Monday, February 28, 2011

Unemployed flying monkey seeking work

Ruby in flight
I've had the most unusual good fortune of getting to know a frustrated flying monkey named Ruby.  Seems she had worked on the set of the Wizard of Oz years ago, and ever since has been upset over the lack of steady work.  Things have only gone downhill for her since those golden years back in ’39 on the set of MGM.

Quickly after the block buster Wizard of Oz’s debut she was shocked to discover that rather than receiving the warm embrace of stardom, many shunned her and often clutched their children and small dogs whenever she was near. 

Sure, Ruby was able land a few jobs, but all were short lived.  She thought certainly she would have a great time working arm in arm with colleagues at Barrel of Monkeys, but was picked on relentlessly for having wings.  Envious perhaps?

Other jobs came and went.  Seems most didn’t take to her “monkeying around on the job”.  What is a monkey to do?

Many jobs ended after employee accidents, caused by workers slipping on banana peels, which my dear friend Ruby left lying carelessly on the ground. 

In addition to a difficult work history Ruby has also had numerous near death experiences since the rise of airline traffic.  Seems it is unnerving to fly now, even when you don’t need to go through airport security.

These days Ruby likes to fly with Canada geese (which I have pictured in an earlier blog) since they seem much more accepting of her wings than her monkey cousins.  The geese also do a pretty good job of watching out for each other, in order to minimize aviation accidents.

Know anyone looking to hire an honest, fun loving flying monkey?  Ruby’s the one you want.  She’ll even work for bananas.  Flight insurance would be a nice added bonus.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Legislative win for teens trapped in sex trade

There used to be a contradiction in Minnesota law regarding how to define children caught up in prostitution.  These girls were defined both as delinquents and victims of sex trafficking.  Now, thanks to a recent change in the law they will be recognized as victims, and the focus of blame will lie more squarely where it belongs, with the pimps and johns.

Last November I reported on Safe Harbor training, which encouraged this legislative change.  It is heartening to see it happen.  You may read more about this in the StarTribune, Teen prostitutes get new status. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

China Day at the University of Minnesota

Dr. Juanjuan Wu
I took a field trip on February 25th to the U of M's "China Day" held at the Tedd Mann Concert Hall. This annual event is sponsored by the Confucius Institute.   There was a full house of students in attendance, from at least a dozen high schools, all of whom provide classes in the Chinese language.

The theme for China Day was modern Chinese fashion and design.  A professor from the University of Minnesota, Juanjuan Wu, started the program with a lecture, which was then followed by a student fashion show.  Students wore various Chinese ethnic traditional and modern clothing.

Chinese language students at Tedd Mann Concert Hall
Hmong clothing
Futuristic design
Uygher fashion
Peking Opera figures

Religious inclusiveness and civility

Westminster Town Hall Forum hosted a lecture and exchange February 24th with US Congressman Keith Ellison.  He spoke on religious inclusiveness.  Congressman Ellison closed his formal remarks with the following "Our differences make us beautiful to God and our humanity binds us together."

With the way politics operates in the USA he noted we need to have a collective conversation about civility.  There is a project that was begun in Duluth Minnesota years ago called "Speak your peace: The civility project".

They recommend we all utilize the following skills to enhance our civil engagement:

  1. Pay attention. Be aware and attend to the people around you.
  2. Listen. Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.
  3. Be inclusive. Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the community.
  4. Don't gossip. And don't accept when others choose to do so.
  5. Show respect. Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of disagreement.
  6. Be agreeable. Look for opportunities to agree. Don't contradict just to do so.
  7. Apologize. Be sincere and repair damaged relationships
  8. Give Constructive Criticism. When disagreeing stick to the issues and don't make a personal attack.
  9. Take responsibility. Don't shift responsibility and blame onto others; share disagreements publicly. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wintery scenes continued

Snow topped bird's nest
sitting high above
I can't wait to start taking pictures of things turning green.  However, it appears to do this anytime soon may require travel, or perhaps a visit to an indoor conservatory.

So, I post more winter shots taken from the Arctic North Woods of Crystal, Minnesota.

PS  To see a larger version of pictures simply click on them!

Lightly glazed branch nearby pond

Community gardens on the grow!

Valley of Peace
I'm researching community gardening for our church, Valley of Peace Lutheran.  We were awarded a grant from Hennepin County to develop a small garden, in conjunction with a local 4-H group.

