Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Slowest News Day

The Atlantic reports, "April 11, 1954 was the most uneventful and boring day of the 20th century. Every day something of significance occurs, but nothing remarkable had happened on the said day in 1954, according to experts who inserted over 300 million important events of the century into a computer search programme to calculate."

A reader responds "April 11, 1954 sounds like the most wonderful day in history. I think it's worthy of a holiday. A day where everyone tries really hard to not do anything newsworthy."

Of course, we are reminded of Andy Warhol's, quote from 1968, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Here's to slow days filled with anonymity and appreciation of the world around us.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Cease Fire: Proactive Program

How does one break the cycle of gang violence and serious street crime?

Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who formed CeaseFire, a highly successful anti-gang program based in Chicago, devised a comprehensive approach. According to Dr. Slutkin, violent behaviour is learned by modelling and unconscious copying, and sustained by peer pressure. The unfortunate result is that minor grievances are settled by the barrel of a gun. These volatile situations are further compounded by the expectation of peers to “do something” to save face and “honour.”

"Dr. Slutkin’s solution is a public-health approach, in which eradication of violence is modelled along the same lines as the eradication of polio or other diseases. The key is to stop transmission of violence, while inoculating the community to develop resiliency or immunity against the “disease.” It requires the co-operation of government, police and grassroots organizations. Most importantly, affected communities are not passive onlookers. Rather, they take a central role in improving their quality of life."

CeaseFire was launched in West Garfield Park, Chicago, in 2000 and quickly reduced shootings by 67 per cent in its first year.

"The program has five core components: community mobilization, youth outreach, public education, faith-based leader involvement and criminal justice participation. This includes a cadre of outreach workers who focus on changing the behaviours and attitudes of high-risk individuals, and “violence interrupters” who call for truces and a stop to retaliation. Many are former gang members who are eager to help young people avoid a life of violence. Conflict mediation is central."

Sheema Khan believes the program has strategic potential in some communities in Canada and throughout the world. Ceasefire.ca has an extensive network of professionals willing to engage communities in comprehensive social outreach.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fading Blooms

'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may'
'Make your lives extraordinary'
'Carpe Diem-
'Seize the day.'

Robin Williams as English teacher
in the movie Dead Poets' Society (1989)
took his students into the foyer
of the elite private school
to view trophies and class pictures.
He encouraged them to look into those
bright and eager faces
and read what messages they convey.

'Well, my boys, they are now fertilizing daffodils.'

All of us have trophies,
successes amidst failures.
However, easily consumed by daily activities,
vital choices
may be illusory
amidst the falling leaves and faded blooms.

For a wonderful one minute segment of this scene in the movie, go here.

Submitted to Magpie Tales.

Good to be Colour Blind?

At 365 Quote Quest I provide a quote a day and several questions for reflection. This one encouraged me to linger.

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind. ~ Albert Schweitzer

- Are you more an optimist or a pessimist?
- To what extent do you get excited or disappointed by the green and red lights in your life?
- How can one cultivate and enrich colorblindness in life?
- How might it enhance your life?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Antidote to Yearning

I'm on track to post 365 words for 2010 at 365 Word Quest as I stroll through the dictionary from A-Z. (Imagine the luxury as a retired English teacher to be able to engage in such hobbies.)

At present I am well into the D's.

desiderata- the plural of desideratum noun- something lacked and wanted

C17 from Latin desiderare- desiderate verb- to feel the lack of or need for; long for; miss

It's interesting to think about what we might lack and want in our lives. How wonderful if it's very little. And, yet, for many people there is a something gnawing at the core, robbing vitality and personal happiness.

Max Ehrmann's 'Desiderata' has provided a guide post for many over the years since its publication in the 1920's.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In Stitches

All of us remember our stitches. Not as much, perhaps, the laughter with the cliche 'being in stitches,' but with the more painful, physical ones,.. or the stitches that are required in the world.

On Friday, fresh from a big Thanksgiving dinner with family, friends and staff, President Obama awoke and decided to get some exercise. Because of the wet weather in Washington, the choice was an easy one. Rather than setting off for a round of golf, Obama chose indoor basketball. The president left the White House at 9:30 and played five-on-five with family members and friends.

