Monday, January 31, 2011

Thinking green on a snowy day

Seed packets and planting strips
Despite the fact it will be at least a few more months until spring planting arrives here in the northern climate of Minnesota, I couldn't help but purchase a bunch of vegetable and flower seeds for the garden.  You see, the seeds were on sale, along with seeding soil and biodegradable grow strips.  I purchased the whole lot for under $20.  That's cheap therapy to fight the winter blues.

Speaking of gardening, I'm also working with a friend who leads a local 4-H group to plan a garden collaboratively between our church and the 4-H participants.  We're applying for some start-up funding from Hennepin County. Additional clearance will be needed from the church council.  Initial indicators have all been positive from conversations with the property committee co-chairs and the pastor.  I'm pretty jazzed about this idea.

The church has a long, terraced stretch of lawn, about 8 feet wide that gets a lot of sun.  I'm thinking we would need to put in a garden fence to keep the rabbits out, along with a drip line watering system to keep the plants watered over the summer months.  In addition to planting, weeding and harvesting, we would also like to make this an educational opportunity for the 4-H group, helping these young people to learn about eating vegetables and proper nutrition. 

I'm thinking green thoughts as I look out the window at the lovely falling snow!
Back yard garden

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A case for weekly shared worship

"Praise in an awe-deficit world", an article by Pastor Peter Marty in The Lutheran magazine makes a strong case for the relevance of a weekly shared worship experience.  He responds an oft heard sentiment "Oh, I can worship God much more meaningfully outdoors than I can stuck indoors with a group of people singing some half ancient song."

He notes that while nature may be the handiwork of God, it doesn't do any of the following:
  • Collect offering to help feed the hungry, clothe the poor or meet the needs of refugees
  • Answer the question of how sinners can be reconciled to God and invested with a hope in Christ
  • Provide forgiveness of sins
He goes on to suggest that worship is a place for people to practice not being God. Pastor Marty referenced the choral conductor Robert Shaw's observation "the absolute minimum conditions for worship are a sense of mystery and an admission of pain."

Without the help of others we tend to make God into our own private image.  When in a worship setting we are joined by a mix of people who don't mirror every facet of our life. This eclectic mix of folks keeps us tuned into the greater diverse community in which we are called to live and share our talents.

While nature is the best place to view God's handiwork, we also benefit by coming together in worship and service.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Margaret A. Cargill Foundation

Seems it still pays to pick your parents carefully.  Margaret Cargill died a few years back, leaving behind an estate that today is worth a cool $8 billion dollars.  In 1865, her grandfather, William Cargill, founded the company that we now know as Cargill, the largest privately held business in the United States.

An article in the StarTribune discussed the launching of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Given the current funding priorities we should watch for a sudden increase in the number of environmental relief art projects for the elderly without access to quality care held at The American Swedish Institute.

Seriously, "alla de bästa" to this newly launched foundation.  That’s “all the best” in Swedish.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seeing Creator through Creation

Two pairs of mallards by red twigged dogwood
"Let us consider the works of God and observe operations of His hands. Let us take note and admire His infinite goodness and wisdom in the formation of them. No creature in the sublunary world is capable of doing this except man, and yet we have been deficient therein." 

John Ray, 1691, The Wisdom of God Manifest in the Works of His Creation, which was cited in The Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch, 1949.
Duck tracks and tree reflections in pond
Pair of mallards by pond's edge
Ducks enjoying open water at pond located at Theodore Wirth Park

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Americans don't buy conservation

Bird's nest over Bassett Creek
On a long walk yesterday morning it finally occurred to me why conservation simply does not sell well to consumer driven Americans....... it doesn't involve buying anything!

Even when it comes to charity, people from the USA tend to focus on material things. The founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller, once noted "Americans love to give to anything they can take a picture of."

Do you buy this?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union kudos and questions

I heard a number of rays of hope listening to President Obama's State of the Union address yesterday. For starters, while it may appear to simply be cosmetic to many, I for one was encouraged to see the Republicans and Democrats sitting together. During this most challenging time in our nation’s history we do well to remember lessons from our history…. United we stand, divided we fall!

A few other things I appreciated from the President’s address to the nation:

• The importance of our “nation builders”… teachers!
• The continued critical role of innovation, a national attribute that is essential for our economic vitality
• Support of efforts to reduce the US's dependency upon fossil fuels
• The need for simplification of our tax code, both for corporations and individuals. Do our Washington politicians have the strength of courage to dismantle what their predecessors have assembled thanks to the powerful influence of lobbyist? Money still has a loud voice in DC.

A couple of bigger questions that the president didn’t address include the following:

• How can we tame our military-industrial-congressional-complex, which continues to be a three headed monster? In 2008 the United State's defense spending of 607 billion dollars was 41.5% of the total world's defense spending.  The US is also the world's largest military exporter.
• How can we incentivize personal saving and reduce excessive spending? We don’t hear any messages coming from DC to live more simply and spend less.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Less social through social networking?

