Saturday, December 31, 2011

Healthy and not so healthy eating in China

Home made bread
I listened with great interest to a story on National Public Radio about the changing eating habits of people living in mainland China.  I've long been impressed with the health and vitality of most of the Chinese people I've met, here in the US, Taiwan and mainland China.

Seems that with financial prosperity overeating, soda and unhealthy foods are emerging and leading to problems with obesity and poor health.  I'm reminded of a story about Daniel, the prophet from the Old Testament, who recommended to the king a diet of vegetables and water rather than rich foods and wine for his servants. After just 10 days the healthy results of this diet impressed King Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 1:12-16)

For people with more than enough the challenge is to demonstrate self restraint in order live and eat simply, and assist others who are lacking.  I'm reminded of a slogan from the 70's, "Live simply, so that others might simply live." And paradoxically, through living simply the richness and quality of life is actually enhanced.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Photography... it's all about the light

A view north at 5:45 pm
 If you've dabbled much in photography, or been around an enthusiastic photographer, you might have come to learn about the importance of lighting.  With outdoor photography there are 'golden hours' at sunrise and sunset that give a richness to colors that one simply doesn't get in full sun.

The importance of lighting is evidenced in the title of a book, "Chased by the Light", by my favorite nature photographer, Jim Brandenburg.  Information on a current photo exhibit in Minneapolis' Bell Museum of natural history is available from his blog.  By the way, it's free entry on Sunday afternoons!

A view north at 6:20 pm
Yesterday my wife and I visited the observation deck on the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis. It was phenomenal to see what a difference even a half of an hour of the sun's setting could make in a photograph.

Visiting the Foshay brought back childhood memories of when it once towered over the downtown landscape.  The 32 floor Foshay was the tallest building in the region when it was first constructed in 1929.  It now can be difficult to find, hidden among many skyscrapers.  It still however provides for a great vista of the town.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A call for mentoring on the Northside

The tragic death of 3-year-old Terrell on the Minneapolis’ Northside during this holiday season has me thinking.  Every Christmas it is amazing to witness the outpouring of gifts given to children and families in need.  While these gifts are wonderful, and help to make the holiday season bright, far more is needed to assist these children and families in order that they might realize their God given potential.

For both the shooter and the victim’s family the gift of our presence would be a much more valuable gift than any present we might give. Terrell had a dad in prison, so without intervention he would have been six times more likely than his peers to enter the correctional system.  I think it a pretty safe bet that the shooter, yet to be identified, was lacking in supportive adult role models. 

During the New Year if you are interested in making a lasting difference in the life of a child, consider giving them something much more valuable than a shinny new toy or gadget, how about giving them the gift of your time?   Kinship, Bolder Options, and Big Brothers and Sisters all have waiting lists of kids who are eager to have mentors/friends, be they individuals, couples or families.  They are working with the Northside Achievement Zone to carefully screen, match and support Northside children and youth with mentors. Becoming a mentor has the power to dramatically change at least two lives for the better; a child’s and your own. 

One additional update.  I attended a gathering last night in north Minneapolis at the Urban League to discuss ways people could become involved in the development of 20 garden plots on the Northside through Project Sweetie Pie.  Plans are to include mentoring as a vital component of this effort.  

Successful One Acre Fund in Africa

It was encouraging to read about a local man, Andrew Youn, who is working diligently to eradicate hunger in Africa.  Five years ago he developed the One Acre Fund, which provides micro loans to farmers in Rwanda and Kenya.  These loans are paired with education, in order to increase their crop yields. One of the keys to their success comes from the utilization of commercial seeds and fertilizer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gun violence kills 3-year-old

After hearing the sound of gunshot near to his home in north Minneapolis 3-year-old Terrell was headed up the stairs with three other boys when he was hit in the back of the head by a stray shot.  He died 17 hours later in the hospital.

