Saturday, April 30, 2011

Accessing fresh fruits and vegetables

Victory Peace Garden at Valley of Peace Lutheran
It was great to read an article, "More farmers markets take food stamps" this morning.  Many of our urban neighborhoods are fresh fruits and vegetables deserts.  Most of the local stores city stores and gas stations offer only pop, candy and highly processed food.  Great to see this effort being supported by the Obama administration.

Yesterday I volunteered with another member of our church to build a fence for the raised bed vegetable garden that the local 4-H group is developing on the church property.  Sorry rabbits, it is hoped that many of the vegetables will go to people in need through the PRISM food shelf.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Marcus Borg on understanding biblical language

On April 21st Marcus Borg spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum, in downtown Minneapolis.  He passionately shared how much of the biblical language has been altered by many within the Christian faith.  He also lamented how biblically illiterate many are within the U.S.  Without understanding the language of the Bible it puts us at risk of not really understanding Christianity.

He questioned how the world's most Christian nation (as defined by church attendance) spends about 50% of the world's military budget and also has one of the greatest disparities among developed nations between the rich and the poor.

His talk is available for listeners on MPR's website.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Taxes and gambling: Why not combine?

Some Republicans in Minnesota want to raise critical funds for state needs through expanded gambling (StarTribune article: At odds over gambling). Seems supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, paying teachers fairly, etc. doesn't provide enough incentive for many to want to pay taxes.  Taxes don't provide enough WIFM.... what's in it for me!  

Tax aversion is not limited to wealthy Americans, even those large corporations who have benefitted enormously by being located in the United Sates, such as GE, have figured out ways around paying taxes.  With the help of tax advisors, lobbyist and contributions to political campaigns they've established loopholes to get off tax-free.

Clearly we need to find a way to add some WIFM to the tax collection system for those who just can't otherwise find it in their heart to support paying taxes for the common good.

How about combining gambling with taxes to make the process more palatable for individuals and businesses needing more WIFM incentives?  If there was a chance they could win some of their very own WIFM wish list items perhaps they might be more likely to pay taxes.  Rather than spending all those dollars on lobbyist, political campaigns and tax advisors they could pay taxes, knowing that some of their personal/corporate wish list items might just be won with their contributions.  The more they pay, the greater the chance of winning.

Tax payers and corporations would all make their private list of items that they would each like to win, much like the lists they provide to lobbyists and political candidates.  Marginal scrutiny would have to be provided by a regulating body to assure that the incentive list does not involve things such as toxic waste disposal in areas with dense populations, clear cutting of national parks, etc.  

The larger the prize the greater the amount of taxes need to pay in order to be entered to win. For example, to have a chance of winning an American Ambassador position in the Bahamas would require a considerably larger tax payment than the chance to win a spot as Ambassador to Haiti.  Before being eligible to win a chance to go to war I would suggest that the tax level for an oil corporation, or group of corporations, be large enough to actually cover all of the cost of their chosen war.

Just imagine if all of the dollars currently going toward gambling, lobbyist, political campaigns and tax advisors were funneled directly into taxes.  We could make up our nation's financial deficit before you could shout BINGO.

Let's concede to human avarice and the need to "get lucky" once in awhile and change our method of paying taxes.  It could be just the thing needed to get those Republican and Tea Party candidates on board with paying more taxes to support the common good.

PS  Nice commentary on taxes and gambling in the StarTribune by Rev. Gordon Stewart "Are we taxpayers or citizens?... Our society has redefined itself: Now, we want something for nothing."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Garbage disposal proposal

Garbage in pond at Bassett Creek Park
"Not in my backyard" is often loudly voiced when discussing the disposal of garbage.  So, it was no surprise to read about one suburb's negative reaction to the thought of having the garbage from a neighboring suburb be transferred to their territory, MPCA: Let's dump Hopkins' garbage in Eden Prairie

This got me to thinking of how cavalier and unaware most of us are about the disposal of our community's garbage, and more specifically, our own garbage. What if instead of having our garbage hauled off weekly we were responsible for storing all the garbage we produce at our own place of residence... literally right in our own front/back yards?  

If we knew our cast offs would be staring at us in perpetuity from our homes I'm guessing we might reconsider getting "take out" in a Styrofoam container, or frequently updating our electronic gadgets, or ever again purchasing bottled water.  We might also rethink how to roof our house, knowing that a huge pile of asphalt shingles could be a permanent eye sore and possible pollutant on our property.  Don't you think we would try to keep our cars going as long as possible, if in fact we still chose to drive?  Buying cheap "throw away" items would no longer be a thoughtless act.

