Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Deuteronomy 27 Haiku

Uncut stones, plaster,
wind, rain and raging time
shaped Ebal altar.

No iron tools, uncut
stones on the slopes of Ebal.
Unmade salvation.

"Salvation is work
performed by our God alone,"
said the Ebal stones.

Plaster, writ plainly,
across the face of Ebal.
Words of law on rock.

Keep away iron tool,
refined and designed by men,
from God's salvation.

True revelation
copied by men on rough stones.
Mercy in plaster.

Levites called curses
to tribes on tall Gerizim.
People said, "Amen."

Uncut Ebal stones,
signposts to all Israel --
blessings or curses.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday afternoon potting

Got some potting done today...5 to be exact. Two are survivors of the great chopping 18 months ago that I've managed to keep alive. They made the transition from water to earth today. Let's see if they make it. Rooting hormone and plant food have been administered. Eat up, little guys.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Morning walk 11-8-14

Cold fall wind hasn't yet removed fall from the park.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A New Year...and dealing with the cold

This year seems like it has so much potential. I haven't felt this excited about the unwritten future for a long time. For some reason, everything feels like a clean slate to me. There's no where to go but up. Grasp that feeling with tight fists and don't let go!

As I started writing this, the sirens began to go off. It is 1 o'clock on the first Wednesday, the first day, of the first month of the new year. It's a clarion call. Things are new! Fresh! Unknown! Discovery awaits! Exciting!

At the New Years Eve celebration last night, my niece H beat nine adults, her brother and four other kids to win the pot of goodies at the end of an L-R-C game. Good going, H!

I spent most of this New Year Day cooking for two reasons. First, this holiday season was a terrible one for me in the food department. I don't think I ate a square, home-cooked meal since Thanksgiving. I was either eating out, or eating an entire bag of something (tortilla chips, pretzels, salt water taffy, white chocolate baking morsels) for every meal. As a result, most of my pants don't fit and I think I might be coming down with a nasty case of diabetes. And it has been hard on the wallet, too. Eating that way just leads to feeling lethargic all the time.

I've recommitted to cooking more and this week has been a success. I made a chicken enchilada casserole and tortellini soup earlier (both new-to-me recipes and the latter delicious, the former just okay), and I added to the food choices by making potato sausage soup (so delish) and taco meat for future taco dinners. Right now, I'm making some cinnamon-date rice pudding and my bread dough will be rested and ready for baking in about 20 minutes.

Second, I'm cooking because my kitchen is the only warm place in the house right now. The insane cold snap we're experiencing here, the fact I keep my thermostat at 65, and my ridiculous front entryway that might as well be a screen door, have made some parts of my house rather chilly. I went downstairs to watch TV for a while, but even with a space heater going the highest temp I could get was 58. So I shut off the TV and went back upstairs to cook more.

I want to embrace the cold and overcome it, but it sure isn't easy. Since I don't play any winter sports, I don't really have any reason to be outside in the winter except to rake my roof. I decided that maybe a way to deal with the cold is to get out into it. I bundled up and went on a walk this afternoon before dark. The trails at the park near my house were nicely groomed, so I went through the woods. I met up with a stranger and had a brief convo about coyotes.

After about 40 minutes in 2 degree temperatures, I was losing feeling in my legs. Coming back into the house was joy, because I could literally feel warm blood circulating in my calves. I've been chilly ever since though. The plan kind of backfired. Three hours later I'm sitting at the dining room table still in my clothes, wearing my fleece bathrobe and a scarf around my head. You win this time, winter. Ugh, my most hated of months. 

I don't have much of a choice. I'm going to have to try again for the rest of the week to get used to this nastiness. My cooking skills might increase, however. Then again, maybe not. The rice pudding isn't turning out as planned. Cooking rice on the stove top is not simple.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Another cool date to post on.

How many more of these will there be in my lifetime?

Monday, October 21, 2013


Thanks to my BSF friends for a great fellowship time last Saturday morning at Key's Cafe in St. Paul.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I gave in to the cold, and am warmer for it

I succumbed.

