Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bald Eagle lunching on Mallard

Yesterday morning I noticed a gathering of between one to two dozen mallards in a small section of open water on a holding pond at Bassett Creek Park.  The water was still open because it drains in this area to Bassett Creek.  With a morning temperature of 11 below zero, I was wondering if these ducks were still happy they hadn't flown south.

Later in the morning I spotted an American Bald Eagle in the Cottonwood tree it often frequents, mainly during the summer months.  I wondered what it was up to on this chilly day.  I discovered a couple of hours later when I saw this majestic bird fly by my home office window with something in its mighty talons.

I bundled up and grabbed my camera to see if I could discover what the eagle had caught.  After walking around the park and taking a few photos of cattails and the gently falling snow, I thought that the eagle had vanished.  However as I neared home much to my surprise I discovered the eagle perched on a cottonwood, munching away on its prey.  Turns out that one of the mallards who had chosen to stick around this winter was now the subject of the eagle's lunch.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Trumpeter Swans

 Over the weekend we took a drive to Monticello, a town along the Mississippi River, to view Trumpeter Swans. They are the heaviest birds, native to North America.  In addition to being big and beautiful, we discovered they're also quite loud... hence their name!

It was just 50 years ago that a law was passed protecting endangered species.  Let's all give a big honk for that!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Increased productivity through rest

Resting on park bench
I heard an entrepreneur on Minnesota Public Radio share how he often has long work days, but he always takes Sunday off, as a time to recuperate and share with his family. Paradoxically he finds this is also his most productive work time.  Earlier in the week he may find a seemingly insurmountable problem, but then when he's at rest, the solution will come to him.

This is a great reminder for us all to take time to rest and unplug from the business of our daily lives, especially when we're under the most pressure.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Obesity rate in Mexico tops US

Even in Mexico, a nation that has a staggering rate of poverty, obesity is a huge problem. Mexico tops the world with an obesity rate of 32.8 percent. The nation's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, is now encouraging Mexicans to exercise an hour a day.  The parliament has also passed a law which adds a significant tax on junk food and sugary drinks.

Like the US has discovered, the healthcare consequences of obesity are staggering.  Already some 9.2 percent of the children in Mexico are impacted by diabetes.  In addition to the rising popularity of fast, highly processed foods, Mexicans drink on average 43 gallons of sugary drinks, like Coca Cola, per person per year.

An article, Mexico to tackle obesity with taxes on junk food and sugary drinks, further describes the situation.

PS  The obesity rate in the United States is 31.8 percent.  We can give significant credit to our legislators for this. The cost of soda, chips and other junk foods made with corn syrup, is subsidized by the US government (How billions in dollars subsidize the junk food industry) .

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What color was baby Jesus?

Olive skinned Jesus, Joseph and Mary
Recently a misinformed FOX television "news" host, Megyn Kelly, stated that Jesus was white, just as was Santa Claus.

Historians believe it would be most likely that Jesus would have had olive/brown colored skin.

Cultures around the world have crafted Jesus in their own image.  It has always been popular to interpret scripture in ways that accommodate our world view and values.  Despite our tendency to form God into our image, the message of Christ was about being welcoming of all, whatever their race or gender... ALL are created in God's image.

You can read further about this controversy in an article by Jesse Washington, "The race of Jesus, unknown, but still exerts a powerful pull on humanity."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holidays without a loved one

While going to retrieve my coat after this past Sunday's worship service I overheard one of the members commenting about how he couldn't wait to get through Christmas.  He had lost his wife earlier in the year, and was confiding with another friend who had lost a spouse a few years previously.  Then, before we had our coats on, another gentleman joined in the conversation about the difficulty of the holiday. He too had lost his wife earlier in the year.

I had recently considered the idea of doing a "cross training" retreat for couples to prepare for the inevitable loss of one of the partners before the other. The idea of the cross training would be to help spouses understand the roles of the other; whether it be food, finances, computers or home maintenance. When I asked what could have been done to prepare them for loss of their spouse, one person commented leaving their financial matters in order is a great gift to the surviving spouse.  However they all agreed nothing could fully prepare one for such an enormous loss and change in life.  Kind of like becoming a parent, no books or training sessions are adequate to get one ready for such a dramatic change.

