Thursday, August 30, 2012

Government role in business

Hooray, the Obama administration has proposed ambitious new fuel standards for the auto industry.  By 2035 it  is recommended that the average fuel economy be doubled, to nearly 55 miles per gallon (New fuel standard for 2025 near 55 mpg).  Not surprisingly presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gone on record in opposition.  He would prefer that businesses have free reign to produce only products that consumers want.

If it were not for government laws and regulations would cars have seat belts, emission controls, or even unleaded fuel? Sometimes the government must consider the common good, which includes the environment.  The government's role in crafting legislation for the common good rightfully supersedes individual and business desires and liberties.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another surprise subject

Osprey with catch
Juvenile Bald Eagle in the chase

American Osprey have become frequent visitors to the pond at Bassett Creek Park these days.  Sometimes there are as many as three of them circling the sky, watching for fish.  

Following a recent successful catch one of the Osprey was quickly chased by a juvenile American Bald Eagle, who was perched on the branch of a nearby Cottonwood tree.  Other Osprey came to the defense of the successful hunter.  I couldn't see for sure, but I don't think that the eagle was able to snatch the fish away.  
Mature Bald Eagle cruising in the sky

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Surprise appearance of grasshopper

Grasshopper and milkweed
I went to see if I could capture a picture of some of the Osprey that were circling the sky over Bassett Creek Park's pond.  As I was patiently waiting for one to dive and capture a fish I noticed a grasshopper along the shore, sitting on a swamp milkweed pod.  

I wasn't able to get a very good shot of the Osprey, but I did end up with a pretty nice portrait of a grasshopper.

Sometimes, no often it seems when were looking and anticipating for one thing another opportunity appears.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anger and courage

"Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage.  
Anger at the way things are, 
and courage to see that they do not remain as they are."
 - St. Augustine

This reminds me of a more contemporary quote from the 1976 movie, Network,  "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more."

Despite ongoing wars, famines, ecological devastation and a host of injustices, it is easier than ever before for those of us in "first world" countries to become complacent with things as they are.  Many of us can just comfortably plop down with a cup or glass of our favorite beverage and watch the world go by on a wide screened television, or perhaps surf the web until the wee morning hours.

Yet, if we dare to hope for a better future it requires courage to act and speak on behalf of our concerns.  What do you care about enough that is worth courageous action? Now, the tougher question, what are you going to do about it, and when?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nature's artwork

Abstract pond art
This reflection of leaves and branches appeared to me to be in the fashion of Pablo Picasso's art work.   I simply rotated an picture 90 degrees that I took from a morning walk around Bassett Creek Park and then transformed it into a sepia color tone.  Hard, if not impossible to beat nature's beauty and creativity!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Getting ready for winter

Gray squirrel enjoying black walnut
This gray squirrel was quickly chomping through the outer layer of a black walnut.  It will likely soon find a good place to bury it for storage when the harvesting isn't so good.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The value of idelness

If you have a just a few minutes for thought, I would highly recommend reading a New York Times opinion piece by Tim Kreider, "The 'Busy' Trap."  He noted, among many astute observations, "The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment."
Bird with morning silhouette

Mr. Kreider further wrote... "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

A modern day mystic, Eckhart Tolle, observed "The real 'doing nothing' implies inner nonresistance and intense alertness."

Chuang Tzu, as interpreted by Thomas Merton, provided the following sage advise "If you practice non-doing (wu wei), you will have both happiness and well-being."  I recently shared this recommendation with some folks at church and they quickly retorted, yes, perhaps, and you will soon be out of a job.  

To keep our jobs we may need to "look busy" at work.  Perhaps we can also set aside moments for reflection, prayer, and 'nothingness', despite the inevitable pressures and time lines.

Here's a radical idea. What if we no longer considered idle hands as being the devils playground, but rather we thought of idleness as being next to godliness?

PS  If you're interested in this subject a fun and thought provoking book is "You don't have to be Buddhist to know nothing: An illustrious collection of thoughts on naught", conceived and edited by Joan Konner. 

Rules, rules and more rules!

Welcome to school!
We recently received in the mail our school district's "Student Behavior Handbook: rights and responsibilities"... all 72 pages of it! It would appear their legal council has been involved and is borrowing heavily from other school districts.

Wow, who do you think reads and discusses all of this?  Likely not a single one of the students who will find themselves in the principal's office and later expelled because of misbehavior.

This handbook reminds me a bit of the detailed laws and consequences for "misbehavior" as defined in the Old Testament book of Leviticus.  When laws become so vast and ridged, it seems all of our life can be lived trying to abide by strict rules, rather than living fully and generously by grace.