I was going to try to avoid turning on the furnace until Nov. 1. I was doing pretty well, too. Since the end of September I was heating the house with the fireplace for the most part, and doing spot heating with a spaceheater, especially in my bedroom at night.

Why no furnace? I'm being cheap. Last month, I got a credit on my energy bill and that was great. Heating my place is expensive, mainly because I have these crazy high ceilings. Putting it off with a little inconvenience or extra layers of clothes seemed worth it. Or, maybe not.

Why'd I flip the switch? I did it for my sanity.

When I woke up this morning and the thermostat said 57, I caved. I flipped the switch for another 7 degrees, and then I put on a wool sweater. At 64 degrees, things feel better. It is comfortably warm in the house.

I feel better. Mentally.

I had a slight meltdown this morning before church. I get this way. I'm not diagnosed, but I'm pretty sure I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I usually don't feel the symptoms until January or February -- the lethargy, moodiness and mood swings, constant tiredness, and social withdrawal. This year though, I'm feeling the effects pretty early. I'm doing what I can to combat it, and I concluded this morning that the cold environment wasn't helping.

So, flippy flip and things are better.

It's not all gloomy though. Using the fireplace this much has taught me several things.

1. Thanks, Dad, for the gift of firewood last year. I complained a lot about the delivery, but I appreciate the gift now more than ever.

2. Making fires for heat requires a different mindset than making fires for pleasure or ambiance. My fireplace is small, so building a blazing bonfire in my living room isn't an option. To have a successful and sustainable heating fire, the right tools are required. I never knew how necessary a bellows is to making fires on a regular basis. After getting a face full of ashes on a couple of occasions, I appreciate this tool so much and I can't imagine having a wood burning fireplace without one. It can turn a pile of dark coals back into a roaring blaze with just a couple of puffs.

3. Kindling is not trivial. The right kind of kindling makes the difference between a happy glow and a dark log. The little twigs and sticks from the yard do not make for good kindling. I also tried toilet paper tubes stuffed with dryer lint as fire-starters, and they were a disappointment. (Note to self: don't rely on these when camping. They suck.) Nothing beats the tried and true method: balled-up newspapers and chopped-up logs.

4. A small heating fire needs constant tending. Camping fires ebb and flow. You feed a camping fire when it needs it, and poke it once in a while. But keeping one log glowing for its entire lifespan, so much so that it burns down completely but can still kindle another fresh log to life, requires attention.

Here's to warmth, wellness and a glowing hearth.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2nd Life of a Giant Clock - Part 2

No doubt the cliffhanger of the giant clock story has left you breathless and on the edge of your seat, waiting...waiting....waiting for the next installment. So here it is.

As I said before, bible study is a source of inspiration in more ways than one. I was attending a study last month, and overheard someone across the room talking about doing something creative with a large clock. I probably was a little rude when I inserted myself loudly into the conversation with the phrase, "Did you say something about a giant clock?"

Taken aback by my volume and eavesdropping, the person graciously continued, explaining that they saw something on the internet about turning a large clock into a side table. I nearly fell off the couch exclaiming what a terrific idea this was. The person smiled and nodded and looked like they wanted me to stay on the other side of the room. So I did.

Turn the giant clock into a table! Great idea!

I went out on the internet and found only one instance of a clock table craft DIY example. There are table clocks you can buy, of course. But I want to attempt this craft myself. Finally, the giant clock will have a purpose again!

I figured it would probably work best as a coffee table, due to the size. Since the clock has a silver finish to it, I first started looking for metal table legs on the internet, but they tended to be pricey and too short. I wandered the aisles of the big three chain hardware stores (conveniently all within two miles of my house) looking for table legs.

When I went to Menards and asked to see their selection of wooden table legs, the teenager in a green vest told me he could take me to the aisle, but their selection was terrible and they didn't have what I was looking for. I said I wanted to see them anyway, and he said (I am not kidding), "Fine, but I bet you I'm right."

He was right.

Lowes was also a dead end. They had nothing. Home Depot had the best selection of legs in several sizes and styles. I picked a style I preferred (I don't love it. I don't hate it.) along with the correct hardware, a large round piece of pine and then grabbed some spray paint. I'm going for a metallic look so I picked a silver paint called Flat Soft Iron. Time to paint!

