Monday, April 30, 2012

Renewal of democracy: Parker Palmer

Public concert at Lake Harriet
Demonization and irrational discourse is wreaking havoc on the United State's political system.  Because of this many of us retreat into private life, rather than being actively engaged in the public realm.  Without active public participation corporate money is filling the void.  These observations were made by Parker Palmer, Founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal, who spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum on April 23rd. The presentation was aired on Minnesota Public Radio.

How can we reoccupy the public realm?  Some simple suggestions include sending money to candidates, voting, etc.  However to make a greater impact during this critical moment Mr. Palmer suggests more active engagement in the "politics of the heart."

He encouraged the following five habits of the heart.
  1. Understanding that we are all in this together. Therefore we "pay it forward" and support our public schools.
  2. Appreciation of the value of "otherness". Us and them, doesn't equate to us versus them.  Religious and wisdom traditions encourage hospitality to the stranger.
  3. Ability to hold tension in life giving ways. Our differences will generate tension.  This is at the center of our democracy.
  4. Sense of personal voice and agency. We need to create situations where people can be heard into deeper and deeper speech.
  5. Capacity to create community.  Democracy requires engagement of the villages across our nation.
The civility we need will come from valuing our differences. Some specific things we can do include take time to listen to a child. Teachers can help their students experience varied perspectives. We can ask honest questions of people with political beliefs that are different than our own.  People within faith communities might consider how they can be welcoming to others unlike themselves.  If someone is being demeaning of others speak up and let them know their words are demeaning to you.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Act of Kindness

 I witnessed a "random act of kindness" earlier this week. A disabled vet's remote model airplane was stuck high in a cottonwood tree. Three guys from Urban Tree and Landscape came to the rescue to help out. 

This didn't make the evening news, but helped to make my day.

Way to go guys! 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The secret to happiness

Morning light streaming through crabapple tree
The idea that we can buy things to make us happy is soundly refuted in a short video clip, "The high price of materialism".  Commercialization and consumerism comes at a high price to people and to the planet.

It was noted that materialistic values are inversely related to pro social values.

To reduce materialistic values it was recommended that when people feel insecure or stressed, rather than buying something they go for a walk or volunteer to help someone else.  Not watching television or other media that is filled with advertising also can help to reduce the daily bombardment of commercials.

Finally, developing intrinsic values also helps people develop something of an immunization to materialistic values.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Compassion is good for your health

Tulip maturing gracefully
On a recent visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota the Dalai Lama shared remarks about the value of compassion to manage stress.  He noted "Compassion ... opens our heart. Fear, anger, hatred narrow your mind."  Additional information on the Dalai Lama's visit is available in a StarTribune article "Dalai Lama finds calm in compassion."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Money CAN buy happiness

A TED video, "Michael Norton: How to buy happiness", noted how spending money on other people makes people happy.  He also found that having work teams spend money on their teammates helped them to be more successful than when money was spent on themselves. So it seems there is scientific truth that in giving we receive. is a nonprofit organization highlighted in this video that helps support specific needs within schools. There are countless formal and informal ways in which to give.  Even small amounts of giving can make a big difference to the donor's well being.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Preposterous prosperity prophets

Tulip with evening sun
Seems there are some preachers and politicians that love to preach Jesus' message of prosperity. If we simply follow Jesus we will become rich!  Al Lewis, wrote a nice criticism of this mentality in an article "Prophets, not profits".   Among other things he notes that Jesus didn't start a liquor store after turning water into wine.  I often think of the "prosperity" of the disciples who followed Jesus, most of whom gave up all they had to follow Jesus and lost their lives as martyrs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in crabapple tree

It was a pleasure to find a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in a crabapple tree at Bassett Creek Park.  I think that it was in the process of migrating north for the summer.  It seemed to be enjoying the tree's blossoms, the way a humming bird might. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Building a raised-bed cloche

 One of the ways for northern gardeners to expand their growing season is to utilize green houses or a cloche.  I discovered "How to build your own raised-be cloche" the internet.  It was provided by Oregon State University Extension Service.

Since this spring has been unusually warm I decided to wait until this coming fall to add a polyethylene cover.  I will likely order some 6 mill UV protected polyethylene plastic sheeting over the internet.  If someone out there might like to go in on an order please let me know.

I used a tarp to cover the plants on the very few cold nights we've had this spring.

Fencing around the raised bed was added to keep the rabbits out.
Finished cloche

Saturday, April 21, 2012


I discovered this wonderful list of paradoxes on Newark Mayor Cory Booker's Facebook page.  

Crabapple blossoms reflected off of a glimmering pond 
1. To create wealth: give more than you get

2. To obtain freedom: adopt discipline

3. To gain tomorrow: sacrifice today

4. To be secure: take risks

5. To lead: serve

6. To get up: lift another

7. To get revenge: forgive

8. To win: find the lessons in loss

9. To fly: fall often

10. To change the world: change yourself

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco portrait

This Dark-eyed Junco visited me earlier in the week.  It had been feeding off the ground in our back yard from food spilled by our bird feeder.  I was surprised how unafraid it was.  So naturally I went to get the camera and snap a shot of this friendly little one.  I was able to get within a couple of feet or so with my zoom lens.

