Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confusing signs

Not sure if you're comin' or goin'?
This sign was located at a restaurant near our hotel in Round Rock, Texas. The funniest part was that the exact same sign was on both sides of the parking lot, so that one of the exit signs was pointing toward the restaurant's lot with the enter arrow directing traffic to the street.

So, clearly you're either exiting or entering, one way or the other....
Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas!
Less than a block from the exit/enter sign above was this sign promoting the "WORST BAR-B-Q IN TEXAS".  I guess if  you can't be the best, why not go for worst?

Maybe the proprietor hopes to change the definition of 'worst' to 'best', along the lines of what happened when 'bad' changed to 'good/cool' in the '70s.  You can find these signs in Round Rock, Texas, exit 254 off of Interstate 35.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Various perspectives from Texas and Oklahoma

No additional clarification needed
The visitor center just off of Interstate 35, at the northern entrance to Texas, provides a wealth of tourist information regarding various hotels, sites and towns around the state. They also give out free stickers that read "Don't mess with Texas."   How's that for a warm welcoming? 

I discovered this slogan was a part of an anti littering campaign that really caught on. So, don't mess up Texas!
Souped up Ford Mustang in Walmart parking lot... Mustang, OK

Yard sign in historic district of San Antonio, TX

Home on Prince William Street in San Antonio's historic district.  Live oak tree in front yard.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Extreme multitasking, should we be concerned?

I just witnessed extreme multitasking...  

A young man wearing jeans and a gray t-shirt and close cropped hair is sitting in the lobby of the hotel where we're staying.  He's got an ear bud in one ear connected to an IPod, with a lap top open watching some wrestling clips, while intermittently texting from a cell phone, also while watching the Arizona-UConn basketball game 8 feet from a 55"wide screened TV, all the while sipping on coffee.

I see a visable twitch coming from his shoulder every now and then.

Should we be concerned about his health?  Perhaps we could be concerned about the health of many of our nation's and world's youth...

What do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Math tutoring fun

Indiana Jones???
At Tuesday's tutoring session with 3rd graders I was excited to hear from one of the little guys that I looked like someone in the movies.  Wow, I thought, maybe Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones fame?  No, I quickly reflected, this eight year old would likely not have seen any of those movies, which were mostly filmed in the 80s and 90s.  Then I tried to get a bit more current and came up with a bit more recent action film in my mind... maybe someone from "The Matrix".  Again, I reflected, not likely, I rarely wear black.

We then played a math dice game.  Specially made paper dice had the numbers 4 through 9.  Two dice are rolled. One of them is multiplied by ten and the other is subtracted from that number.  Not as easy as you might expect for 3rd graders.  Players take turn rolling the dice. The goal for each player is to come up with one number in each of the decades from the 30's through the 80's. The first one to get numbers all six decades win. My young student and I ended the game in a fiercely competitive tie, 5-5. Neither of us could roll an 8, which is necessary to get a number landing the decade of the 70s.

Train conductor
Just as he was getting up to leave he thought of the movie character of whom I reminded him.  My high hopes of a major action character were dashed. It was someone from the "Polar Bear Express."  I was consoled slightly when he said it wasn't one of the animated characters.  I checked with a friend who's got a couple of younger kids and he suggested I might likely be taken for the train conductor, who has a mustache.  Okay, not exactly the action character I was hoping for, but I'll take it none the less.

A newspaper article appeared earlier in the week about guy who  who was an active math tutor at an elementary school "Retired salesman gives new spiel at Plymouth school: After a career in sales, 85-year-old Andy Anderson volunteers each week at a Plymouth school."  I wonder if he's ever been compared to a movie figure?  Possibly George Burns? No, probably not.  One of his most famous appearances was in "Oh God", and that was filmed way back in the 70s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

George Bernard Shaw's thoughts on life

Arctic torch bearer

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handling it on to future generations.  

