Spring Has Come Early to New Jersey

Spring has come early to Northern New Jersey. That is a cause for concern. More about that later.

The early arrival of spring is also a cause for rejoicing. The furnace runs less, and we have more reasons and opportunities to step outside for what passes for fresh air in Northern New Jersey. The growing season may also be a bit longer. Although it is a bit of a risk, seeds for cool-weather crops such as spinach, lettuce, and peas can go into ground that later can be planted with tomatoes or summer squash.

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Do Crows Keep Calendars?

On a recent Saturday morning the air was cold and the sky was clear for the walk to the bakery. Blue jays and cardinals called in the distance but I did not stop to look for them. Other birds might have been calling but I paid them no attention. It was impossible not to pay attention to the crows, however. There were dozens of them in the trees and on the utility lines; here and there a few hopped around on the ground.

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A Garland Instead of Ashes?

This was originally written as a devotional for our church choir, and it received a couple of favorable comments, so I’m sharing it with a wider audience. Full disclosure: I did not attend an Ash Wednesday service this year or receive ashes as discussed here.

The season of Lent begins with the distribution of ashes. Growing up in the Catholic tradition I heard the priest invoke Genesis 3 as he applied ashes to each forehead: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” As I think about that, though, I think of dust as the general product of decay. Ashes, on the other hand, have a more specific origin.

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Squiggles and Dots

A few days ago our daughter Betsy sent us a photo of Ellie Rose leafing through a copy of a magazine. Ellie is fifteen months old, so the photo isn’t really evidence of her precocity, especially since the section she was looking through at the time is filled with ads for graduate schools and seminaries. But it did start me thinking about forms of communication, and especially about communication that makes use of words.

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Wildlife in the Local (North Jersey) News

The Herald News for Sunday, 10th January, offered two pieces about local wildlife:

The Bergen County Audubon Society advocates for smarter gardens.

A pair of bald eagles, residents of Ridgefield Park, are given some space by a local developer.

A third article about Ivan Kossak of Lincoln Park, a birder and an environmental activist, appeared in the print edition but is not available on line.

It’s great to see the local news media giving such extensive coverage to local wildlife. Enjoy! And thanks as always for stopping by.

Grandma Has a Podcast: Reading to Grandchildren From a Distance

One of the pleasures of being a grandparent is reading with your grandchildren. All of Andy’s and Betsy’s grandparents read to them at one time or another when Andy and Betsy were children. We have been reading to Caleb and Sadie at every opportunity since they were infants. I admit to being a bit lax in that department with Ellie Rose; I spend more of my time with her taking photographs instead of reading to her.


In Proust and the Squid Maryanne Wolf observes, “As soon as an infant can sit on a caregiver’s lap, the child can learn to associate the act of reading with a sense of being loved.”


What happens when your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, live at a distance? How can you read to them on a regular basis if you see them only a few times a year, or even less frequently?

When Caleb and Sadie were still babies we discovered that we could record MP3 files to send to them. MP3 is a widely used audio file format that is used to distribute music, podcasts, audiobooks, and just about any other audio content. I had the use of a Macbook Pro laptop computer and had software installed on it called Garage Band. With Garage Band we could record and edit a story and produce an MP3 file that could be played on any MP3 player. We chose to copy those MP3s onto CDs to go along with the books that we purchased for them, although in hindsight this seems wasteful.

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What’s cooler than a Grandma who can knit and edit audio files?

Caleb and Sadie outgrew their need for stories on CD, or so we thought. On a recent visit they reported that they still listen to their CDs of Grandma Jody reading Wacky Wednesday, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. They, in turn, have read Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” and The Gingerbread Baby for their cousin Ellie.

How Do I Do That?

What do you need to record MP3 files to send to your loved ones? You will need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with audio input and output, and some sort of recording software or app.

Smartphone, Tablet, or Computer

  • A tablet or smartphone provides the easiest solution. iPads, iPhones, and Android devices have built-in microphones and speakers, and also have a 3.5-mm jack that can be used to connect an external microphone and speakers/headset/earbuds.
  • A computer will offer more options for editing and for copying the resulting files to flash drives or other media. More about that in a bit.
  • Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, or computer, consider purchasing an external microphone. It does not have to be an expensive condenser mic. A $20.00 headset with earbuds and a microphone will serve well. The built-in microphone in your digital device will pick up ambient noise as well as your voice. An external microphone will help reduce ambient noise.

