November is the month of Gratitude for all good gifts: departed loved ones, neighbors, bountiful harvest and hope for the future. This is a month of closure: mortal life itself, memories of loved one and sacrifices of veterans, and the end of a wonderful church year. In November, skies turn gray, leaves fall, daylight's span shortens, unprotected plants die through frost, and cold frames keep late vegetable crops snug. We prepare Thanksgiving: cook salsify root like oysters, prepare kale, collards, and mustard boiled or stir fried, sprinkle almond-like Jerusalem artichoke roots on salads, cut turnips and kohlrabi to eat raw, make pumpkin and persimmon pie, and serve freshly prepared horseradish with cranberry sauce.
Indeed, 6 syllables,
Tree with a faint flower,
Shiny dark green, fruit red;
Really without a thorn --
Perfect for the season.
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Earth Healing at:
Promoting Harmony When
Confronting Climate Change
By Al Fritsch, SJ
Resonance: Promoting Harmony When Confronting Climate Change seeks to challenge this global problem from a spiritual perspective. A solely secular approach involving technical experts is insufficient to bring about a renewable energy economy. Rather, a spiritual outlook invites all people of good will to work together. This overlooked approach leads those who believe in the future to discover Divine Harmony as the primary focus and model for change. The mark of the Triune God is present in the entire universe, vibrating and inspiring all activity. To achieve success we explore various types of resonance, from physical, chemical, biological and social, through art, music, compassionate caregiving and international negotiation. More importantly, resonance has a divine character worthy of reflection, the Source of all resonance and harmony. Through prayer, compassionate suffering and action, believers have vital roles to play. For all to collaborate they must be motivated by a critical mass of believers – you and I. Hope breathes eternal, but we must act now.
(Note: This, my final work has been in the germination stage for a decade. It is based on the Christian insight that a Triune God is manifested throughout the physical, chemical and biological worlds, and most especially in the social, artistic, musical, caregiving, and global collaboration of human beings.)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5: 3)
When speaking of saints, we often recall stained glass windows showing stately figures, bearded men with crosses and scrolls, austere ladies holding bouquets or children, and youth with radiant faces ready for martyrdom. These windows represent notable people from ages past; they are part of a grand chorus or perhaps they stand in admiration before the throne of God. Even with such vivid depictions of prominent saints we ought not to overlook the unsung heroes and heroines who are so often the ordinary people, the ones whose faded tombstones or graves have long been shared by others. Today we honor the countless unnamed, and also our many relatives and friends who have passed on. They are not widely known, nor have their lives been dramatic, but they too share with others an often unnoticed holiness and love that brings them eternal rest.
We prefer there to be a crowd rather than a few individuals who made it. Those who think only a few are saved, such as a biblical number of 144,000 times twelve tribes (1,728,000) or some other Scripture-based number, miss the point. In scriptural ages they didn't have large economic numbers, or know dollar amounts of the national debt -- and so didn't even have words for millions, billions and trillions. Simple times! Scripture says the numbers are uncounted, so let's rest there. All saints are a great company with their flowing gowns and uniform appearances that do not distract from the celebration. They have individuality that is expressed in the degrees of love they carry with them to the gathering, not in costuming or superficial matters. This vast throng celebrates in unison and though many, they are the ones who have finally reached the Light where hope now is unnecessary.
Inclusiveness allows all of us to consider others as one family. It is time to be folksy, for we are all part of the Family of God. Scripture teaches this, "We are God's Children now." The Church encourages a preference to globalize our family concerns and to extend our love to all races and nationalities. Racists hesitate and may lack enough love to come to the gathering; they may have accepted segregation even in churches and find this vast reunion as diminishing their own supposed privileges.
Today we remember our own special loved ones whom we sometimes hesitate to call "saints," for we suspect they had imperfections. This is the day of unsung heroes and heroines. We naturally hope that they have completed any degree of needed purification. Their lives are worth celebrating, for, no matter how difficult their journey, they have endured the struggle. Their road to heaven is a simple blessing, for they are mentioned in the Beatitudes as poor in spirit, hungry, and persecuted.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our acquaintances, who give us inspiration through their patient endurance and their sense of gratitude for all your gifts to them.
For if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.
(Second Book of Maccabees 12:44)
A shining finished jewel starts out as a rough stone that can be easily overlooked by the inexperienced. This tendency to overlook rough stones extends to human beings as well. The cutting and the polishing to make a jewel is little compared to the acting, experiencing and seeking forgiveness needed to make a person a shining gem. Yes, there are profound differences between the saints in heaven, all souls in purgatory and, as Ronald Knox says, all sorts here on earth.
Today we focus on loved ones who have passed on, the legions of people who paused in mortal life and journeyed on to enter eternal life. Most cultures honor their deceased and, in fact, that honor partly defines a culture through continued awareness of the deceased. Native American tribes have often blended ancient rituals with Christian teachings and traditions in respecting the departed. A number of primitive religions consider the spirits of their deceased as very close at hand. Some prepare meals, bring flowers, burn candles and incense on special festivals.
Archie was my friend in youth and a good soul. The only commercial business I ever ran was a summer soft drink stand with Archie between our high school and college periods. During those college years he went his way and I mine. He had his army stint, got married, raised a family, stayed and worked on the farm, but always kept a wild streak of fast driving and wanting to have fun. When the new regional airport near Maysville was ready to open, Archie took his boys and their friends for a high speed auto ride down the runway. The end came more quickly than he thought. The car hit the end, tumbled in cartwheels, the kids were thrown out and lived, but Archie's earthly sojourn abruptly ended. I often reflected on his trip to his Maker, and regarded him as a diamond in the rough. Archie needed a little more time. It is a comforting thought that it is not either/or but a both/and with that mysterious purgatory for many of the unprepared.
Some journeyers of life linger in hospices and homes for the elderly and prisons; they are going through their own purgation or purifying period; they are being bleached to look like the lamb, hopefully by the time of their passing from mortal life. They are going to the "Light," and caregivers give them support in making this last step. Loved ones keep watch with them on departing, a truly magnificent work of mercy. And we pray that the hour of death may be a happy one. Some want it sudden, others with a little notice. Yes, their souls need special attention, special repose, special compassion, special prayers.
Prayer: Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and may their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace.
Duck (mallard) silhouette against evening sky.
November 3, 2017 Does Our Democracy Need Strengthening?
Along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, an enduring myth of our society is the belief that the United States is a democracy. By What Authority, Fall 2000 p. 3.
Quo warranto (by what authority?) is an ancient Latin expression which refers to a sovereign's command to halt continuing exercise of illegitimate privileges and authority. The phrase captures the spirit of many of us activists in this country today, who regard "we the people" as true sovereigns in a democracy. We need to question our federal and state officials who give giant business corporations illegitimate authority. As a group we go on to say that a minority of the giant corporation directors are privileged by this continuing illegitimate authority, and they are backed by police, courts and the military. We are convinced that it is these illegitimate authorities who today define the public good, deny people our human and constitutional rights, dictate to our communities, and govern the Earth.
The thesis of this group, "The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy," is powerful and resonates with many of us. This is especially true of those who support radical change in governance and who call into question the power of corporations in the globalizing world in which we live. We question the power of the money, which is used to buy the media space, pick the candidates, tell them what the special interests want them to vote for, and essentially take over the government to moneyed interests. The most telling portion of this thesis is that our own myths about democracy are based on small choices, which we think are big ones such as which cereal to purchase or which event to attend this evening. Bigger concerns such as the corporate control over legislative initiatives seem to go unnoticed.
The process of democracy is ongoing, a critical word, a revolutionary word. C. Douglas Lummis in Radical Democracy says that this democracy is a birthright that has been stolen by those who would rule over the people, to add legitimacy to their rule.
The ramifications are immense. Even in the beginning of the Republic, the Founding Fathers did not see the democratic process in its fullness. In fact, they postponed facing the slavery issue, which was resolved only with much soul-searching and conflict eighty-five years later. They allowed only white landholding males the right to vote in the beginning, and expansion to others took 150 years and then some. From early on, they allowed corporations to act as persons and thus acquire certain "rights," which have been coupled with accumulated wealth (and power) to this day. Today this corporate power goes beyond borders and is enveloping the world. Can the corporations be regulated? The answer rests in an affirmation of the power that we truly believe rests with the people, the solemn power to stand up and be counted.
Prayer: Lord, help us strengthen our democratic principles.
Trees are great seasonal indicators -- at least the temperate deciduous trees are. Spring blossoms give way to foliage and now the colors of autumn are taking leave in preparation for winter's rest. Trees contain added history with scars of past droughts, tornados and wind storms; they tell the richness of the soil and they often bear the markings of humans and animals that come and go. Most older trees at the Nature Center I directed in Rockcastle County for 25 years were leaning away from the powerful tornado winds of April, 1974. Trees are the record of yearly rainfall, show whether they grow close to other trees or in the open, and are the remnants of past geological conditions. Nothing reveals trees better than the sharp early winter wind, when the last leaves fall and the branches stand out in mute testimony to the age, height, strength, and health of the particular tree.