So, while holidays are a time of great joy and excitement for many, let's also remember that for others they can be a painful time, living with the void and loss of a loved one.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

By the pond's edge

These grasses were pictured along the edge of the frozen pond at Bassett Creek Park.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New York City Council votes to ban single use Styrofoam.... Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Rock on NY City!  I see way too much Styrofoam in walks around the park, and elsewhere, that will not decompose for who knows how long. It is nice to see the environment get a win every now and then!

A brief article, Win! New York City bans Styrofoam, describes the ban.  It is expected that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will sign the bill into law by year's end.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The joy of creating

Yesterday I experienced the joy of creating, both while baking for a holiday workplace party, and while making sets of coasters for a customer, who saw them on display at a coffee shop (during the month of December I've got pictures on display at the Dunn Brothers coffee shop on Lake Street and Humboldt Avenue South, in Uptown Minneapolis).

In a increasingly consumer society, it feels especially good to be able to make something.  Not only is the process enjoyable, it is also great to have the sense of satisfaction of being able to do something others will enjoy.

I'm pleased to report I had three requests for the recipe of the Swedish Kringler.  So, here goes...

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup flour   1/2 cup butter   2 Tablespoons cold water

Mix the flour, margarine and cold water, like you're making a pie crust.  Then spread the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Pat to a 12 x 6 inch rectangle.
Kringler and coffee

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup water    1/2 cup butter   1 cup flour   3 eggs   1 teaspoon almond extract

Boil the water and butter in a small pot.  Remove from the burner and quickly stir in flour.  Stir vigorously over low heat until the mixture forms a ball, about one minute.  Beat in the eggs and extract until smooth and glossy.  Spread over the crust.  Place in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until the Kringler starts to brown.  THen turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake and additional 30 -35 minutes.  Cool and frost with almond frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar    3 Tablespoons butter    1 1/2 teapoons almond extract   1-2 Tablespoons milk

Mix the powdered sugar, butter and extract.  Stir in the milk until smooth and of spreading consistency.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding purpose provides health benefits for seniors

In an article "To keep sharp, find purpose", Neal St. Anthony notes how that even through retirement people still need a purpose in life.  He cites Richard Leider, a management consultant and author of "Life Reimagined", who notes how the healthiest seniors are those who are the most engaged in something; ranging from tennis, volunteering or art.

It has been interesting to witness many seniors who are regular volunteers at Second Harvest Heartland.  Not only do they seem to benefit by making a positive difference for others less fortunate, they also reap the added perks of social interaction.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weeping willow and snow

This weeping willow in the snow reminded me of the style of a Chinese artist friend, Professor Zhao.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Looking like it could be a white Christmas

Yesterday morning there was a period of time when the park was so white with snow it appeared as if we were inside of a snow globe.  After taking pictures of many lovely plants, this was the last photograph of the morning.

The paradox of giving

I'm always impressed by the vast majority of people who thank me after they've volunteered for a three hour shift of packing food for hungry people at Second Harvest Heartland.  They've often driven a great distance to volunteer, and worked hard repackaging food for their neighbors in need.  In addition to packing, sometimes it involves having to discard rotten potatoes or onions, which will then be given to the pigs.  Other times it might require packaging hundreds of bags of rice or pasta.  Yet, almost to a person, the volunteers are thankful.  Why is this?

I wonder if we don't all feel a  deep-seated need to be helpful and contribute to the common good?  When given a nicely structured opportunity, it is not only welcomed, but also embraced.  Among life's greatest paradoxes is that through giving we receive.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Six hour work day?

An article "Why the 9-to-5 day is so tough on creative workers" notes how it might be a much more effective use os "knowledge workers" time to simply have them work during times when they're most productive.

It seems to me with the growing concern about having jobs enough for all, this could also help grow the labor force and diminish some of the stress felt by so many who are left with enormous jobs, due to the multitude of rounds of corporate layoffs, which seem to be daily occurrences.

The great economist, John Maynard Keynes, suggested about a century ago that only extreme workaholics would work more than 15 hours a week by 2030.  Seems we're not exactly on track, are we?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Miracle Medical Prescription

Interested in a prescription that will help you have better health and a longer life, and is affordable to all?  Dr. Jordan Metzel has the cure... EXERCISE.  The minimum dosage is 2 1/2 hours a week.

You can read about the many benefits of exercise through his book "The miracle drug you need to take".  An interview with Dr. Metzel was on Science Friday this past Friday.

