Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dangers of prolonged sitting

1,600 meter runners at sectional meet
An article in The Atlantic, "Confirmed: He who sits the most dies the soonest", references research that shows sitting for extended periods of time is bad for your health.  A startling finding from the research was that people who sat more than 11 hours a day are 40 percent more likely to die within the next three years than those who sat less than 4 hours a day.  Doesn't that kinda makes you want to get off your butt?

Stand up desks are one way that people are able to get more movement during the day.  Some work places even encourage walking meetings, that tend to be both productive and shorter than traditional sit down meetings. Simple short walks throughout the day can both help get one's mind moving in addition the blood circulating.

What are some things you might do to get moving and free from sitting?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Luna Moth

Luna Moth
Puddle reflection from the woodland forest
Over the weekend in Northwestern Wisconsin I was delighted to discover a Luna Moth. I was impressed with how well it blended in with the green grass. I just about missed it while on my run through the woodland forest. The large olive shaped eyes on the wings also made quite an impression!

Pictured at right is a puddle on the sandy cabin road.  It reflects the surrounding trees.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wood duck and duckings

Wood Duck and ducklings
It was fun to see the little ducklings get in line behind their mama for an evening swim.  She's got a full bakers dozed (13)!  I spotted this crew while on my evening walk around Bassett Creek Park's pond.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Learning to sing a new song

Researchers now believe that not all birds are hard wired to sing their songs.  They've discovered that as songbirds birds learn to sing they develop neurons in their brains to learn the new vocalizations. An article by Sandi Doughton, Singing isn't just for the birds, further describes this research.

This research provides a model for speech learning among humans.  So while you might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, we older humans just might still be capable of learning a new song.  How's that for good news!?

I guess I will stick it out in the church choir for another year or two ;-)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memory Lane Pond shoreline restoration

The Crystal Fund for Community Progress is heading up a successful shoreline demonstration project at Memory Lane Pond.  This project has been made possible in large part to funding received from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with a great deal of volunteer involvement with planting and maintenance.  The park is located near the intersection of 44th and Louisiana Ave North in Crystal, Minnesota.  Planting was done this last summer and some of the plants are already starting to blossom.  It will take a few years before the plants fully mature and the level of ongoing maintenance is reduced.

Last summer a stone platform for fishing was installed at this site.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Benefits of shoreline restoration

Natural shoreline presenter
The City of Crystal Parks and Recreation Commission held a public gathering to celebrate Arbor Day earlier this spring at the Twin Lakes Shores Park.  Prior to their regularly held meeting an expert on shoreline restoration shared information on how to develop a natural shoreline.

There was considerable opposition by neighbors who were in attendance of the current "no mow" policy along the shoreline. They preferred a well groomed regularly mowed lawn down to the water's edge.  However residents also expressed concern about a degradation of the water quality.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shores without native plants tend to have:
  • Poor water quality
  • A loss of wildlife 
  • City of Crystal Parks &
    Recreation Commission
  • Erosion and may require regular mowing
Natural shorelines provide the following benefits:
  • Attractive to view, and lower maintenance than a lawn
  • Improved water quality, while increasing the health and diversity of the aquatic environment
  • Diversity and health of shoreline vegetation and critical habitat for fish and wildlife. 
The DNR has a website, Restore your shore, with much useful information on shoreline restoration.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Early blooming shrub roses

Birds perched by pond's edge
Shrub rose at the Beltzer Rose Flower Garden
With the warm weather the shrub roses at Bassett Creek Park have already begun blooming.  It feels much more like we're in the third week of June, rather than still being in the month of May.

To get a bigger view of a picture just click on the picture.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The kindness of strangers

My wife and I were reminded of the kindness of strangers this weekend when good Samaritans quickly responded after my wife took a tumble off her bike on a country gravel road.  We had traveled to an Ultimate Frisbee tournament to watch our daughter play and brought our bikes along to ride before the games started. While biking my wife had just turned from a blacktop road onto one with loose gravel and immediately slide out of control. She banged up her arm, shoulder and got a major laceration just below one knee. Within just a few minutes a man living in a country house nearest to the accident quickly came over and offered to help.  When this man had gone to his house for ice and clean towels to put on my wife's wounds a man in a car by also stopped to see if he could provide any aid.  The man living nearby later drove my wife and her bike to the Ultimate Tournament, where a first aid tent was there to help with the clean-up of the wounds.

Once at the Ultimate Tournament a volunteer at the first aid tent quickly cleaned the wounds and another volunteer drove my wife around as needed in a golf cart.  The doctor that later gave her nine stitches noted the fine job that the volunteers had done of cleaning the wound.

