Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scenes from Bayfield, Wisconsin

Old piers by boatyard

Beach by Reiten Boatyard
Winter maple leaves

Getting a tow through snow!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter tracks

Nordic skier at Theodore Wirth Park

Frocked tree at Theodore Wirth Park
Snowshoe trail being made across pond
Nordic skier at Theodore Wirth

Animal tracks and photographer
Aren't tracks in the snow a beautiful thing? They allow you to see where animals/humans have been traveling, and yet are also temporary.  With another snowfall or thaw they soon disappear. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bare tree silhouettes

Tree silhouette on snowy hill

Winter's evening with silhouette of trees

After the falling of their leaves,
trees are laid bare for all to see,
their structure of trunk and elegant branches.
Do they feel the cold, so bare and desolate?
Is the snow their friend or foe?
They don't whine or rant,
or seem embarrassed in their naked state,
but stately stand,
 firmly rooted in frozen ground.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thinking like a child is good for business!

... how do you get this doll out of the box?
Have you noticed how kids bring a vast amount of curiosity, excitement, faith and trust to Christmas? In an article, "Embracing childish things can lead to a new perspective in business", Harvey McKay suggests that these same attributes are also good for the development of a business.  Mr. McKay referenced a motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, who suggested "If you're too old to get excited, you're too old". 

My Grandma Gladys was one of the most curious people that I've known.  She lived to be 102 years old.  Even during her last years she liked to ask how we got down to see her, and what kind of car we drove.  She then joked, "Either you drive a Ford, or you can't afford". 

Curiosity, excitement, faith and trust... and also a healthy dose of humor is good for us all, whether we're in business or not.  I would also add, curiosity may kill cats, but it provides longevity for humans ;-)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Europeans know… darker is often better

Whether chocolate, coffee, bread or beer, my vote has been cast, darker is generally better. This is something that our European friends have long known and appreciated.

Like so many from my baby boomer generation, I grew up on white bread. Our large family bought Wonder bread that was sold three loafs for a dollar. Reflecting back now I wonder what was in that bread that could preserve it, and make it so white and fluffy. With little work at all a slice could be rolled to pea size. Recently I’ve taken to making artisan bread. It is relatively easy, and I know exactly what’s going into a loaf. I use unbleached flour and a significant portion of whole wheat. Not only is it better for me, this bread tastes great. The French, Germans and Belgians have known this for centuries!

When it comes to chocolate, the only kind I ever knew as a kid was Hershey’s. Back in the day, when I was in the Metropolitan Boy’s Choir, we even got to tour their huge plant in Hershey Pennsylvania, while on one of our summer tours. I’ve since discovered the wonders of dark chocolate. It is like night and day, the richness of taste that comes with the dark chocolate as compared to many lighter chocolates. Of course, the Swiss have long been well aware of this. Not only is the taste great, it seems a week doesn’t pass before a new study comes out and finds another health benefit to dark chocolate. That’s news I can appreciate.

In college, I soon discovered the drink of choice at many parties and social gatherings was beer. However, it wasn’t the kind of beer many Europeans know and love. It was that light stuff, commonly sold by Miller and Budweiser. Try as I might, I never developed a liking for it. My taste buds were opened up to real beer after I had the good fortune to spend my junior year of college at the University Of Nottingham, England. Wow, I learned and developed an appreciation of lagers, bitters and even Guinness stout. Okay, Guinness is still perhaps a wee to dark for me, but I would still prefer it hands down to a Miller light. Why didn’t we American’s learn from the Germans and our British Isles friends about finer beers? Craft brews have sprung up all over the country in recent years. My local favorite beer is Summit Pale Ale, which, despite its name, is considerably darker than most American beers. And, like chocolate and bread, darker beer tends to be better for us nutritionally.

Finally, there is coffee. For years many Americans drank their coffee pretty light, relative to our European neighbors, who savored the rich tastes of espresso and the plethora of other varieties. An almost confusing array of coffee has now become available to us at coffee shops. I remember my Grandma Gladys, who enjoyed a tinny wintsy spoon full of Maxwell Freeze Dried coffee in her warm water. Pretty weak. Along with millions of other Americans over these past couple of decades I developed an appreciation of espresso and a whole array of darker coffee options. On the home front we keep it pretty simple. Our drink of choice is a dark French roast.