The convenience of being able to toss things away, not worrying about the mounds of trash this generates, has lead us to buy things carelessly. A website, "Recycling Revolution", notes that much of what we throw away could be recycled.  It is also shamefully mentioned that the U.S. is the top trash producing country in the world, at 1,609 pounds per person per year. With only 5% of the world's people the U.S. generates 40% of the world's trash.  Seems it is time for us all to buy less, reuse and recycle more, least our children inherit a vast wasteland.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bicycle safety tips

We've been hearing more about bicycle fatalities recently.  An article in the StarTribune noted how just yesterday a 74 year-old biker was run over by a bus at an intersection in Winona, Minnesota.

To minimize the numbers of fatalities and injuries both motorist and bicyclers must be careful in their driving/biking habits.  Following are some tips.

1.  Look both ways at intersections, not just the direction of oncoming cars
2.  Give bikers room along the side of the road.  They have as much right to the road as you do.
3.  Start noticing bikers.  When you're just used to watching for cars, this requires looking carefully, especially at intersections, for those noiseless and much smaller two wheeled vehicles.

1.  Obey the same rules of the road for cars
2.  Learn and use hand signals when stopping and turning
3.  Wear a helmet and bright clothing to increase visibility
4.   If you're riding at night have a light for both the front and back of your bike and wear a reflective vest
5.  Ride defensively.  Verify that drivers see you before proceeding at intersections.  Remember, you are much more likely to notice them than they likely to see you.
6.  It is usually best to ride on the right hand side of the street, and leave the sidewalks for pedestrians.

Cuzin Rob on ride last fall
While bikers are almost always come out on the short end of accidents with cars, I hope that this danger doesn't frighten too many people from cycling.  Practicing safe riding habits will surely help. Following are a couple of reasons you might still prefer to ride, rather than drive...

                      The top is always down on a bicycle
                      Driving burns gas, biking burns fat

Safe and happy riding!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Suburban wildlife

Cooper's Hawk
Sunday afternoon I took a drive back to my childhood home with an older brother who was in town for a visit.  It was great to see our old home still in good repair.  Even nicer still was to observe the nearby swamp.  That wild area in Plymouth, where we used to watch tadpoles transform into frogs, appeared to be an even more vibrant wildlife refuge than when we left it, about 45 years ago.

My brother and I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks, a Cooper's Hawk and even a White-tailed Deer grazing in this small two acre track of undeveloped land.  How good it is to see areas of land like this that don't get developed into tracts of houses. 
Pair of Wood Ducks
White-tailed deer

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter and new life spring forth!

Blue Scilla by Minnehaha Creek
Wishing all a blessed Easter.

Yesterday I noticed these beautiful spring flowers on a drive along Minnehaha Parkway in South Minneapolis.  They reminded me of Easter.

During the winter months these perennials are dead to the world, then miraculously, they come up in the spring and bring joy to the world.  How cool is that?
Blue Scilla

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day continued

"Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption." 
-John Stuart Mill

As I think about Earth Day and the environmental movement I wonder about what stage it is in.  Seems we're gradually moving toward adoption.  Sadly, I know that there are still many who don't think we need to be concerned about the earth, because it will somehow figure out how to heal itself.  For many, despite evidence to the contrary, there is still a belief that the world contains a limitless supply of fresh water, oil, and minerals. There is also a dangerous perception that technology will be our savior, so we really don't need to change our wasteful habits. Many still ridicule the majority of scientist who have warned about the danger of global climate change due to excessive emissions of carbon dioxide.  However, I believe the younger generation is more concerned about the environment than many of their elders who continue to be oblivious of the need for change.

Pretty cool to see these postage stamps.  Seems that even Uncle Sam is working at getting out the "go green" message.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Try powering your own wheels. You might like it!!

Electric and manual bikes
Just last Friday I rode my bike to a luncheon meeting.  It inspired me to write a commentary, which I then submitted to the StarTribune.  I was pleased they decided to run it in today's paper, "Try powering your own wheels. You might like it!"  This ties into the 41st anniversary of Earth Day.


On a cool blustery spring day I was torn between the desire to drive my car or ride my bike to a lunch presentation. It was being held in the heart of south Minneapolis, ten miles or so from the comforts of my home in Crystal. 

