Can our lives be works of art?

By Sam Stern: I am not much of a philosopher but days like this one demand some big picture reflection. It occurs to me that I’ve entered a sector in the Circle of Life that is going to involve acknowledging mortality and saying a lot of goodbyes.

Because being upright and in a position to face the emotional challenges of the end-of-life sector is better than the alternative, I need to find, and share, a coping mechanism to serve me and minimize the pain of loss.

Recently I attended the funeral of Joan Mondale, our former Second Lady. I did not know her well, other than from her public persona. But one meeting in particular amounted to more than exchanging pleasantries at mutually attended political functions and I wanted to demonstrate the depth of my appreciation by paying my respects through my attendance at the funeral. Continue reading

Do words have power?

By Cindy Moy: The Husband, an American of Chinese descent, and I attended a wedding in a small town in Ohio.  Everyone was wonderful to us for three days.  One night we were walking back to our car with my in-laws and passed three teenage boys, sitting in a doorway along the sidewalk, drinking beer.  I knew what was coming.

They took one look at my family and began making karate chop noises.
My husband ignored them.
My in-laws ignored them.
I was upset.

When we got back to the hotel my husband said, “I can remember this weekend for the dozens of truly nice people we’ve met, or I can remember it for three drunken idiots on a sidewalk.”

The Husband was able to take away the power those teenage twits had used to try to intimidate him. Continue reading

What advice would you give to your future grandson?

By Sam Stern:

Dearest Beloved Grandson,

Although you are still in utero, I thought it might be a good time to start sharing life lessons for you to use as guidance in the years to come.

Lesson 1. Read. Learn to read. Love to read. I’m going to be up past my bedtime writing this tonight. If you are going to ignore Lesson 1, there’s no point in my bothering. Your Papa (me) started reading voraciously at a very young age.

As a result, I was able to travel through time and space from the comfort of my home. My vocabulary developed without having to resort to flashcards. My imagination flourished and I developed a moral compass from the stories I devoured rather than from sustaining a lot of negative reinforcement after blindly straying.

As a side benefit, if we think you’re precocious, we’ll give you extra attention. I spent hours playing Scrabble with your great-grandmother Pearl from the age of 8 or so on. I’ll never forget the joy she expressed when I was able to beat her. I look forward to experiencing the same joy sitting across the table from you.

You may be thinking that these benefits are too deferred. After all, I had to pore through some World Books, the Wikipedia of my day, to develop that vocabulary. Here’s a more immediate benefit. We’ll leave you alone while you’re reading and exercising your mind. Continue reading

MN Masala: Turkish Baked Veggie Fritters

By Jane and Chux: For the past couple of years, I have been attending monthly local Turkish cooking classes sponsored and facilitated by the Turkish American Society of Minnesota.  I wrote about these classes here.

Today, I am sharing one of my favorite recipes from these classes: baked vegetable fritters (firinda sebzeli mucver). This dish is loaded with vegetables and can be made for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or appetizer.

You can make this dish your own by adding any vegetable or cheese you like or have on hand at the time.  The key to this recipe is to grate or chop the vegetables finely.  We made this our own by adding chopped red pepper, grated zucchini, Italian parsley, and manchego cheese (instead of the mozzarella), and omitted the leeks.

This recipe has some prep work with the grating, sautéing, and cooling of the vegetables before adding it to the egg mixture, but it’s worth it!  Really delicious!

It bakes up in a 13 x 9 pan, so there are left-overs for another day.  And you can decide if you will have left-over fritters for breakfast, lunch or dinner!  I want thank my good friend Esra for this recipe. Continue reading

What’s in your DNA?

Cindy Moy

By Cindy Moy: The best part of being adopted is that when my family annoys me, I can disclaim any part of the gene pool.

You wouldn’t believe how often I give thanks that my siblings and parents and I don’t share genetics. The downside is that my true genetic makeup is a mystery. That’s where the National Geographic Genographic Project comes in.

The Project traces DNA markers from volunteers such as myself back 180,000 years. All women alive today can be traced to one woman in Africa, nicknamed by scientists as Mitochondrial Eve, and all men can be traced to one man in Africa, nicknamed Mitochondrial Adam. (The website goes into quite a bit of detail, some of which I can’t even pretend to understand.)

I ordered a DNA kit, which requires two cheek swabs, sent in the saliva samples, and awaited word on where my ancestors originated. Eight weeks later, the results were ready. Continue reading

Is it time to reform the primary system?

C.E. Alexander

By C.E. Alexander: Visit your favorite internet search engine and begin typing “the U.S. presidential primary system is—.”  What adjectives does the auto-fill have to offer?   Broken?  Expensive?  Undemocratic?