I listened to a show on MPR with an author, Andrew Keene, who suggested social networking is actually making people less deeply connected with others in their community. While the number of far reaching contacts has increased, the depth of these relationships is not as meaningful as relationships established through long-term, face to face, relationships. He suggested that people don’t have the attention span or interest to commit to community. Instead, they’re always in motion, flitting from one community or network to the next. The diminishment of service clubs and long-term commitments to church and places of employment  leads to fewer long-term relationships.

If you've ever witnessed a group of young people sitting at a table all texting on cell phones, it does make one wonder about technology's impact on social skills.  Seems like something of a paradox that we are becoming less deeply connected through this rapid rise in "social networking".

Monday, January 24, 2011

More reasons to drive less

Additional reasons why we might all consider spending less time in our cars, or ridding ourselves of them all together, from Divorce your Car.

One who prefers to "hoof it"
A study by Donald Appleyard showed that as vehicle trips on a given street went up interaction between neighbors went down. 

A car dependent society doesn't allow our elderly to operate independently with safety.

Simply by sitting behind the driver's seat can turn otherwise charming people into scowling,quick-tempered road warriors.

"The modern sedentary lifestyle is a kind of toxic intervention... very much like a slow infection that gradually creates discomfort, disability, and finally, disease... The leading edge of that intervention was the automobile."  The "convenience" of cars reinforces our addiction to them; the less we leave them, the less we are able to do, as the sedentary lifestyles cars support allow our muscles and our motivation to atrophy. Distances once considered  walkable have shrunk  tremendously since the car literally swept us off our feet.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boomers and generativity

It was great to hear an old acquaintance, Marc Freedman, on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday.  He was discussing the trend of baby boomers pursuing meaningful work and volunteer experiences.  He is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, and author of "Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life."

A key point Marc made in his interview was the desire for "generativity" among older adults.  Generativity is a concept developed by Eric Erickson, a developmental psychologist, that describes the need for older adults to contribute to the next generation through nurturing and guiding aka "mentoring".

Marc has long been a champion of mentoring for disadvantaged youth.  He's the author of a book, The Kindness of Strangers, which profiles a number of long-term mentoring relationships.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The mighty COLD Mississippi!

Steam from Mississippi below St. Anthony Falls (Third Avenue Bridge in backgroud)

Ice particle swirl in Mississippi's current

Steam coming off river, from above St. Anthony Falls
Reminder, no swimming!
Biker at 17 below F windchill
Mill ruins
Frozen lock and dam

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stressed and overwhelmed, you're not alone!

Even world economic leaders are becoming confounded as to how to handle the multitude of challenges confronting them. An article from Reuters, "Davos meeting faces global burnout threat", suggests three primary risks for discussion at a meeting in Switzerland later this month with some of the world's powerful corporate and  political leaders:

1. Economic, such as fiscal, trade and currency problems
2. Raw materials, particularly the impact of rising energy costs and dwindling water supplies on food prices;
3. Illegal trade, corruption and failed states.

The article went on to mention the growing economic imbalances occurring between and within nations as also being a threat to economic stability. The rapid growth in world population and the potentially devastating impact this will have on the environment was not mentioned. Tragically, environmental costs have historically been left out of corporate economic equations.

In talking with a friend recently we were perplexed by the current economy within the US.  The instability with the stock market, decrease in home values, and low interest rates make for difficult investment decisions.  This coupled with job instability,a skyrocketing national debt, greater economic disparity between the "haves" and "have nots", and seemingly unending increases in health care costs, one has to be a bit concerned about the nation's economy. Sadly, many are now finding themselves jobless and homeless.  An article in the StarTribune noted this past year in Minnesota over 70,000 residents received pre-foreclosure notices.

There seem to be no quick or easy answers. Rather than focus on the vast problems we're facing on the global front it seems we each must consider how to live, to be the change we want to see in the world.  When we transform and renew ourselves and our family, change can ripple out from there. We can also write our elected representatives. Even if they don't change their vote, it is therapeutic to know you've said your peace.  Becoming overwhelmed and burned out won't help.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Evening moon walk

Full winter moon

A full moon with zero degrees made for a cold, beautiful, and crunchy walk to and from choir practice last night.  The route took me alongside a large park, up and over a highway, via a pedestrian bridge, and then a few blocks later it passed over a creek.  I'm thankful that I chose not to drive. From a car I would have seen little of the moon, even if equipped with a moon roof ;-)

After I arrived home, around 9:30 PM, I felt compelled to get my camera to see if I could capture a small glimpse of the beautiful evening. 
Pine bough shadow from moon

Moon shadow wave

Tree shadow with orange cast from street light

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Frozen Minnehaha Falls

Frozen Minnehaha Falls with Pavilion in background

Sioux Chief Little Crow sculpture

Snowy fence

Lonely snow seat
I seemed to be the sole visitor to Minnehaha Falls yesterday afternoon.  It was a bit blustery, at 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with sun shine! 