It is troublesome when such vast handbooks are created that focus on punishment and all the things we're NOT to do, rather than focusing on what it is we CAN do; those things that would be in our personal and communal best interest.

This reminds me of the field of youth work that used to spend all of its time and focus on preventing problems; teen pregnancy, drug use, school delinquency and drop out, etc.  Thankfully there is now more focus on developing assets, not just avoiding trouble!

When asked to summarize the oppressive Law of his day Jesus took a positive approach, saying "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Wouldn't it be nice if our school district could summarize their student behavior handbook so succinctly...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

American Bald Eagle

Juvenile American Bald Eagle... house sitting

Juvenile American Bald Eagle

Yesterday a juvenile American Bald Eagle perched atop of the Wood Duck house at Bassett Creek Park.  This spot was frequently occupied by a Great Blue Herron.  The Eagle utilized the roof top for eating a sunny it caught earlier in the pond. Juveniles don't take on the full appearance of a mature eagle with bright white head feathers until their fifth year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Morning in the park

Great Blue Heron in morning fog

Flower by pond's edge
(Purple Loosestrife?)

Early morning fog on the pond got me out with the camera yesterday.
Shortly after taking a picture of the heron I noticed this pretty purple flower by the pond's edge that was nicely backlit.  Unfortunately it looks like it may be a highly invasive species; Purple Loosestrife.  Even though it is a pretty flower, loosestrife can rapidly degrade wetlands and choke out fish and wildlife habitat.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Variations on yellow wildflowers

Looking up

Straight on with a bud and pond in the background

Mug shot with bee (gathering pollen on right)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vegetables, hooray!

Garlic seed pod
After preparing the soil, planting, weeding, watering, picking off dozens of Japanese Beetles, and lots more weeding, the harvest comes.  Earlier in the summer we enjoyed snap peas, swiss charred, kohlrabi, lettuce, chives and kale.  Now we're harvesting zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans and more kale.  Soon to come are garlic, carrots and beets.  I'm hoping that our late blooming egg plant and broccoli will mature before the end of the growing season.

We've endured a few visits to the garden by rabbits and one guest appearance by a deer. I've since tightened up the wire spacing in the garden fence where the rabbits squeezed through.  I'm hoping the deer visits will be few and far between.  Our 36" tall garden fence is no match for a motivated deer.
Blossoming Egg Plant

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Impermanence of people and things

I had a sernendipitous encounter with a running legend earlier in the week. My wife and I were walking our dog around Bassett Creek Park when we noticed the start of the Cooper High School alumni cross country meet.  As we were passing the runners were introducing themselves. One of the guys with graying hair and wearing a gray USA tea-shirt noted his name was Steve Plasencia, and that he was a 1974 Cooper graduate.  Steve Plasencia, did I hear that right?

This man, just a year older than I, had run the 10,000 meters for the United States in two Olympics.  He's run a 10K in 27:45 and a marathon in 2:12.51.  That marathon time is averaging nearly 5 minutes a mile for 26.1 miles. At age 40 Steve ran the 5,000 meters in 14:02, an American Master's record. That's smoking fast.

We didn't see the whole two mile race alumni race, but I did notice Steve was running right around fifth place.  Not bad for a 55 year-old, but definitely no where near the kind of pace he used to run years ago.  One can stay young and extremely fit for only so long.  In addition to his recreational running, Steve's the head track and field coach for the University of Minnesota.

Watching a running legend become more "human" was a reminder that nothing on this old earth is permanent; including jobs, status, family, home, neighbors, health and life.  If we just stop breathing within just a matter of minutes we, and our loved ones, will be reminded just how impermanent our life on this glorious earth is.

Sadly some of the longest lasting legacies many of us might leave behind are the plastic water bottles and styrofoam cups we've used for beverages. Huge islands have developed in our oceans of this floating junk. I don't think that this is the sort of permanent legacy that any of us want to be known for, is it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remembering the U.S. - Dakota War

Chief Little Crow statue at
Minnehaha Falls
Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton, has called for this to be a day of remembrance of the U.S. - Dakota war which took place 150 years ago in 1862.  He is appalled by then Governor Ramsey's call to exterminate and remove the Dakota people from the state (Dayton repudiates Ramsey's call to exterminate Dakota).

This week the StarTribune is publishing an excellent series "In the footsteps of Little Crow", which began on Sunday with an article, A man lost in history.