George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cultural assumptions

One of the exercises in which we participated at the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium was listing unnamed cultural assumptions.  Here are some that were raised at the conference, mixed in with a few more of my own:

  • Bigger and more is better
  • Poor and hungry people are lazy
  • Survival of the fittest wins; be it at the individual, corporate or national levels
  • Jesus looked just like us
  • My neighbors aren't interested in _____, therefore I don't talk with them about my areas of concern
  • We are privileged in the United States to be "God's chosen people", not like the rest of the world
  • We deserve the income we earn and our great abundance; we're entitled
  • The more I buy, the more jobs I will create
  • Other people will solve our problems
  • Technology will solve our problems
  • We can think our way out of situations we have acted ourselves into
  • Professionals have the wisdom
  • Consumer goods at the store reflect the accurate costs of production
  • Clean water is an unlimited resource
  • One person can't make a difference
  • If you bet on the coach roaches everything will be fine
  • People in third world nations are worse off than us
  • We can have it all
  • Grass is best for our yards
  • Everything I need I can go and get immediately by car
  • It is a "them" and "us" world
  • There is scarcity of resources, therefore I can't afford to be generous
  • Might makes right
  • We deserve the income we earn
What cultural assumptions do you have that might need re-examining?

One disturbing observation was made regarding how residents of the US were once primarily identified as "citizens", but now are more likely to be labeled "consumers".  What a different perspective that puts on our roles.

    Commitment card

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium

    This past Sunday at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul I had the privilege of attending a symposium with an ambitious purpose...Bringing forth an Environmentally sustainable Spiritually fulfilling and Socially just human presence on the planet.  If successful participants would leave in a state of blessed unrest.

    Symposium agenda
    While a vast amount of information was presented at the conference, the most central point was that we are all "kin" to each other. This includes all the people groups from around the globe, animals, air, plants and water.  It was argued that we are all connected both at both the macro and micro level.  Thomas Berry's book "The Universe Story" was referenced, which suggests that all things evolved from the same source, hence we are all inter-related.  A video with the Buddhist monk, Tich Nhat Hanh, further elaborated this concept, suggesting that none of us can be ourselves alone, rather we are "inter-be" with the air, people, animals and all of creation.

    A video, Global Wombat, highlights the world's interconnectedness.

    Van Jones, author of "The Green Collar Economy" challenged the notion that more things will fix the huger in the human heart in another video. A number of unexamined assumptions were explored, which I'll address in another blog.

    This conference was sponsored by Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light.
    Conference participants discussing issues

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Benefits of Local Government Aid (LGA) for all

    Going for a walk
    Without Local Government Aid (LGA) many Minnesota towns would likely have ceased to exist.  Without this shared support urban sprawl would likely have been epidemic.  This is part of the analysis provide by StarTribune writer Lori Sturdavant in an article "If not for LGA, cities would spend (and have) less."

    This reminds me of a quote that former US Senator Paul Wellstone made famous, "We all do better, when we all do better." It is in the best interest of all, even those who are affluent, to have a civil society in which provides for quality schools and public services for all its residents, whether rural, urban or suburban.
    Sure sign of spring.... mud

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Foggy morning

    Foggy morning at Bassett Creek Park

    This morning was foggy and cool.

    Canada Geese were pairing up on the frozen pond, likely with plans of making more Canada Geese.  
    Coming in for landing
    Canada geese pairing up

    Lots of gray, tinged with a touch of frost.

    Spring is on the way... eager to make its way out from under the icy, grimy snow.
    Dirty snow
    Frosted leaves in sepia

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    News of growing disparity trend

    In yesterday's Star Tribune a few articles pointed to the growing disparity between the have and  have nots in our society.  One article noted  "Study shows who bears Minnesota's biggest tax burden: Middle-, lower-income Minnesotans pay 12.3 percent in taxes. Wealthiest pay 10.3 percent."

    Another article further inside of the same Twin Cities + region section read "Child poverty rate is up sharply... A new Kids Count report shows that the number of children in extreme poverty has doubled since 2000."  This is particularly concerning, since we know that children are our future, and when they get a healthy, strong start it is in all of our own best interest.  They will be the young adults caring for the boomers in nursing homes, paying for the social security of their elders and wrestling with how to redesign our affluent American lifestyle so that it is sustainable.

    Further back into this section of the paper we read "Bill aims to cut spending on health care for poor." The poor simply don't have very good lobbyist, do they?  There is no AARP for the young or the poor.

    Finally, in the business section, reads an article "Report: U.S. has millions of millionaires - There were 8.4 million such households last year, an 8 percent gain from 2009."  Seems to be a disturbing trend that has developed.  It has been paying big dividends to be wealthy in our society, while many of the middle class and poor have lost their homes and are struggling to keep up with basic living expenses.