In younger years, I hated to see November come. Our expanding seasons due to climate change find leaf retention time extended. Within this portion of the month leaves ordinarily fall except for those of oaks, which tenaciously hold on to their leaves through part of winter. The uncovering of the landscape shows us forest scars and that is disconcerting after enjoying summer's comforting foliage. However, with aging I see the raw beauty of trees spelled out in their size, shape, trunk and bark -- aspects harder to discover when leaf cover is present. Naked trees seem so vulnerable before the possible ice storms of winter. Their grays and tans set a mood for the shortened daylight span.
We rest assured that these naked trees have year-round utility: they hold the soil, moderate the climate, provide wood for fuel and a million uses, and give character to the landscape. Seasonal benefits are better known: sap, fruit, nuts, nests for birds, winter wind breaks formed by evergreens, summer shade from deciduous trees, leaves to replenish the humus of the soil, and rotting logs as nourishment for other forest creatures.
Certain trees tug at our heart strings. Cedars have a rich scent, furnish a bushy cover, remind me of Christmases past (our indoor tree and decorations), and provide cedar logs that furnish material for chests and boxes or used as long-lasting fence posts. Oaks show strength, stateliness and beautiful shape. White pines grow fast. Other trees stand out in their own right: dogwood, serviceberry, and redbud display early blooms; black locusts yield white clusters of fragrant blooms in May and also are resistant to rot; maples furnish autumn color and late winter sap; hackberries have rugged bark and heartiness; American chestnuts (when they return in abundance) will furnish mast; wild plum trees give a fruit of exquisite taste; sour gum's red leaves heralds autumn; sweet gum offers shapely beauty. Joyce Kilmer says --"Only God can make a tree." However, we can make a favorite tree list.
Prayer: O God, our Creator, give us a sense of the beauty of trees and inspire us to observe this at every season .
Old hackberry tree provides support for farm's henhouse.
November 5, 2017 Reflecting on Practicing What We Preach
You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do; since they do not practice what they preach. (Matthew 12:2-3)
Jesus gives us a caution against empty preaching that is good to hear and harder to act upon. He says all the works of such preachers are done to be seen, and they place heavy burdens on others, while they themselves do not lift a finger to help. In the back of our minds we wonder, do we suffer on occasion from the same fault? Do we expect of others what we do not do ourselves?
Preaching is a tricky subject, especially for those of us who write and encourage other people to do good deeds. Without adverting to it, do we restrict our preaching or overextend the issues beyond our own personal actions? When preaching much, it's hard to be perfect and this admonition extends across a broad spectrum: to representatives in all forms of government; to those representatives at the UN, IMF, World Bank; to all church, civic, educational and business leaders; and to each and every one of us. In fact, it applies to parents and caregivers, to shopkeepers and manufacturers, and to CEOs and workers. Really, it is true to say that everybody preaches through both word and deed. Do we see that even silence, when we need to speak is its own preached word?
In writing on simple living my inspiration is from my parents who practiced what they preached: living simply, having a relatively small house and few luxuries, working hard, and furnishing us mostly homegrown food. Practicing what was preached to me in youth is still a challenge. We need to constantly reexamine what we say we do to remain environmentally green, and how we put this into practice through conservation of resources. Americans find it hard to preach simple living because there is so much affluence and inherent waste to our lifestyles. Some of this is inadvertent, and some is deliberate in a consumption-based economy. As Jeremiah the prophet realized, sometimes we are impelled to speak even when others do not listen. Social justice demands that we redouble our efforts to practice what we preach.
Some will say don't preach at all, for secularists are offended by preaching of any sort. That causes us to pause, but Jeremiah the prophet shows us that false prophets preach what people want to hear. The authentic message needs to be preached because -- religion is a public act; we are called to act publicly and spread Good News; we show our commitment by doing what we said needs to be done; we are not to be cowed into silence; rather, we are to constantly purify our actions so that what we preach is followed by us and hopefully by others as well. If we preach peace, we ought to work for peace; if we preach thrift, we ought to conserve resources; if we preach equality we ought to work for food, health and work opportunities for all our citizens.
Prayer: Lord, help us preach the Good News in word and deed.
Seeds remain for food and distribution in autumn
November 6, 2017 Hunting as Sport or Necessity
Hunting has always been something of a dilemma for me. Perhaps it was because hunting ambivalence prevailed in my early farm years in Mason County, Kentucky. We always had enough livestock to butcher for meat, though I knew folks who liked to hunt wild game, kill it and dress it for their sparse table. And when wildlife was a necessary source of homesteaders' food, hunting was serious work. As kids we considered hunting to be shooting crows (aggressors in our corn fields), and we considered the right to bear arms individually as constitutional. We deliberately carried our guns when a public notice stated there was no hunting at certain times of the year. Our farm crops were at stake.
For me, the clever, destructive and socially sophisticated crows were always in season -- year-round. Crows could tell the difference between a gun and a walking stick. Hunting crows took skill; rabbit-hunting was child's play at best and unnecessary cruelty at worst. For many decades with a trembling hand I still find being a marksman with a 22-rifle or a shotgun a challenge. I have come to dislike sportspeople who hunt only for pleasure. They can be dangerous because they misuse guns; they can endanger themselves, companions and cows mistaken for fair game; they can wound rather than kill game; they do not know boundaries of property; they can tear down fences in crossing them and hope no one accuses them of trespassing. Some hunt properly; others parade buck carcasses bobbing out of their pick-up truckbeds.
Some folks consider themselves too financially strapped to be vegetarians. That includes homesteaders, the rural and urban poor, those residents in Arctic regions of our country, and bush meat eaters in other lands. I come from the farming culture that regarded "meat" and "meal" as synonymous. For many meat eaters, wild game is a portion of the food supply, which varies the menu and affords a low-cost substitute for commercial meat cuts. If we eat what is around us, we truly become "Kentucky" or whatever state we live in. Those who eat local venison to supplement the food needs of their families are, in my book, quite justified -- and I know such people in our Appalachian region. Eat what is hunted and thank God for the blessing of nutritious food. Local wildlife is quite nutritious, organic, homegrown and relatively plentiful.
In performing environmental resource assessments we found the most frequent urban problem to be uninvited deer and other wildlife. Certainly wildlife has roamed freely for centuries and regards our property as theirs as well. Again, a basic homesteading principle is to raise or acquire one's own organic food locally. Wild deer, rabbits, geese, and turkeys proliferate for lack of native predators; they prove superior to commercial factory-farm-produced meat. Wildlife is free of antibiotics and growth hormones pumped into feedlot animals. Eat local products!
Prayer: Lord, teach us all to respect wildlife, to gather locally grown food, and to use hunting instruments properly.
Teach me to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)
Preparing or refashioning a living will makes us acutely aware of our mortality -- and that can be a good thing. It is always a November-type act adjusting funeral arrangements and songs, filling out forms for donating organs (see tomorrow), or putting personal files in order. It is like planting trees; we will most likely not see the fulfillment of our work. November is ideal for meditating on "last things" and a living will is one of these.
If we knew the Lord was coming to visit, we would certainly straighten up the house and not leave it messed up. The same can be said for our personal lives. The Lord is surely coming; it is only a question of when. Are we prepared? But what if the wait is prolonged when medical wires and tubes are connected to us, and we find it all the more difficult to endure an artificial living situation? Isn't it better to die in dignity, and naturally -- without all the pumps and gadgets that cost those who follow a fortune? We poor folks can only afford to live and die naturally -- not artificially. Today, we can still state our terminal wishes.
Even the term "Living Will" is somewhat pretentious, for it seems we have power at a time of our utter powerlessness to do something. To confront is to place oneself directly in front of something; perhaps to meet mortality is nearer to the truth, for we are on the road, and death will come before us, even when we attempt to avoid it. Our lifetime is the Lord's, not ours. Mortality confronts us, not the other way around. And yet, planning the last things is more for the sake of our survivors.
Some say we start dying the day we are born, that we are always discovering new ways to let go of the past, and seek to grasp the future. In early years we avoid the subject of dying, but awareness of our mortality emerges with time, with the passing of loved ones, and with the change of hair color in the respective autumn of life. We need to be prepared with a streak of humor and good will. Those certainties, death and taxes, are here and we can help make the latter fairer but can do little about the former. Accepting the inevitability of death leads us to an ever deepening spirituality. We seek to face our "remaining" days serenely.
Goethe says, "Life is the childhood of our immortality." Children gradually learn to adjust to the knocks of life and mature with time -- and that is never fully complete. November is a time for spiritual maturing, when we face and reflect upon the brevity of mortal life. Let's not attempt to perish the thought, for it isn't perishable. Rather than a morbid thought November is a good time to consider eternal life after death -- a happy prospect.