In response to the uprising about 1,600 Dakota women, children and men unconnected to the violence were marched from the Lower Souix Agency to Fort Snelling.  Many died while at the fort from a measles epidemic that spread rapidly through the dirty, crowded quarters. It is estimated about 160 Dakota died during the year and a half they were kept at Fort Snelling.

During this same time period 38 Dakota were hung in Mankato, Minnesota at the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
An execution of two Dakota leaders, Sakpedan (Little Six) and Wakanozhanzhan (Medicine Bottle) took place at Fort Snelling on November 11, 1865.  Tradition recalls that at the time of the execution a train whistle blew, prompting Sakpedan to declare, "As the white man comes in, the Indian goes out."
Soldiers reenactment at
Historic Fort Snelling
Flag raising in front of the
Round Tower (circa 1820)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

House sitting

Great Blue Heron
This Great Blue Heron enjoyed its perch atop of a Wood Duck house at Bassett Creek Park pond in Crystal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is your load too heavy?

Trailer unable to lift heavy load
Sometimes a load can be just too much for one to bear.  This was clearly the case for a neighbor who had a dumpster containing a heavy load of asphalt. He's either going to have to get a larger truck to lift this load, or to divide it up into smaller sizes.

The driver noted that in addition to the practical matter of his truck not being able to lift the load, there would also be a significant danger to others on the road with such a heavy load.  An overburdened truck like this would not be able to stop quickly if needed, and could end up ramming other vehicles, bikers or pedestrians.

Sometimes it helps to have friends to lighten our loads.  Friends take half of our sorrows and double our happiness!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Spirit of the games

High fives following game
It was fun to witness the spirt of sportsmanship at the US Ultimate National Youth Club Championships held this past weekend in Blaine, MN.  Not only did these high school athletes demonstrate a high level of athletic ability, they also were off the charts in being fun and encouraging with their competition.  There were countless high fives throughout games by teams for their opponents when they made great plays.  How often do you see this in sport?

Sometimes during time outs while the seven active players from each of the teams gathered on the field with their coaches others from the sidelines got together members from the other team and played group games, such as "ninja".

Teams huddle together following game
Player wearing special prizes
Following the games the traditional sports line of high fives with the opposing team players occurs.  After this I noticed that many Ultimate teams often joined in a large intertwined circle with the other teams and provided encouraging remarks, and sometimes even prizes! The girls teams even share a creative song praising their competition... this is not so common with the boys ;-)

Hats off to the Minnesota Mixed Ultimate Team for winning the "Spirit of the Game" tournament award.  Congratulations also to the Minnesota boys team for taking first place in their division.
Ultimate layout and "D"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Segregation growing within United States

Segregation between the rich and poor is growing, while the middle class is diminishing.  The Pew Research Center recently shared a report, The Rise in Residential Segregation by Income, which details this trend.

Why should we be concerned?

First, it benefits us all to live civilly together in a just society.  Back in the 1970s I benefited by becoming a "racial transfer" and attending Minneapolis Central High School, located in the heart of south Minneapolis.  This was an economically and racially diverse school.  In my graduating class I not  only had one of the son's of world famous Transplant surgeon, John Najarian, but also the now famous musician Prince.  There was a rich diversity of students from a wide ranging economic background and a multitude of racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds.  This helped me to develop a level of comfort with others who didn't look like me. I learned that people who looked different from me or came from other countries need not be feared. This benefited me later both professionally and personally.

My diverse high school experience was central to later work that I did with the Kinship mentoring program for children and youth from disadvantaged environments.  On the home front I've also benefited enormously from the experience of a racially diverse marriage and family.

With over 25 years of working in the mentoring field, I've become intensely aware of how neighborhoods that are economically segregated often lack a healthy range of role models for their young people.  While there are neighborhoods where some children are surrounded almost exclusively by white collar professionals, others have an abundance of underemployed or unemployed neighbors, and where many of the children's fathers are living in prisons.  How much more healthy it is for our children to live with a range of neighbors with varying skills and professions.  Having neighbors from a range of professional backgrounds broadens children's horizons as they think about future job prospects.

As we are able to filter our news and information sources via the internet and other media sources we are becoming less aware of the lives of others from differing backgrounds and perspectives.  This distorted perspective is compounded when we live in a enclave with others like ourselves.  I recall hearing how a sheltered corporate HMO executive decided to change his career when he discover the harsh reality of those without medical insurance. He became a more engaged and responsible citizen once he was able to get out of his comfort zone, and learned that not all lived comfortably as those in his exclusive professional and residential circle.