"After being inadvertently hit with an opposing player's elbow in the lip while playing basketball with friends and family, the President received 12 stitches administered by the White House Medical Unit."

Here is the world, sound as a nut, not the smallest piece of chaos left, never a stitch, nor an end, not a mark of haste or blotching, or second thought but the theory of the world is a thing of shreds and patches. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The current event and quote encourage us to think about our own personal physical stitches and, possibly, what is shredded and patchy about our world which may require some stitches.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fruit/ Vegetable Renaissance

With advances in genetic research, new fruits and vegetables bound for supermarkets are tastier, healthier — and more attractive; moreover they're not the products of genetic modification. The improved ability to identify and track genome traits has enabled researchers to cross-breed faster and more predictably than ever before.

“A main objective here is to bring flavour and flavour experiences to a new level in the produce department, so we’re doing this across the board—tomatoes, peppers, melons,” says David Stark, Monsanto’s vice-president of consumer benefits, one of the featured companies.

Red celery has been created by cross-pollinating existing commercial varieties with a vibrant red, but bitter, heritage celery root from Eastern Europe.

Crisphead Romaine Cross Lettuce is a cross between two popular greens. It has the popular crunch and taste of iceberg, but with the higher vitamin A and C content of romaine.

Red Brussels sprouts has a distinctive new appearance and improved flavour bound to be a hit with kids.

A new broccoli contains up to three times more glucoraphanin, a substance that helps the body reactivate antioxidants, enhancing the ability to tackle free radicals. Breeding commercial broccoli with a wild, Sicilian relative that contains higher levels of glucoraphanin.

It's encouraging to see that new, healthier varieties can be developed through advances in genetic research without genetic modification. What fresh, distinctive products do you enjoy?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beyond the Light Switch

What if the whole world was without electricity for one week? What pandemonium, devastation would result? Would there be a job for you? How would your lifestyle change? Could you survive with your family?

Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely. But it does force us to think about how dependent we are on electricity for EVERYTHING!

Where does it come from? How do we keep the electric grid, the world's largest machine, humming with power for everything our heart desires?

In Ontario our government has announced a doubling of consumer electric bills over the next 20 years, with major investments in nuclear generation, and green energy initiatives in solar and wind power. By 2020 there will be no dependency on "dirty coal." Moreover, consumers will pay more for energy at peak times during the day.

David Biello has produced a four hour documentary for local PBS entitled 'Beyond the Light Switch. What will the Future of Energy Look Like?' He wants to contribute some perspective on the national energy debate. How should we proceed given our finite resources and desire to lessen our contribution to global warming and pollution?

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

26 Marathons in 26 countries

It must get tedious running marathons of 26.2 miles in hot, crowded cities. How about running one in Greenland surrounded by glaciers? That's what 60 or so runners did on October 23 when the temperature was around -5 degrees Centigrade (25 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Welcome to a tough, unique marathon in truly magnificent scenery. The Polar Circle Marathon known as “the coolest marathon on earth” takes place in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. "The endless ice and snow of this vast country make up the backdrop of this unusual race, in which runners pass glacier tongues, moraine landscapes and soundless, arctic desert."

The course is run on the snow covered gravel road connecting the inland ice with the small township just north of the Polar Circle. A part of the route even takes place on the Greenlandic ice cap itself.

"The race attracted runners from around the world, with 18 countries represented this year. Many had run extreme and exotic marathons, like the retired South African lecturer who had already knocked off seven marathons in seven continents, and is now well on the way to completing his next goal of running 26 marathons in 26 countries. Others were tackling their first 26.2-mile race. Several businessmen were having a change from their usual sports of mountaineering and cycling, as part of their plan to do "one stupid thing a year".

We all know someone among our friends, family, or even ourselves who has tried the 10 K, half or full marathon... The training, the preparation, the run make for great drama and camaraderie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pass the Veggies

It's heresy to think about Thanksgiving without turkey, but vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli of Los Angeles and most of her family have had a turkey-free Thanksgiving for the past 10 years. Every fall, she and her mother experiment with new meat-free dishes and work to “veganize” some of the traditional family favorites.