Prayer: Thanks Lord, for the time to prepare for eternity.
"In gratitude for your support and encouragement during 2017 we are offering five giveaway days for my book "Resonance" on Amazon Kindle from Monday through Friday of Thanksgiving Week. Happy thanksgiving! -
Al Fritsch, SJ"
November 8, 2017 Should We Will Organs for Others?
We always have so much to be thankful for; what we so often overlook is our bodily organs, those part that make us whole and healthy. During this month of reflection on mortality and gratitude ought we to consider sharing organs with others, especially if we were to die suddenly with healthy organs? Isn't this part of radical sharing? One of my fellow Jesuits in Milwaukee received a liver transplant from the young victim of an accident. He invited the parents and relatives of this donor over for a dinner and expressed his deep appreciation for the young man's sacrifice and his own gift of added years of life. It was a very moving event and suddenly made us understand a little more what radical sharing (organs) means when we give up either our own organs or those of dear ones who pass on unexpectedly.
The Thanksgiving season is a time to consider the use of our internal and external organs, and the realization that many today lack properly functioning body parts -- and will die if they cannot receive them in a timely fashion. Thanks to modern medical technology, the diseased or defective organ can be replaced by a healthy one from a donor (in rare circumstances by a living person with two good kidneys or eyes). More often, donors die suddenly and haves offered their organs for others' use, or these are donated by the legal agents of the deceased.
Are we willing to will our organs? Many of us carry a driver's license or other documentation, which tells that we have permitted the use of organs if we meet sudden death. Often there is little time to make decisions, since organs must be removed from the immediately deceased, protected and transported to the place of use and reinserted rather quickly. Cutting that time by a publicly accessible will is crucial to the enhancement of life's functions for the receiving person. Thinking about accidental death is difficult; the prospect is a November reflection that has benefit for all parties concerned. The actual result of our sharing will be the extending of our good will to others in a radical way.
In rare cases, a kidney is needed by a relative or even a stranger, and the donor says, “The Lord has given me two, and there is only need for one." Such donations are made by modern heroes and heroines who had no comparable models of old. In a case recently, one sibling donated a kidney and the donor died and the recipient lives. In other cases, because organs are so precious we hear about the trafficking in organs from living donors and those condemned to death. Regulations are thus needed on a global scale. Organ donation is a sharing, but for most it is after we no longer need that bodily organ. The question of why keep extra baggage is not regarded as funny, since kidneys and eyes do malfunction. Really when we think of this seriously, the asking of our willingness to give is a reflection on how precious and fragile is our mortal life.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to be willing to share what I have.
Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis .
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
November 9, 2017 The Church as Our Home
I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven... (Revelation 21:2)
Today, we extend liturgical celebrations from saints to a sacred event, namely the dedication of the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the cathedral of the Pope. This ancient structure was built in the time of Constantine in 328 and dedicated to "Our Savior." Next to this structure popes lived for a thousand years, and this ancient church was the location of five councils of the Church. Thus, this individual and simple church holds a special place in our collective spiritual memory as the Christian community calling out to celebrate sacred space -- not because God needs it, but because we as human beings need focal points.
St. John Lateran seems old, low in structure and easily overlooked, but it is our ecclesial "home," with all that familiarity entails. Many of us identify with home under a variety of definitions and concepts: a home town, a parish church, a school or playground from youth, a residence for a period of time, a region, a nation. We are home-bound people like passengers on ships that pass the Statue of Liberty, those who attend family reunions and even survivors of conflicts. Sentimental songs remind us that home is where our heart is. We pine for the warmth of an early homestead and cherish these historic or cultural past memories, a current sense of belonging and a future promise of rest and relaxation in an eternal home. We await a home that is a New Heaven and a New Earth.
Our Earth is our home or the special place in our lives. It is our motherland, our birth and tomb. Thus we are to show respect for our earthly home in a very special way. And this respect extends to all our many homes. An atmosphere of respect extends to the entire human race and all people both living and who have gone before us. We must concede among our goings and comings that no home is totally satisfactory, because we are people on the road. Our ultimate home is eternal, but it contains some of the respect and care we have shown our past homes.
The dedication of the particular church shows that we are committed to achieving a lasting home. We long for the face of God, and that longing is the very core of our restless quest that will not cease until we find our home with God. Our common mother church has a special role to play, for it is like Jerusalem and yet is new and different. We realize that no earthly place can perfectly satisfy our desires. The presence of a church building (St, John Lateran) awakens within us the importance of the journey we are on in reaching our eternal home, and ironically triggering our restlessness while comforting us.
Prayer:God, our Father, increase the spiritual gifts You have given your Church, so that your faithful people may continue to grow into the new and eternal Jerusalem. (Prayer of the day)
November 10, 2017 Build and Maintain a Worm Composting Bin
The following is a condensation of a pamphlet put out for Home Depot by our web manager, Janet Powell. It is worth considering, if you currently allow your kitchen wastes to go to a landfill.
Vermicomposting, or composting with earthworms, is an excellent technique for recycling food and yard waste while generating a nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants. Vermicomposting bins are inexpensive and easy to construct.
One 4x8 foot sheet of 1/2 inch exterior plywood; one 12-foot length and one 15-foot length of 2x4 lumber; 16d galvanized nails, 6d galvanized nails, two galvanized door hinges; one-half liter clear varnish or polyurethane; optional plastic sheets for placing under and over bin; one pound of worms (Eisenia foetida commonly called tiger worms) for every half pound of food wastes produced per day; and bedding for the worms -- moistened shredded newspaper, cardboard, or brown leaves.
Using standard carpenter tools, measure and cut the plywood to make one 24x42-inch top, one piece of the same dimensions for the base and two 16x24-inch ends and two 16x42-inch sides. Cut the 2x4s to make two rectangles and nail with 16d nails at each joint. Complete the upright framing and nail plywood sides and bottom pieces. Drill a dozen 1/2 inch holes in the bottom for drainage. Attach two hinges to the inside of the box frame and then to the remaining plywood piece in such a way that the door stands upright when opened. Apply two coats of varnish or polyurethane to prolong the box lifetime beyond the five years of an unpainted box. Place box in any convenient place as long as temperature is more than 50 degrees F (optimum 55-77 degree F). It is wise to place a plastic sheet under the box.
Moisten the bedding material for worms. Excess moisture will drain. Put wet bedding into the box outdoors and wait until all water has drained. Add about eight inches bedding to one side of bottom. Put in worms. In time they will work down into the bedding, away from light. Dig a small hole in bedding and add vegetable and fruit scraps. Cover the hole with bedding. Small amounts of meat can be added in the same way. Don't add anything inorganic or potentially hazardous materials.
Keep your pile moist, but not wet; if flies are a problem, place more bedding material over the wastes. Every three to six months move the compost to a side of the bin and add new bedding to the empty side. Add food wastes to the new bedding only. Within one month worms will crawl over to the new bedding and the finished compost on the old side can be harvested. Then add new bedding to the old side. If ants prove to be a problem, add a small strip of petroleum jelly around top of bin.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to resolve to recycle all our worrisome yard and kitchen wastes into beneficial humus.
Red autumn berries of the dogwood, Cornus florida..
November 11, 2017 Veterans Day: A Transitory Sacrifice
Armistice was obtained at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month ninety-nine years ago today. After the First World War, Armistice Day was highlighted annually as a time to remember the veterans and the sacrifices they made, many with their own lives or their physical and mental health. On Armistice Day, our thoughts go back to the millions on both sides of that bloody conflict; they died on Flanders fields, where the mud and blood mixed. Like the story of the seven brother martyrs (II Maccabees 7,1-2, 9-14) who held fast to their principles, those soldiers were willing to sacrifice their all. For two decades after that war the day was set aside to affirm an enduring peace. Then came a more horrible war, as though no lessons were truly learned.
When Christ was confronted by a non-believer in life after death (Luke 20:27-28), he affirmed life -- present and to come. The resurrection from the dead is an affirmation of a profoundly new life that goes beyond the ordinary sacrifices we make while we live our mortal life. Karl Rahner speaks of our beginning to die the day we are born. For some with life-threatening illnesses the prospects are dire or promising, depending on what one believes. For the healthy, the gusto of the moment is everything and we are tempted to keep it that way. For the unhealthy, each day is an added challenge that takes its own sacrifice of self.
For northern temperate dwellers, November brings sharper winds, the heralds of profound changes in life's journey. We imagine that if the year were a lifetime for the average person, each month would be about six or seven years, and thus the "November" of life is when we take notice of the last things. Granted, few eagerly await the end of mortal life except those who suffer great discomfort, or are condemned by capital punishment. Masters of spirituality say we should occasionally consider our own dying. Western monks in some traditions go out each day and dig a shovel full of dirt from their graves -- as we visitors observed at Gethsemani Abbey. These monks gradually dig their own graves.