Pictured right is Alfred Schrubb, c/o Running and Cross-Country Running, Health & Strength Ltd London, circa 1909.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Habitat house story

Jon, Valley of Peace Volunteer and
Farrah, Habitat for Humanity Homeowner
It was great to read a bit more about the mom and four children that have moved into the Habitat for Humanity that I had a chance to help build earlier this summer.  No easy job to be a single parent of four, with an annual salary of $35,000 as a full time member of the National Guard.

You can read about Farrah's story on Habitat's Building Community Blog.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Exercise and aging

Yesterday afternoon I went to see if my 95 year-old neighbor might want help with clearing the snow off of her driveway.  Much to my surprise, she had already shoveled two thirds of it herself.  Wow! She told me she shoveled a few rows at a time and then would go into the house to rest.  She wanted the exercise.

Another of her fall exercises is raking leaves.  At the beginning of December I took five large bags of her leaves to our mulch pile, since the garbage company was no longer accepting leaves. Isn't it great when one can get exercise while also doing a chore?  I  wish more of us would naturally get exercise by driving our cars less and walking or riding our bikes more.

While exercise by no means guarantees a long life, it certainly can't hurt!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life and death of a prophet: Nelson Mandela

During an adult study at church this past Sunday we discussed prophets.  These are people who are called by God to speak a word of truth and justice.  Some may be reluctant, such as Moses. Most may be wildly unpopular by those in power.  Jesus and John the Baptist met painful deaths because of their messages and unwillingness to soft peddle the truth. Speaking truth to power is dangerous.

Today a modern day prophet is being laid to rest, Nelson Mandela.  His message of justice brought him 27 years in prison, though he later became South Africa's president. As we were reminded by another modern day prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  So it is fitting that at least 91heads of state government were present for Nelson Mandela's public memorial service.

President Obama's address to the crowd included the following remarks... “It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person — their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul,” Mr. Obama said. “How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”....
“It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.”

Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Championship cyclocross race in the cold and snow

Cold temperatures and falling snow didn't stop the Minnesota Cyclocross Championships this past weekend at Bassett Creek Park.  Every year they hold this race, and it seems the harsher the conditions the more the riders seem to like it.  Being pretty 'hard core' I guess they thrive on adversity.

If you would like to see pictures from a couple of the races I've got an album of photos on my Zenfolio site:  http://picturingpeace.zenfolio.com/p113172243.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter in the park

Cold and snow, with a bit of the sun's reflection off of the ice made for a beautiful pond yesterday.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Making rolls

Got up early this morning to a minus nine degrees outside.  I decided to bake some rolls to counter the frosty temps.  It brought back great memories of my grandmother's delicious dinner rolls.  I took the liberty to add some craisins and walnuts.  As someone who was very contentious about nutrition, I'm sure grandma would have approved.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

Swamp milkweed and
newly falling snow
Do you want to be happy?  David Steindl-Rask, a Benedictine lay brother suggests we cultivate a sense of gratefulness.  As you can learn from his TED video, David Steindl-Rask: Want to be happy? Be grateful", to live gratefully, we must stop, look and go.

We must value the gifts and blessings provided by living in the present moment.... the only time in which we have to live.

Brother Steindl-Rask believes that when we have an attitude of gratitude we will be less war-like and fearful.  Instead of living with a sense of scarcity we will have a spirit of abundance.

What's not to like about that?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tips for burning wood

It is that wood burning time of year once again.  If you're going to make a fire there are a few important things that can be done to reduce pollutants.  First, burn dry, well seasoned wood only.  Secondly, if possible use an EPA certified wood burning stove.  They can be up to 70 more efficient than older models. Lastly, don't let your fire smolder.  Monitor the flue so that it burns as hot and clean as possible.

More information available at the Environmental Protection Agency's website, Burn Wise.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reflections on a pedestrian bridge

A pedestrian bridge spans highway 100, allowing foot and bike traffic to cross safely over.  This is a reflection of a portion of the bridge coming from nearby Bassett Creek.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cattails and morning sunrise

Ice on the pond, beautiful sunrises and cattails were all a part of the scenery on walks around Bassett Creek Park this weekend.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Destroying our enemies

"Do I not destroy my enemies when we make them my friends?"  - President Abraham Lincoln

I heard this wonderful quote during a radio broadcast with President Obama's spiritual advisor, Joshua Dubois. This seems to be particularly good counsel during this time of increasingly vitriolic communication, which divides the "left" from the "right".  It is hard to hate people who you come to know and love as friends.