“My family decided it wouldn’t make Thanksgiving any better tasting to have turkey on the table,” said Ms. Coscarelli, whose holiday recipes include maple-roasted brussels sprouts and portobello mushrooms filled with savory lentil-cashew stuffing. “I have served an all-vegan Thanksgiving to the most diehard carnivores, and no one misses the meat.”

Writer Tara Parker-Pope reflects, "Although I’m not a vegetarian, I stopped eating turkey two years ago, mostly because it’s not a meat I enjoy preparing or eating. But that small decision has also changed the way I cook and eat during the fall and winter holiday food season."

"I returned from a shopping trip with more than a week’s worth of food. Except for a single package of chicken breasts, my bags were filled mostly with produce and grains. So far, my daughter and I have feasted on a delicious skillet mac-and-cheese dish packed with broccoli, onions and mushrooms; roasted brussels sprouts; a caramelized onion tart; and parsnip-and-apple soup. We still have plans to make an Indian-spiced sweet-and-sour butternut squash; zucchini boats with herbed ricotta; and an unusual buckwheat-and-black-kale dish created by Mr. Anthony. The chicken is now in the freezer because I haven’t gotten around to cooking with it."

The article in the NYT entitled 'A Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Even for Carnivores' encourages one to think about how one can reduce meat consumption and glorify the garden.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Eleventh Hour

The latest possible time
nearly too late-
most of us must make crucial decisions
throughout our life...
decisions made to shape our path
bring us happiness, fulfillment
or sadness and desolation-
crucial landmarks,
defining watersheds,
opportunities for vistas.
Some are made with much forethought
and before the eleventh hour...
in others we toss and turn going this way and that...
then there is spontaneous euphoria
or fevered haste.

Decisions shape
our character, reputation, and destiny.

What if our choices were based on
acquiescent acceptance
premonitions of possibility
valued volition?

A belief in the adventure of being?

Life is the sum of all our choices. Albert Camus

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. ~David Russell

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live. ~Flora Whittemore

This post is a submission to Magpie Tales #41, a site which invites some creative reflection.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art Inspires

Aptly named “Van Gogh from Space,” this picture was taken by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from a satellite. Rebecca Roth, of NASA, describes the picture:

' In the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.'

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" painted in 1889 is considered to be his magnum opus. The Dutch post impressionist work depicts the view outside his sanatorium room window at night. Since 1941 it has been on permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

It's interesting to think about how art surrounds and delights us through nature's realistic depictions, and through the talented work of artists in a host of genres.

Yesterday I marveled at a tri colour beech whose leaves fell like brittle gold shrouds with the slightest breeze.

Great art picks up where nature ends. ~Marc Chagall

NASA story via: Gizmodo

Friday, November 19, 2010

Feats of Fluidity

It's the weekend and this post is just for fun and enjoyment. Scottish cyclist Danny MacAskill is a master at freestyle street biking. (Someone said his name should be Danny Max Skill.) In this video he rides Scotland's Edinburgh Castle, bunkers on the island of Inchgarvie, and a power station in the Scottish Highlands. The scenery is great and the feats spectacular. The sound track of tunes by Scottish locals also enhances the pleasure. Several comments about the video have said they like to see it multiple times; it's that fluid and beautiful. I recommend the first couple of minutes if you are on internet cruise control. (And turn the volume UP!)

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

Via: Boing Boing

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making the World Open and Connected

I am a latecomer to Facebook and just learning about its dynamics. Recently Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, outlined a new messaging email system called Titan. All members will receive an @facebook.com email address and it will enable enhanced communication possibilities.

Apparently Facebook has considerable clout. "On the Internet, information is power, and no company has more information than Facebook, which will likely eclipse Google soon as the world’s most-visited website. Unlike Google, where users spend a few seconds or minutes searching for something and then move on, many of Facebook’s 500-million users spend hours on the site every day. That shift – from a two-way street model of asking for and receiving information to a multidimensional set of interactions – has the potential to change the Internet in ways not seen since its popularization in the 1990s."