The daily obituary columns act like a drum beat telling us the passing of friends and neighbors, some quite heroic people. The dream of youth to escape death is an illusion; optimists dismiss talking about death; pessimists see it all about; realists prepare for their last hour as an occasional spiritual exercise. As we age times seems to go faster and faster. When one is five years old, it takes a fifth of a lifetime for Christmas to roll around; now for me it takes a little over one percent. Quickening time becomes all the more precious. We either await death or discover it is awaiting us. We talk of it frequently or we use circumlocutions: "passing on" or "resting place" or the corpse is "asleep." Shakespeare says "Cowards die many times before their death." Armistice Day in its reality celebrated real sacrifices without realizing that peace-making is an unfinished task.
Prayer: Oh Lord, help us to prepare for an eternal rest.
November 12, 2017 Learning to Await the Transition
She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate. (Wisdom 6: 13-14)
People in various times in history dreaded what was coming and expected the end quite soon. That has had intense moments such as around the year 1000 AD and later at 1033 with the thousandth anniversary of the Crucifixion of Christ. Pessimism was due then in England to struggles with destructive Danish invaders. The Church response was a call for a pure heart and repentance: Dear friends...This world is in haste and is drawing ever closer to its end, and it always happens that the longer it lasts, the worse it becomes. And so it must ever be, for the coming of the Anti-Christ grows ever more evil because of the sins of the people, and then truly it will be grim and terrible widely in the world. - Archbishop Wulfstan of York (1014 homily)
November is a transitional period when we end the "ordinary" year of liturgical readings and await the coming of the Advent season. We listen to St. Paul (Thessalonians 4: 13-18) talk about the end of time, and regard this as a fitting subject after the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. November reminds us that it is salutary to think occasionally about our own passing from this life. Even the Earth will pass away, in order to give way to an anticipated New Earth -- the timing and nature of which is somewhat idle speculation. Paul speaks of the voice of an archangel and of a trumpet of God. We do not know how this scene will unfold. We certainly can wait with expectation, but to suppose that some will be more able to visualize that happening is not scriptural. We are not divine mind readers. As high as the heavens are about the earth, so high are my ways above your ways. (Isaiah 55: 9)
The Gospel (Matthew 25: 1-13) is about ten virgins; wise five virgins take sufficient oil to keep lamps burning; the ten do not know the hour the bridegroom is coming; the foolish five do not have sufficient oil, and when they go to buy some, the doors are closed. Some conservationists may liken the current oil economy to this parable. In fact, the parable says to conserve fuel (trim the wicks) and take the amount needed for the task ahead. However, an over-application encourages selfishness, if one applies the parable to oil reserve storage by the wealthy at the expense of those who do not have the added resources to develop a fuel reserve.
Let's pass over oil consumption and focus instead on the need for vigilance in expecting Christ's coming in our lives, and the growth of the Kingdom of God. Expectancy makes us work more diligently in preparing our Earth for the Lord's coming, which is surely to happen in due time. All we know for certain is that we are 2000 years closer to the final day than was St. Paul.
Prayer: Lord, prepare us for your anticipated but unpredictable coming, and help us to act accordingly.
An intricate sipder's web on the forest floor.
November 13, 2017 Recognizing Eco-Hypocrisy
Many people and especially affluent ones want to proclaim themselves "green" and so promote some particular conservation or renewable energy practice. Much depends on the effectiveness of the conservation or other measure and the amount of touting. An SUV driver who takes a bag of recyclables to a recycling center miles away and expends more gasoline in the process than the reuse of recyclables save is perhaps an example -- but it may involve more guilt salving than pretending. Other examples include:
Energy traders. Examples are the blooming of "energy credit" and "cap and trade" proposals. Some pay to retain their consuming ways while helping others save through conservation or renewable energy use. However, calculating savings is fraught with exaggeration and false expectations. A beneficiary of the do-gooder may change practices in the course of receiving the money and move up the consumption scale, e.g., credits may allow an Indian village to operate a TV, but the TV villagers may see new vehicles or electric appliances and buy them. In the long-term total energy use expands when practices of fuel use change.
Pale green environmental supporters. Many supporters do little in conservation measures such as recycling wastes, driving smaller cars or burning more efficient light bulbs. Rather they prefer to display a calendar or poster from an environmental group, sign letters as to their supposed concern, or even exhibit a green bumper sticker with an appropriate message.
Invented reasons for air travel. Some want a luxury vacation but know that air travel burns fuel, releases carbon dioxide and other toxic emissions. Although they pretend to be green, theirs and others' flights are not necessary and cause pollution through increased air travel. Much conference-going could be replaced by electronic conferencing. What about air travel to exotic sites?
Scattered homesteaders. Some like to return to wilderness areas and build a house in a location that should remain natural wilderness; the dwelling thus disturbs the habitat of animals and may even mar the scenic view of the landscape.
Food faddists. This group of people has immense concern about their own health and safety and yet they care little about how far the food materials had to be transported in order to reach them. They may advocate out-of-season produce (some produce is air-shipped from another continent).
Spacious dwellers. Many Americans have upscaled their living to such a degree that it compromises their ability to pay. Some cry about global warming while living in over-sized dwellings or patronizing over-sized places of worship, education, commerce or entertainment. Their escalating energy bills make no sense.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see how false it is to pretend.
November 14, 2017Ten Reasons for Dry Composting Toilets
1. Major water conservation. The dry composting toilet is just that -- dry. Water is not wasted as a carrier of the sewage, since the effective "flushing agent" is sawdust, leaves, dry grass clippings, or other carbonaceous materials. Instead of using often potable high-quality water to carry waste materials to a sewage disposal plant, the composting operation occurs at the site of deposition and with no carrier water wasted or requiring reprocessing. Most homes and facilities witness a fifty percent or more drop in domestic water consumption because water is not needed to flush the toilets.
2. Lower installation cost. This is a potential savings because some would purchase and still have to install a commercial dry composting toilet. These commercial ones could cost as much as $5,000 -- much of which is the transport charge for heavy shipping containers. However, people can build the device themselves for only about $200 - $500 for container materials, chute, seat, fan and ventilation pipes and save construction and hauling charges. If one considers normal sewer hookup, simplified commode portion of indoor plumbing, sewer pipes and plumber charges in installment, along with the price on specific fixtures, homeowners could realize savings of up to several thousand dollars by building the composting toilet themselves at their own facilities.
3. Teaching simple living. The largest hurdle to the popularity of the dry composting toilet is the misunderstanding that this is an old-fashioned outhouse. Not true! Outhouse materials do not undergo aerobic decomposition as do the composting toilet's; rather they generate methane and unpleasant odors. This misunderstanding carries over into policy-making discussion at the local, state and even national levels. The safety, low cost, and odor-free nature of these aerobic devices require better information dissemination, and no one is better able to do this than composting toilet owners. When visitors bring up these points, it becomes opportune to promote utilizing one's discarded materials and not exporting them elsewhere.
4. Waste emission reduction. The burden of caring for municipal sewage and for furnishing homes with large amounts of domestic water (used for flushing purposes) is well known. Sewer systems can and do break down and require costly repairs as well as risk contaminating local streams and waterways. In poorer rural America "straight pipes" send effluent from bathrooms into creeks and streams; composting toilets eliminate this problem.
5. Global warming reduction. An estimated 5% of all methane, a major global warming agent, is produced by wastewater treatment facilities. Use of aerobic methods reduces the amount of methane generated by anaerobic decomposition of waste materials.
6. Retain local economic resources. Large-scale outside contractors through major municipal water and sewage system construction projects often drain money from localities. This is especially true in poorer areas where construction firms are not available to build mega-million dollar sewer and waste treatment facilities. The dry composting toilet may be accompanied by a constructed or artificial wetland, which is a gravel-filled bed covered with wood chips. Excess water enters the beds and evaporates through the leaves of flowers, bamboo or other plants growing in the chips. These composting toilet and wetland combinations can be built using local talent and thus the money remains within the community for further circulation.
7. Maintenance bills decline. The dry composting toilet has far less chance of breaking down because it is so simple. If a child drops a toy down the hole, getting it out may take some fishing but doing it doesn't need an expensive plumber. In fact, there is no plumbing to the non-washing portion of the bathroom -- and thus no need of a plumber.
8. Wood waste reduction. The use of organic matter as a diluting and composting medium could help eliminate the sawdust waste problem in timber processing parts of Appalachia and some other regions. Wood and other carbonaceous waste products often accumulate and become a water and land contamination problem in themselves. The greater the number of composting toilets, the smaller the amount of leaves and other such materials that need be sent to hard-pressed and overflowing landfills.
9. Composted product reuse. The resulting composted product looks like sawdust or the carbonaceous materials added, has no odor, and can be safely utilized to enhance organic soil content for shrubs, flowers, lawn, trees, berries and even vegetables and herbs after observing simple safeguards. The compost is best used on non-root edibles, but after careful heating under plastic in the sun the composted material can be used for root crops.
