Epiphany

In religious terms, an epiphany is a sudden awareness of the eternal; in secular terms it is the grasp of something singularly striking. Either way, the experience is indeed rare . . . and perhaps even life-changing.
Once, when my youngest daughter Leah was seeking a subject to make a short documentary film – for an important senior high class project, she asked me if I had any suggestions. “Hmmm . . . well, Saturday I’m hiking into my secret place by the beaver pond to go duck hunting. The weather is supposed to be clear and sunny and the fall colors are peaking. You’re welcome to join me.”
Saturday arrived with weather as promised. After a short drive, we trekked through a farm field, past the big woods and descended the great hill next to the swamp. Leah followed as I picked my way on an old Indian trail (I once found a stone point arrowhead there). We reached the creek and I carried her across. Then I headed toward the “three sisters”, a distinctive clump of birch trees that marked the access trail onto the island. We continued, going up, over and through the oak and maple trees. On the far side of the island, after passing through a wild berry field, we continued down to the beaver pond. I dropped my Duluth back-pack and shotgun, and retrieved a few decoys from the pack, tossing them out onto the beaver pond. Leah and I sat on a carpet of long grass next to a walnut tree. The ripples from the decoys subsided and the pond became a mirror . . . capturing the reds, oranges and yellows of the hardwoods on the far side.
Wood ducks, teal and mallards began to funnel into the lake on the other side of the island. I began to call them, first whistling at the woodies, then “talking” to the mallards. It wasn’t long before two male wood ducks responded, jetting into the beaver pond. I shot straight and true, retrieving the magnificent ducks. I laid them out on the flowing grass of the creek bank. Leah’s entire film only lasted eight minutes, but she captured it all . . . the perfection of fall, her Dad in his secret place – the old hunter in his element doing those things learned from his youth. She caught the sounds of the duck calls, the whisper of the incoming waterfowl . . . the perfect harmony of the place.
Leah will never again be a high school senior, I may never hunt at the beaver pond and that perfect fall day lives only in memory. A father and daughter shared this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience as a singular point in time. It’s all there on film . . . an epiphany.
Fall energy tip: Consider entering into a pre-paid contract with your delivered heating fuel provider. You can lock in the price for a set number of gallons (we just did for several hundred gallons), and save yourself big bucks on this winter’s heating fuel bills. You can shop around at different fuel providers, and take the best price.
September 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

“Small Universes”

I’m a constant observer of people, which feeds into my hobbies of art work and writing. We all live in our own unique universes. Yes, we are part of many larger groups, but our true personality manifests in a world of our own design. Here’s a few groups . . . consider how many you identify with: avid readers; movie goers; sports enthusiasts; church groups; youth groups; fishermen, hunters, boaters, campers; hikers, bikers, runners; artists or crafters; woodworkers; agate and arrowhead collectors; antique hunters; garage sale junkies; physical fitness aficionados; philosophers, deep thinkers; writers; gardeners; food appreciators; get-together hosts a-plenty; volunteerism; mission trips or world travels; business; finance; computers; gamers; anthropologists or archaeologists; scientists of all persuasions; culture enthusiasts; all things mechanical; fair and event goers; nature observers; all things family.
My guess is that you can claim some of the above as your own universe. If you had to pick the defining one, the one you most identify with, which would it be? Things change with the story-line of our life. When I was young, my answer would have been simple – hunter. Then life entered in and family matters became the driving force. Now, as a senior, what’s my thing? I guess it’s dwindled down to philosopher. Family and hunting still count, but just appreciating life and sharing the good news keeps me content.
I hope your universe is a meaningful and rewarding place. If we at Tri-CAP can help lighten your load, through our many family oriented programs – give us a call.
August energy tips: When you buy new appliances, electronics or ceiling fans, look for the label that says Energy Star. Then, look at the yellow tag, it will tell you how much it costs to run that device for one year, and also the number of kilowatt hours used per year. Compare before you buy. Some new refrigerators use half the energy of other new models, with nearly the same purchase price. Save money over the long term and shop wisely. When your budget allows, or if you qualify for Tri-CAP’s energy programs, replace your old appliances with new Energy Star models. Just replacing an old refrigerator, chest freezer and window air conditioner could save you hundreds in your annual electric bill.
August 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

More

Everything American tells us that we must have more – more land; more money; more house; more things; more business; more respect; more security; more professional satisfaction . . . more of everything.

Imagine that you are traveling on the most important journey of your life (you are you know) and you come to a junction with three possible paths. The signs point the way to “Less”, “More”, and “Enough”. Which would you choose?

Have you ever heard of the “Minimalist” movement? People are experimenting with super-small houses; intensive farming on small acreage; cottage industries that can transform your home into your place of work; home schooling; creating your own energy and going off the grid; raising your own food; crafting your own clothing with your own wool from your own sheep on your own loom. Indeed, some innovative Americans have chosen the path that reads “Enough” or per-chance even “Less”.