How will all this information revolutionize the Internet?

"Imagine a future in which your social circle colours every on-line experience – in which websites customize content for you based on whom you know. In the not-too-distant future, an online shopping store’s sales pitch to you may consist of a personalized pitch from one of your closest friends. A news website may present to you a strikingly different front page than it presents to anyone else, because its editors know from your Facebook profile that you like stories about politics, say, but not crime."

Earlier this year, the founder under the glare of television lights confided, “My prediction would be that a few years from now we’ll look back and wonder why there was ever this time when all these websites and applications … weren’t personalized in some way,” he said.

“I just think that the world is moving in this direction where things are going to be designed more around people. I think that’s really going to be a powerful direction,..making the world open and connected."

Where are you on the Facebook value meter? Is Facebook a passing fad ?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

In a society which often extols the extrovert, there are two articles which help to provide perspective of the opposite. One is Jonathan Rauch's 'Caring for your Introvert' first published in The Atlantic in 2003:

"Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty...

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.
Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either."

Secondly there is Laurie Helgoe's essay in the September/October issue of Psychology Today:

"Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence. they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one.

Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good. As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player , and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture..."

Care to comment on the two dichotomous character types?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Love of Coffee

I ran across an interesting infographic on worldwide coffee production and consumption. Here is a question/answer list arising from it:

1) Which country produces the most coffee? (Brazil with 33% of world's production)
2) Name several other countries with high coffee production? (Vietnam- I am surprised this country is second, Columbia, Indonesia)
2) How big is the coffee trade per year in tens of billions of dollars? ($42.5 billion)
3) How many countries in the world grow coffee? (49- reveals its global significance)
4) What percentage of Americans drink coffee? (56% and 66 billion cups a year!)
5) After the United States name three other top coffee drinking countries. (Germany, Japan, Italy, France)
6) What percentage of coffee consumption is now gourmet? (40%-I'm finding that richer coffee certainly enhances the enjoyment.)

Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven. ~Jessi Lane Adams

Coffee is the best thing to douse the sunrise with. ~Terri Guillemets

What would we do without our morning elixer?

For a larger image go here:Holy Kaw

Monday, November 15, 2010

Globalism Incongruous with Fair Trade?

The Fairtrade Foundation helps to promote economic development opportunities in poor countries. It has just released a report revealing how billions of dollars in subsidies in wealthy countries prevent the world’s poorest cotton farmers from making a living.

As a result, farmers in the four biggest cotton producing countries of west Africa are losing out on vital income which would help people in rural areas and pay for roads, schools and other developments to reduce their dependence on aid, it claims.

"The current system of subsidies cannot be right and certainly is not fair. The principles of Fairtrade need to be integrated and reflected in the global trading system."

In 2005 governments agreed to end the cotton subsidies, but the deal will not come into force until the prolonged talks reach a full agreement. The next ministerial meeting has not been scheduled, but one is expected next year to mark 10 years since the talks began in the Qatar city of Doha.

For example, in the landlocked, semi-desert nation, Mali depends on cotton for its survival. Half of its export revenues come from cotton – it is the second-largest producer in Africa after Egypt – and it is estimated that more than 3.2 million Malians, 40% of the country's rural population, depend on the crop for their livelihoods.

Moussa, who started growing cotton 17 years ago, farms two hectares of land, which yield 500-800 kilos a year. Yet despite the quantity and quality of cotton he produces, he is barely able to feed his children.

"Sometimes, the young ones cry because they're so hungry," he says, his face impassive. "I become very angry when I'm not able to get enough food for my family. All the time, I feel sad." Last month, two of his youngest children contracted malaria and his three-year-old son almost died because Moussa couldn't afford to buy medicine. "That made me very afraid. It makes me feel ashamed because I am the chief of the family but I am not able to protect them. In our culture, this is unacceptable."

As nations extol the virtues of globalism, it seems wealthier countries need to be more sensitive to the hurdles faced by emerging economies.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Home in the Shade of a Sequoia

One has to admire a home which harmonizes with the surrounding landscape.