The Dark-eyed Junco is a genus of the American sparrows. Though these birds winters in much of the United States many enjoy the summer months in northern Canada and Alaska.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The other "Inconvenient Truth"

Longing for fresh vegetables
The world's population growth is placing a huge stress on our natural environment to feed all of its citizens.  Growing food is dramatically reducing our forests and draining water resources.  An 18 minute TED video, The other inconvenient truth, by IonE director Jon Foley provides greater detail on this global challenge.

Did you know that Agriculture is the single largest emitter of green house gasses? Not only does modern farm equipment require considerable use of fossil fuels, expansion of agriculture is reducing forested land, while farm animals are tremendous emitters of methane gas.

With 7 billion people in the world, heading towards 9 billion there will be a need for additional crop production.  The need for meat and dairy products is also rising as people of many traditionally impoverished nations become more financially resourceful.

There are no simple solutions. It will take a lot of creativity and collective action across nations to solve this great agricultural and environmental dilemma.  Those of us living in the affluent United States can  eat less meat and learn to grow more of our own fruits and vegetables locally.  Dare I say, we might also be better environmental stewards by using less water for extravagances like golf courses in arid Arizona.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cultivating respect for dirt

When did dirt become such a dirty word?  Think about it.  How many negative associations we have with dirt and dirty. Even though we were born of dirt and will someday return to the dirt we speak ever so negatively of dirt.  We talk of people that “fight dirty”, “dirty old men”, doing “dirty deeds”, getting “dirty looks” and keeping “dirty little secrets”.  The list goes on.

Our cultural revulsion to dirt is evidenced in burial practices.  It has become common to keep the dead indefinitely removed from their natural elements by placing bodies in a metal caskets that are then sealed underground in a concrete vault. I don’t find it a pleasant thought to consider many of us will wait in purgatory for centuries filled with embalming fluid in a cement vault until we finally return back to dirt.  Others will expedite the process of returning to dirt by cremation, or better yet by having a green funeral.

Ironic, isn’t it that we put down dirt, yet we’re all made out of dirt.  We’re just an elaborate mix of the elements contained in dirt, mixed with a little water and air.  No wonder it isn’t easy to “clean up our act” when we’re really just glorified dirt balls.

Part of our problem is we really don’t know or appreciate dirt.  It is much more complex than we give it credit. Our institutions of higher learning have recognized the soiled reputation of dirt and now have departments of “soil science”.  Seems a pretty fancy title for the study of dirt.

Recently studies have discovered that a little dirt is good for children.  It trains their immune systems to avoid allergies and fight diseases.

Dirt is also important to us in a variety of additional ways.  It is the medium of crop production and plant growth, producer and absorber of gases, waste decomposer, filter for water and wastes and home to plants and animals.

I would propose we all work to develop a much greater respect for dirt.  Native cultures consider the earth to be our mother. We haven’t been nearly so respectful of our environment. With global weirding I’m reminded of a variation on a wise old proverb, if Mother Earth ain’t happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy.

Some medical doctors know of the intrinsic value of dirt.  Word is that one physician is known to frequently prescribe mud baths to his terminally ill patients.  When asked about the efficacy of this mud therapy he has to admit it won’t cure them, but it will get them used to the dirt.

We’re all terminal aren’t we?  I shared this thought with my 98 year-old Grandmother and she quickly retorted, “yes, but how long is our term?”

However long our term, my fellow mortal, please know thyself, thy name is dirt. And it is good.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pictures from a trip to the cabin

 I enjoyed a road trip Saturday with my brother and sister-in-law and family to help put in docks and boat lifts at their cabin in Wisconsin.  Pictures from the trip are provided above.

I was quite surprised to notice a road along the highway with my name!  Had to stop and take a picture.  Looks like the sign could have used some straightening up.  I won't take that too personally.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mindfulness of head, heart and body

Pam Weiss, a trainer in mindfulness, helped to turn around a technology group from being a undesirable place to work into a most favorable environment.  She did this by teaching the employees to develop a culture that took time to pay attention to not only the ideas in their heads, but also their hearts and bodies.  She helps people to bridge the busy world of doing with the calm world of being.

You can view her 28 minute "Presence" video on Do Lectures: Ideas + Energy = Change.

She also tells an interesting story about listening to the sycamore trees while spending time in a Zen Buddhist monastery.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tulips, Fiddleheads and more

Tulips in love

American Goldfinch

Fiddlehead ferns

Emerging Peony
Did you know that Fiddlehead Ferns are edible?  For tips on cooking these plants check out the Fresh Fiddlehead Fern Greens website.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Drying laundry on the line

Once again it is that wonderful time of year that we can make use of the warmer weather to dry our laundry outside.  Not only does this save on power usage, it also provides that fresh smell for sheets and towels. This is much better than the artificial smell of fabric softeners. 