It was disturbing to read Facebook entries about this tragic incident throughout the day yesterday by a few friends who either work and or live in North Minneapolis. Both Don Samuels, city councilman, and VJ Smith, head of MADD Dads visited Terrell and his mother while in the hospital. Many residents of the Northside posted their outrage on Facebook, and most offered up their prayers.  A vigil is being planned for Friday.

While prayer is valuable, it seems somehow inadequate.  It reminds me of the Bible passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1 "If I speak in the tongues of men and angeles, but have not love, I am only a  resounding gong or clanging cymbal."  I'm also reminded of a story by someone who's seen his share of the aftermath of urban violence, Newark's Mayor, Cory Booker.  He told a story while speaking at the Westminster Town Hall Forum about how hundreds of people showed up for the funeral of a young man who was slain by gun violence, but seemingly no one was there for him when he needed it. Given the absence of positive support he was drawn into the wrong crowd, who provided him some of the safety and attention he so desperately needed.

So, what to do about this continued violence?  One initiative that holds much promise is the Northside Achievement Zone.  It is aiming to provided both the essential mentoring and educational support essential for kids to thrive.  More information about volunteering is available from their website.

We must consider means to decrease the amount of gun violence on our streets.  According to the National Institute of Justice in 2005 there were 11,346 people killed by firearm violence and 477,040 people were victims of a crime committed with a firearm in the US.  Then consider for a moment that there were a total of 3,531 American military casualties from combat in the Iraq war since it's start in 2003.  We have a far greater war occurring everyday on the streets in the USA, which isn't being adequately addressed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Warmer temps and tracks on the snow

While on a morning walk around the pond flocks of crows were roosting and moving around in the trees and across the grounds.  They seemed a bit skittish, flying away when visitors got within 30 yards or so.

On the pond there were many tracks of what appeared to be made by pheasants.  It also appeared the park's fox visited this opportune hunting grounds.
Track crossing
Prey and predator tracks
(pheasant and fox) 

Pheasant tracks
It was an unseasonably warm 52 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Minneapolis.  This was a record high temperature for December 26th.  In addition to the warm weather it was also windy throughout the afternoon. It felt a lot like global weirding. The temperature in the Twin Cities this December is running about 6 degrees above average, according to the Weather Service.

Unless things change soon, it could be a tough winter for all of the plants and animals that rely upon snow cover.  Also not so great for outdoor winter sports either, such as nordic and downhill skiing, snow boarding, snow shoeing, skating, hockey, broom ball, boot hockey, skijorning, ice fishing, snowmobiling, etc...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Feeding a world of 7 billion people

When it comes to feeding the world, I think often of the sage advice, "think globally and act locally".  So, if we have a small plot of dirt or even a container that would work for us to tend as a garden, what a great thing to get our hands dirty and grow locally some of what we consume.  However, most of the world doesn't have quick or easy access to fertile soil. Farm lands are not equally distributed and thus must be managed skillfully to feed those in other parts of the world, often living in large cities.

An article by Dr. John Tjostem, a retired microbiology professor from Luther College, wrote an article that  suggests that modern American agriculture is the most sustainable and the most environmentally friendly form of agriculture on the planet. ("A recipe for a sustainable future, part 1", Agora, Fall, 2011).

Some of the greatly improved farm yields and reduction in erosion are a result of no till and minimum till thanks to Monsanto's Roundup and Roundup Ready herbicides. Dr. Tjostem further observes that commercial fertilizer, plant breeding and genetically modified crops (GMO's) have resulted in abundant yields that can feed the world's population, which has mushroomed to 7 billion.  He further states that were we to practice the organic farming techniques of the past it would cause massive starvation.  Those practices were adequate when the world's inhabitants counted 1.6 billion in 1900 or even 2.55 billion in 1950.  Besides not being able to attain the high yield rates brought about by modern agricultural practices, organic farming also involves tilling, and soil erosion, which Dr. Tjostem contends is not a sustainable practice.

In a rather startling assertion, Tjostem suggests that despite the fears many of us have of GMO crops, they are actually safer than conventional crops. He notes that conventional crops have developed poisonous molecules to combat plant eating pests, and hence they may cause serious allergies in humans.