However convoluted, the primary season is a necessary precursor to the general presidential contest.  It is held every four years starting in January of the election year, culminating in the national party conventions, during which delegates from each party narrow their fields of hopefuls to two: the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

The Republican and Democratic conventions get most of the media coverage, but for example the Libertarian, Green and Reform parties all held notable national conventions in 2012.

Even the term primary system is a slight misnomer, as voters elect candidate-specific delegates by means of open primary, closed primary, or caucus, depending on their state of residence.  Some states may be stripped of their delegates for various reasons, while other delegates may be unpledged, meaning they are not candidate-specific and may vote how they choose. Continue reading

What is winter for?

Amber D. Stoner

By Amber D. Stoner: 50 sub-zero days reads the headline.

I’m struggling this winter. No, not just this winter. Every winter, all winters. My productivity tanks, my iron levels plummet, my exercise routine nearly disappears.

The only thing increasing is my weight and the number of hours I sleep. My hands are dry; my lips crack and peel; my legs go unshaven because what’s the point when I’m wearing two layers every day. I’ve done a zillion crossword puzzles and read several books, but I have trouble putting together an email because my synapses have slowed as have my footsteps over the icy paths.

So what is winter for? Continue reading

When is there too much?

How it began.

By Cindy Moy: When my dad was serving in the Army in Korea in the 1950s, he and a buddy went to Tokyo, Japan, on leave. Dad bought a few souvenirs, including a decorative teapot for my grandmother.

It’s a lovely and delicate little thing with a Geisha Girl pattern (pictured to the right), and when my grandmother died, it passed to me.

A few years later, I came across some pieces of Japanese porcelain from the same era, with the same pattern, at a garage sale, and I bought them to set next to the teapot (see left).

Then I stumbled across a few more pieces at a country junk shop, and I bought those.

How did this happen?

Then a box with more pieces showed up at our church garage sale, and before you can say rabbits in springtime, I had accumulated a collection of porcelain without really meaning to do so.

For years, the pieces looked lovely in a narrow cabinet in our dining room. Continue reading

MN Masala: The Minnesota Meat Raffle (& Greek Pastitsio)

By Jane and Chux: Minnesota is a unique place to live.  We have days of sub-zero weather in the winter time (which is a misery that creates hearty souls and bonds us as Minnesotans), many beautiful fresh water lakes, ice fishing, and meat raffles!

Chux and I attend a monthly “Third Friday” event organized by a good friend.  Third Friday is a casual get together at a local restaurant/bar where about 40 friends and family members meet to socialize, eat, have a few drinks and play the meat raffle.

You can find meat raffles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Canada and the United Kingdom.  In Minnesota, meat raffles are regulated by the state gambling board.  National Public Radio recently did a story on our unique tradition of meat raffles, which you can read here.

Last month at the Third Friday event, I had five one-dollar bills in my wallet to play the raffle.  Time after time, I lost another dollar.

On the last raffle of the evening, I hear a familiar voice say “I won!”  It was Chux.  He was on the other side of the room and had won on his only bet of the evening and on the last draw.  He is so lucky!

For the winning ticket, he got two pounds of ground hamburger, a ham steak and a pound of bacon.  We used the ham steak in a frittata and one pound of the hamburger to make adult mac and cheese, or Greek Pastitsio (recipe below).  We froze the bacon and the remaining hamburger for another day.  The Greek Pastitsio was delicious!   We will try our luck in another week at the next Third Friday meat raffle.  Maybe this time, we’ll get the beef tenderloin. Continue reading

Who defines ‘science’?

Cindy Moy

By Cindy Moy: On February 18, 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered a large chunk of ice and rock orbiting the sun. This chunk was categorized as a planet and named Pluto, after the Greek god of the underworld.

In the ensuing years, further study revealed Pluto to be one of several large chunks of rock and ice in the Kuiper belt.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted on the definition of ‘planet.’  Part of the planet test is that the object “must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.”

Pluto did not meet this definition, and therefore it was no longer a planet.

Except in New Mexico and Illinois. Those states disagreed with the IAU’s definition, and passed resolutions declaring that Pluto was indeed a planet in those states. (Tombaugh was born in Illinois and spent his adulthood in New Mexico. He is lauded as a hero in both states.)

Other scientists also cried foul at the IAU’s decision. Dr. Alan Stern, who has been involved with dozen of space missions, pointed out that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune do not meet the IAU’s definition of a planet either, as they share their orbit with asteroids.

Let’s sum this up, shall we? Scientists who devote their lives to the study of planets do not agree on how to define ‘planet.’

Yet, they are taking votes on how to define what they are seeing in space, and these objects are being defined by a majority. What if the majority is wrong? What if the minority is vindicated 100 years from now?

Science–things we know for sure–is debunked regularly. We know the earth is not flat. We know gravity exists. Or do we?

If religion is faith, and science is fact, and scientists can not agree on the facts, then is science not, in fact, a form of faith?

How can we be confident in science, if the scientists do not agree?