    So, what to do about this trend? In the article on child poverty the research director of Children's Defense Fund, Kara Arzamendia, recommended the minimum wage be raised from its current $7.25, and also to provide additional child-care assistance.  Families making less that $20,000 a year spend nearly 30% of their income, on average, for child-care.  Enormous financial stress lands on young families and their children.  It has becoming increasingly costly to rear a child in this society, that now we have user fees for most everything, from drivers education to the debate team.  This is paired with the tremendous cost of day care and skyrocketing higher education tuitions.  In these stressful economic times the last place we should be looking to glean more resources is from our young families.

    As was referenced in a blog last December about an Enough for All gathering, the following Legislative recommendations were made:
    • Restore work as a way out of poverty
    • Refocus public assistance to streamline services and support everyone's capacity and potential
    • Help Minnesotans build and maintain financial assets
    • Revitalize our communities though infrastructure and person-to-person support
    • Modernize our system of education  to build the best workforce in the nation
    • Develop an ongoing structure to monitor Minnesota's effort to end poverty

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Noticing beauty in the gray season

    Frosted rose plant in Beltzer Rose Garden

    Here in Minnesota we've entered that gray season, in between winter and spring.  Pot holes cover our streets and all the grime and trash, once covered by pristine white snow, is exposed.  It isn't pretty.

    Melting cherry branch

    However, if you take another hard look there is often still beauty to be found.  I meandered down to the pond this morning and was stunned by the hoar frost's beautifying effect on the plants.

    Frost covered branches
    At times like this one just has to look a little harder to find beauty.  But, while looking, be sure to watch out for pot holes, especially if you're riding a bike!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Surprising benefit of taking a break

    Red fox - picture from the web
    I took a brief break yesterday afternoon, and simply stared out the bay window into our back yard.  Much to my surprise it wasn't long before I noticed a mature red fox, with a fluffy white tipped tail, cruising around our firewood pile.   How cool is that?

    Naturally, I went go grab my camera. The minute I opened the back door the red fox high tailed it off to the great white yonder.

    This was a great reward for simply sitting down and relaxing.  I just might have to make this a habit. One of the hardest things for me to do is nothing.  Yet, doing nothing can also be one of the most productive things one can do at times.  How's that for a paradox?  See, now I'm even starting to think like a fox!

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Growing gap between "haves" and "have-nots"

    A friend of mine recently shared with me a disturbing graph that indicated a dramatic trend of stagnate, or decreasing wages, paired with a significant rise in corporate profits in the US over the past few decades.  In checking with him on the source of this information he put me on to the following video, "Austerity comes to America", by Richard D. Wolff, of a former professor at the University of Massachusetts.

    Our society is becoming increasingly one of "haves" and "have-nots."  I recently witnessed the dramatic difference money has in the area of education when I attended a play at The Blake School.  There was an elaborate stage, a multitude of costumes for the actors, along with a beautiful program with a glossy color cover.  The kids were all well coached by vocal and acting coaches.  A near capacity crowd filled the auditorium.

    This experience was in stark contrast to a play I went to at a St. Paul public high school a few years back at Highland Park.  Their play had a sparse set, consisting of a couch, floor lamp and throw carpet.  The was very little in the way of costumes, and only a simple one page black and white program.  Most disturbingly, fewer than a couple of dozen parents/students were in attendance.

    Did  you know that even to be in a school play these days often kids are required to pay a fee?  At our daughter's school, Armstrong, located in the fairly affluent suburb of Plymouth, it costs $110 for the privilege to be in an extracurricular activity (play, debate, etc.)

    Ironically, the play we watched at The Blake School was "The Little Shop of Horrors."  It portrays how a kind, humble, hard working young man is literally consumed by the man eating plant he feeds. This plant promises him riches and fame.  It seems were now living in "The Big Country of Horrors", and most of the poor and middle class are being consumed by a greedy few, eager to make a fast buck, who seem willing to bleed others dry for their financial gain.

    An editorial in today's Star Tribune, "I can believe in Obama no more" by Myles Spicer notes that though it appeared that President Obama was going to be a strong proponent of justice issues in our nation and around the world, this doesn't appear to be happening as promised.  I will however continue to pray for and support the president in his most challenging leadership of our nation.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Installation of Pastor Christine Bellefeuille

    Pastor Sue Tjornehoj, 
    Director of Evangelical Mission 
    for the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA
    This past Sunday afternoon Valley of Peace Lutheran had a service of installation for its new pastor, Christine Bellefeuille.  In addition to members of the church there were a host of pastors from nearby churches,  members from her previous congregation, St. Barnabas Lutheran, and many other friends/family members.