The Los Angeles Times Home of the Week is in Pasadena with an urban castle motif. Its central feature is a soaring 150-year-old giant sequoia which stands as a sentinel.

The house, built in 2007 by an architectural designer, is surrounded by 15-foot-high hedges and features a rooftop garden with rows of Italian cypress trees and succulent-filled planters.

"Somebody had to have loved that giant sequoia tree because it belongs up north," says the architect owner. "I designed the house vertically to give the tree some company. You can see the tree through the skylights, making the tree part of the house."

Having enjoyed the majestic sequoia on a recent U.S. national parks camping trek, I can appreciate why the architect wanted to spotlight and protect the vital tree.

He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What brings you peace and enjoyment in your home? How has your home been harmonized by the landscape around it?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Tweets for the Web

Tyler Cowen, professor of economics, writes a superb essay in the Wilson Quarterly about the positive aspects of the Internet; he calls it a cultural transformation.

"It may seem as if we have entered a nightmarish attention-deficit culture, but the situation is not nearly as gloomy as you have been told. Our culture of the short bit is making human minds more rather than less powerful."

"The arrival of virtually every new cultural medium has been greeted with the charge that it truncates attention spans and represents the beginning of cultural collapse—the novel (in the 18th century), the comic book, rock ‘n’ roll, television, and now the Web. In fact, there has never been a golden age of all-wise, all-attentive readers. But that’s not to say that nothing has changed. The mass migration of intellectual activity from print to the Web has brought one important development: We have begun paying more attention to information. Overall, that’s a big plus for the new world order."

"It is easy to dismiss this cornucopia as information overload. We’ve all seen people scrolling with one hand through a BlackBerry while pecking out instant messages (IMs) on a laptop with the other and eyeing a television (I won’t say “watching”). But even though it is easy to see signs of overload in our busy lives, the reality is that most of us carefully regulate this massive inflow of information to create something uniquely suited to our particular interests and needs—a rich and highly personalized blend of cultural gleanings."

Far from disorder, he argues, there is coherence, literacy, and satisfaction there. (His essay is worth reading in its entirety.)

He concludes, "... we are better off for this change, a change that is filling our daily lives with beauty, suspense, and learning."

Photo Credit

Study Surprises Researchers

It appears that a wandering mind, may be an unhappy mind.

An interesting research study of 2,250 volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 85, were monitored for their level of happiness as they went about their daily activities. They each were randomly contacted on their iPhones and prompted to answer an automated series of questions including how they were feeling at the moment, where they were doing, and whether they were focused on what they were doing or thinking about something else. If their mind had wandered, they were asked whether the thought was about a pleasant, neutral or unpleasant topic.

The findings, published recently in Science, revealed that the subjects spent 46.9 per cent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they were doing. What’s more, people were considerably less happy when their mind was wandering.

“These results certainly surprised me,” said the study’s lead author, Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard University. He had expected that people’s wandering thoughts would make them more happy – not less so.

Killingsworth pointed out that human beings, unlike other animals, spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them. People have the ability to contemplate “events that happened in the past, might happen in the future or will never happen at all.”

'The free-roaming human mind represents a remarkable evolutionary achievement, because it “allows people to learn, reason and plan,” they write in the journal. But, the researchers add, this unique trait also seems to take an emotional toll.

“When people turned inward and started mind wandering they tended to be quite a bit less happy,” Mr. Killingsworth said in an interview.'

'Even when the mind drifted into seemingly pleasing subjects, people were still less happy than when they remained focused on what they were actually doing.

He noted that some ancient philosophies and religions have taught that focusing the mind on the present is the path to inner peace and contentment. These old traditions may have a valid point, he said.'

The study encourages one to think about how we can use our minds and imagination in productive and fulfilling ways. Does our modern lifestyle contribute to more unhappiness?

Photo Credit:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An Empire of Dirt

Do you believe in urban chickens? Two articles intersected for me today. The city of Windsor, Ontario has deferred a decision to look into a recommendation to allow a bylaw that would make it legal to raise chickens in the city. The lobby group CLUCK (Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub) is disappointed. "We have a right to have wholesome food. It's a quality of life issue."

The other article is written by Manny Howard who writes for the Atlantic.