At 50 plus years of age, I had to fight off the sirens coming from of my 12-year-old car.  No, not those loud pulsating sirens that come when the panic button is pushed or something bumps up against the parked car. Rather it’s those quite, subtle sirens that I’m talking about--the kind that lures you, without thinking, into hopping in and driving.

Mind you, my car is no longer a beauty to behold.  Twelve years of Minnesota winters have it rusting round the wheel wells. Stale odors from years of driving in and around town have long since overpowered the early intoxicating new car smell. Convenience and comfort was the car’s main allure.  It could provide quick, climate controlled transportation, with soft bucket seats and soothing stereo to boot. 

My long engrained habit was to drive for most any local transportation needs. I used a bicycle only for recreational and fitness purposes.  Sometimes as a family we put bikes on a car rack and traveled to a scenic location to ride.  Kind of strange, if you think about that from a utilitarian perspective.

The day previous I had filled up my car with gas, and became painfully aware of the recent jump in prices.  I also wanted to get in either a run or bike ride sometime during the day.  So, I decided to saddle up on my bike and do the “ride thing”.  I put a bike lock in a small backpack and wrapped a Velcro strap around the right leg of my gray corduroys to keep my pants leg from being caught in the bike’s chain.  And then buckled on my shiny plastic helmet and started peddling.  Nothing overly comfortable or sexy about this mode of transportation.

Within about 45 minutes I had made it to my destination, no worse for the wear. The cool weather kept me from overheating.  I rode almost entirely on trails that brought me within a few blocks of my destination, Lutheran Social Service’s Center for Changing Lives. I was thankful for the series of trials that kept me from having to fight cars for a share of the road.  I had one small surprise upon arrival. I had forgotten the key to my bike lock at home.  I decided I could chalk it up to being a novice biker, rather than a forgetful one. 

After lunch I wheeled home. Green grass was making a much-anticipated appearance after an exceptionally long snowy Minnesota winter. I enjoyed seeing a variety of birds, all out and singing their spring songs. 

On this day I chose not to drive my car with convenience, or her alluring twin companions, quick and easy.   By taking the slower approach on my bike, not only did I get in a workout, I also enjoyed the scenery, and didn’t have to spend a dime on gas or spew toxins and CO2 into the environment. I invite you to join me in “being the change”. Ignore your car’s siren. Walk, bike or take public transportation, as you’re able.  It will benefit both you and the environment. The earth and future generations will thank you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Buying stuff and homemade sourdough bread

Pussy willows and Canada Geese
I was a bit surprised to read an article, "Who Knew? Shopping is Good for You" in yesterday's paper.  A study done in Taiwan discovered seniors who shop daily live longer.  Having visited Taiwan I'm guessing much of their shopping is for fresh fruits and vegetables, perhaps from street vendors.  This shopping also likely involves considerable amounts of walking or riding a bike.

Despite the crazy American consumer culture, I'm quite confident that he/she who buys the most stuff isn't the winner.  Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and mathematician noted "It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly."

I'm reminded of my encounter with Ken earlier in the week, who's possessions seem to all fit within a five gallon bucket.  How many fewer constraints he has than most of us that are tied down by all of our stuff.

Sourdough bread
This morning I baked a loaf of sourdough bread.  There is a video on how to make this on YouTube.  It requires a lot of time to rest and rise. Another reminder of the value of patience for good things ;-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maple tree, Great Horned Owl and more snow!

Maple tree planting at dog park

Great Horned Owl

Snow this morning!
Maple tree day later
Snow covered maple buds
Yesterday morning I went to watch the planting of a maple tree in our local dog park.  Money was raised for the tree by an engaged group of dog owners.

Later in the morning I went scouting for a great  horned owlet that I heard had recently fledged.  I was only able to find one of the big owls up high in a tree, being harassed by crows.  

As you can see we had snow overnight and into the morning today.  Hopefully our last snow of the year.  We've had well over 80 inches in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recognizing and remembering the poor

Go in Peace. Remember the poor.”  Those were the closing words at our worship service on Sunday.  Having lead the adult forum at church the previous Sunday these words put me in a state of holy unrest.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of our recent forum, where it was clear that for many, perhaps most of us, we had little or no contact with the poor. So, I pondered, perhaps it would be better proclaimed, “Go in peace. Get to know the poor.”