How did we as Americans get tricked into this light food and drink for so many years? Was it great marketing? I’m not sure, but am certainly gratefully to have discovered, like so many of my compatriots, that darker is often better.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas greetings to all

Christmas lights snowed under

Frozen berries with newly fallen snow

Snow park

Snow cone grill

Garden for snow peas and iceberg lettuce

Friday, December 24, 2010

Vehicle safety improvements

Cars in snow at night
Earlier this week a friend slid on the snowy and ice covered road in his '99 Ford Taurus into an oncoming SUV.  Tragically his 14 year old daughter, sitting in the front passenger seat, lost her life in the accident.  He was hurt, but not critically.

This accident made me wonder, if he were fortunate enough to be driving a more current model car, with the additional air bags and safety features, might things have worked out differently for his daughter?

Bridge lights on snowy night
Thanks to the automakers, who each year, seem to be adding additional safety features to our cars.  An article in the LA Times noted that the number of autos receiving the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest ratings jumped from 27 at the beginning of the year to 66 by year's end.  The US government has a website,, that provides safety ratings for both new and used vehicles.

While good gas mileage has always been my highest priority in vehicle selection, safety is now higher on my list.  Thanks to the auto industry, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a vehicle with both good safety features and gas mileage. 

Here's hoping for a safer year on the roads  in 2011, with less traffic and fewer accidents.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sidewalks help to build community

Runner on sidewalk around park
What a wonderful thing sidewalks are.  They allow pedestrians to walk or run safely, without fear of being run over by cars and trucks. They also give kids a safe place to develop their bike riding skills, seniors a location for a leisurely stroll, all the while providing neighbors and community members a common ground on which to interact, face to face.

An article, "Thinking pedestrian thoughts", in the StarTribune, noted how the suburb of Edina has concluded sidewalks contribute to their goal of healthy living, neighborhood connectedness and livability.   

Minneapolis is a national leader of pedestrian friendly planning.  The city has a permanent citizen advisory committee that provides response to street reconstruction and planning from the perspective of pedestrians.  Minneapolis is also one of the top cities in the U.S. relative to people who walk to work, with 6.4% of residents walking to their work places.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More people using less gasoline in US

City of Crystal snow blower

While the population in the U.S. grew by about 10% this past decade, to nearly 309 million, our consumption of gasoline these past four years has actually fallen.  The diminished gas use is attributed to vehicles with better mileage, less driving and increased use of ethanol. 

BIG TIME snow mover!

I fought the urge to use a gas powered snow blower to clear the driveway from the last snowfall.  Shoveling was good exercise, and thankfully my back seems no worse for the wear. 

Though I'm typically not one for making New Year's resolutions, this year I plan to commit to being more contentious about saving fuel; be it by car pooling, riding my bike/walking or simply clustering travel for shopping needs and other errands when possible.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Separating religious holidays and business

Today, being winter solstice, marks the the shortest day and the official start of winter. Here in the United States an interesting dance takes place in the holiday season between Christmas, Hanuka, Kwanzaa, winter solstice and New Years Day. Figuring out how to dance to the music of the holiday season is up to each of us. 

An editorial written by J.R. Labbe for Texas' StarTelegram made a lot of sense to me.  She quoted an artible written by Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar and director of education programs at the First Amendment Center, titled "To save Christmas, separate Christ from commerce."   Mr Haynes observed "If the aim is to keep 'Christ' in the shopping-mall Christmas or to ensure that pagan trees and mistletoe don't lose their Christian labels, then it might make sense to attack presidents and business owners who commit the 'happy holiday' sin... "But if the goal is to restore the religious meaning of the Christian holy day, then they are aiming at the wrong target. Once the birth of Jesus was made a 'national holiday,' taking 'Christ out of Christmas' was destined to happen."

J.R|. Labbe concludes her article by suggesting "If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, then instead of battling the mall crowd to spend outrageous amounts of money on presents that will be forgotten by Easter, use that time and money to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and visit the infirm." 