Economically balanced neighborhoods are also essential to balanced and fair school system.  We discovered long ago that "separate but equal" simply did not lead to a fair education for all students. Myron Orfield, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty, argues that integrating our neighborhoods and schools is not only a moral imperative, but also critical to regional vitality ("Segregated... Again"). He notes a disturbing trend; over half of the Twin City neighborhoods that were integrated in the 1980's are now segregated.  Schools in those low income neighborhoods tend to lack parental involvement, accountability and adequate funding.  Consider how few of our city and inner ring schools have booster clubs to enrich their student's educational and extra curricular activities, as is common among so many schools in more affluent areas.

Mr. Orfield observes that segregation is "about a fundamental divide in who has access to opportunity - jobs, decent housing, safe streets good schools.  Where you live determines your basic prospects in life. It's hard to overestimate how devastating it is for families and children to be trapped in failing communities and struggling schools. Or how much it undermines the quality of life, competitive edge, and vitality of the entire region."

I remember chuckling when I saw "We value diversity" boldly printed on a gym wall at an elementary school in the wealthy suburb of Edina.  I don't honestly think that that diversity is one of the characteristics that entices people move to upper income neighborhoods.  Quite to the contrary, people often find it comforting to move to areas where there are others that are of a similar financial, ethnic and or racial background.

When we don't have regular interactions with others who are different than us we can easily become fearful.  After graduating from Minneapolis Central I went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, a small town in the northeastern part of the state.  I recall coming back for Christmas break and taking a city bus into town for a basketball tournament.  Being one of two white folks on a crowded bus I experienced culture shock and a bit of fear, after having adjusted to a culturally homogenous environment. We tend to fear the unknown and those with whom we don't regularly interact, especially if the media commonly portrays them as dangerous.

With a global marketplace and increasingly diverse work force, the business world recognizes the need for culturally competent employees. They want employees that can understand the wide ranging needs and tastes of their consumers around the country and world.

Finally, political instability occurs when the middle class shrinks.  We can run, and build gated communities, but we will not be able to hide forever.  Should the disparities between the "haves" and "have nots" become too large political unrest is sure to follow. We are rapidly approaching a time when the minority in the United States will become the majority.  For our nation to succeed we need to learned to live and work together. There is no "them and us", there is only "us".

Friday, August 10, 2012

Solar power

Solar panels at Luther College, Decorah, IA
In an article, The Secret to Solar Power, in the New York Times MagazineDanny Kennedy, with Sungevity, makes a strong argument for solar energy.  Mr. Kennedy observed...

Think about it this way. We’re killing people in foreign lands in order to extract 200-million-year-old sunlight. Then we burn it . . . in order to boil water to create steam to drive a turbine to generate electricity. We frack our own backyards and pollute our rivers, or we blow up our mountaintops just miles from our nation’s capital for an hour of electricity, when we could just take what’s falling free from the sky.

He further states... 

Humanity needs to be reminded that the sun’s putting out four hundred trillion trillion watts every second of every day, and we should tap that. Let’s wear it, be proud of it, push it. That’s the real motivation, I think. We’ve got to brand the sun.

Got sun, then why not tap into solar energy?  We had a solar company come out to see if it might make sense for us to install panels on our home.  Unfortunately we live by a hill and have too many large mature trees in our yard to make it worthwhile.  Long winter months when the sun is low on the horizon doesn't help much either...

Kale, the new star of veggies!

Kale in our garden
Interesting to see a rise in the popularity of kale in the vegetable ranks (Lowly kale has its moment, by Kristin Tillotson, StarTribune).  Not only doe s it have a wide range of uses, it also is a great source of vitamins A, C, K and B6, and is also high in iron, calcium and folate.

We've come to enjoy kale as a valued member of our garden.  It grows easily and continues to grow after leafs are taken for consumption.

It is great in stir fry and has recently become popular when baked in olive oil and used as kale chips.

Got kale?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Morning in the park

Yesterday was a beautiful morning in the park. I brought out the camera and captured a curved branch that with reflection appeared like a C in the water. It turned out to be a nice addition to my "pond art" series.

A juvenile American Bald Eagle captured a sun fish and enjoyed finishing it off while perched on the limb of a large cottonwood tree.