One of the attendees at the forum, a retired missionary well into his 80’s, commented on how he likes to take the city bus.  It puts him into contact with many folks he would not otherwise meet in the confines of his retirement community in Robbinsdale.  What an inspiration he was for the rest of us, who are often weary of going outside of our comfort zones.

Yesterday I rode my bike to get groceries at the store.  On the way home, with a backpack filled with milk, eggs, butter and salami I encountered a homeless person on the street corner.  In fact, it was someone about whom I had just read in an article, “Homelessness touches the suburbs”, just a week earlier. I was pleased to see an article that put a face on this gray bearded homeless man, Ken, living in our community.

I stopped to visit Ken.  I noted that I had seen his picture and story in the local newspaper.  He said he’d heard about it, but hadn’t seen a copy of the paper.  I reassured him that it was a nice article. He asked if I could please get him a copy.  I apologized, saying though I would try, my copy had just been picked up with recycling earlier in the day. He noted that he’s visiting with a social worker to get veterans benefits.  This might get him off the street.

Before I left him, Ken again suggested he would be appreciative if I could find him a copy of the article about him in the newspaper.  He then shared with me the location where he keeps the plastic five gallon pail that he sits on, and which contains his worldly goods. If I could get him a copy of the article, that's where he would like it delivered.

I provided a bit of financial support to Ken.  He expressed his heartfelt appreciation.  He said that he was then going to be heading out to get something to eat.

While biking home, just a few blocks down, I noticed a slim orange bag along the roadside.  It looked like the sort of bag that holds the local newspaper.  I wheeled around to check and see if by chance it was the most recent paper.  Sure enough, it was the one with a picture and story of my a new acquaintance, Ken, on the cover. 

I quickly road back to where he had been sitting.  Ken had already evacuated the site.  I found the bucket, to which he had given me directions earlier, and put my newly found copy of the paper inside.  

Go in Peace.  Get to know the poor.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Surprise visitors

Polyphemus Moth
We had an interesting visitor to our home over the weekend. An uninvited moth (left) appeared on one of our house plants.  No idea how it got there.  It had unusual dwarfed wings.  Seems it must be deformed.  Looks somewhat like a bumblebee's body style doesn't it?

Earlier this morning I captured a picture of a few deer roaming at the park in front of our house.  It appears the two parents were on either side of the doe.  Nice to see them still providing guidance!
Family of white-tailed deer at Bassett Creek Park

Saturday, April 16, 2011

MinneSNOWda on April 16th

Bassett Creek pond with canada geese and wood duck sitting on house (lower right)
Smaller pond overlook with oak and willow

Snowy reeds by pond
Snowy buds
Cold bluebird
Pair of wood ducks

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Flowering catkins on pussy willow

Pussy willow with flowering catkins
Flowering pussy willow
Pussy willow in transition
These are pictures taken earlier this morning.  The flowering pussy willow is one of the first signs of spring.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How did we end up with all of this stuff?

"STUFF" collected along the pond yesterday afternoon
I believe we've got the very best, or worst, advertising in the world, depending on your opinion of consumerism.

Some of the worst stuff that we produce/buy in America are those objects made out of plastic and styrofoam.  Stores are still selling styrofoam cups that are made for one time use that will virtually never decompose.  Sadly, when animals ingest styrofoam it often blocks their digestive tracts.  This causes starvation and ultimately death. When cleaning up around the pond I almost always see bits of styrofoam floating around.

 "The story of stuff" is an interesting 20 minute video that discusses the impact on our environment of all our stuff.  A more humorous look at "stuff" is provided by a video of George Carlin talking about stuff.

I noticed an article in the newspaper "Married to Plastic", about a book,  "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story",  by Susan Freinkel.  She chronicles how plastic has become an integral part of our lives and our garbage dumps.
 "Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need."                                                                                                 -Will Rogers

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gas prices and changing habits

Pileated Woodpecker
An article in the StarTribune, "Gas prices drive new habits", noted how more people are carpooling, biking, walking and combining trips to save fuel.  While the cost of gas in the US heads up toward $4/gallon, it is still cheap compared to most parts of Europe.  In Europe they've begun to understand the environmental costs of pollution caused by gasoline engines. In response they heavily subsidize public transportation through added taxes on fuel.  Without government intervention the environmental costs of our habits are often undervalued in a free market system.