Dr. Trostem concludes this article by observing the vital role genetic engineers must play in order to speed up the process of biological evolution through the production of genetically engineered crops.  Given the reality of global warming it will be essential to have plants that can survive in a warmer world. He concludes that our Creator gave us an intellect that He expects us to use in order to make the world a better place.

This article suggests that while we may find solace in a small organic garden plots at or near to our home, this gardening practice isn't likely to work on a larger scale in order to adequately feed the 7 billion residents with whom we share the planet.  Now that's something to think globally about...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Class warfare coming from a dirty animal stall?

Barn along Lake Superior,
just outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin
Christian theologian and justice advocate, Jim Wallis, turned FOX new's "war on Christmas" upside down in his God's Politics blog.  Following is an abbreviated version of Jim's posting "The Real War on Christmas... by Fox News."
Fox News’ “war” is designed to criticize the “secularization” of our culture wrought by atheists, agnostics, liberals, leftists, progressives, and separation of church and state zealots— i.e. Democrats. 
What is Christmas? It is the celebration of the Incarnation, God’s becoming flesh — human — and entering into history in the form of a vulnerable baby born to a poor, teenage mother in a dirty animal stall. Simply amazing. That Mary was homeless at the time, a member of a people oppressed by the imperial power of an occupied country whose local political leader, Herod, was so threatened by the baby’s birth that he killed countless children in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ child, all adds compelling historical and political context to the Advent season.

The theological claim that sets Christianity apart from any other faith tradition is the Incarnation. God has come into the world to save us. God became like us to bring us back to God and show us what it means to be truly human.

That is the meaning of the Incarnation. That is the reason for the season.

The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary’s song of praise for her baby boy: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

The Fox News Christmas would label Mary’s Magnificat as “class warfare.”

So if there is a war on Christmas it's the one being waged by Fox News.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nature's menorah

Swamp milkweed with morning sun
This picture reminds me of a menorah, with the milkweed pods representing tongues of fire, and the sun lit trees in the background strengthening the fire imagery.

We are midway through the Festival of Lights which is also known as Hanukkah.  This festival is represented by the menorah, a candle holder with 9 branches.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter walking tips

The following helpful guidelines for walking during the winter months were posted in the Sun Newspapers, by Anna Woodwick (Winter walking tips form senior commission).

  • When walking in a roadway, walk facing oncoming traffic (usually on the left) so you may take evasive action , if necessary.
  • Before stepping into a street, always stop and look left, right and then left again in order to see all oncoming traffic.
  • Even when you have a green light or "walk" signal permitting you to cross the street, watch for inattentive drivers.
  • Dress to be seen by drivers. During dusk and later evening hours, wear reflective or light colored clothing and carry a flashlight. (Editors note: headlamps work well)
  • Make full eye contact with a driver before stepping in front of a vehicle.
  • Be careful in parking lots and garages. Watch for backup lights and listen for engine noise.
  • Walk defensively. Many drivers fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, even though they are required to do so.
  • Don't be distracted by using cell phones, earphones, iPods or other electronic devises.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wisdom from 112 year old woman

On Tuesday of this week Ruth Anderson died after an incredible life, spanning 112 years.  In an interview a couple of years ago, at the age of 110, Ruth recommended "You do things. You think about things.... and then don't waste time fussing about things you can't change."  Pretty good counsel if you ask me.

Given Ruth's recommendation I thought I would repost a poem from an earlier blog entry.

Why worry about tomorrow?

     Why worry about tomorrow,
Waterfall near Holden Village
and the rising of the sun, 
or anguish over past mistakes
that cannot be undone?

     Why waste life's precious moment
on things that bruise the heart,
when today is ours to fashion
into a work of art?

     Today comes but once, my friend,
it never can return -
so use it wisely while you can
there's a lesson you may learn.