"Located behind our home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, The Farm was equal parts fever dream and forced march. During the course of my unintentionally ambitious experiment I turned a neglected 800-square-foot patch of barren clay into a verdant wonderland of vegetables, fruit, and livestock. Live on what you produced, and that alone (with the exception of salt, pepper, and coffee beans) for as long as possible, that's all I hoped to achieve. Not only was it necessary to import nine tons of topsoil from Eastern Long Island, I had to first tunnel through dense substrate and build a drainage system so the soil wouldn't float away during the first soaking rain. From there the work just got harder. I planted crops, built both coop and hutch, and installed 35 chickens—both laying hens and meat birds—along with half a dozen rabbits. I worked unceasingly for seven months to keep this unlikely assembly from imploding before the harvest arrived. When it did I was nourished, body and soul...."

Locavorism or urban agriculture, The Movement is gaining momentum. Why not use that precious square footage in the back yard for a garden utopia and animal farm?

Photo Credit:

How's your Infrastructure?

Youth and middle age is a time to obsess about our appearance. People over 50, however, begin to think about the foundation behind it all: the bones. Fragile bones or osteoporosis is an ailment that afflicts a growing percentage as one ages.

According to a leading dietician, "Adults aged 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day, and older adults require 1,200 mg. Teenagers need 1,300 mg of the mineral daily and children aged 4 to 8 should get 800 mg."

"One cup of milk, 3/4 cup of plain yogurt and 1.5 ounces of cheese each contain roughly 300 mg of easily absorbed calcium. Other sources include fortified soy beverages (300 mg per 1 cup), sardines with bones (3 ounces has 325 mg), canned salmon with bones (3 ounces has 188 mg), cooked Swiss chard (1 cup has 102 mg), cooked broccoli (1 cup has 62 mg) and almonds (1/4 cup has 92 mg)."

"If you can’t get enough calcium from food, take a supplement. Calcium carbonate pills typically offer 500 mg of calcium and are best absorbed when taken with or immediately after a meal. Calcium citrate supplements provide 250 to 350 mg per tablet and are well absorbed at any time."

Other precautionary measures include: taking Vitamin D, eating leafy greens, reducing salt, curbing caffeine, avoiding soft drinks, limiting alcohol, losing weight sensibly, and exercising regularly.

How does one maintain the healthy infrastructure which is your body? It seems diet and lifestyle are particularly important as one ages.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time etches Hearts

I couldn't resist the Theme Thursday invitation this week with the photo of a handful of sand cupped in the shape of a heart. This immediately brought to mind the heart shaped stones that our family collects from our walks along oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The interminable sweep of surf
and glint of wave
from smiling sun
and mellow moon
draw us to the nurtured sand
to look out over the expanse.
Infinite power resides there
endless horizons
and sea washed breezes,
and Time which watches over us
etches hearts to empower us
to care for nature
and each other.


There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

What do you find endearing about nature around you right now?

Monday, November 8, 2010

$5 Gifts Resonate for Generations

Imagine being totally destitute and needing a few dollars to get by for your family. Hundreds read an advertisement on Dec. 17, 1933 in The Canton Ohio Repository newspaper about an anonymous donor providing cash gifts to families in need.

His only request was that letters from the struggling people needed to describe their financial troubles and how they hoped to spend the money. The donor promised to keep letter writers’ identities secret “until the very end.”

Samuel Stone's secret lasted 75 years when in 2008, a Canton native received a suitcase stuffed with his late grandfather’s papers and did some research around the pseudonym B. Virdot.

'At a time when accepting charity was seen as a moral failure many saw the promise of anonymity shielded the letter writers from shame. An unemployed woman caring for her sick daughter and disabled sister wrote to Mr. Stone, “If I thought this would be printed in the papers I would rather die of hunger first.”'

For other families, Mr. Stone’s gift provided the only holiday cheer that bleak winter. Olive Hillman used the $5 check to buy her 8-year-old daughter a doll with a porcelain face and leather arms.

“I was thrilled to get it,” said the daughter, Geraldine Hillman Fry, now 85. “It really was the only doll that I ever had in my life, so it meant a lot to me.”