As a part of my research I went to a potluck supper with folks from Valley Community Presbyterian, who have developed a community garden this past year, with great success. They ended up with more produce than they knew what to do with.  A good problem, but something of a problem none the less.

One of the participants attended a training sponsored by Gardening Matters, where it was noted there are at least 300 known community gardens in the Twin Cities area.  Wow!

Valley Community Presbyterian garden sign
There is a strong movement toward growing food locally and in a sustainable way that doesn't require too much fossil fuel, etc.  Unfortunately, here in the USA so much of what we purchase in the way of fruits and vegetables come from a tremendous distance.  As the economy has worsened and severe food shortages have become prevalent around the world I'm excited to work with people turning grass lawns into productive gardens.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time to protest?

Heading over the bridge
It seems protests are in the air, from Madison, Wisconsin to Tripoli, Libya.  This is a time of turmoil for many who may have lost their jobs, or may be living under dictators or perhaps who's rights to collective bargaining are being threatened.

I must confess to never having actively participated in a protest.  Yet, when I consider my national and religious heritage, both were the result of protest.  The United States was born from a protest about taxation without representation.  The Lutheran Church was born from  the "PROTESTant" movement.  This was launched when Martin Luther nailed 95 Thesis to a church door,  upset by many of the things he saw occurring within the Catholic Church.

With tight budgets and food shortages occurring in many places throughout the world, it seems things are going to be stressful for some time to come.  We will all need to consider our personal and national priorities in this difficult time.

Out for a walk in the falling snow
Our nation's tax policy is a moral document that requires considerable deliberation and may indeed call for protest for those who's voice does not seem to be heard.  One of the flaws in the United States political system, which is heavily influenced by lobbyist and major campaign dollars, is that the voices of the poor, weak, young and our natural environment are too often missing or far less influential than others who bring great power and influence to the table.

This is a good time to write letters to your legislative officials and yes, perhaps, even get out and protest those things which you feel are unjust.  Perhaps you might even feel called to the role of a prophet, who's job it is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Come to think of it, isn't that what a just tax system does for society too?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moon and more snow

Moon over pond
We had a full moon this past week.  It was so beautiful that I had to get out and take a picture while it rose over the park's horizon.

Yesterday and early this morning we got blasted again with about a foot of snow.  I've got to admit, it does look quite elegant, especially when it drifts.

Looks like our briefly snow free roof is once again well blanketed.  I'm not going up to shovel, but rather simply let the warm weather clear it off.  Warmer temps are bound to come by early June ;-)

Snow coming down in back yard,
it is like living in a snow globe!
Snow drifts on roof

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Governor Dayton at volunteer expo

Governor Mark Dayton and
Kristin Schurrer, Executive Director Hands on Twin Cities
Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, recognized four volunteers for their outstanding service at the Hands on Twin Cities Volunteer Expo held at the Mall of America on February 19th.  Governor Dayton has been a strong proponent of volunteerism and has encouraged all Minnesotans to give of their time in support of the community at least one day a month.

Over one hundred volunteer opportunities were on display at the mall.  Additionally, a variety of performances were held throughout the day.
Rachel Larsen, award recipient from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
Cambodian dancer
Cambodian dancer
Hands on Twin Cities youth advisory board
Irish musicians
Watching the program

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pictures from Bassett Creek Park

Following are some morning pictures from earlier in the week.  Enjoy!
Frosty start of day
Baltimore Oriole nest
Plant celebrating day start
Bird nest at dawn

Friday, February 18, 2011

Global climate change

Minnehaha Falls
Today's StarTribune carries an article "High Anxiety: Spring flooding promises to wreak havoc across much of Minnesota with some river cities and towns in danger of seeing water levels that could exceed recent records." Additionally, on the global level, we're hearing about food prices rising due to poor crops caused by changes in the climate, mainly flooding.

A study reported reported by Brian Vastag with the Washington Post found that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are linked to the increased precipitation in North America and elsewhere throughout the world during the second  half of the 20th century.  