I am not crazy about how the legs turned out. First, the paint looks okay, but its much more sparkly than I expected. It says more "GLITTER SPARKLE!" than "Iron" when you look closely at them, so hopefully no one will look closely. I'm trying to tell myself that it is a good first effort. Um, that's a nice way to say it sucks. I'm thinking I'm going to try a glaze that my sister gave me a while back to finish it off and hide the uneven paint coverage.

It's DIY. It's my first. I can come up with lots of excuses.

The hardware was easy enough to install with a drill, and painting the round piece of wood was quick. I'm not really worried about it since it won't be seen much. It's meant to support the really cheap wood backing on the back of the clock. (The back of the clock looks too flimsy to support the table leg hardware. It's one step above cardboard. I'm not even sure what to call it.)

I now have a little silver table. Cute.


My little silver table is just that. Little. It's too small.

I put the clock on top of the assembled table and it stood up fine, but it looks a little silly.

So, back to the hardware store for a larger round tabletop and more paint since I used up the first can on the legs and the round piece. Snags abound.  The larger round piece is three times as expensive as the smaller one. And this hardware store doesn't have Soft Flat Iron spray paint. Sigh. This is becoming an expensive project.

Larger piece in the garage, painted and hardware attached. Yeah.

The only thing I lack now is a way to afix the clock to the table. At first I thought I'd glue it. But I feel like that is too permanent a solution. It also means that the innards of the clock won't be accessible any more. Someone told me I should set it to a significant moment of my life before I seal it up. That's actually a good idea.

Six screws later and...we have a giant clock table.

Sweet victory.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2nd Life of a Giant Clock - Part 1

I have started a new project and I'm excited about it. It all started about 10 years ago...no really, it did. Remember that giant clock phase? Target was selling all those huge clocks for about $100 bucks each? Crazy price for what was honestly, a really cheapie giant clock. I wanted one. I wanted one really badly. Not $100 badly though. I decided that a giant clock phase was much too expensive a phase to satiate, and passed it up.

Until I found one new in the box at Goodwill for $20. Ho yeah.

I distinctly remember driving home with the giant clock in my back seat, but making a stop at a Starbucks for coffee.

"Wow, that is one giant clock," the Starbucks chick said as she handed me my coffee.

"Sure is," I said, or something like that.

The giant clock fit perfectly above my mantle in my new house in 2006. Since I have high ceilings, the clock fit the space perfectly. There was one problem. The giant clock made for great decor, but it wasn't a very good clock. It would start out fine telling time, but within a week it would slow down and then stop. See, the giant clock had really big hands and movement, but the mechanism behind those hands was the size of any old clock that Target sells, powered by one AA battery. Not enough juice for a giant.

The giant clock became more decor than functional time piece. I kept it up, just because I liked the look of it, but it confounded more than one guest to my house.

"Holy cow, we need to get going! We're way past bedtime!" said one guest, thinking it was quarter after 10 during one evening visit.

"It's only 8:30." I said.

"But your giant clock says-"

"Sorry. That hasn't run for over a year."

The guest smiled, but looked annoyed that they had been duped by a giant, non-working clock still peering down on them, flaunting the incorrect time.

My family must have gotten sick of this joke, so they bought me a replacement clock for my mantle. It only had about 2/3 of the girth of the original giant clock, but it actually works as a CLOCK. We're going past the nine month mark and it is still humming along, accurately.

Replaced, the giant clock went into the basement and was stored under the futon. Then the futon was sold away, and the giant clock was leaned against the wall. What to do with a giant clock? I still loved the clock, and I didn't want to part with it, but it was huge, and what do you do with a giant, non-working clock that can't tell time?

Go to a bible study. You find all the answers to life there.

End of part 1.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

From one, many

A member of my household kicked the bucket today. He'd been a housemate for 12 years, but things were starting to go downhill and something had to change.

Don't get choked up yet. It's a plant. (Forgive me, my anthropomorphism.)

I'd just moved in to a rental house in South St. Paul, and I wanted to fill the large kitchen space with life, so I purchased a bunch of house plants, including this Methuselah of a corn plant. It was about a foot tall at the time.