A reunion last week brought together 400 people who talked about how Mr. Stone’s example of generosity stayed with them for generations.

Days before Christmas 1933, with Mr. Stone’s gift in hand, Edith May took her 4-year-old daughter Felice to a five-and-dime store and bought her a wooden horse.

Seventy-seven years later, Felice May Dunn owns two farms and 17 Welsh ponies.

“In my life it made a big difference,” Ms. Dunn, 80, recalled. “It was my favorite toy.”

The article encourages one to think about how small acts of kindness can leave enduring, thankful memories.

(By the way, many people during the Depression tried to survive with $4-5 a week. That helps to add perspective to Mr. Stone's generous philanthropy.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Haitian Artisans find Hope

Empowerment is having vital employment in an impoverished country. Macy's has provided that opportunity for several hundred artisans in Haiti, a country devastated by last January's earthquake and a recent cholera outbreak.

The handmade treasures form a crucial part of the local culture and economy.

The home decor items are available at 25 of Macy's stores, with 22 percent of the price tag going back to Haiti. The program also offers the artisans the opportunity to collaborate with U.S. designers so that the richness of their craftsmanship can continue to prosper.

One popular item is a quilt pattern on a 'Vase of Memories.' The patchwork quilt of life is symbolic of the pattern of life, which has different stages, experiences and friendships put together to form one story.

One craftsman said he has been creating art for 21 years. "This work, the order form Macy's, helps me support my family and it allows me to train and support other young people," he says. "When an artisan creates, it is like a love in your heart."

The fair trade items for sale at Macy's may be seen here. Another store which sells Fair Trade handcrafted items is Ten Thousand Villages. We have a store in my home town and its wares provide many alternative gift ideas. Do you include Fair Trade items from impoverished countries on your holiday shopping list?

Via an article from Good.

Time as Uncut Diamonds

Guard well your spare moments.
They are like uncut diamonds.
Discard them and their value will
never be known. Improve them
and they will become the brightest gems
in a useful life.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the time change affecting many this morning, this quote seems timely.

- How do you use your spare moments?
- What is your philosophy of time?
- How would you define a useful life?

Labels: quote, quotations, reflections,

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pay it Forward creates Ripples

A couple in Nova Scotia won $11.2 million and gave most of it away. The pair in their mid 70's said the internal reward for assisting other people is far better than using the money themselves.

"We have a great feeling- everybody appreciates is so much. Everything is in bad shape these days, so you like to help all these people." The wife, who is struggling with cancer, said, " Money can't buy you health and happiness."

The idea of paying it forward is echoed in several sources.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said in 1841, "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."

A spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous said in 1941, "You can't pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward."

In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Between the Planets (1951) there is the occasion when 'the banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer." His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance." "Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."'

A prominent professor met a promising math student on the verge of expulsion for inability to pay his tuition. He paid the young man's tuition in full. Years later, the man offered to return the entire amount, but the professor insisted that the man rather find another student in his situation, and give the tuition to him.

In Catherine Ryan Hyde's book (2000) and movie Pay it Forward it is described as an obligation to do three good deeds for others in repayment of a good deed that one receives. In this way, the need to help one another can spread exponentially through society and create a social movement.

From my own experience a camper at Olympic National Park in Washington was leaving his beautiful oceanfront site when he said that this site was available. Do you want to register for it? He also gave us a pile of firewood and wished us a good day. How did his actions affect our relationship to future campers we met?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thought-provoking Debates

The Economist has an interesting debating series around some contentious issues. A recent one was, "Is religion a force for good?" Readers may also vote on the issue and the results are tallied.

Roger McShane, the moderator of the debate writes,

Voltaire once wrote, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Leaving aside whether we actually did, can the same be said of religion? Most of the world's population professes religious feelings of some sort, and these beliefs in turn underpin many strong communities, happy individuals and tremendous acts of charity."

"Yet the world can be a very nasty place despite its preponderance of religious inhabitants. When faith curdles into dogmatism it often leads to arrogance, intolerance and violence. In other words, religion is a force for bad as well as good and there is no simple metric with which to measure its net effect."