While  you or I can't easily influence the greenhouse emissions of others in China, India, or the United States, we can work curb our own wasteful habits.  It is both in our own best interest and the interest of future generations.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Professional sports fan no more

As much as I love watching sports I’m now ready to quit being a fan of professional sports.  Let me count the reasons why:
  1. Millions of our nation’s youth are more concerned about their sporting advancement than their education or other career possibilities.  They have aspirations of becoming millionaire athletes like those they see on television. Parents who can afford it are often more than happy to oblige them, starting them off in organized sports almost as soon as they’re able to walk or hold a ball.
  2. Professional sports often take a tremendous physical toll on athletes. For example, many football players have received multiple concussions.  Too many end up crippled or hobbled for life.
  3. Many athletes exit college early to take advantage of tremendous earning potential as a professional athlete.  Often they are ill equipped for life after sports.
  4.  Instead of actively playing sports too many Americans have become passive spectators.  We’ve got a huge obesity problem that isn’t helped by sitting down for hours at a time watching the tube, drinking beer and snacking on chips and dip.
  5. Too many athletes have become prima donnas; thanks in large part to the coddling and hero worship provided them throughout school years, and which then follows them into professional athletics. 
  6. Most athletes have very little long-term loyalty to their teams.  Few players now stick with a team throughout their careers.
  7. Our nation no longer has the affluence it once did to spend so extravagantly on professional sports and their luxurious venues.  It is simply wrong to be allocating taxpayer dollars on stadiums when we can’t even afford to fix potholes in the streets.  
  8. Given their special treatment, many athletes often become poor role models for our children.  We’ve seen scores of examples of this in the news. I shudder to consider all that doesn’t make the news.
  9. Sports have simply become “big business” with athletes seeking advantages to make the final cut and negotiate a big salary.  Too often drug doping results.
  10.  Professional sports cater to the wealthy.  Given the cost of parking, refreshments and game tickets in order for a family of four to attend a hockey, baseball or football game they might need to take out a second mortgage on their home.  New stadiums are built with primary consideration given to the luxury suites. And, oh, by the way, now most games are no longer available to the common folk on broadcast television or even basic cable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Presidential Medal of Freedom & everyday heroes

Bill Russell recipient of Medal of Freedom,
pictured at 2007 Angel of Mentoring Awards
It was a "who's who" of famous Americans receiving the President's Medal of Freedom award yesterday at the White House.  The honorees were noted for their contributions in the arts, politics, public service, sports and activism.

I would like to suggest that real heroes aren't just past presidents, professional athletes or well read poets.  The folks that I would like to see honored are those who haven't already received great acclaim for their contributions.  For example...
  • A classroom teacher who is able to affirm all of the children in the classroom and stimulates their interest in lifelong learning.
  • A music teacher that daily helps kids get started in learning and playing music, despite the painful sounds made by the young musicians
  • A volunteer coach who takes time out of his busy family and work schedule to help young kids, most of whom may never make a varsity level team, get a chance to learn and play a sport
  • A small town mayor who works diligently to listen to constituents in order to enhance the quality of life for all in the community
  • A stay at home mom or dad that sacrifices the financial and social rewards of paid employment for their child's long-term benefit.
Many, or perhaps most real heroes are never publicly recognized, nor paid for their service to their family, community and nation.

Kindness in words creates confidence. 
Kindness in thinking creates profundity. 
Kindness in giving creates love.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beware of elopement?

I made a visit to the hospital yesterday and noticed a sign on the elevator next to the 4th floor warning guests to be aware of resident's possible "elopement".

Elopement, what's that about?  Is this a section of the hospital for people suffering from love sickness or broken hearts, whom they fear with treatment will suddenly get better and elope with other patients or staff?  Is this where the "love doctors" work?

Dog walkers at Bassett Creek Park
Or perhaps, the caution is regarding residents who really don't much like being in a hospital.  I recall my great uncle Truman that had to be carefully watched and restrained in the nursing home.  Once while visiting he requested me to check and see if I could get the window open.  As a 98 year old who had been a trapper, hunter, sportsman, ski jumper, woodcarver, prankster and farmer he was hoping for an escape out the window from this sanitized environment.

This concern about "elopement" could also be referring to patients who are hospitalized after committing some heinous crime, and were injured as a result e.g. shoot out with the police or being stabbed in a gang fight.

For now I think I'll just steer clear of the 4th floor...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Forensic mystery: Huge bump in Sunday obituarys

Okay, while this topic doesn't relate directly to my blog theme of "savoring servant", it has puzzled me for some time.  Why is it there has been an enormous bump in the number of obituaries listed in Sunday's StarTribune, while this number has decreased through the rest of the week?  For example, just this past Saturday only 10 deaths were listed in the paper, while Sunday's number spiked to 131.  This morning's paper lists only 26 deaths. Given the newspaper printing "deadlines" I'm thinking these deaths may likely be occurring primarily on Friday night, and then being called in for publication on Sunday.