Red-winged Blackbird
Switching gears, from driving cars to walking...  while hiking around the park earlier this morning with a friend, we saw some Red-winged Blackbirds and much to our surprise, a Pileated Woodpecker. The woodpecker sounded like a bird coming out of an African rainforest.  It reminded me of an ancient pterodactyl.  A pleasant surprise I certainly wouldn't have received were I in a car ;-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Too much STUFF

Bird nest
I enjoyed a lively discussion about poverty at church on Sunday.  Among other things we discussed was what we have too much of, and what might we lack.  The hands down winner of what we have too much of was "stuff".  There appeared to be unanimity that we all had too many things.  Perhaps part of the problem is that our homes are twice as large as they were in 1950, despite having smaller families.  Quoting my favorite philosopher, Ziggy, "Some of the best things in life aren't things."

There was an interesting observation regarding what we lack in our lives... courage.

Perhaps what attracts me to the beauty of a bird nests is their simplicity and lack of clutter.  The nest pictured above was discovered while trimming a red twigged dogwood in our front yard.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


White-tailed deer
On my walk around the park yesterday it was interesting to notice camouflage in the animal kingdom.

A white-tailed deer blended in nicely with its brown surroundings.

The female mallard pictured below was much more camouflaged than it's male counterparts to its right, or the larger Canada Goose.

The butterfly, lower left, was very well camouflaged, looking much like a leaf with its wings shut. However with wings open, not so much.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Mallards and Canada Goose

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poverty in Minnesota

I'm preparing to make presentations the next couple of Sundays at my church.  The first will be about poverty within the state of Minnesota, and a examination of what we might do to ensure that there is enough for all.  The following Sunday will be about environmental stewardship, utilizing some of the ideas I gleaned from the "Awaking the Dreamer, Changing the Dream"
In preparing for this coming Sunday's presentation I discovered the following information from A Minnesota Without Poverty website
  •    There were over 2 million visits to MN food shelves in 2008
  •    The 2009 Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of four is $22,050
  •     491,000 individuals are experiencing poverty in Minnesota.(2008 US Census bureau)
  •     Poverty rate among African Americans in Minnesota is the 3rd highest in the nation
  •     15% of the children 18 and under are experiencing poverty in Minnesota.
  •     Each night approximately 9,000 individuals are homeless in Minnesota
  •    Minnesota minimum wage is $5.25 an hour and a standard one bedroom apartment is $700 a     month
  •  45% of homeless women reported they stayed in an abusive relationship because they had nowhere else to live
  •      1 in 4 women over 16 years of age is experiencing poverty in Minnesota
The state and federal governments are now working to establish budgets. It is important to voice concern about the potential slashing of support to the most vulnerable in our society.  Low income folks don't have anywhere near the resources or influence our multinational corporations and defense industry have to influence legislation.  They don't make large contributions to support candidates, who have becoming increasingly dependent upon vast amounts of fund raising to win campaigns.  
It is frightening to think that the current president might be raising one billion dollars for his next presidential campaign. It is implausible that the  amount of money involved with American politics doesn't significantly influence future legislation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bike ride to Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls
Took my first long (33 mile) bike ride of the year yesterday.  I followed a series of bike trails which took me along Theodore Wirth Parkway, Minneapolis' chain of lakes and then down along Minnehaha Parkway to Minnehaha Falls.  I wanted to see the falls during its peak run off period.

Much to my surprise when I got to the falls there was smoke rising.  No, the creek didn't catch fire.  Rather, there was a work group from Prairie Restoration. They were out cutting and burning brush and trees, with plans of restoring a natural habitat.
Bridge over Minnehaha Creek

Artist at Lake Harriet Band Shell

Rabbit sculpture decorated for Easter
Fishing in Lake Calhoun
On the way home I stopped a few places to take some pictures.  There was brilliant sun shine and a high of around 60 degrees. After an extremely long, snowy winter I have to believe that even the greatest of skeptics were smiling and crying out "hallelujah", there is indeed life after death!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

American Bald Eagle at Bassett Creek Park

Eagle flying overhead
Sitting at my home office desk I noticed a big bird, the size of a turkey, perched on a cottonwood limb at the park.  I brought out my camera to explore.  It was a bald eagle!  Just as I neared it flew onto the nearby pond and hopped around on the ice. Next it flew over to a tree on the far side of the pond.

Coming in for a landing

I found a bench to sit on, just under the branch where I had first spotted the eagle.  My patience was rewarded when it flew back and landed right where I had come from earlier.  What a beautiful bird.  Not sure the ducks in the park felt the same however.  It dove after a few ducks who quickly headed underwater to avoid being captured.

How's this for sleek and aerodynamic?