While we hear plenty of the horrible things going on around the world, isn't it great to witness the kindness of perfect strangers?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gladys Austin Iris

Gladys Austin Iris
A few years back while googling my grandmother's maiden name I was thrilled to discover that there was an iris with her same name; Gladys Austin.  I emailed a grower in Texas who sent me a couple of the iris tubers in the mail.  After receiving them I promptly planted them and waited.  The first season, no bloom. The second season I divided them and put them in a couple of different locations, still no blossom.  Finally this past  year I found a spot with good drainage and plenty of light, and was thrilled that just yesterday one of the plants finally blossomed.

The Gladys Austin is a rather showy bearded iris.  This in keeping with my Grandma Gladys. She was know to wear a fair amount of jewelry, and didn't shy from pink polyester.  Despite being of modest means and humble spirit, she didn't mind a bit of bling!  So now as I look at this beautiful blooming iris I will forever be reminded of my Grandmother Gladys.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Racial classification dilemmas

Race is back in the headlines with news that racial minorities are now the majority of births within the US (Census: Minorities now surpass whites in US births).  In the once vastly Caucasian state of Minnesota fully 30 percent of preschool-age children are now "minorities" (The changing face of Minnesota).

I wonder how conversations around race will change when the "majority" becomes the "minority".  I've had brief encounters of being in the minority, both while traveling abroad for a school year, and having traveled numerous times to Asia.  I think it would be a valuable learning experience for all who are traditionally in the majority to be in the minority for at least some amount of time in their lives, particularly in places where the primarily language spoken is not their native tongue.  It can be a most humbling experience not to be able to communicate fluently, or even to be able to tell a funny joke.  Experiencing the alienation while being a foreigner provides a brief glimpse of the life experience realized by many immigrants and refugees.

The classification of people by race is problematic. While on a walk yesterday I visited a friend who's son-in-law is from Belize.  He's of dark complexion with a short afro. Yet, when coming to this country US Immigration and Naturalization classified him as "white", as he is neither "African" nor "African-American".

Those who are multiracial often don't have a box that fits their racial complexity. Seems we should by now be moving away from the old slave rule that one drop of blood automatically classifies a person as black.

The latest racial expression within the US for "minorities" is "persons of color". This seems to infer that all white folk are colorless. Not long ago "colored people" was a pejorative common term used to identify black people. Ironically this term was popular by a very common breed of white folk, known as red necks.

With all of this confusion it seems crazy to keep trying to put people into racial boxes.  Since the genetic difference among races are insignificant I would be content with simply utilizing blood type as an identifier.  I'm an A+,  how about you?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bike lanes

I submitted the following to our local newspaper for their consideration.

A couple of residents raised concerns in the last SunPost about the addition of bicycle lanes to area roads. As an avid biker, health advocate and environmentalist, I too am concerned about the bicycle lanes, mainly that they’re not being used nearly enough.  These lanes make biking considerably more safe and enjoyable than trying to cycle and fight traffic while battling the gravel and trash that accumulates along the roadside.

However, people should beware of the many impacts biking has, should they want to give it a try.  Having become more actively in biking these past couple of years I’ve discovered the following side affects:
  • Calories are burned, rather than fossil fuels, so both my weight and transportation costs go down
  • Creativity spikes when actively peddling
  • Drops in blood pressure and pulse rate, with an increase in fitness level
  • Road rage is non-existent; I actually smile at other bikers and pedestrians
  • Mood elevates as I breath fresh air, hear birds and notice scenery
  • I feel like I’m “being the change” that I want to see in the world 

I would encourage readers to dust off those old Schwinn’s they have collecting dust in the garage and hit the road.  You might start with a ride around the block. With a rack and saddlebag/backpack I’ve discovered I can easily bike to the library, grocery store, meetings, church, bank and even to the dentist office.

I hope to see you enjoying the bike lane next time I’m out riding. Happy trails!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A few good reasons to volunteer

Yesterday was my last day of the school year volunteering with a third grade class of students at a nearby school.  Most of the time I helped with basic math; subtraction, multiplication and division. It was always a day brightener to spend time with the kids, who were eager to learn and do their best to improve. They also exhibited great honesty and enthusiasm.

At choir practice last night I was also pleased to learn that a volunteer I recruited from my church to tutor also felt like he had a rewarding year.  A couple of weeks ago he even had me take a picture of him with the Nigerian ambassador to America when he was in town to speak for a Books for Africa event.  He will be sharing this picture with one of his students who is a Nigerian native. 