Twelve years and two moves later, the corn plant is nearly 15 feet tall, but not quite as spry as it once was. It hasn't been able to support its own weight for a least five years, and has been held up by two poles, and a network of wire and yarn in strategic places. It had its share of browning leaves, but most were still alive and green, so I'd prune occasionally and let it keep going. It fought valiantly against gravity, bowing in two places, but still headed skyward.

But I noticed recently that something had gone seriously wrong.

The top section, leaves and stalk, had browned and deteriorated completely. Online resources suggested a killer fungal growth, and the prognosis was the rest of the plant would follow suit. What to do?

I started reading up on rooting corn plants on the web and I bought some rooting powder. The idea of cutting up my giant wasn't appealing, but I didn't want to watch it slowly decay, and throwing it away piecemeal wasn't an option I liked either.

Rooting seemed like the best option. Besides, this plant had good genes. Maybe it could survive a radical operation.

Today was the day for surgery. I carried my giant into the foyer, grabbed my hedge trimmer, took a picture, prepped some pots and jars and started cutting. I cut the rotted part off the top first and inspected it. Brown all the way through and not worth saving.  The online people said a rotted top meant the entire plant was bad. I cut another section off a few inches lower and inspected the stalk. Green and healthy on the outside. On the inside, the tissue was white and juicy. No sign of brown, a signal of a systemic fungal infection.

I decided to continue. I took 4-6 inch sections (a nearly 15-foot plant can yield quite a few of those), trimmed leaves, dipped them in rooting powder and then either stuck them in soil in pots (with some osmokote for flavor) or in water vases.

I'm not sure how the corn plant gets its nickname (it is in the Dracaena family), but probably due to the similarities to real corn plants. Cutting the giant gave off an aroma similar to the smell of shucking corn.

As I was cutting I was surprised to find that the giant had started its own contingency plan for surviving the fungus. A new stalk had already started growing on the side of the main stalk, I'd just not noticed it before. It almost made me regret chopping it up. Maybe it could have survived without my interference. But I had already started the operation, so I kept going. The stalk with the new growth got some special attention.

Where once there was a 15-foot giant of a dying plant, I now have 12 potential plants in soil or water. And now it is a waiting game to see if any of them take root. There are a couple out on the deck between the geraniums, a couple in the place where the giant used to reside, and a couple near a different window. Different conditions.

I've read that it could take months to see any results. I'm hoping for at least one to make it through, and hopefully keep the giant's memory alive and become a giant itself some day. This is my first attempt at rooting anything, so I'm not sure what to do next. I guess waiting and watering is all I do now.

It is an interesting experiment.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New recipes and things

Cooking is a pleasure and I want to cook more often. Cooking as a single, however, is not that great since:

  • you usually end up with enough to eat for weeks
  • no one else is around to enjoy your meals
  • the time and effort put into cooking can seem wasteful
  • I hate doing dishes, and cooking always produces tons of dishes


  • there are no witnesses to the burnt crusts of victims left in the oven too long. Plus!
  • I have learned that most meals freeze well and reheat easily. Plus!
  • Practicing portion control is easy when you're packaging a huge batch of something. Plus!

This week I tried Lasagna Rolls in Roasted Red Pepper sauce, a meatless main dish that involved ricotta, mozzarella, spinach and rolling. The sauce turned out to be incredibly good, and incredibly simple to make. Dump ingredients in blender and blend. No cooking required, which made me wonder if the flavors would be decent, and they certainly were. They would probably be better if I used fresh garlic, but I ran out so I had to use garlic powder. Darn. At the end, the recipe called for combining the rolls with the sauce and microwaving at the end to warm everything up. I'm wondering if putting them in the oven for a couple of minutes would work better. Microwaving noodles makes them really tough IMO. It will be something I'll have to try again.

The other two recipes were crantastic turkey meatballs (my name) and crock pot sweet and sour chicken. The meatballs were a lo-cal recipe, and the result belied that fact. The meatballs were very soft, pliable and, while flavorful, they had a mushy consistency to them. I prefer a firm meatball, but taste over texture for me so I will polish them off.