In addition to educating and bridging political divides, friendship can also help to bring together people of differing economic strata, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Icy curves

The ice forming around a small tributary to Bassett Creek developed into interesting patterns.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Retail Turkey of the Year award

Once again I'm giving the Retail Turkey of the Year award to Gander Mtn. Firearms Super Center.  They standout from all the other stores for a couple of reasons...

First, on Thanksgiving Day they were headlining a special for a semi-automatic assault style rifle, ammunition and semi-automatic Luger pistols. Catering to people's fears they carry such shotguns as the Winchester "Defender" and the H&R "Protector Pump Action."  And for those who want to be even more proactive with their firearms they were promoting in their Thanksgiving Day flier the Bushmaster, "Patrolman 223 Rem", proudly made in the USA, which is much like soldiers carry in war or well armed law enforcement might use.

Secondly, Gander Mtn. decided to be open from 8 am Thanksgiving Day until 2 am the following morning.  So, in addition to promoting gun sales of the sort that have caused thousands of deaths across this country, they're also family unfriendly for their employees.

Gobble, Gobble.  Gander Mtn. represents the dark belly of the USA.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How about taking a big serving of empathy this Thanksgiving?

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.  

-Nicholas Kristof, Where is the love?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ice fishing?

A lone bobber stood frozen in the solid ice on the pond at Bassett Creek Park.  Though the pond is rather shallow, it still manages to harbor sunfish, bass, crappies, bullheads and lots of very large carp.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nature's icy artistry

Kinda cool to see the various layers of bubbles captured under the newly formed ice.  With the sudden cool temperatures it appeared that the ice was already a few inches thick.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The benefit of mulching leaves

An article in the New York Times, "Rake the leaves? Some towns say mow them", did a great job of communicating the benefits of mulching, rather than gathering yard leaves.  I've been mowing and mulching for many years, and can heartily endorse the practice.

Hoar frost bejewels leaves

Hoar frost from the cold weather we've been having provided an amazing enhancement for the leaves left on the pond at Bassett Creek Park.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Morning rays by the pond

The morning sun provided back lighting to the weeds and cattails growing along the pond shores in Bassett Creek Park.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Full moon over the pond

We recently enjoyed a full moon.  I snapped this shot by the pond's edge at Bassett Creek Park. I utilized the camera's flash to highlight the plant.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Geese on the pond

With a melting of the ice on the pond the Canada Geese returned again to their old haunts at Bassett Creek Park.  From the weather report it may well be that the ice will be returning, and may be around for a good many months!

It is interesting to not how they all lined up, with their faces into the cool wind out of the Northwest.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sunrise over Bassett Creek Park

With a light layer of ice, the morning sun reflected brightly over the pond at Bassett Creek Park this past Monday morning.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tech waste

Recently I had the help of a friend to bring a 36" color analog television to our local thrift store.  I tried to find a friend through work or Facebook that might want it, but none seemed interested. It seems amazing that this television which I had recently inherited from a friend, who's value would have been perhaps $1,000 just ten years ago, seemingly had no value today.

Following are some disturbing points of information about electronics recycling from a local nonprofit, TechDump.

Fact #1: Each year around 80% of all electronic devices (cell phones, tablets and computers) are thrown out in the trash. That means they end up in landfills or incinerators, releasing countless numbers of toxins into the air.
Fact #2: While e-waste only makes up about 2% of all trash in our nation’s landfills, it actually makes up about 70% of all types of toxic waste. The materials in your discarded electronics can cause serious problems for the central nervous system. They can also severely affect your kidneys.
Fact #3: Right now, less than 13% of e-waste is recycled properly. Inlight of the information in Fact #2, we believe this is just scary.
Fact #4: In the United States, if we were to recycle one million laptop computers in the course of a year, that would save the same amount of electricity that’s used to power almost 3,700 homes in a year.
Fact #5: According to an article on the DoSomething.org website, “It takes 539 pounds of fossil fuel, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture one computer and monitor.” Just one. Incredible, isn’t it?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fall floating downstream

Yesterday I snapped this picture of a maple leaf and seed floating down Bassett Creek, on their way to the Mississippi River.  Who knows, if they continue on they might even make it to the Gulf Coast of Mexico!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pair of mallards

It is no wonder this is duck hunting season, waterfowl are on the move this time of year.  These mallards are flying safely over Medicine Lake.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Graziella Maiden Grass

My neighbor's grasses were showing off in the sunlight. The formal name for these grasses is Miscanthus sinensis aka 'Graziella'.