Picture what you could do with your extra free time – that is, if you remove yourself from the all-consuming pathway to “More”. You could lean against a walnut tree next to a beaver pond and fish for trout. You could watch the critters maintaining their log dam, swimming on the lazy waters, making ripples as they work. You could feel the breeze as it teases the water, and sense it as it washes over you and caresses the leaves of your walnut tree. You could take a walk by the creek, and perhaps encounter another wayfaring soul also on the quest for simplicity. Maybe you could even fall in love again. Who knows what’s in store for you if you un-clutter your life?

Energy tip for July: Try simplifying your life – create a written budget, pay yourself first, and make the most of the income you have. Ask Tri-CAP if you are eligible for home weatherization. Make the most of the home that you have, and reduce your fuel and electric bills. Spend some time appreciating the beauty that surrounds you – it’s free every day.

 

July 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

The Bog

A bog is a singular place. While hunting, I have trailed deer into bogs and become thoroughly disoriented. Without the benefit of the sun to guide you, the vistas look the same in all directions. They are unique biospheres, primitive, elemental . . . and deadly. Without a compass, you could easily become a permanent addition to the bog.
Who knows what lays under-foot? Time itself may be trapped in the bog. Hapless hunters over the centuries have fallen . . . and then been absorbed by this swampy morass. If you go deep enough (as have those who harvest peat for commercial purposes) you may find the mummified bodies of ancient wayfarers, with their animal skin clothing and flint-tipped spears and arrows. Go deeper still and you may encounter long-dead Elk or Bison. Go yet deeper into the abyss and there may be wooly mammoths, or even the odd Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Bogs change little over time. Some creatures enter therein for sanctuary (to escape four-footed or bi-pedal predators). Some birds and unusual plants, like orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants and peat moss, live there. Bogs may be fascinating, even alluring places to visit, but they are not meant for humans. Being lost in a bog is a terror that cannot be conveyed by words. You can feel the despair and desolation, but you can never speak it. It’s a little like being trapped by debt – chronically short to pay your bills. That’s a place that defies description as well, but those who are lost there can feel it with every waking moment . . . and at times, even in their dreams.
If you find yourself trapped in a bog of debt, and all of the paths surrounding you look the same . . . give Tri-CAP a call. For over fifty years we have served as a beacon to help you find your way. We want your home to be a refuge, warm and secure, a safe place where you can master your pathway through life.
Energy tips for June: If you have older appliances (non-Energy Star units) consider replacing them. A new refrigerator could save you close to $100 per year in electricity; a new chest freezer might save up to $66 per year; a new window air conditioner up to $150 per year. Call Tri-CAP and ask about an Energy Advisor Home Assessment. If you are eligible through the Energy Assistance Program, and your electrical provider sponsors appliance replacements, you may receive assistance with a replacement energy efficient refrigerator (or certain other appliances).
June 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

The Calm Before The Storm

During my high school years, my best friend stopped at my Dad’s for a visit. It was a hot, humid, no-wind day. We happened to glance out the picture window toward the lake, and noticed some strange, greenish clouds approaching from the Southwest. They looked like someone was stirring the sky with an invisible wand. They rolled and turned over on themselves. Wow! I said.
We went downstairs and exited to the back yard, to better view this curiosity. There was absolutely no sound as the cauldron of thunder-heads approached the far side of the lake. Suddenly the oak trees changed from green to white – showing us the underside of their leaves. Then came the wind.
We were mesmerized – then brought back sharply by the force of the storm. We were compelled to run for our lives – making it upstairs where we raced to close my Dad’s casement windows, which were all wide open. Then glass broke all around us, and on us, and we dove down the stairwell to shelter. A tornado hit the house with a glancing blow, tearing off part of the roof. Then it rained three inches in the next ten minutes. Jim and I shook off the glass shards and found every waste basket in the house to catch the rain in my Dad’s living room. They weren’t enough, so we ran outside and emptied three of the garbage cans, using them to catch the biggest torrents.
So what’s the point of this story? Don’t be caught unaware. When things seem to be business as usual, there may be storm clouds gathering just over the horizon.
So how do we stay prepared? Take stock of where you and your family are at. Are you saving money out of each paycheck to prepare for the future? If not, prepare a written family budget and get in the habit of paying yourself first.
How’s your health and your health insurance? Review your insurance and make sure you have coverage. When’s the last time you had a check-up? Prevention can save you money, and maybe your life.
Do you have enough income? If not, consider a change. Go back to school. Check out new job opportunities. Start your own small business – make a career out of the things you love to do. Take charge of your destiny, don’t just coast along – chart your course.
Is your house warm and efficient, and comfortable in the summer? If not, consider weatherizing your home.
Call Tri-CAP. We can help you chart your course with many extraordinary programs designed just for you and your family. Prepare yourself to take life on in the good times and the hard times!
Energy tips for May: Could you plant some trees around your house? Plant hardwoods (big leaf) trees to the south and east; pine trees to the west and north. The pines keep their needles and shelter your house from winter winds; the hardwoods screen your home from the summer heat and lose their leaves in the winter (free solar heat gain). Inside, use blinds and draperies to control the temperature and install ceiling fans to move the air where the people are congregating (Instead of air conditioning).
May 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