There is a crew working down below the falls to remove invasive plant species and restore native plants.  The work started in November 2010 and is projected to continue for five years.

Frozen falls

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mayor Cory Booker speaks on Martin Luther King Day

Mayor Cory Booker (left) and myself
"If it is to be, it's up to me." proclaimed Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, during a captiving talk at the Martin Luther King Jr breakfast in Minneapolis.  He concluded we can't expect the world to change if we aren't willing to change.

Mayor Booker's parents challenged him to stand up and be an example for others.  He noted the silence and inaction of good people is our nation's greatest concern. Democracy is not a spectator sport, it requires small acts of love!

To hear his audio presentation simply click on this link to MPR.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day of service and call to volunteer

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love” 

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Civic leaders, from President Obama on down, are encouraging a day of service on this national holiday; Martin Luther King Day.  Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton, has challenged all citizens to volunteer throughout the year; “I ask every adult Minnesotan, who is physically able, to volunteer a part of one day, every month, at a school, hospital, or social service agency.”

Here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities is available though Hands on Twin Cities.
Want to be great... volunteer!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tired of seeing white?

Snowed in birds nest
Snow on spruce

Ice on birch branch

Snowy spruce bough


Friday, January 14, 2011

Sumac in snow

Earlier in the week I noticed some bright red sumac on a walk.  Later in the week, with the snow coming down, I decided to make a hike over and snap some shots. 

Just when I was getting  frustrated with the omnipresent white snow, and feeling like there was nothing beautiful to photograph... this opportunity arose!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mallards gone, robin remains

Robin on  frozen pond
I just went back to check on those hearty Mallards that had found open water on a small section of the pond, only to discover they were gone. That section of the pond was now almost entirely frozen over. 

Another surprise awaited. A robin was hopping around that now icy patch. My question is, what is our red robin friend still doing in town?  If I had wings right now I'm thinking Texas would seem mighty inviting.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mallards on the pond

I discovered a small section of open water on a nearby pond that was home to a few dozen Mallards.  It seems their collaborative effort to band together by this drainage area was keeping the water open.

Wonder why they didn't join many of their friends and fly south? 

As I approached many took to flight, which I've captured in part by these photos.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


"The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. 
There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only."
- Joseph Wood Krutch
 American writer, critic and naturalist

Monday, January 10, 2011

Savoring beef stroganoff with veggies

Beef stroganoff
Seems I've been a bit remiss in exploring the world of food in this blog. After all, with a blog title of "Savoring Servant" shouldn't the discussion of food be somewhat prevalent? Following a scrumptious meal of beef stroganoff last night, it seemed today might be a good time to add food to my blogging diet.

As the baker in our household, I'm known to closely follow recipes. My wife, however, being a great cook, reminds me that recipes are simply guidelines. Thankfully, I was open to following her suggestions, as I tried my hand at making a modified version of beef stroganoff recipe (less sour cream and beef with more veggies).


1 1/2 pounds of beef (I used boneless chuck roast)
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups beef bouillon
4 tablespoons catsup
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup carrots, sliced
1 cup cabbage, chopped
8-10 cherry tomatoes
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup dairy sour cream
6-8 cups hot cooked noodles (I like wide egg noodles)

Cut beef into strips 1 1/2" by 1/2".  Then cook and stir beef in 2 tablespoons butter in a large 12-14"" skillet over low heat until brown. Reserve 2/3 cup of the bouillon. Stir remaining bouillon, the catsup, garlic and salt into the skillet. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in mushrooms, onion, celery, carrots, and cabbage. Cover and simmer until onion is tender, about 5-10 minutes. Whisk remaining bouillon and the flour, then stir gradually into beef mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute; reduce heat. Stir in sour cream; heat through.

Serve over cooked hot noodles.

Approximately 6 servings

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to dress for fun in cold weather

In keeping with my resolution to drive less this year, I ran about a mile to the ice rink for my 8:00 boot hockey game this morning.  It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit, and with the wind chill, it felt like it was just below zero.  For the past 15 plus years I've always, without thinking, driven my car to these outdoor games. Turns out, running provided a great warm up and warm down. It didn't do much for my scoring however ;-(

Torso layers
Thanks to proper winter wear, I was comfortable for the whole 2 1/2 hours of running and playing boot hockey.  For those unfamiliar with how to dress for cold weather, the first thing to know about is layering.  It's far better to have multiple layers than one big layer, that might become either too cold/warm after one is active or as the wind or temperature changes. 