As often seems to be the case I felt like I gained far more than I received by volunteering.  It is a great feeling to know that you can provide encouragement to a young person, and maybe even help them to gain vital life long skills.  Of course the year-end thank-yous were also a nice touch!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zen Christianity

The teachings and practices of Christianity and those of Zen Buddhism have much in common.  A few of the things Christians can learn from Zen Buddhism were posted in an article by Lori Erickson on the Beliefnet website (10 Lessons Christians can learn from Zen Buddhism).

One of the primary teachings of Zen Buddhism, that Jesus also reinforced, is to avoid being judgmental. We should take a fresh view of the world.  "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged".

Breath is also a central focus of both traditions.  Zen encourages a discipline of breathing practice.  Within Christianity there are a number of references to the power of breath to heal, and even create life, as in the creation story of mankind. After being formed out of dirt God breathed on man to bring life.

Simplicity was a core teaching of Jesus.  He recommended if we have a spare coat to we should give it away.  As an iterate teacher and healer Jesus stored up his treasures in heaven, not on earth.  Zen also encourages sparsity of things and a richness of the spiritual life.

Silence is golden.  Within the Biblical tradition a key passage from the book of Psalms is "Be still and know that I am God."  Stillness and centering practice are central to Zen Buddhism.

There is much we can all learn from the various faith and philosophical teachings and practices from around the world.  Thomas Merton is among the Christian theologians who have been enriched by the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  One my core beliefs is that there is no "them and us", there is only "us".  If we wish to live more fully in this beautiful and diverse world it behoves us to become less judgmental and more understanding of the world's great spiritual and philosophical teachings and traditions. By seeking first to understand, then to be be understood, it brings us closer together.  We can then come to know people living on all places around the globe as our brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tips for lifelong fitness

Ultimate layout

Running for the disc
At age 64 Frank Shorter, an American marathoner legend, is still running strong (Runner Frank Shorter is still on stride). How is this possible, when so many burn out or wear down from prolonged years of exercise?  Seems he practices some helpful practices.

  1. Listen to your body.  Don't look to others for direction, be your own coach.
  2. Don't over train.  If you are feeling tired allow yourself to cut a workout short.
  3. Set achievable goals. Rather than shooting for the sky, set goals that you are confident are attainable.  This will be reinforcing!
  4. If you're a runner, run slow enough that you can carry on a conversation 75 to 90 percent of the time.
  5. Practice exercises you enjoy doing.  For example, Frank Shorter notes that there has never been a day he hasn't wanted to get out and run!
Pictures are from the Central Regional High School Ultimate Championships this past weekend in Naperville, Illinois. 

Friday, May 11, 2012


These goslings were in a morning tussle at Bassett Creek Park. 

From the appearances of it sibling rivalry may not be limited to humans.

Reminds me of my younger years growing up with three brothers and a sister.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dying from Affluenzia

The affluent lifestyle enjoyed by so many within the U.S.A. is making many of us overweight and unhealthy.  Our sedentary lifestyle combined with a love of high calorie, sugary foods and beverages has created a nation where two-thirds of the adults and nearly one-third of its children are either overweight or obese.

An article in the StarTribune "Report calls schools key to fighting obesity epidemic but says changes are needed society-wide." suggests that schools are an important place to fight obesity.  Following are some recommendations for consideration:
  1. 60 minutes of physical activity every day for school children via gym class, recess and other activities
  2. Healthier school foods and teaching of nutrition
  3. Require restaurants to produce at least half o the kids' meals to comply with federal dietary guidelines
  4. Restrict marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children
  5. Provide more opportunities for physical activity within communities for walking, biking, etc.
  6. Health care providers increase screening for obesity and provide preventative services and treatments.
  7. Employers provide more wellness program.

Not only does this obesity epidemic dramatically reduce the quality of the life for individuals it has the potential of wreaking havoc on the the nation's health care spending. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Dandelion and dew
Hillside of dandelions
Enjoying an evening on a sun soaked dandelion hillside
I've got a friend, Michael Nesset, who wrote a nice opinion piece on dandelions for the StarTribune, In defense of dandelions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A visit to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Yellow Lady Slippers
On my way home from a meeting in South Minneapolis yesterday I pulled my bike over for a visit to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.  I had been by earlier in the year to photograph the early blooming flowers and was curious what might now be blooming.

While there I met a man who regularly takes pictures of the plants. He indicated you would have to come by almost daily to catch the vast variety of plants in their prime.

It was my good fortune to be there on the first day the Yellow Lady Slippers made their grand appearance. So glad I decided to take time out to make the side trip.