     Let history record the past,
and tomorrow come what may.
Be content to do your best,
with what you have today.
                                         -Clay Harrison

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Funding for Northside Achievement Zone

It was exciting for me to see in the news that a north Minneapolis grassroots effort be named as the recipient of a $28 million dollar Promise Neighborhoods grant.  I was a part of meetings a few years back when the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), was seeking input from the community regarding needs and resources, specifically around mentoring children through Kinship.  There was and is a long waiting list of children in need of additional adult support and guidance on the Northside.

Having received federal money in the past to mentor children of prisoners, I know that this grant will soon require seemingly endless financial and activity reporting. My hope for NAZ is that it will be able to manage the reporting requirements without becoming too bureaucratic, and that it will continue to build upon local support, so that when that federal money goes away it won't also close shop.

Wouldn't it be nice if the vast sums we as a nation are spending on military efforts will one day be redirected toward things that build and strengthen our children and communities? Seems the greatest danger we have as a nation isn't a threat from overseas, but rather that we aren't preparing our children to be competitive, productive and cooperative world citizens.

An article about NAZ and the Promise Neighborhoods grant is found in the MinnPost, Promise grant will allow Neighborhood Achievement Zone to scale up north Minneapolis 'cradle to career' program

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Long-term benefits from 1/2 hour a day

Family enjoying a walk around the park
If you're looking for a doctor's prescription to the very best thing you can do for your health, the following 9 minute animated lecture, 23 1/2 hours, by Doctor Mike Evans, is a MUST view.

One of the many take aways; if you watch television for six hours a day your life expectancy is decreased by five years! Believe it or not American's average about five hours a day. Editors note: depending on the content, watching television might also dramatically lower your intelligence quotient.

Not surprisingly, the best thing we can do for our health is to be physically active on a regular basis. The highest rate of return on investment is simply 30 minutes a day of some sort of exercise, which can be moderate, such as walking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gardening as a subversive activity

Urban farm
I would highly recommend people interested in the production and consumption of healthy foods watch a powerful and humorous 8 minute educational video by Roger Doiron, "My subversive (garden) plot".

This video reminds us that gardening is a form of power... over diet, health and pocket books. Roger also recognizes gardening as a "healthy gateway drug" which entices people to then learn about cooking, food preservation and farmers markets.  By planting a garden we might also influence our neighbors to do likewise.

Swiss chard 
Why should we be concerned about growing more food?  Consider that 900 million people are affected by hunger, while food prices are increasing around the world.  It is projected that we are going to need to grow more food in the next 50 years than we have over the past 10,000 years combined! We will also have to do this with less... oil, water, climate stability farmland,  genetic diversity, and time to grow food.

Where do we go if we only have one planet?

One of the suggestions Mr. Doiron provides is to transform our yards into full service green grocers.  Why?
  1. Because gardens grow good food
  2. Gardens grow healthy families
  3. Gardens also grow economic savings  
Check out their website to learn more about the organization that Roger Doiron heads up, Kitchen Gardens International.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Biking is not just for recreation

Biking isn't just for clowns!
(Crystal Frolics Parade)
Biking in the Minneapolis area has been catching on as a valuable means of transportation for many residents.  The number of bike riders has increased by over half just since 2007 according to an article "A new attitude about biking in Minneapolis?"  One of the keys to the rise in bike ridership has been the development of bike trails and lanes on the streets designated specifically for bicycles.  As a biker I can tell you it makes a huge difference to have a few feet on the side of the street dedicated to bicycle traffic.  It can be quite unnerving to ride close to the curb where often much gravel and residue from the street accumulates.  It is also nice to have at least a bit of space for bicyclist when cars, buses and trucks come whizzing by from behind.
Biker riding at two below zero near downtown Minneapolis

Besides the physical and mental health benefits, biking as a means of transportation also reduces ones carbon footprint.  For example, a bike commuter who travels five miles each way to work four days a week uses 100 fewer gallons of gasoline a year.  This would be approximately a five percent decrease in that person's carbon footprint, according to the Rails to Trails Conservation organization.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thinking and talking while driving

It is interesting to follow the passionate range of responses to the proposed ban on cell/smart phone use while driving. I've become increasingly supportive of this ban, recognizing the tremendous distraction it creates, particularly when texting is involved.

