nourishing time away.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pop/soda? Just say NO!

Just say NO to soda
I was impressed by our daughter, Rachel, yesterday when she turned down the offer for a soda at the Armstrong/Cooper High School Orchestra picnic.  She's running cross country and the coaches have strongly encouraged the runners not to drink pop, because it is bad for them. 

I quit drinking pop last spring.  Just felt like I didn't need sugar water spiked with caffeine in my diet any more.  As we continue to hear about the obesity epidemic in America I am becoming an advocate for education on the harmful effects of soda.  It grieves me to see so many of our kids, and adults, starting the day with a soft drink.

What's so bad about soda?  Here are 15 reasons provided by eMedExpert
  1. Soda is useless (its just sugar water)
  2. Leads to weight gain and obesity
  3. Increases the risk of diabetes
  4. Weakens bones and increases risk of osteoporosis
  5. Decays teeth though destroying tooth enamel
  6. Increases kidney problems
  7. Increases blood pressure
  8. Likely to cause heart burn
  9. Risk factor for Metabolic Syndrome
  10. Harmful effects on liver
  11. Impaired digestive system (strongly acidic)
  12. Increases dehydration
  13. High caffeine content
  14. Toxins in diet pop (aspartame has over 92 side effects)
  15. Possible ability to damage cells 
Better substitutes for pop include water, tea, and juice.  Confession, I still drink coffee in moderation.

Possible action steps for you to consider. 
  1. If you're a current pop drinker, quit today.  It really isn't all that painful. 
  2. Substitute water, tea or juice for pop. But please don't buy prepackaged water in the  plastic containers. Use your own bottles/glasses.  Water tastes much better from a glass ;-)
  3. If you are concerned about the health of your friends/family share the reasons noted above with them and encourage them to consider alternatives to drinking soda.
I'm emptying the pop we have stored in our basement today.  Might be useful as a drain cleaner.

Drain cleaner

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reflections from the Guthrie Theater

Self portrait via reflection from "Endless Bridge"
Direct view of Stone Arch Bridge
View of McGuire Park
Window reflections
Patron lookout
Reflection of neighboring condos
Reflection of Gold Medal Flour building
Reflections of photographer from window

Gold Medal Flour building
exterior reflection
Earlier in the summer I spent an afternoon and had fun taking pictures at the Guthrie Theater from various perspectives... and there are many! This is a great place to visit, even if you don't have theater tickets.  I think the cantilevered "Endless Bridge" may provide the city's best view of the Mississippi River and Stone Arch bridge. The bridge is 78 feet long and 30 feet wide, and a must see!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pleasant surprises and lessons learned

Rear view of Red-tailed hawk in flight
Look around back yard
Red-tailed hawk flying past firewood
The weather forecasters were predicting rain yesterday. My cousin Rob and I had planned for a 30  mile bike ride in the early morning. We decided to go ahead with our plan. Well, it rained 8/10ths of an inch around 3 in the morning, but by 7 am we were off on what turned out to be a totally rain free ride.  Lesson learned, don't  put your life on  hold because of a weather forecast. (editor's confession; we both had rain gear packed just in case).

Later in the afternoon I took out my camera to snap pictures of some tall grass we have growing in the front yard when, no sooner than I had my camera out, a Red-tailed hawk flew right by me and into our back yard.  I switched lenses and was able to capture a couple of action shots.  Lesson learned, be prepared to change plans. Often things can go even better than expected, but we need to be willing to adapt to the change.

Grass enjoying a "rainy day"