Maiden Hair Fern

Monday, May 7, 2012

Canada Geese and Goslings

Family of Canada Geese taking a walk in the park
Goslings following their leader

Seeing triple
Aerodynamic fly by

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Teaching and learning math from a third grader

I was blessed while tutoring math this past week when I learned an interesting concept about subtraction.  You might recall learning about carrying from a larger number while subtracting. For example you have to borrow one from the two when you are subtracting 9 from 23.  When reviewing subtraction with a young lady who seems to be dealing with far more than her far share of difficulties she envisioned borrowing this way...

"You see its kind of like a little guy going into a fight with a bigger guy, and you have to go get a bigger friend to help you out."

This illustration from my young friend was a reminder of her under appreciated creative and intellectual capability. It also prodded me to consider that those of us with great resources may be needed to the aid of those with little, and by doing so are blessed.

It is always a day brighter for me to witness the honesty and enthusiasm of the third graders I tutor in math.  I'm not convinced I've done all that much to help them become better mathematicians, but I do hope that they know there is another adult in their lives that is concerned about them and likes them even when they're struggling to pass the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA), which aren't all that comprehensive.  The MCA doesn't measure creativity, team work, compassion, etc.

Tutoring has also provides me with a means of connecting with a diverse segment of society with whom I might otherwise have very little to no contact. This in turn helps me to be a better informed citizen and hopefully a more compassionate member of society.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What money can't buy and the increasingly uncommon good

Dr. Michael Sandel
We are becoming an increasingly stratified, market driven society, where the wealthy are able to buy considerable privilege.  It is also becoming more economically segregated, as those with financial means sit in luxury boxes at sporting events, receive special airline privileges that bring them to the front of the line and may even may purchase the services of someone in India to become a surrogate mother for their child.  Dr. Michael Sandel, a professor from Harvard University shared these concerns at a public presentation at Wayzata Community Church on May 3rd.

He noted that we've gone from a market economy to becoming a market society, where everything is up for sale.  One of the consequences of this is that market values and norms will crowd out non market values and norms.  For example, schools are becoming institutions exclusively focused on creating workers for business, rather than places that instill an intrinsic love for learning, and appreciation of the arts.

Another consequence of this market driven society is the growing separation of those with economic means from those without.  Our city schools and neighborhoods have become a striking example of this, where two thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced rate meals.** Once their was a great mixture of people from all different professional and economic strata that grew up together.  Now it is becoming increasingly rare for Americans to have significant interface with those from a different walk of life.  When we don't personally know any poor or disenfranchised folk, we are less apt to be concerned about the common good.

Do you want to live in a society where everything is up for sale, and concern for the common good becomes uncommon? If not, what are you willing to do about it?

You can hear an interview with Dr. Sandel on MPR.  He also has written a book on this subject, "What Money Can't Buy".

**  Racial data for Minneapolis Public Schools (clink on link for data)
      Free lunch/economic data for Minneapolis Public Schools (clink on link for data)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Relationship between fulfillment and consumption

I discovered this fulfillment curve on a blog that I like to follow, "Not Buying Anything".  Seems to sum things up pretty nicely.  Having more than we need does not increase our sense of fulfillment, and in fact decreases our sense of fulfillment.  Money does not buy happiness, unless it is given away, or helps to meet our basic needs.

How often do we hear of lottery winners, famous celebrities, "successful" business people or professional athletes who are financially wealthy and yet live unfulfilling lifestyles.  Their lives of extravagance tragically often involve broken relationships, drug abuse, depression and sometimes suicide. However those who give generously of their great resources tend to live enriching and fulfilling lives.

What's enough for you?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ode to the Tamarack

Who are you Tamarack, gracefully standing geometrically poised?  Some of your family enjoy moist swampy soils while others reside loftily, soaking up the sun’s rays along mountainsides.

Neither fully deciduous nor coniferous. How is it that you decided, unlike the rest of your coniferous friends, to turn a radiant yellow and then deciduously drop your once rubbery needles and stand bare through the winter months?

Double agent of a tree, you've assumed a common alias, Larch. What the heck, some even call you Hackmatack. You whisper secrets among your masses in the boreal forests of Russia and Canada.

Persevere Tamarack, and continuing confounding those who would hope to classify and put you in the proper box. You, my friend, are an enigma, not easily defined.  Be proud of the unique, mystifying, and awe inspiring creation that is you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Goslings have arrived!

It is that time of year again when the Canada Geese hatch their goslings.  Pictured are some of the geese and goslings at Bassett Creek Park in Crystal, Minnesota.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Green burial

I've enjoyed watching a tulip in our back yard age gracefully.  Its peddles have now returned back to the earth and will continue to provide nutrients for the plant and its next generations.

Daffodil standing sentinel
at tulips burial
What a beautiful silent testimony to the way nature so beautifully and gracefully works its way though the life cycle. It has inspired me to think more seriously about the value of a green funeral.