In this fast paced world if one is alone in a car it seems a great use of time is simply to think and reflect, and of course, pay attention to driving. Most often I don't even listen to the radio, allowing for greater concentration.

When passengers are involved time in a car becomes a fantastic opportunity to engage in conversation.  Some of the best conversations with teenagers occur when they're in the back seat of a car being shuttled to and from practices, etc.  I recently had plenty of quality time to catch up with my parents on a 10 hour drive to Michigan and back.

Sadly, the advent of  cell phones and MP3 players is dramatically impacting the opportunity for dialogue while in a car.  Hum, wonder if while our legislators are at it they might consider a ban on all electronic devises in automobiles, for drivers and passengers alike?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unseasonably warm weather

Mallards on the pond
Plant by pond's edge
It has been unseasonably warm this winter.  An early snow has since melted, and water has formed on top of the ice. In order to find snow one has to travel to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Earlier in the week there were winds of up to 45 m.p.h.  More global weirding it seems.
Female cardinal snacking on a buckthorn berry

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reflection brings clarity

Focus on reflection
Focus on sidewalk
Walking in a cold mist yesterday was a highlight of the day for me.  I was looking for pictures and discovered some literally right under my feet.  You see, there were beautiful reflections of the bare trees composed on the puddles which randomly formed on the asphalt sidewalk.

I recently heard from a photographer, who is also submitting photos on Capture Minnesota, that reflections are often more beautiful than looking at the image directly.

Sidewalk with puddles

Isn't life a bit that way also?  When we take time out to reflect on things we may see them more clearly than at the moment they are occurring.  Unfortunately, we live in a hyper paced world, where time for reflection isn't often valued or structured into the day.

In addition to the physical benefits of walking and running, the time they afford to reflect and think creatively works wonders for one's mental health.   Prayer and meditation are great vehicles for reflection on the past. I've also discovered photography allows time for greater examination and reflection on things, but much like prayer and meditation, doesn't provide much of an aerobic workout.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Race in America

Is this as close as you come to
having different races at your table?
Did you know that there is as much genetic variance within a race than between races?  This is just one of many observations that Eula Biss makes in her book of essays "Notes from No Man's Land".  She documents her experiences and observations around race while moving to various regions around the country, including New York, New York, San Diego, California, Iowa City, Iowa, and finally Chicago, Illinois. She speaks about the fear that many of her own race, caucasian, project among others.  Much of that fear is generational and then greatly inflated by a few violent stories that get lots of media coverage and retold countless times.

In Minneapolis considerable fear has been generated about life on the Northside.  Much of this is associated with people of color.  I confess to becoming more fearful of the Northside once I was no longer working there on a daily basis.  Recently I've been volunteering some time over north and have once again developed a greater appreciation of this neighborhood and its people.  Working with Project Sweetie Pie and the "Bless A Child with a Coat" drive I've in turn been blessed to get to know a number of compassionate African American leaders.  Through volunteering my awareness of people of color is not limited to the stories of violence on the Northside, which though a very real concern, paints a distorted picture of this part of town and its residents.

To better understand those from other races there is nothing better than developing a genuine relationship/friendship with people who don't look like you. The physical differences in color, size, gender, etc. become inconsequential relative to the core nature of that individual being.  Traveling and staying with the local people, NOT secluded in a posh hotel with other foreigners is a great way to learn and appreciate other races and cultures.  For college students a school year abroad is a wonderful vehicle to experience other races and cultures.  Volunteering can also be a valuable means of fostering relationships, be it through tutoring and mentoring programs, or programs such as Peace Corps or AmericaCorps.