10. Beauty of constructed wetlands. Composting toilet owners need to consider the greywater which comes from washing hands, dishes and clothes. Some of this water may get contaminated by dirty diapers or other forms of contamination. The answer is the constructed wetlands, which can be built as a coupled device to the composting toilet to a size determined by state regulations. This relatively low-cost system can have enough capacity to handle both greywater (from hand or dish washing operations) and "black water" (what is flushed in the toilet proper). The required land is far less than for septic tank leach fields, and it can grow beautiful flowers. In many places the constructed wetlands have substituted for flowerbeds.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to champion simpler ways of living, and to do so even when knowing that some will ignore or belittle our efforts. Give us the fortitude to continue even when the practices run counter to the perceived "proper way" of complex living.
Northern river otter, Lontra canadensis, rebounds as a species in Kentucky.
November 15, 2017 Restoring Wildlife Habitats
The goal for Earth healing, knowing that biodiversity adds to planet health, is to encourage a healthy balance in nature. A rich biodiversity is to be protected where it currently exists and, where lost, reestablished through habitat reclamation. The restorative process could occur on one's private property or at local, regional or state wilderness areas, or at larger tracts at a national or global oceanic level. Ideally nature center grounds, parks and wilderness areas can provide protection and reintroduction of species as well as regulated environmental education for visitors and virtual viewers (books and other literature and films). Such groups as "Friends of the ...Park" perform this service and demonstrate possible wildlife restoration.
A declared "Wildlife Habitat" has a special meaning. Native Americans defined Kentucky as a common hunting grounds for elk, bison, wildcats, mountain lions, squirrel, rabbit, raccoons, skunk, grouse, rattlesnakes and copperheads, catfish, perch and other marine life, along with a host of residential and migratory birds. Today some of these species can be attracted by salt blocks (for deer), hummingbird feeders, or butterfly gardens. Efforts are needed to protect wildlife threatened by the encroachment of development of all sorts: golf courses, farms, highways and utilities lines cutting through wilderness. Even poorly planned nature trails can harm wildlife habitat. Threats come to native species from plant and animal exotic invasive species and from equally invasive ATVs that destroy wildlife habitat tranquility.
The Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in the northeast tip of Puerto Rico is a 316-acre area under strict governmental control and yet open to the public at given times. Well publicized regulations minimize damage to the area's three distinct ecological communities. Platforms allow visitors to come close to but not intrude in the fragile coastal wetlands. By use of binoculars, platform signs, audiotapes and hand-outs visitors receive a wildlife experience without tramping through fragile habitat.
Threatened wildlife such as the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountains or elk in Appalachia needs undisturbed areas. Bald eagle and bison restoration programs have been successful. One promising program is to reintroduce bison to depopulating portions of the Great Plains where they formerly roamed. Wildlife corridors may require modifications for population centers and broad underpasses for migration under existing highways. Harvesting free-ranging over-populating wildlife at a sustainable rate would yield quality meat for hungry people and preserve wildlife quality.
A helpful suggestion is to consider a backyard used for wildlife to some modified degree. See our YouTube video on "How to Establish a Backyard Wildlife Habitat."
Prayer: Lord, help us see wildlife as fellow creatures in the chain of all being and make an effort to restore their habitat.
"In gratitude for your support and encouragement during 2017 we are offering five giveaway days for my book "Resonance" on Amazon Kindle from Monday through Friday of Thanksgiving Week. Happy thanksgiving! -
Al Fritsch, SJ"
Henhouse after sunset in November. Rural Washington Co., KY farm.
November 16, 2017 Darkness Expands
In this northern temperate zone we note that days are really getting shorter. My dad had three early morning phrases to get us more quickly to do farm work: September to December 21, "The Days are getting shorter;" December 21 to sometime in late March, "The Days are short;" and from late March to September, "There is a lot of work to be done." Now we observe that sunlight wanes and darkness waxes. Each month is about one hour longer or shorter in daylight, and each day sunrise and sunset are about one minute more or less at dawn and dusk. This is due to how ancients in the temperate zone defined a length of time as "hour" or "minute." For agrarian folks who live by daylight, lengthening or shortening has meaning for work output.
Daylight has always meant much to me due to my agricultural roots. Furthermore, our Christian religious culture is heavily laden with love of light and fear or dread of darkness. Psychological differences also exist. Optimists say that, upon dying, a soul is moving to the light, and pessimists will say a body is buried -- in the dark grave. Amid such differences there is utter need for light for photosynthetic processes and well-being, and there is need for darkness for the same natural growth processes and well being as well. Chemical reactions, bodily functions, composting processes and nocturnal animals are active in the dark as well as in periods of light. Also our bodies are generally primed to rest in darkness whether through daily rhythms of activity and inactivity. Darkness of the seasons is needed for plant growth/rest and for some animal activity/hibernation.
The marked accentuation of the seasons in the temperate climate offers us an opportunity to appreciate changes -- in tree and all plant life, in weather conditions, in animal living patterns, and in our own moods and mental state. When we approach winter, we observe that the elderly find the upcoming season more difficult due to impaired mobility. Thus, the shortening of days brings to mind the often-heard question by neighbors (expecting non-committal responses), "Are you alright?" If the answer is not the expected affirmative, the questioner steps into a muddy puddle of extended personal health narration. So often the reply involves one's ability to endure winter's or summer's harsher conditions.
Darkness has its human benefits This is a time to stay at home, to pile on more blankets, get to bed earlier without regrets, start a cozy fire, focus on plans for the next season, play a game, give attention to updating records, consider personal health, think about the bad effects of too much ultraviolet light in longer sunlit seasons, appreciate light when we have it, find the ideal time to pray, becoming compassionate for others, assist someone in need, and to hope for the coming of new light and a new season.
Prayer: Lord, help us to appreciate and even welcome the rhythm of light and darkness during the seasons. Give us the courage to endure the winter ahead of us.
Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird, but was outvoted -- thus we have the bald eagle as national symbol on money and seal. When young, I could never fathom Franklin's suggestion. For one thing, there was a dearth of wild turkeys at that time, even though we had plenty of domesticated ones. I remember as a tiny toddler I hated venturing outside at my grandparents' place because they had a so-called tame gobbler Ben, who would challenge young children. Around and around the farm house I ran, with Ben's fluffed up feathers right on my heels. My vocal commotion broke up the traditional euchre game, and all the players and relatives came pouring out on the porch and howled with laughter at the sight -- until Uncle John ran out and rescued me from ole Ben. I still like baked turkey and hate euchre.
Now with extended hunting seasons on "wild turkey" in our commonwealth, I am more inclined to understand the prevalence of that type of fowl in early American history -- and its happy or unfortunate return. Kentucky and other states have reintroduced the game-bred turkey that is larger than truly wild ones and have a far larger appetite for wild plants and seed. Now we are plagued by too many "wild turkeys" -- these are becoming a regional problem. Our American "wild turkey" flock was estimated at seven million at the turn of the century, up over one million from the previous 1995 estimate. Several times while I have been hiking, female turkeys have challenged me as I have inadvertently gotten too close to their nests and chicks. The maternal aggression towards intruders may have much to do with their instinctive knowing that the wilderness belongs to them, and we are strangers and guests on their landscape. As for turkeys, they leave much of the summer garden alone except for beans -- a crop broadly-liked by wildlife; beans need extra protection from turkeys.
I think there is a certain beauty to turkeys, even though I believe their shaggy heads resemble those of vultures. Their heads seem awfully small for their bodies, but they are really quite crafty and able to adapt to the climate and terrain. I love their ability to sustain themselves, but it does not come without a cost. People tell us that many of the endangered understory flowers of Appalachia are part of the turkey's menu; the valuable ginseng seed is crushed in the turkey craw. Foraging, ever-expanding bands of turkeys act like vacuum sweepers of the forest understory. Part of the emerging turkey problem is the lack of natural predators (red fox or wolf) to control the rapidly expanding turkey population. Maybe the arrival of the coyote from the west will fill the missing niche to some degree. Only time will tell. How about giving the turkey co-national status with the bald eagle because it is native, hardy, abundant, able to survive, provides delicious meat for the hungry, and is much at home here? It exhibits a number of popular "American" traits well worth imitating.
Prayer: Lord, give us insight to see the benefits of all our wildlife and to champion the good qualities of each species.
Lincoln's New Salem (Illinois) State Historic Site.
(*photo by Mark Spencer)
November 18, 2017 Reread Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
One of the great addresses ever delivered was that of Abraham Lincoln in November 1863 when he went to the battlefield at Gettysburg to dedicate the national cemetery one hundred and fifty-four years ago:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do so.