We have a retractable clothes line that is attached to the side our our house.  It works great, and is nearly invisible when not in use. 

The whimsical sculpture of a clothes line, at left, is at a neighbor's house.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homeland Security, where did you go?

     Homeland security, where did you go? My heart goes go to the family of Jody Patzner, Jr. who was shot a block from his home while delivering a piece of pizza to a neighbor (Minneapolis robbery turns deadly). 
     Having been jumped at midday on the Northside by three young men, it grieves me to think of those who daily live with a sense of terror/insecurity in unsafe neighborhoods. I'm also saddened by the desperation and lack of positive role modeling that causes so many of our nation's kids to turn to gangs, buying into our societies' glamorization of violence. The absence of skills and jobs that pay a livable wage also help to undermine our nation's security.
     The abundance of guns also makes homicide more common in this country than most.  Shortly after I was attacked a few years back an older guy who witnessed it came from across the street and confidently proclaimed "If I would-a had a gun I'd have shot those three".  I was thinking a good thing he wasn't carrying, otherwise I could have just as easily of been a victim of his shooting. 
     Nationally we are seeing considerable interest in a shooting of a young unarmed man which was done "in self defense" by a guy in Florida.  The shooter identified himself as a member of a neighborhood watch group. He will likely be utilizing Florida's "stand your ground" law to support his decision to use deadly force rather than retreat during a confrontation.  I don't believe that vigilante justice will make this country more secure. Rather we must invest in the lives of young people and provide schooling and employment opportunities that give them hope.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Early blossoms and buds

With temperatures across the nation averaging an astonishing 8.7 degrees Fahrenheit above average during the month of March, many trees and plants are blossoming and budding out about a month early.  I took a walk yesterday around the neighborhood to enjoy the beauty.

One of the troublesome aspects to this early spring is the impact of freezing temperatures on the fruit tree blossoms.  The past two nights have been well below freezing, so it will be an interesting test to see how well the plants and their fruit endure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bucking the driving trend

Sunday morning we drove down to Northfield, Minnesota to celebrate Easter with family members. Much of the route we took was on Interstate Highway 35, which has a posted speed limit of 70 m.p.h.  Being able to observe our fuel consumption rate in the Prius, I know it gets peak mileage closer to 55 m.p.g.  Although I'm eager to get the best fuel mileage, I also know how anxious drivers are, especially on a freeway, even on a Sunday morning.  So I decided to compromised and drive 65 m.p.g.  I didn't pass one vehicle the whole way.  As the old saying goes, "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, it still makes you a rat".

It takes considerably more discipline and strength to refrain from going with the flow, and not using all the power and or influence one might have. In order to live a more sustainable lifestyle Americans are going to have to change their lifestyles and learn how to consume less of the world's resources.  Just because one can to afford to purchase a large house or a big car, it might well make more sense to economize,  realizing that bigger is not better, contrary to a long held American belief.

More and more people are going counter cultural and forgoing car purchases all together. Instead they are utilizing public transportation and bicycles.  HOURCAR, is supporting this emerging trend against automobile ownership by providing hourly car rental in the Twin Cities area and elsewhere across the country. The Twin Cities also have many hourly bike rental stations around town c/o Nice Ride Minnesota.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring cleaning and reducing clutter

Cluttered desk
Less cluttered desk
Most all of living in the U.S.A. have way too much stuff.  In a Chicago Tribune article Jan Weigel provides advise on how to reduce the clutter in our lives (Dig out from under your clutter).

Some specific recommendations she provides include:
  1. Bag it up - Use the three bag approach; one large bag to donate, another for recycling and one more to throw.
  2. Ungift - If  you don't need more stuff, ask that people not give you presents.  Also consider presents to others in the form of a gift that will give back, such as a donation to charity.
  3. Hold a storage unit sale - Sell stuff you're saving and use the money you make to enhance the quality of your life, like a nice night out with your family.
  4. Avoid toxic people - Don't any more time around negative people any more than you absolutely must.  
  5. Pause before you consume.  Ask first, 'Does my heart truly desire this? Will it make my life better? More fulfilled?".  If not, then don't buy it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter greetings from a Robin

Robin's nest

I was thrilled to capture a picture of this robin working on nest construction early one morning.  It was perched on an Eastern Redbud growing in our front yard.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Recycling of asphalt shingles

What good news to read that Hennepin County is now grinding up and utilizing used asphalt shingles to repave roads (Hennepin County recycles rooftops into road surfaces).  California's Integrated Waste Management Board estimates that 11 million tons of asphalt shingles are disposed of annually within the United States.  That's a heck of a lot of waste that is far better put to use on the roads rather than sitting indefinitely in landfills.