Holidays are what we choose to make of them. What's your choice?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wooden toys

Did you know that wooden toys are still being manufactured here in the US?  It was nice to read about DoodleTownToys, which for 30 years has been producing handcrafted wooden blocks, trains, trucks and other traditional toys.

I still have fond memories of wooden Lincoln Logs.  Not only were they a fun building toy, when playing with siblings they also served well as projectiles. I'm confident electronic toys couldn't take even a quarter of the pounding we gave those Lincoln Logs.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A successful 80 years!

Curt Johnson speaking on his 80th birthday
Earlier today we celebrated my dad's 80th birthday with the company of family and friends in Northfield, MN. The following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson perfectly sums up dad's past 80 years....

"To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one's self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded."

Norwegian celebration cake

He's been a pastor, youth agency director, Chaplin, gardener, role model and encourager for many.  Continued blessings to dad in the years to come!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nordic ski transition from wood to plastic

From old (left) to new (right)
Nordic skis have changed dramatically over the years.  They once were wide hickory boards made to trail blaze though deep snow.  Today's skis are thin and made of plastic and rely on groomed trails.

My favorite skis of all time are the ones in the middle of the pictures, wooden Madhus racing skis, from 1975.  Not only were they light and fast, but they were also a beautifully crafted work of art.

If I was ever in some deep snow with out a groomed trail, I would definitely pick those big old black hickory skis to get me where I need  to go.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Reusable water bottle and water filter
Next time you consider purchasing water in a plastic bottle please consider the enormous long-term consequences that brief drink of water can have.  Sadly, much of our plastic ends up in our lakes, streams and oceans.  One dramatic example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  This floating waste dump is thought to be anywhere between the size of Texas and the continental United States. A similar patch  exists in the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the garbage and chemical sludge in these oceanic islands is not visible to the eye, since it is broken down into smaller particles and often submerged below the surface.  This garbage floats there as a perpetual monument to our wasteful modern society.

A radical shift in our decision making process is necessary for us to leave the world in good condition for future generations. One example of this thinking come from the Great Law of The Iroquois Confederacy... "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."

Rather than making quick "feel good" decisions to meet our immediate desires, we can develop a new paradigm in our decision making process, considering seven generations down the line.  I'm guessing we just might buy a whole lot less junk, make fewer trips in our vehicles and by so doing, leave the world a much better place. 

I was heartened to learn from an article in the SunPost that the Three Rivers Park District has received positive feedback from park guests for its decision to quit selling water in disposable water bottles.  They now sell water in reusable bottles.

Interested in doing something more about this?  Join the campaign, Ban the Bottle, Stay Hydrated, to reduce the consumption of water from disposable bottles.

We can be the change.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic

Plastic bag recycling under sink
 Plastic is a double edge sword. It has been a great boon for manufactures of most everything, being that it is inexpensive, highly flexible and durable. It can be made into house siding, sandwich bags, water pipes, shoes and even camera bodies. So, what's not to like about it?

Since it is virtually indestructible, plastic becomes a major long-term waste concern for our natural environment. The United States plastic industry annually produces 80 billion pounds of plastic. Unfortunately, even with our recycling efforts, over 60 billion  pounds of plastic ends up as garbage each year.  Another concern regarding continued dependence upon plastic products is their composition of gas and oil, nonrenewable resources.

If you take notice of the roadside, you're almost sure to see plastic bags. Sadly, plastics find themselves spread all throughout our waterways and land masses. So, what can we do to reduce all of this plastic waste?

One place to start is by not purchasing or using plastic when possible.  While shopping, take shopping bags with you. Best to keep a supply stored in the car, or on your bike rack, so they're ready for use when you are. If you do find yourself using plastic, consider how it might be reused or recycled.  We like to wash out plastic sandwich bags and reuse them. They simply need to be turned inside out to dry. Plastic shopping bags can be recycled at a number of stores.

Croc in the water
I was pleased to discover research is being performed on plant-based plastics at the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Polymers.  This center has a mission to "design, prepare and implement  polymers derived from renewable resources for a wide range of advanced applications , and to promote future economic  development, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability in the emergent area of biobased  products."