Mark Oppenheimer argues for the affirmative with three points:

"...First, religion responds to a deep, satisfying human need for ritual...Second, religion often organises the human quests for ethics and meaning...Finally, religion is fun! As a philosopher might say, it generates utility..."

For the opposition Sam Harris writes, ".... There is no denying that religious faith sometimes moves people to act with extraordinary probity and compassion. In that sense, I must admit that religion is, on occasion, a force for good. The important question, however, is whether religion is ever the best force for good at our disposal. And I think the answer to this question is clearly “no”—because religion gives people bad reasons for being good where good reasons are available."

The debate encourages one to think about one's own beliefs and philosophy as one negotiates meaning and direction in the world.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Featured at WOW

Thanks to Sandy and Pam who feature quoteflections today at Words of Wisdom. The site promotes bloggers who have vital perspectives to share.

Several posts of mine you may enjoy are:

-'How Will you Live your Dash?'

'I ran across an obituary which reflected on the dash between the years the person lived. This grandmother "lived simply, not rich or famous. She loved and laughed and that is how she lived her dash." By the way her years lived were 1916-2006....'


'Vulnerability is being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. It is usually not seen as a virtue in our modern age of confidence and success...'

- 'Meatless Monday: You In?'

'Following a good weekend of self indulgence, perhaps after firing up the grill with some tasty burgers, would you consider a Meatless Monday?...'

-'Sell What you Own'

'An Austrian businessman is selling his possessions including a luxury villa overlooking the Alps, six gliders, and a sports car. "My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing." All of the proceeds are going to charity in Central and Latin America...'

If you are new to quoteflections or a recent follower, I appreciate the visit and will reciprocate at Google Friend Connect if you are so inclined. Thanks also to regular acquaintances who check up on my eclectic offerings.

Any thoughts on one of the posts above?

They're not Yolking

A medical study is sure to stir controversy around egg yolks. They contain more cholesterol than a whopping fast food order.

The three prominent Canadian doctors are hitting back against what they say is a growing "widespread misconception" that egg yolks are harmless.

"One egg yolk can have about 215 to 275 milligrams of cholesterol, depending on its size. A Double Down sandwich, which consists of bacon and cheese sandwiched by two pieces of fried chicken, has 150 milligrams of cholesterol. People at risk of developing cardiovascular disease should not consume more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day, the researchers said."

"The researchers wanted to “put cholesterol into perspective, as there’s been widespread misconception developing among the Canadian public and even physicians, that consumption of dietary cholesterol and egg yolks is harmless,” David Spence, professor and scientist at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the Robarts Research Institute at UWO, said in a statement."

The findings are published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, and are based on a review of studies about cholesterol consumption and eggs.

One doctor says, "The thing that kills more Canadians is heart attacks and strokes, and strokes disable more people than any other cause of illness."

This study will, no doubt, encourage many to think about their dietary habits and preferences, including me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Peppers are Royalty

As you can see in the photo there's frost on the hot chili peppers in our garden this morning. (Click on picture for enhanced view.) These tiny infernos have spiced up our chili and soups, spaghetti, sauces, and salsa.

Of course, in Central and South America peppers are royalty at the markets.

A writer at the Atlantic writes an interesting article featuring 'the soul of Peruvian cuisine', a yellow pepper called Aji amarillo.

"Down there chiles aren't chopped liver; they're the stars, the featured players, the sought-after free agents. It's the complexity of flavor of the peppers, not the pork, poultry, beef, or fish that accompany them, that are the center of culinary attention..."

"For me, at least, aji amarillo is notably hot without searing my senses. It's got a light, slightly citrusy maybe, flavor to go with its moderate levels of fire..."

"I've been doing a simple chile sauce—a bit of olive oil warmed with a touch of flour stirred in, and then ground yellow chile added. Stir in a bit of warm water. Simmer softly for a minutes. Add a bit of sea salt to taste. I like it with ... pretty much everything. Fish, scallops, vegetables, cheese, and meat of most every sort. Very nice way to spice up some rice..."

How important are peppers in your cooking?