As a one time "paper boy" in the days of my youth I don't recall this radical difference in the number of obituary notices.  So, what is going on?  I've got a few ideas, but think further research is certainly warranted.

#1.  "Casual Friday's" have become way too casual and people are taking more risks than they should, leading to accidental deaths.

#2.  Jobs have become so stressful that after getting off work on Friday people are collapsing at alarming rates from exhaustion.

#3.  Too many people going out for fast food to celebrate the end of the work week and then dying from big mac heart attack.

#4.  When given the chance to "sleep in" on Saturday morning, some people are taking full advantage and never waking up.

#5.  People are simply dying to be noticed, and feel their chances are greatest of getting attention if they die just before Sunday, so as to have their family and friends see their names in the paper when it has the largest circulation, on Sunday.

Any further hypothesis?  I'd love to hear from you!

PS   Happy Valentine's Day to all.  Hope your day goes far better than it did for dear Saint Valentine, who was clubbed and beheaded on February 14th in the year of our Lord 270.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nests on display

Saturday was a beautiful afternoon at Bassett Creek Park.  It was our first big day since December where we had a significant amount of time above freezing.  Amazing to see all of the dog owners out with their pets.  It was also fun to see a neighboring family cross country skiing.

I set my sights on finding nests on my walk around the park.  Mission accomplished!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nation's AmeriCorps program at-risk

If you haven't heard of the AmeriCorps program, the shortest explanation is to liken it to a domestic Peace Corps.  It puts young adults to work in areas of great need here in the United States.  AmeriCorps workers receive a minimal stipend upon which to live and partial forgiveness of college loans, in appreciation of their year of service.

This valuable program is currently being targeted for elimination by the US House Appropriations Committee. There is a campaign being sponsored by to advocate for continued funding of this domestic jobs program.  Seems at a time when jobs are about extremely hard to find, elimination of a program that puts young people to work in service to their country makes little sense.

UPDATE (2/18/11):  An editorial in the StarTribune which elaborates on this topic:  "End AmeriCorps? Short Sighted Idea".

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another roof shoveling incident

Okay, I should have learned from my earlier mishap shoveling snow from the roof.  But, having been released from the hospital, and being somewhat older, I just went back to my same old bad habits.  I forgot all about safety and was messing around shoveling the roof again.

I'll soon be accepting hospital visits.  This time they have me in a special ward for people suffering from "head cases".  Most everyone seems pleasant in their nice white coats. However, I'm a little concerned about this one nurse... named Ratchet.  She seems to have something of a nasty edge about her  ;-)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warm snow, hoar frost and ice... REALLY? Not.

Heat map of snow, frost and ice on Bassett Creek
The picture above of Bassett Creek was modified utilizing a "heat map" feature in Picnik, a recent addition to Picasa's photo software. It was snapped at subzero temps.  You can see this picture in it's original format in yesterday's blog. Isn't it amazing how warm it looks?  Kind of frightening how things can be so radically distorted with a simple click of a button.    

The digital revolution has simplified methods to distorted or "digitally enhance" subjects.  One sad example of this occurred recently when an Indian actor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, had her skin tone lighten for the cover of Elle Magazine. is leading an awareness campaign about this racially related alteration. They've already had 50,000 signers to request an apology from Elle Magazine.

Painters have enhanced their subject matter for centuries. However with paintings we commonly perceive them to have a subjective quality, were we expect artistic freedom.  We haven't expected this same degree of freedom from photographers.

Certainly pictures aren't the only thing who's reality is suspect. I've long questioned the authenticity of many/most television shows and movies.  "Reality television" is about as fake as fake can be.  At least with movies coming from Hollywood, we knew what to expect; most often glamorized fiction of some sort.

Discerning what is "real" has become a difficult task.  Don't believe everything you read, hear or see!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bitterly cold macho meltdown

I was feeling like a tough guy walking just over a mile to volunteer at a neighborhood school in this morning's bitter cold.  It was a bone chilling 28 degrees below (Fahrenheit) with windchill.  This was my first day taking on a volunteer math tutoring assignment with third graders.  However, my tough guy level was taken down a notch on my hike home, when I noticed the birds. I realized they didn't have hats, gloves or even a coat, yet there they were, dainty little things, outside 24/7 in this frigid weather.

Before I reached home my masculinity level was brought down even further when I considered our daughter was headed north on a bus to ski at a high school nordic sectional championship meet later in the day. She would be skiing a 4K classic and a 4K skate, totaling 8K (around 5 miles), in this very same cold.