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it will never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Given by President A. Lincoln
November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, PA
Prayer: Lord, awaken in us to be attentive to noble words, to treasure them, and to move others through brief and poignant words to a deeper respect for those who have sacrificed for us by their lives.
"In gratitude for your support and encouragement during 2017 we are offering five giveaway days for my book "Resonance" from Monday through Friday of Thanksgiving Week. Happy thanksgiving! Click here -
Al Fritsch, SJ"
Well done! You are an industrious and reliable servant. (Matthew 25:21)
At her untimely passing at fifty years, my cousin Margie suddenly became recognized as a highly talented but unpretentious person. We knew she was a first rate nutritionist and helped train many others in the profession at a leading hospital in Cincinnati. We were unaware that she spent additional time assisting handicapped people to find work at her hospital cafeteria and at similar hospital facilities. In fact, numerous people owed their employment and sense of self-esteem in part to her patience and encouragement. In no way did Margie brag about her talents and yet she realized that one of them was her ability to assist others in using their own talents well. Her own talent became magnified.
God gives to each of us many great gifts or talents; when we strive to be truly humble, we recognize and thank God for gifts given. We can do more; we can share talents through assisting others to use their gifts well; this becomes a form of radical sharing. We discover in a sincere way the purpose of our creation, our free response, the place of the sacraments in our life, and our ever more caring service to others. And all this involves use of our gifts not only individual benefit, but in a collaborative manner for the Common Good.
Today's parable of the talents tells us much. We are told not to bury talents and fail to use them properly. Here Jesus teaches two things: failure to use talents is wrong; and failure of the less talented, not the more talented, to use gifts properly is doubly wrong. Highly gifted people who often do not act or do so in a limited way through diffidence, laziness or addictive behavior can fail. Jesus talks about our lack of action, not the wrong action once undertaken. Accepting that everyone has unique gifts is a democratic principle; failing to encourage them to use them is a weakness of a competitive capitalistic culture that tolerates the "unemployed" as a pool to draw from at will -- and thus depress wages. If talents were highly valued, our nation would regard fully employing the unemployed as a top priority. All too often lesser talents are overlooked and the person is made to feel powerless. The passed over are tempted to say, "I will bury talents through false humility; otherwise failure will haunt me."
Let's act, even at the risk of doing so imperfectly. Jesus knows we can use our gifts irresponsibly but, as humble people, we can recognize our weaknesses and can make needed changes. Those who never act, who bury their talents and offer no occasion for public interaction need encouragement and even prodding. One way to see things is to believe in the democracy of gifts from God and to see these as worthy of fulfillment. Then using our gifts well becomes a challenge to help others also to use theirs well.
Prayer: Lord, give us all the grace to use our talents well.
Unidentified fungus in patch of henbit and chickweed.
November 20, 2017 Culinary Herb Growing and Use
Herbs need protection either while outdoors in cool weather, or they may be brought indoors during the non-growing season. I generally grow three types of mint, garlic, oregano, sage, wormwood, parsley, coriander, dill and scarlet basil, and add more with time. And then there are the wild herbs that grow on their own: poke, dandelions, sorrel, plantain, and others. At home, Mama was the parsley queen, and would grow wonderful bunches for fall dishes and table decorations at major events. We had horseradish for winter and wild dandelions in early spring. Our Ravenna parish grounds has an established herbal bed (see YouTube video on this website), which is a community project. Culinary herbs include:
Basil (annual) Leaves for vegetable salads and stews and especially with tomato dishes. Caraway (biennial) Seeds for cabbage dishes and sauerkraut and also in cornbread. Celery (annual) Leaves and stems for soups, sauces and pickles and seeds as flavoring in cooked dishes. Chives (perennial) Leaves for cottage cheese, soups and salads and some other cooked dishes. Coriander (perennial) Leaves and seed for salads. Dandelion (perennial) Leaves and buds for salads, either raw or in cooked fashion, and roots for hot drinks. Dill (annual) Stems, leaves and seeds for pickles, salads and dishes and for flavoring for baked goods. Fennel (perennial) Leaves and seeds for salads, soups, cooked dishes, and cheese. Garlic (perennial) Leaves, top seeds and bulbs for any type of cooking and available in fresh form much of the year. Horseradish (perennial) Roots in fall for cocktail and fish sauce and cold dishes and sandwiches. Marjoram (annual) Leaves for tomato dishes and also for use in salads. Mint (apple, mountain, spearmint and peppermint) (perennial) Leaves green or dried for sauces, dishes, cold drinks and hot tea and
chewed fresh like commercial gum. Mustard (annual) Seeds for cooked dishes and dressings and wild mustard leaves in salads. Oregano (annual) Leaves and bloom for Italian, Greek and Mexican dishes. Parsley (biannual) Leaves and chopped stems for soups and dishes and mixed in tomato salad dishes. Pokeweed (perennial) Shoots in spring and early summer for salad, and cooked like asparagus (see YouTube video on this website). Sage (perennial) Leaves before bloom for dishes and stuffing and used traditionally in homemade sausage. Tarragon (perennial) Leaves for herbal vinegar.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to eat simpler foods, but to enrich them with the flavor of readily available herbs -- true gifts.
One renewable energy source in the developing economy is micro hydropower; it is safe, dependable, non-polluting and there for the taking. The "micro" refers to a small-scale operation of less than 100 kilowatt (kW) electric generating capacity. The operation at this scale requires a plentiful flow of water, but this does not require that rivers must be dammed up; this damming for many grand hydroelectric projects can retard the movement of fish and other marine life. On the other hand, a moderate size 100-kwh micro hydropower plant could furnish electricity to twenty energy conserving homes that do not use electricity for resistance or space heating. Average non-electric heated American homes have a demand of less than two kW and a peak demand of about five kW.
America has a bounty of free-flowing streams such as those this year flowing from the snow pack of the western mountains or those from numerous eastern uplands; this could include larger streams and rivers that are free-flowing or even releases from some non-hydropower dammed operations. An advantage is that once built, such operations are free of major ongoing maintenance; payback for inserting hydro generators is relatively rapid, since in an increasing number of states this can be a valuable addition to meeting renewable energy requirements as we move from a fossil fuel economy. There's no need for new high-priced dams that could disturb forest cover, flood fertile alluvial valleys or disturb the river flow and marine wildlife migration patterns.
Installing a micro hydropower plant does take some effort at design, planning and construction. Among major problems that have been experienced by vendors, builders and owners are the following: obtaining financing, existence of governmental red tape, resistance of government to design and construction assistance, cost and availability of equipment, utility interface and buy-back rates, price comparison with subsidized non-renewable systems, compliance with all environmental regulations (generally involving water flow), and availability of equipment manufacturers. Determining potential sites could also be a challenge.
Favorable sites exist in many places whether the high-head (large drop) or low-flow facilities. However not all property holders actually have access to both the best site for the plant and the right-of-way from plant to point of use. However, where combination source/consumer sites exist, they are begging for use. Micro hydropower plants need some technical experience to design and construct, and are hardly a do-it-yourself undertaking. The builder candidate needs to understand federal, state and local regulations. The federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) requires utilities to help provide interconnections with privately owned powerplants, but no standards are set at the Federal level for the interface or for protective equipment at the point of interconnection.
Prayer: Lord, show us how to use our free-flowing waters.
Seasons are changing and so we strive to winterize the garden:
Protecting plants from winter's low temperatures is important, but less so than protecting them from the blasts of the cold winds. Temperatures generally peak at mid-afternoon and then decline during the night. The cold frame maintains a more even temperature throughout the entire twenty-four-hour period. In the autumn, plant crops that can withstand colder temperatures need protection from wind damage. Root crops can be protected by good ground cover and celery can be hilled in with soil. Of course, most tomatoes are sensitive to cold weather, but tommy toes do quite well in the solar greenhouse even with some lower temperatures. In almost all cases, vegetables and herbs will continue to thrive in our moderate temperatures with only wind protection from a cold frame.
Cloth crop covers made of cotton or synthetic fibers are sufficient unless the weather gets bitterly cold for a long period without snow cover. Straw or chopped leaves are sufficient for some of the hardy greens. For more elaborate protection, a solar greenhouse or a permanent cold frame with insulated sides and a south-facing glass cover are recommended. At the nature center I directed in the 20th century near Livingston, Kentucky, we constructed a solar greenhouse, which still furnishes about 40% of space heating on sunny winter days. This greenhouse has a 2000-gallon water tank, which stores the heat during the day and released it on wintery nights to help sustain the vegetables. Milder winters help make these solar greenhouses all the more successful. With proper protection and captured heat sources, many vegetables can thrive and even grow during winter.