We become a better person, nation and world when we are able to better understand and appreciate the great strengths and diversity that constitute the whole human race. Ironically when we get to know those who appear to be much different from ourselves we discover just how much alike we are.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Empathy... something to learn from rats

Seems rats deserve a great deal more respect that we give them according to a Washington Post article, "You dirty rat? Experiments show rats aren't selfish, but caring creatures." It turns out that when a rat observes a peer in a crowded cage it works diligently to free it, often even denying themselves chocolate before aiding their fellow rat.

Pair of Mallard ducks
I observed some Mallard ducks in a creek while on a walk today.  It seemed like this pair of males were inseparable.  They swam together, almost in a synchronized formation. Certainly did appear from my casual observation that they were there for each other. On a recent road trip to Michigan I observed thousands of Canada Geese in their V formations. They know about the advantage of flying together in formation to reduce wind resistance.

In the U.S. we hear so often of principle of the "survival of the fittest". Seems that many of our furry and feathered friends know how to work cooperatively together. They even form symbiotic relationships between species.

The rat study author, Peggy Mason, from the University of Chicago quipped that if rats can be so caring and helpful “there’s a sense of optimism. It’s something we could be.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Agreement reached at UN climate change conference

A hard-fought agreement regarding climate change was recently reached at the 2011 World Climate Summit gathering in Durban, South Africa. This was a gathering of a 194 member body representing countries around the world.  Some of the developing countries, including India and China, that had previously been exempt from emissions restrictions in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, will, after five years, need to come under the commonly agreed upon carbon emission standards.

India and China were upset with the U.S. and European nations expectation that they come under the same new rules, when they emitted vast amounts of pollutants during their industrial development over the previous 200 years.  They also noted how the U.S. has been slow to adopt green technology.

Wood burning stove
Environmentalist were disappointed with the agreement. They felt it didn't move fast enough or deep enough to stem the release of carbon emissions, which are rising the earth's temperatures and leading to cataclysmic weather patterns. Additional concerns were raised around the lack of penalties and loopholes that could impact effectiveness of the agreement. A voice of concern about the lack of a courageous response to the climate change talks was provided by youth delegate, Anjali Appadurai, and is available for viewing on YouTube

The U.S. representatives were worried that Congress might not support the regulations.  The U.S. failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that most all of the other industrial nations approved in 1997.  

One of the more positive outcomes was the decision to develop a Green Plant Fund to assist poorer nations in meeting environmental standards.  

Further information is available from a USA Today article, Climate conference approves landmark deal

Pileated woodpecker

Piliated Woodpecker looking for insects in oak tree
My wife spotted a Pileated Woodpecker on a walk yesterday afternoon.  I later discovered it after it had flown to a neighbors yard.  Its distinctive call and loud pecking noise gave it away.

These large birds, about the size of a crow, create rectangular holes in trees to find ants. They typically nest in the cavity of large trees.

This bird is unique to North America. Its large pointed crest and haunting call make me think of it ancient cousin, the Pterodactyl.  Editors note: though I'm older, I was NOT around during the Pterodactyl's hay day. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jazz: the art of listening and living in the moment

Demetrius Nabors, Ryan Proch, Henry Rensch, and Ben Linstrom  (left to right)
I attended a jazz concert earlier in the week that was a capstone for my nephew's degree in percussion from the University of Michigan. As is the nature of jazz music, it was exciting to listen to the improvisation move among the players.  Members of the group included my nephew, Ben Linstrom on drums, Demetrius Nabors at the keyboard, Ryan Proch playing Saxophone and Henry Rensch on Bass.

Ben Linstrom at the drums
A TED video featuring vibraphonist Stefon Harris, "There are no mistakes on the bandstand", demonstrates how a seemingly discordant note can become part of a beautiful jazz melody.  The keys to making successful jazz music include knowing your instrument, listening carefully to others, focusing on the here and now, and taking turns; sharing the talents of others in the group.  Pretty good metaphor for life, isn't it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

As poverty rates among children swell, what are we teaching them?