Hoar frost, ice and snow on Bassett Creek

I decided to "buck up" in the afternoon and go out for a short run, in solidarity with the many brave high school nordic ski teams competing on the hilly course at Camp Ripley.  While passing by the postman I noted it was a bit brisk.  He casually observed, "no mosquitoes".  Now that's putting a positive spin on things.

Later on my run I traversed a trail alongside Bassett Creek.  Last Saturday, when running this route, on my way to boot hockey, I discovered a decapitated rabbit. Coming back from the game much of the rabbit's shoulder was gone.  Today only a couple of small patches of the rabbit's fur remained.

We're just beginning the "Year of the Rabbit" according to the Chinese calendar.  Some fox in the woods is celebrating the year of the rabbit in his/her own special way.  Just when I thought my macho level could sink no further I reflected on the rabbit's fate.... it reminded me of my own vanishing hair/hare.... ;-)
Snow drift

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Universal health care

Bird's nest at sunset
"Providing universal health care is not socialistic. It is the pooling of resources by a highly ordered social structure to provide for the common good.  Some call it civilization."

This quote comes from an editorial, "Rationing is not the only alternative", written by a physician, Ralph Bovard. He notes that tremendous savings could occur through cutting administrative waste and collective bargaining to lower the price of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Dr. Bovard notes that the US spends a staggering 17% of our GDP on health care, while all other nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development spend between 6-10% on medical costs.

Our health care system makes me sick, and I've got coverage!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reducing clutter and moving to a Mac

I'm in a cleaning mood.  On Sunday I presented a workshop on "focus" to the adult forum at our church, Valley of Peace Lutheran.  It was noted that one of the keys to focus is minimizing clutter.  I have to confess that my home office was getting quite cluttered.  So, today I'll be working on filing or dumping CDs, newspaper clippings, pictures, and various papers sitting on my desktop and lying on the floor.

Home office
While I'm cleaning out my office I've been frustrated with all of the old CDs which stored information and software programs that are now obsolete. Thankfully with new storage options on thumb drives and removable hard drives, paired with the ability to download music and software directly from the web, the need for CDs will be greatly reduced/eliminated in the future.

An article "Sloppy home offices might need professional help" recommends that people create two folders to stand on their home office desk; one green folder to read "Bills to Pay" and the other red folder labeled "Take Action" for phone calls, letters to write, etc.

I'm also in the process of switching from a PC to a Mac.  I am amazed at the simplicity of the IMac we purchased yesterday. It is both elegant in outward design and also internal set-up.  Thanks to a wireless mouse, keyboard and processor built into the display unit it only required one power cord for hook-up.  I also added a cord for my printer cable (not wireless there yet) and another for external speakers.  I was thrilled to discover it  didn't come with a bunch of trial software that would later need to be deleted, or a hand full of CDs.  Simple is good, especially when it comes to technology!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Government, taxes and the common good

Listening to talk radio and hearing the anti-tax sentiment being promoted by groups such as the "tea party", it appears there are many skeptics of government services and workers.  Even our nation's public school teachers have come under attack.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Bishop Peter Rogness has a thoughtful commentary, "Government is not the enemy" in the StarTribune.  Seems that our nation's founders had a clear understanding of the common good.  Ironically, as people become more affluent, with more to share, they become increasingly selfish; guarded of their abundant worldly possessions.

Many times I've heard from people who have traveled to economically impoverished parts of the world to have shamefully discovered the tremendous generosity provided by their guests.

So, how is it with us? Is government "us" or "them"?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Focused Great Blue Heron
The most essential requirement of being able to focus is being able not to focus.  This paradox struck me while jogging to boot hockey earlier this morning.  Seems something of a paradox, but such is life.

Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded US Representative Gabreille Giffords, is one of those people with a tremendous ability to focus.  Because he can focus so well on his work, despite concerns on the home front, he's planning to leave his wife behind for two weeks while on a space shuttle mission this coming April.

Others at NASA were rightfully concerned that he might not be able to focus on his work, with his wife in recovery.  However he's successfully undergone a battery of tests, including four hours in a shuttle simulator and piloting a T-38 trainer jet.  Military training helped him to "compartmentalize", setting aside personal worries in the face of risky missions. 

In this increasingly faced paced worrld, with legions of distractions, those who are able to focus are more likely to rise above the rest, and be successful at whatever their pursuit.  So, in order to really be focused and "dialed in", the key is not to be focused on a multitude of other things. Just say no to multitasking!