I leave such root crops as Jerusalem artichokes and onions in the garden until needed, as well as carrots -- except that little varmints will also like to get to them. A number of favorite winter vegetables include the brassicas (collards, cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) along with Swiss chard, parsley, turnips, Japanese radishes, endive, beets, and spinach. Lettuce will linger but is often the first harvested before frost ruins it. I have found salsify (oyster plant) endures the winter quite well, and is good for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals when cooked with milk, butter, salt and pepper. Dandelions are very hardy and are an all around nutritious delicacy, which I have harvested in every winter month, though I often cook them. Within the solar greenhouse one can grow dill, Swiss chard, tomatoes, mint, and parsley.
A resourceful gardener can plan for and have some vegetables throughout the year, but the autumn is the critical time to prepare for the more difficult winter months. With some kind of proper protection, most cooler weather plants will remain alive and even thrive in our increasingly milder winters due to climate change.
Prayer: Lord, teach us always to be prepared and to let this sense of readiness extend into the everyday actions of our lives.
At Thanksgiving we extend our gratitude in prayer --
Air we breathe
Beloved parents and deceased relatives and friends
Blessings given and received
Constitution and Bill of Rights
Dedicated Church and civic leaders
Donations to this website
Enduring democratic birthright
Event worth celebrating
Forests and trees
Foresight to appreciate gifts
Honest service people
Internet and modern communications
Inspiration of teachers and role models
Justice springing up all about our land
Judges who care
Kind words at the right moment
Kinfolks who are graceful
Livestock and pets of all types
Lifestyles that are simple
Modern medicines and technologies
Merchants who are truthful
Nutritious food in abundance
Oceans and lakes and all bodies of water
Officers who believe in safety
Personal protection from harm
Privilege to be of service
Qualities worth praising
Roof over our heads
Routes well marked
Saints and good models to follow
Spices and herbs
Talents we recognize
Use of computers
Vision to see sunsets
Expectations for the future
Extra years of health
Youth to inspire us
Yields of the garden
Zillions of overlooked things and
Zeal to practice gratitude. Thank you, Lord.
Seeds of white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima.
November 24, 2017 Is This a Good Day for Gift Purchase?
Black Friday has been America's premier shopping day. This essay title reveals a cultural problem: Why do we need tips to shop, if we know what we are going to buy? Offering tips means acknowledging the impulsive shopping habits of Americans and the need to avoid unnecessary and ill-conceived purchases. In such a case, stay home and let it be. Must we join the rush because of panic buying by the maddening commercial buyers? Or is this becoming a thing of the past with the vast closing of brick and mortar stores by multitudes going to on-line purchases. Some say: "If we have money, we must spend it; if we have a craving, we must fulfill it." However, there are countercurrents worth mentioning:
* Construct the list. Don't go shopping unless you know precisely what you want. You may know the item but not the specifics and so need to examine merchandise.
* Give services, not purchases. Consider holiday presents that are not merchandise, such as donations in one's name, services, or homemade items with some heart and soul in the gift.
* Rummage around first. Go to home storage areas and look and see whether needs may be met with items that you don't want to keep, or items that may be fashioned into that perfect gift.
* Consider special sales. Once you have decided to make a given type of gift, be on the lookout for yard sales or the bargains that will surely arise, especially as shops and malls close due to on-line business growth. Maybe the flexibility could allow late purchases with a note that the gift is coming near the season's main event. We recall that many stores simply mark up prices and then reduce them to normal through the "sale."
* Budget your shopping time. Those who plan to spend the whole day shopping are prime targets for impulse buying. But consider that knowing what will be purchased may mean skipping the market trip and going directly to the Internet, for there is no travel involved.
* Use judgment as to the place to go. I like to patronize local, higher-quality hardware stores, even when it costs more for particular items. For specific items, I search at junk yards, yard sales and other such operations. The money stays in the community and the seller welcomes the purchase.
* Refrain from impulse buying. Some of us see an item and instantly decide it is "just right," and thus buy something that we will regret before we get home. About half of all buying is by impulse and this is what advertising, front displays, and the words and music of sales pitches are all about. "Loosen up," they urge, "and buy this one item." Really?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to think before we buy.
"In gratitude for your support and encouragement during 2017 we are offering five giveaway days for my book "Resonance" on Amazon Kindle from Monday through Friday of Thanksgiving Week. Happy thanksgiving! Click here -
Al Fritsch, SJ"
Garden pool at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Ravenna, KY.
(*photo by Mark Spencer)
November 25, 2017 Design and Build a Garden Pool
At times we need to build with our hands and, though winter may not be the best season to build, sometimes late fall and early winter offer windows of opportunity to work outdoors. One of the least expensive ways to create an outdoor water/land harmonious landscape is to make a garden pool or pond. Some could settle for a small fish pond but others with sufficient space prefer larger ponds that allow the sounds of amphibians (frogs and creepers) in summer. When building for frogs, remember to have a gradual and not an abrupt siding so that animals can enter and leave the water at will. Whether choosing fish or frogs, some simple designs or exotic shapes can be created using plastic or cement or other artificial materials. If fish are expected to remain through the winter, then make the pool about three feet deep in normal temperate climates -- though this depth is greater than is allowed for pools without fences in some municipalities. Consider dangers to trespassing youngsters. Colder climates require deeper pools.
Many prefer pools that have good sunlight (four to six hours a day). It is a beautiful sight to behold. However, sunlight may allow the growth of algae, which can prove a maintenance problem, but can be deterred with additives or water motion. Consider adding oxygen to water by allowing for a trickle solar water pump to allow bubbling during daytime. Birds are attracted to the sound of water, and running water also is soothing to nearby residents. Pools may be designed in irregular shapes and with nearby plant arrangements along with adjacent benches and observation places for those who wish to reflect.
Prepare for various water-attracting animals and plants. When shrubs, herbs and flowers are arranged nearby, attracted birds and butterflies add an extra richness to the pond area. A number of wetland plants may decorate the shoreline. If the pool is in a hot place in summer, consider creating shade through trees or tall bushes or by placing a trellis with vines overhead. Some use ponds in summer and indoor fish tanks in winter, complementary practices.
Pools are often surrounded by many plants. More often bird experts recommend a clearing on at least one side, so that birds coming for a drink or bath will have a clear view -- something many of them prefer as they are afraid of lurking hawks. Generally, one situates the pool at a distance from trees, especially those with shallow roots, which seek to penetrate the water container. Also falling autumn leaves are a maintenance concern for they may clog the pool quite easily. Quality pool water must be secured. Fill the pool if possible with non-chlorinated, non-municipal water from rainwater or ground water sources. If in colder regions, empty the pool in winter and transfer fish to an indoor fish tank. In warmer climates fish can live in a moderate-sized pool throughout the year.
Prayer: Lord, help us to form a land/water harmony and to appreciate it through the projects we propose and complete.
Discovering brilliant orange fungi on autumn Kentucky hike.
November 26, 2017 Christ the King
Come. You have my Father's blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. (Matthew 25: 34)
Christ as king is also judge. At this closing of the church year we read this dramatic passage in St. Matthew's gospel about the final judgment. Jesus will be seated on his royal throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. What never fails to astound us is that, if we are among the good, we will be invited to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. The kingdom is ours in a sense of eternal belonging.
Those who see the needy, but do nothing for them, close the door to acceptance within the Kingdom. The message is clear; we must be sensitive to those who suffer all sorts of want: lack of food, drink, or clothing and hospitality to strangers, and lack of care for the imprisoned and those who are ill. Insensitivity is the cause for rejection.
We hear this demand for sensitivity both as individuals and as communities. We can ask ourselves about our own callousness and insensitivity due to selfish fulfillment and the quest for comfort. Do we forget those who are in dire need because we either see too many or fail to see any through over-attention to personal issues? The dramatic needs of people who lack essentials are pointed out to us vividly in any extreme weather event at home or abroad. Most of us became sensitive to the anguish of the very poor begging for food and drinking water and a place to flee from a flood. We assist the victims of natural disasters whether Americans or Chinese earthquake victims or Africans suffering from famine.
Jesus addresses those who are insensitive to human need; change your ways, for judgment is soon enough; reject over-affluence and become sensitive to the needs of the poor; radically share so that others may have essentials of life (see our Reclaiming the Commons in Brassica Books). To paraphrase Lincoln, we cannot continue in a world half slave and half free, half of haves and half of have nots. Inequality must be checked in this globalized world and overcome through democratic efforts. We cannot continue to require more resources to maintain a military machine to protect those resources expected to keep our affluence intact. The global situation is getting intolerable, and the Lord is giving us warnings; we must confront injustice.
Christ is our leader; if we follow him, we will be sensitive to the needs of others and restore a sense of respect for his power and dominion. Through the Holy Spirit we are moved to speak up to decision makers and legislators: assist the needy. In our local communities we must have the courage to find those in need and help them. With our eyes focused on Jesus we will gain the kingdom.
Prayer: Lord, keep us sensitive to the needs of all, and to see this as a serious responsibility in our own lives.