    Pastor Chris presiding
    over Holy Communion
    Pastor Sue Tjornehoj, who helped through the call process, provided the sermon.  I was pleased to work with Pastor Tjornehoj and others from Valley of Peace while heading up the transition team.

    It is delightful for the church to have such a positive result, after the somewhat arduous process required by the ELCA to call a new pastor.  Valley of Peace was blessed to have wonderfully skilled interim pastor in the person of Pastor Dick Magnus, previous to Pastor Bellefeuille's calling.
    Call committee, church leadership and family
    laying on of hands during installation service
    Choirs singing
    Crucifer and light bearers

    Pastors Chris and Sue recessing to
    "We are Marching in the Light of God"

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Bumper stickers

    Car with bumper stickers by St. Mary's Basilica in Minneapolis
    I haven't put a bumper sticker on my car for years.  However, with some of my early vehicles I was liberal with stickers.  For these rolling death traps the addition of stickers greatly enhanced their structural integrity.

    I have to confess to enjoy reading stickers on other's cars that unabashedly broadcast their beliefs.  My all time favorite combination of stickers was on a day, years ago, that I first saw a sticker with a red heart and then a picture of a pet.  Later in the day I saw a car with a sticker pronouncing "I love animals, they taste great."

    Isn't it nice to live in a democracy where we can freely share our opinions without fear of repercussions?

    I must admit, however, to having a pet peeve about people that have fish bumper stickers, or others that indicate a Christian belief, who are flying down the highway or cutting people off as they drive.  Not the kind of advertising I would like to see for Christians.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Junior Olympic Nordic ski championships

    Ski carrier with bumper stickers

    More stickers on car top carrier
    Theodore Wirth Park, in Minneapolis, has been hosting the Junior Olympic Nordic championships this week.  While this is a big event in the world of Nordic skiing, it received all of 2 1/2" of column space in today's Star Tribune.  This is about 2% of one sports page, or less than .02% of the total sports section.  No pictures were included in the report, only the top three places for each of the classic and freestyle events.

    One of the local favorites, Jessie Diggins won her older junior girls 5K freestyle race by nearly a minute over the second place finisher.  Sorry Jessie, your fleeting reference on page 11 didn't rate as high as a picture of Goldy, the University of Minnesota's mascot, tackling a football player on page 2.  Go figure!?

    A life time sport, like Nordic skiing, is something we should be encouraging more than we do in this country.  The discipline of an endurance sport also seems to complement academics. The team our daughter, Rachel, skis on at Armstrong High School had an average GPA of better than 3.75.

    Coincidentally, while the ski meet was going on this morning, I was in the neighborhood, at the Breck Ice Arena, playing boot hockey.  Spectators were being shuttled to nearby Theodore Wirth from the ice arena parking lot.  I took pictures of one of the ski carriers in the parking lot this morning.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Pastor Bob Nervig, mentor to many

    Bob (Rt) at 2008 Kinship volunteer recognition event
    Bob Nervig, a champion for countless young people from disadvantaged circumstances died this past Sunday.  An obituary in today's StarTribune speaks to the life altering difference he made to many.

    I got to know Bob these past few years when he served as Kinship of Greater Minneapolis' board president.  His dogged determination, curiosity and attention to details was impressive.

    Bob's life was fraught with paradox.  Among many seeming contractions was that though he was single throughout all off of his life, he was also something of a father for many.  Some of the guys he mentored while a student at Luther Seminary have become quite successful, despite the doubts of their high school guidance counselor, who felt he shouldn't waste his time on them.  At first when Bob started showing up weekly to spend time with these guys at the HighY in downtown St. Paul they thought he worked at a cemetery.  He lost esteem in their eyes when they discovered he actually washed dishes at the seminary!

    Rest in peace Bob!  You were a great champion for many.  

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Cold frame success, utilizing 100% reused materials

    Cold frame with windows donated by my friends Norm & Laurie!
    Side view of cold frame
    After seeing my plight on the blog, it was great to hear from Norm, a friend from church, who offered to share some windows he had saved at his home.  They were stored under a blue tarp by his garage, and were left over from when the windows were replaced in his home.

    Turns out a couple of them were a good fit with the frame I had constructed.  I was especially careful in handling them, and so far they're all in tact.  No broken glass... what a pane that was ;-)

    I used stain on the frame that I had previously purchased for use on our garden fence posts.  Can't wait to get them out in the garden!