The chicken turned out well and was an interesting experiment. I squeezed my own orange juice for the sauce and I think that made a difference. (I never have juice in the house. I don't like it.) I will have a big helping of that for dinner tonight over brown rice. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Three types of critics

I want to teach people how to criticize things and I provide this as a public service, mainly because criticism is now THE language of our culture. If you aren't critiquing something, you might not be alive or you're too young to have an opinion.

By the way those opinions you have are no longer valuable. Who decided that? You did, when you gave them away for free constantly on social media, on web sites, in conversation, etc. How do you increase the net worth of your opinions? Always pair your criticism with solutions and ideas.

A friend gave me some very good advice that I have remembered for 15 years. While working at an internship, my friend learned that she never went to her boss to report a problem without bringing a possible solution with her as well. This is advice you can build a career on, and I've never forgotten it.

Isn't this a parallel to criticism? Criticism is pointing out a problem, inconsistency or difference of taste. I think the advice fits. When you're giving criticism, bring along a possible solution, or alternative, or description of what you do want.

Avoid these three critical stereotypes: 2-year-olds, clueless critics, and zombies.

1. Try not to be a two-year-old critic. Two-year-olds say, "I don't like that." or "That looks funny." or "This tastes gross." I had clients critique a design piece with valuable phrases like, "We don't like that." I can take the design into a kindergarten class and get feedback like that. Two-year-olds say, "Yuk." Adults say something like, "Let's try a background color that's more blue than green, to pair with the photo on the right." The difference between one and the other is a magnitude of lightyears. When you offer criticism, grow up first.

2. Try not to be the clueless critic. The clueless critic comes to a work and assumes that the content, colors, fonts, placement, etc. is arbitrary. In my experience, 95 percent of design is intentional; the other five percent is happy accident. Remember that designs are intentional and purposeful. Don't assume that the design is a random conglomeration of things mashed together. Designers don't mash things together on a computer screen like a hack artist throwing paint on a canvas. Design is intentional.

3. Try not to be a zombie critic. Zombies have no life. Zombies consume, but they do not produce. Zombies sign off on designs without contributing anything, and then badmouth a piece after 50,000 copies are printed. This usually means the zombie critic scanned the project without giving it any thought and sent out affirmation. Now, there are some people who really are too busy, or they don't have a sense for design, or they just don't care. Those people shouldn't critique anything.

Here's a recent exchange I had with critic type #1:

Client: "It's not the feeling that we're looking for."
Me: "What is the 'feeling' you're looking for?"
Client: "I don't know."

Well, that was helpful. I could tell the client felt awkward after this exchange, and I didn't mean to belittle them, but I did intentionally press them. I hold first impressions of design in high regard, and it's my job to help the client. But when the client gets to the point of "I just don't know" that's the moment when trust in the designer needs to take over. Crafting effective design isn't easy (although people think it is) and it can be stressful for the non-designer to grasp it, mold it and make it into something professional.

A recent exchange from a client of type #2 from a few years ago:

Client: "There are too many fonts."
Me: "There are three fonts in the entire piece. One in the masthead, one for the heads and subheads that has some character to it, and a plain font in the body copy for easy readability."
Client: "Oh. I don't like them."
Me: "Okay, what font would you like?"
Client: I don't know. I can't think of any."
Me: "I picked these three specifically because they relate well together."
Client: "I'm going to go look in Publisher for fonts that I like."

I like this client, which is why I was disappointed when they chose to throw design and audience concerns out the window in favor of their personal preference. Now, I suppose the client could have found a pleasing font from the stock group of fonts that came programmed with their copy of MS Office, but I doubt it would have trumped the pairing that I came up with in terms of readability, relationship and audience consideration.

And I could have forced the issue, but I'm a team player. I offered some alternatives that I could live with, and the client chose a good option. Life goes on.

All this to say...when you reach the point of "I don't know", put your faith in your designer.

Or trust your inner Mr. Burns: "I know what I hate. And I don't hate that." Not hating something may be the place to start.

Today is the best day ever!

-- Spongebob Squarepants