Intricate patterns in red cabbage.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
November 27, 2017 Small-Scale Farming Is Essential
November is a time to consider the bounty of America's land. How is this bounty used well in this land of plenty? Our nineteenth and early twentieth century American history has been one of small and medium-sized farms and energetic farmers growing the crops that helped feed a nation and world. However, the scene has changed as we face massive agribusiness ventures, which currently provide a large portion of America's food. Some emerging problems include higher fuel prices, dieback of honey bees for pollination, and environmental problems related to chemical pesticides, commercial fertilizers and feedlots. All of these problems raise questions about modern corporate methods.
In agribusiness ventures, crops are generally cultivated and harvested by farm workers who do back‑breaking tasks for long periods of time at low wages, with inadequate lodging, no true sharing in profits, and hazardous (pesticide-contaminated) working conditions. In small-scale operations, the individual farmer can determine his or her working conditions, can work in a chemical‑ and pesticide‑free area, and is not required to spend long periods of time doing a single operation over and over. For such a farmer, variety becomes the spice of life. Through planning and wise crop diversification small-scale farmers and gardeners convert small areas of land into high yielding sources of produce.
Sprawling American land development threatens our best farmland. Today, there is one hectare (2.4 acres) of cultivated land per four persons on this planet. With the natural population increases expected for some time in the foreseeable future, the amount of land per person could drop by one third before population is stabilized during this century. One answer to the loss of prime agricultural land is the high‑yielding domestic garden and small-scale farm using abandoned or fragmented land. By intensive methods, about one‑tenth of an acre can supply half of a person's yearly food needs, especially with emphasis on such bulk crops as potatoes or sweet potatoes. If a person lives on a vegetarian diet, an additional one‑tenth of an acre can grow the extra bulk and special crops needed to meet basic individual human needs. If the person's diet includes animal products, then considerably more land (at least two or three times as much) is needed to furnish the feed and pasture for livestock o furnish meat, milk and eggs.
"We have in this world," as Gandhi says, "enough for our need but not our greed." Focusing attention on small-scale agriculture and gardening gives us confidence that basic necessities can be produced on this bountiful Earth. Many of the world's poor crave enough land to sustain themselves, and yet urbanization quickens; now over half the world's people live in congested mega-cities. Often in poorer countries the best farmland is used for producing luxuries for export (fresh-cut flowers, shrimp, coffee, and beef). A more sensible policy is more land for growing local essentials.
Prayer: Lord, that they all may have some farmland.
After the leaves fall we are tempted to say, "Well, that does it for the outdoors this year." Not so fast. The opposite may really be the case. Suitable winter weather is perfect because there is no summer foliage nor gnats and mosquitoes to hinder us. Late fall and winter are perfect times to build and maintain existing trails. This is the golden opportunity to assist maintenance crews at financially-strapped private or public nature centers and parks to pick up litter, straighten out trails, halt erosion, or help with signage of all sorts. November is trail-making and -maintenance month.
Trail work has many benefits: it invites outdoor exercise; it can be a social event, for it encourages group undertakings; it is suitable for people of various physical energy levels; it renders a tangible product, which can be shown as a record of achievement; it gives needed assistance to overworked maintenance personnel; it is a non-destructive form of outdoor exercise; and it is an investment for future trail users. Our country needs a more integrated trail system on a par with our enormous highway system. Some states including Kentucky are starting to develop such trail networks. These can include abandoned railroad right-of-ways and seldom used rural roadways. Coordinated efforts at local, state and national governmental levels are needed -- to establish camp or lodging sites, post uniform signs and maps, set up safe crossings at busy highways, and develop a comprehensive maintenance system.
In trail-making, several simple rules apply: build a trail after planning and considering whether any disturbance of the land will cause erosion; lay the trail out on the contour and not up and down slopes; use chips or sawdust or other coverings, if possible, though transporting these materials may prove a burden; run the trail so that there are controlled entrances and exits; place barriers such as "Texas Crossings" (parallel sharp angle passageways through which large livestock cannot maneuver) or fencing where off-road vehicles may penetrate the trail system; consider different degrees of exertion by trail users; remove stumbling blocks (boulders, downed tree trunks, roots, half buried fencing); and put up signs to assist visitors who may get lost.
A proper trail is designed to deliver a complete nature experience, well built to minimize erosion, well equipped with bridges or steps where needed, and well described so the participant will understand all of the notable things worth seeing or even feeling (for blind hikers). Nature trails may be classified according to various degrees of exertion, so attend to reserving portions for less mobile people. The trail surface may be hardened by traditional paving or by new plastic substances which mix with soil to form all-season walkways able to accommodate wheelchair users. Markers, designated signs and audio-tape units prove serviceable when human guides are absent.
Prayer: Lord, you are the way; help us make ways for others.
November 29, 2017 Sharing Food Locally and Globally
In this year with reported famine in Yemen and the horn of Africa, we have considered sharing surplus garden vegetables with those who are caught by high food bills and low food budgets. Sharing garden produce is inherently local or at best a little longer distance for some less perishable food. In the Middle Ages Saints Isidore (patron of farmers) and his wife Maria were touched by their local poor and shared with them food from their own field and table. So can we do this or more?
Since we can hardly share produce with the distant poor, is our concern for them more than an empty gesture? We know that concern mixed with responsibility can have salutary results. Some food such as surplus grain, dried milk products, and cooking oil is less perishable even if not produced in my garden. Such food can be stored for a reasonable time and sent as emergency aid to places that suffer from famine, hurricanes, earthquakes and armed conflict. Foreign storage and distribution facilities continue to be needed and those in solidarity with the world's poor can help prod our governmental representatives to ensure funds for more humanitarian assistance -- not cut our foreign aid budgets.
Our goal is locally grown food. Direct financial grants through charitable agencies can help purchase locally grown food in poor lands and thus subsidize local growers of perishable garden produce in these lands. This in turn, gives money to local farming entrepreneurs to furnish more produce for needy neighbors. Through advocacy and financial support, along with global communications and transportation we can contribute to reducing hunger in all parts of the world. The more prosperous small-scale poor farmer is now able to buy fertilizer and tools and thus can grow more and improve the food-growing practices in his or her land.
Urban gardening using vacant lands, back and front yards, medium strips, roofs, and cemeteries offers many possibilities.
Encouragement could come provided the will to develop such places and the availability of proper supervision.
Growing one's own garden is a way to reduce hunger at the local level. We need to encourage gardening practices and to be so facile that others are able to do the same -- the backyard and barefoot gardener. In our poor regions of Appalachia we are starting educational programs on food growing, purchasing, preparing and preserving surplus produce. A world of active gardeners even within highly industrialized and urbanized regions would help alleviate hunger at local levels in many parts of the world. Such practices along with necessary seeds and basic tools can go a long way in reducing world hunger.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to share and to free our hearts of selfish allurements. Help us to share the bounty of our surplus daily bread with the needy both locally and globally, and encourage others to do the same.
When we operate as balanced human beings we are aware of our functioning hands, head and heart, a natural trinity at work. The three "h's" form a harmony by collaborating and being useful serviceable to self and others through God's presence with us.
It is easy to recognize hand service: working hands push brooms and pick up garbage; they build and repair, restore and preserve. However hands are not headless or heartless, but are most important for human activity for most other animals do not have similar dexterity. Hands symbolize our creativity -- though some people with great effort can even create without hands.
Our head directs the movement of service, organizes the hands to proper action, and formulates a word of encouragement to others; the head is involved in reflection on the works of the hands and articulates the final handiwork to be of service. Those favoring the superior use of mind and the glory of mental exercises would contest the sequence of hands, head and heart, and say the head comes first. For them, head work comes before all action; without a good head one could not think and speak a word to the world -- but, really head and hands work in unison for human success.
The heart takes it all in, and with the work of hands and the reflection of the head, it gives a sense of belonging and love to the services we perform. Others say the heart is first, and in some way they are right; no one works without an element of love (whether of self or others) involved. But in the harmony of service that we perform, it is the heart that is touched by going out to others and planning to say good things to them. We find that words cannot express it all, and so must muster up the resources of the heart to truly respond.
However, arguments about which come first are basically pointless. Quibbling only distracts us from the desired harmony in our work in which hands, head and heart act together. Great thinkers (St. Thomas and St. Augustine) argued from stances which showed the Trinity at work in the process of learning by the human being. In some way, this basic insight taken from Faith Seeking Understanding is what is done here but with a difference. Here one argues from an activist agenda, a position of political and technological activism, of public participation and interaction with other citizens, of humans' and other creatures' (plants and animals) needs in the environmental spheres; it is work we must do in communication, arts, music, caregiving, and global collaboration to save our wounded Earth. From the record of activists one discovers the interface of Earth and heaven, of God's image within us and our response in humble participation in the Trinity in action from within us. See our book on Resonance: Mystery Unfolding, which can be purchased on Amazon Books.
Prayer: Lord, show me that my integrity depends on harmony: I create, I restore, and I promote to all who seek an eco-balance.