Which Recording App or Software?

A quick search for Android or iOS recording apps will return numerous choices, including many free apps. I do not have any experience with any so I can’t make any recommendations. I have used both GarageBand and Audacity. Both are available for Windows and Mac. Both have recording and editing capabilities. What do they let you do that you can’t do with a simple recording app?

  • Edit out sounds such as turning of pages.
  • Record and insert replacement pages if you make a mistake in reading.
  • Add sound effects and transition sounds. We record a transition sound that fits in with the story. When we recorded Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” we recorded a short clip of sleigh bells to signal the page turns.
  • Add music to the beginning or end. At the end of Wacky Wednesday we added Lionel Hampton’s recording of “Crazy Rhythm.”

I’ve Got an MP3 Recording. Now What?

If you read a story such as Green Eggs and Ham and add transition sounds the resulting MP3 file will be several megabytes in size. Adding a piece of music may double the size or more. That file may be too big to email. You can copy it to a flash drive (thumb drive) and mail it. You can upload it to a cloud-based file service such as Google Drive, iCloud, or DropBox, then send a link to the file via email. iTunes also offers a service for private file transfer and storage. YouTube might be a good option for you too.

Do You Have a Suggestion or a Tool That You Use?

Feel free to comment if you have a tool or technique that works particularly well for you. Thanks as always for stopping by!

Parsing Paris (COP21)

Hopes and expectations have been high for substantial action to come out of Paris climate talks (officially the  21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP21).

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The Earth as seen from Apollo 17 on 7th December 1972. NASA photo.

With six days of the conference completed, and six more days to go, it is too early for anyone to pass judgment on the proceedings. I’m not qualified to do that in any event.

We might reasonably expect one outcome, however. That is that the actual good accomplished by the decisions and actions taken at this conference will not live up to the hopes and expectations of the participants and observers. There are too many hurdles for the participating governments to overcome to implement the practices that are needed to reduce the amount of carbon that people put into the atmosphere.

That’s not to say that governments should make the changes that they can make or that we should not support our government in its efforts to reduce U.S. carbon emissions. It is, however, the nature of international relations that each government must look out for the interest of its citizens and must respond to business and other entities that seek to direct the course that government takes. The political priorities of all of the nations of the world will not be set aside to create the unified approach to climate change that the planet needs.

It would be pleasant to think that the Breakthrough Energy Coalition will be successful in developing and deploying technologies that can reduce greenhouse gasses, and I certainly wish these people well, but these are business people who have amassed through aggressive business practices the enormous fortunes that they are now pledging to the cause. Also, as with international relations and politics, is it reasonable to expect profit-oriented businesses to favor reducing greenhouse gas emissions over all other considerations? Will we as shareholders—my retirement funds are largely in equities—tolerate that?

All of this may of course be lazy, ignorant bloviating. What I should be saying is that creation care, including reducing global carbon output, still comes down to the informed and voluntary efforts of individual citizens. It requires that we approach all aspects of our life holistically, with a sense of stewardship instead of entitlement, which living in the United States tends to produce. The already existing outcomes of climate change, including rising sea levels, more frequent and more severe droughts, and more frequent severe storms, also require that we look with compassion toward those who are most directly affected by those outcomes.

The season of Advent reminds us that a day is coming when the creation will be restored and the sins that are pollution and environmental degradation will be removed forever (Isaiah 11:1-9, Romans 8:18-26). Until then, we can always find ways, some small and insignificant, some more substantial, to reduce our carbon footprint and other impacts on creation. One that has caught my attention again recently is reducing the consumption of red meat, particularly mass-produced beef. You may choose other efforts that are more closely aligned with your creation-care priorities. May God bless and encourage you as you pursue them.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience, and thank you for stopping by. Best wishes for a peaceful Advent and Christmas season and for a healthy and contented New Year.