Windbreaker, hat, gloves & choppers
Starting from the bottom, smart wool socks are fabulous for the feet.  They allow for breathing, wicking the moisture away from the skin, and are quite warm.  Since we were playing boot hockey on the ice, I wore broomball shoes with little suction cups, to assist with traction on the ice.  Actually these worked well on the icy roads too.  While they're made for broomball, they could be great for winter walkers! 

For the legs I put on a pair of polypropylene tights and an outer nylon pants shell. Like smart wool, the polypropylene is warm and also breathes.

Broomball shoes and socks
Often people mistakenly wear too many clothes over their torso, which seems to be a pretty good heat generator.  I wore a polyester underwear, then another breathable layer of polyester and finally a nylon wind breaker.  While all of these layers were thin, they were more than adequate to keep me warm.

For the hands I used a thin polyester glove inside a leather chopper with wool lining.  Normally just the wool lining with the chopper is adequate, but my liner has worn thin over the years. 

Sole of broom ball shoe
Then, most importantly, a warm hat that covers the ears.  While my hat is a bit unfashionable, okay, quite a bit, it more than makes up for it in warmth.  Not quite sure what its made out of. It feels a lot like felt.  Wool is a great option for hats.

Since we were playing boot hockey I also put on some shin guards and knee pads for protection. 

Shin guards and knee pads
Nothing better than having a lot of fun outdoors and getting some exercise to boot.  With the proper dress this is possible, even during January in Minnesota. As my Norwegian relatives like to say, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." 

Bundle up and have fun!

Boot hocky players

Friday, January 7, 2011

Walking with Mahalia Jackson and the Persusions

Pedestrian bridge over Highway 100
In my effort to drive less I walked to a meeting at church last night, listening to Mahalia Jackson (Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns) and the Persusions (Sunday Morning Soul) on my iPod.  I rarely listen to an iPod when I'm outdoors, however, since it was dark and cold I thought it might lighten the mood.  It did the trick.  I now better understand why these portable  devices are so popular.  IPods are small, yet produce amazing sound. 

Snowy view of Bassett Creek Park from bridge
Despite the allure of MP3 players, such as the iPod, I still prefer to be aware of my surroundings when I'm out walking, running, skiing or biking. For safety purposes it helps to have clear hearing, so as to be aware of oncoming vehicles, etc.  Being outdoors also provides time to simply think and dream without disruption, and during the warmer months, to hear the sounds of nature.

So, while it was great walking with Mahalia and the Persusions, I'm going to be relegating my time with them primarily to time indoors.  I think that they might like that best too!

PS  Thanks to the planners that included a pedestrian bridge over Highway 100 when it was last reconstructed.  I enjoyed the use of the bridge on my walk to church. It gets used by many pedestrians and bikers who often come to enjoy the park.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Practicing good nutrition & active lifestyle

Skier at Theodore Wirth
With the start of the new year, Newark, New Jersey's mayor, Cory Booker, has publicly pledged to change his lifestyle in order to to lose 45 pounds.  As an Honorary Vice-Chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America he realizes despite the hectic schedule and daily stresses of his work he needs to take better care of his own health.  He then referenced the following story about Mahatma Gandhi. 

A woman waited in a long line with her son to see the Mahatma. When she finally got her audience, she asked him to speak to her son. You see, Gandhi was known to emphasize dietary discipline and her son’s health was deteriorating due to the amounts of sweets and sugar he was eating.

“Mahatma, would you please tell my son to stop eating sugar.”
Gandhi looked at her with sympathy and compassion, looked upon the boy as well, and then shook his head and said, “I will not.”

The woman protested, and began to ask Gandhi again, but Gandhi raised his hand interrupting her and said, “Please, come back in two months and ask me again.”
 Disappointed, the woman left

Two months later she returned with her son and made her plea again, “Mahatma, please tell my son to stop eating sugar.” This time Gandhi got up from where he was seated. He reached out his hand, touched the boy on his shoulder, and said, “My son, you must stop eating sugar.

The boy was obviously affected by the great Gandhi touching and speaking to him. The mother was overjoyed and profusely thanked Gandhi and then turned to leave. After a few steps, she stopped, turned around and said, “Great Mahatma, I am so thankful, but I am confused. Why didn’t you just tell my son to stop eating sugar two months ago?”

Gandhi looked at her kindly and said, “Because two months ago, I was eating sugar.”

Sledding sculpture at Theodore Wirth
He also reference the following observation made by James Baldwin: “Children are never good at listening to their elders but they never fail to imitate them.”

If you are interested in following Mayor Booker's progress, he will be posting it on his Facebook page, using the slogan from the White House's campaign "Lets Move!".  His first lifestyle commitment is not to watch television, unless he's working out on his stationary bike. 

You go Mayor Cory Booker!