 Let's all do what we can to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.  AND, if you  really want to be a purist, use cash instead of plastic for all of your purchases!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to build a snow shelter AKA quinzhee

Quinzhee by house
 Life dumps a load of snow on you, why not build a snow fort? These structures are great for overnight camping, and thanks to their insulation value, are far superior to a tent. Like most good things, they do take a while to construct.  Unlike Rome, however, they can be built in a day. Best to start early in the day if you're needing it for overnight accommodations.

Polking air holes
The first step of building a snow fort, also known as a quinzhee, is to develop a big pile of snow on a flat surface.  My inspiration for building a quinzhee came from shoveling snow off the roof.  I ended up with a large pile of the white stuff that I used for the foundation. I then used a snow shovel to pile the snow higher, into the form of a dome.  It is best if you can pile the snow around six feet in height. It should be closer to 10 feet across in width to comfortably sleep 2-3 people.

Next, let the snow pile rest for at least a few hours in order to settle, overnight is even better. Then, polk a couple of dozen holes or so, about 12-16 inches deep, into the snow all around the fort. These holes will serve a couple of purposes.  First, they're indicators as to when to stop digging, when sunlight comes them them, which helps avoid making the walls too thin.  These holes also help with the fort's air circulation.

Digging with shovel
Next step is to dig out the  interior of the fort.  This is the most challenging part of the job.  I used a spade shovel and gradually worked my way deeper into the fort, one spade load at a time.  For insulation purposes you  don't make the entryway too big, it should be just large enough to crawl though. It is important during this digging out process to watch for holes that were polked into the fort earlier. This is best done in the daylight, so you can see light coming through once you've reached a hole.  Another approach is to dig until a faint hint of light is seen through the walls of the fort. 

For safety purposes it is best to have at least a couple people involved in the digging process, in the event of a collapse.  It is also desirable, when digging from within the quinzhee, to stay on one's knees, and avoid being one's back, should a collapse occur while digging.

It is ideal to leave a 6 inch layer of snow on the ground for insulation.  As for the height of the quinzhee, you don't want to make it too tall, e.g. standing room height, in order to keep the warm air closer to the ground. I would recommend at least enough headroom to be able to sit up straight.
One candle gives light to quinzhee 

As the digging out nears completion the walls should be formed into a dome shape, and smoothed out as much as possible to prevent dripping when the fort warms up. 

To avoid carbon dioxide poisoning please don't ever cook in the quinzhee.  A candle, however, is a nice touch.  You will be amazed at what a wonderful ambiance it brings to the fort, along with warmth.   

In the event of a big snow fall you may want to keep your shovel inside the fort with you, should it be required to dig out in the morning.  For sleeping, a tarp should be layed on the ground, then isolated pad and finally a winter sleeping bag.  You will discover one of the wonderful aspects of a snow fort is the absolute silence inside, due to the snow's insulation.

Happy winter camping!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paradoxical truth

Ice crytals formed by pond's outlet
As referenced in an earlier blog, I'm  a big fan of paradox.  G.K. Chesterton noted that paradox has been defined as "Truth standing on her head to get attention."  An article written by Graham Priest in the New York Times makes a case for paradox, recognizing that truth can accompany things which we might consider a paradox e.g. beyond belief.   It is a bit of a challenging read, but if you find these things interesting, I would encourage you to take a look at Professor Graham's NY Times article (link above). 

A comment by Joe Runciter regarding this article, "Paradoxical Truth", noted the following:

Ice crystals by open water
There is a world outside of Western philosophy that is more intimately familiar with contradiction. For thousands of years the East has known that a statement can be either:

(1) true,
(2) false,
(3) both true and false, or:
(4) neither true nor false

To this can be added: "all of the above", or "none of the above". Learning to accept conceptual paradox without experiencing a headache is the beginning of wisdom.

I'm also a fan of the saying, sometimes attributed to Soren Kirkegaard, "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a puzzle to be solved." 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow waves

Snowy beach and waves
Snowshoe tracks
 After 16 inches of snow the wind started howlng.  Next came the cold.  A good old Minnesota blizzard is what we got.  It was beautiful to watch... from inside. 

Shadows from snow drifts
Enjoyed a brief snow-shoe hike this morning, after clearing off the driveway of snow. Then I drove to church to watch the children's musical.  Enjoyable way to start the day!

Orchid enjoying winter indoors