It was discouraging to read an article, "Hungry, needy kids swell lunch lines", in the StarTribune. Across the country the nation's rate of students living in poverty has risen from 59% in 2007 to 65% in 2010. In Minnesota the poverty rate among young people is at 37%.  With the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour there are millions of working poor.  Given latitude to set their own minimum wages, the rates vary among the states. The minimum wage in Minnesota is $6.15 per hour.

The disconnect is growing larger between the school curriculum and the economic reality facing many of our young people. For many years basic life skills and the trades were taught in our public schools. I fondly remember taking drafting, electricity, metal and woodworking. Many students were also taught to manage a household budget, cook, and sew.  Whether or not one went on to work in the trades or took a strictly academic route, these skills could be useful later in life.

Homemade bread
It has been determined that the nation's schools should all now almost exclusively focus on english, math and the sciences.  I would suggest that the next generation is likely going to need to learn to live more simply on less income than the previous generation. Learning to live sustainably, within ones means, will be a significant challenge.  Skills like gardening, money management, making meals from scratch, and even making and repairing clothing may become just as critical as learning to operate Microsoft Office. While these skills may not be what corporate america is clamoring for, it just may be time for the educational system to listen to another voice... the voice of practicality.  Skilled farmers, artisans and craftsmen may someday become just as valuable as MBAs and PhDs. As a nation we must relearn the skilled production work we've lost over the years. Instead of being producers we've become the world's largest consumers, both figuratively and literally!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Setting a trend walking to church.... not yet

View from pedestrian bridge
Vegetation by the pond
I'm hoping at starting a trend for people to walk or ride their bikes to church.  Let's just say it hasn't exactly caught on like a wildfire quite yet.  I have  been encouraged however to see a couple of families riding their bikes to church.  I'm only a little over a year into the effort.

Bassett Creek
For me to walk to church takes about 20 minutes, rather than 8 minutes by car.  I'm just a bit over a mile from church. Thanks to a pedestrian bridge over the highway, I have a more direct walking route than driving. It is difficult to break habits, especially if they are more comfortable, quicker and easier than the alternatives.

One of the challenges of walking in suburban areas, besides being counter cultural, is the lack of sidewalks.  Despite their many advantages, I've discovered lots of people are adamantly opposed to sidewalks eating into their yards.  They prefer the low maintenance, isolation and privacy of their sidewalk free yards.

Sculpture along the route
As we grow increasingly aware of the disastrous long-term effects of pollution and inactivity on our personal health and the health of our planet I hope that more people will be inspired to enjoy the healthy benefits of walking, even during the colder months of winter.  As the Norwegians are fond of saying, there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Local artist guild and greeting cards

I was pleased to participate a local artist guild open house this weekend. It was amazing for me to see the diversity of artistic talent just within a block.  Art forms included sewing, glass work, pressed flowers, jewelry and watercolor painting.

This was the first venue, other than church, where I sold greeting cards with photos.  I was pleased with the encouraging response.  Following is a sampling of some of the photos I utilized with greeting cards.  If you might be interested in purchasing cards or a calendar of photos from Bassett Creek Park, just let me know.  The cards for $2.50 each or six for $12.00.  Calendars are $15.  Shipping would be additional.  I've labeled the greeting card line Picturing Peace.  I can be contacted at:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reduction in energy demand

Swamp Milkweed by pond
Good news, it seems we just might be making inroads into energy conservation.  An article in the StarTribune, Xcel's power pullback, indicated that Xcel Energy is realizing a reduction in demand for electricity within the state of Minnesota.  The bad news was they attribute the reduction in energy use to a bad economy.

An encouraging bit of news from this article was that the power company was tracking with the state's energy mandate that it produce 26 percent of its power through renewable sources by 2020. While the costs of renewable energy are greater up front, think of all the environmental and health benefits they provide in the long-term, which aren't typically considered in our determination of "cost".

At the national level the Obama administration is looking to back off of proposed rules to reduce toxic air emissions from industrial boilers and incinerators. An article, New proposal eases some requirements on boilers but preserves health benefits, describes this recommendation to appease corporate interests.  Often it seems progress is made by taking two steps forward and one backward.