Perhaps the best photographic opportunity came at midmorning when I went for a run, and didn't have my camera along.  As I was heading down a wood chip trail a doe appeared and firmly stood its ground in the middle of the path, about 10 yards in front of me.  I paused and waited for it to move.  A couple of minutes passed, and about the only thing that it moved was its large ears and white tail.  Soon I discovered the reason why.  Up from below the trail, on the shores of a pond, came two spotted fawns.  Their mother then lead the way into the forested area.  I was happy simply to take in this moment with my eyes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Night to Unite

Night to Unite gathering of neighbors... and their dogs!
We enjoyed helping host our 11th Annual "Night to Unite" block party yesterday.  It is always great to spend time getting to better know our neighbors, both old and new.  The weather was absolutely ideal.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympic risk and reward

I read with amazement a story of a 57 year-old Chinese farmer who traveled for two years by rickshaw to attend the Olympic games in London (Chinese farmer makes an Olympian trek to Games).  What an amazing feat and adventure.  He has relied heavily on the kindness of strangers along the way, having a personal budget of only about $1,000.  He boldly set out to both see what he could achieve and to share in the Olympic spirit.

Despite numerous hardships along the way, including floods and freezing temperatures, this farmer has had a great experience, and now is planning to make his way to the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro.

One of my biggest adventures came when I decided to study in Nottingham, England during my junior year of college.  What a great experience it turned out to be; learning about another culture and traveling around much of Britain and Europe. At the time one of the largest risks I had taken, but it also provided the largest return.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. What great adventure might you envision for yourself in the days and years ahead?

Monday, August 6, 2012

What do you do?

I got a kick out of watching a truck commercial that is airing during the Olympics.  It starts off with a man in a busy neighborhood inquiring of what appears to be a new neighbor... "The Johnson's right... what do you do?".

The new guy really never answers, as he thinks for a moment while various scenes are played of him having fun with his family, playing chess with an older man, swimming, throwing a bale of hay in the back of his truck, splitting wood, a candlelight pizza dinner with a significant other, loading lumber, etc.

When asked what he does, it was nice to see a more reflective response than simply what he did to make money. That said, I don't think that he needed to buy a large pick-up truck to enjoy a full rich life.

During the next Olympics I'd love to see a commercial with a bike parked in the driveway and the comment will be "The Johnson's right... way to conserve energy and stay fit!" Video clips will then be provided of the new neighbor biking to work, the grocery store, a family outing to the library, and cycling to a park.  I'm just not sure of who the sponsor of this ad might be...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Car washing tip

Our daughter recently asked why I wash the car on our lawn... so I thought it might make a good blog entry!

This practice not only helps to water the grass below, it also filters the soapy water through the lawn, rather than having it run down the driveway, into the storm drain, and then into a creek or pond.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Watering tips for the heat

Following are a few tips from Deb Brown's StarTribune article "A guide to watering in extreme heat".

Maturing cucumber
  1. Water early in the day when it is less likely to be windy and quite as hot. The heat and wind dramatically increases evaporation, thus not getting the water to the plant's roots.
  2. Avoid watering directly onto the plants later in the day, as this can cause fungal and bacterial diseases if they're wet all night.
  3. Water more thoroughly about once a week to maintain and develop a strong root system. Infrequent sprinkling develops shallow roots which are then not able to withstand heat and drought.
Another means of conserving water is to utilize a drip irrigation system. This system feeds water directly to the roots through pipes.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Minnesota's Brule River

Minnesota's Brule river
Fast flowing water

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell)

While helping to build the cabin porch in northern Minnesota we took time out to clean up at the nearby Brule river.  Recent rains had the water flowing rather quickly.  I chuckled to see a dandelion growing amongst the beautiful native ferns and other plants.  Seems these opportunistic invaders grow in places other than lawns!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Porch raising and apprenticeships

North woods cabin
 A friend from church invited me to join him and a few others at his north woods cabin to build a new porch.  This immediately interested me, as I had long heard about barn raising, and still had fond memories of helping to build our family cabin some 40 years ago.  I also love time in the woods.

The cabin site was located far enough into the woods that there was no electricity, running water or even cell phone service. We did however benefit from the use of a generator and power tools.  

Work crew
We had a crew of seven guys with an age span of 50 years.  Our dietary interests ranged from sour gummy worms and Mountain Dew to strong black coffee and Apple Streusel.  The previous building experience of our crew was also wide ranging.

Porch addition
It was fun to see how much we were able to accomplish just within a couple of days.  However our accomplishment pales in comparison to the old cabin/barn raising of years ago, when no power tools were involved.  On of the guys in our group told the history of a neighboring cabin that was built years ago out of logs, by a group of five men just within a matter of a few days, all by hand.  

Shimmed up corner
I marveled to think of much of the fine craftsmanship was involved in building years ago, even without the aid of power tools.  By having a school system that does't allow for apprenticeships we've lost, and continue to lose, considerable knowledge of craftsmanship. As I discovered, working alongside others is a great way to learn!