Ghost Stories

It’s a rare day – I’m all caught up with my work load and client files. My next home energy visit isn’t scheduled for another hour, so my mind drifts to stories – ghostly client tales, to be precise. So here goes. Sven lived on his family’s Century Farm. The homestead sat on a hill overlooking the big woods to the Southwest and Gillan’s Bog to the Southeast.
“Once,” Sven began, “it was a very dark night – no moon and no stars. The crickets and frogs and hoot owls filled the darkness with a devilish chorus, punctuated by the unearthly screams of foxes on the hunt. I, too, decided to go hunting, so I grabbed my .22 rifle and my coon dog, Old Blue, and headed downhill toward the swamp. Suddenly, I saw the strangest sight, a bluish-green glow flitting and hovering across Gillan’s Bog. The nefarious apparition seemed to move as I approached, dancing behind clumps of alders and red dogwood, weaving in and out behind the weeping willows. Old Blue saw it too and commenced to growling. I kept a tight grip on his leash. We began to follow the light. It led me in a crazy circle through the boggy terrain, and I found myself once again at the approach to the swamp. The light dimmed – then vanished. I glanced uphill, toward the farmhouse, and saw the blue-green glow reappear in our attic window! There was no one home, so I charged up the hillside – stopping in the backyard to catch my breath, all the while staring at the ghostly glow. It began to fade, but just for an instant, I swear I could see the face of my father. Tonight would have been the one year anniversary of his passing. I regained my breath, steeled my resolve and put Old Blue back in his kennel. I made my way upstairs, step by step, and pushed the attic door open with the barrel of my rifle. I scanned the space with my flashlight, there was nothing moving or out of place, but something shiny caught my eye on the sill of the attic window. I walked toward the shiny object. There, laying on the casement, were my Dad’s WWII dog tags. As I picked them up, I pondered the singular events of the evening. Guess Pop wanted me to know he was still watching over me . . . and he always did have a flair for the dramatic.” Sven reached inside his shirt and pulled out the dog tags, saying, “And these are the very same.” The sight of the tags gave me goose bumps.
I’m out of time, duty calls . . . my next home visit beckons
Energy tip: Watch out for the “Phantom Loads” on your electrical appliances. Many of your electrical devices, including your computer, fax, printer, TV and VCR’s (among others) still use electricity when you turn them off. Plug these devices into a strip plug, and when you’re done using them for the day, turn the power strip off. This can save you money over the course of a year, and your appliances will last longer.

April 2017 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

Critters

Lots of things can go wrong with houses . . . and for a myriad of mystifying reasons. With a life-time in the construction business, including six years with Community Action, I’ve run into some doozies . . . and here’s a few of my best.

At two a.m. one summer night one of my clients called and said I had to come over right away and fix the basement sump pump. The water was starting to rise. OK. Thirty-five minutes later I was standing in the basement in question, examining the sump pump. I opened the basket lid and there, on the pump float, sat the biggest bullfrog I ever did see, as big as a softball. I asked the lady of the house if she wanted to keep him for a pet. I won’t tell you what she replied. Anyway, the mysterious pump failure was resolved.

Another time a client called in a panic, saying that the fireplace was broken and that the smoke was filling his house. I arrived with my extension ladder, chimney sweep rod and brush in hand, and quickly ascended to the roof-top. I trained a flashlight down the chimney to discover a smoked raccoon – the poor fellow mistaking the chimney for a nice place to den up for a good nap. The raccoon was still alive and in a really snarly mood. I tried to calm him with gentle entreaties, telling him softly that his hair would grow back, and managed to fish him out, thereby restoring the tranquility of the house.

Then there was the time that all of the client’s water pipes froze and broke under the kitchen cupboards. After a careful look-see, I discovered that a rogue chipmunk had bored a hole through the siding, rim joist and insulation, and helped himself to the waste basket under the kitchen sink. The minus 20 degree cold that subsequently followed the rascal’s snack highway, froze and broke the water pipes. We had to tear out the bottoms of the cabinets to replace the burst pipes – then reinstall insulation, framing and siding. The owner asked how to stop the problem from reoccurring. All I could think of was . . . “Don’t feed the chipmunks!”

I saved the best one for last. A client called and said that there were evil spirits around his house, and that I better come over and fix it, as the house was still under warranty. He asked if someone of old had been the victim of foul play on the property, or if the site was an ancient burial ground. I didn’t have that answer, but responded, “Be right over.” My imagination had been peaked. I arrived and asked him to describe the events. He said pheasants and deer kept running into his house, many of the pheasants committing suicide. “Hmmm . . . ,” I said. I walked the property and noticed a plethora of animal tracks at the base of a wild plum tree. I asked the owner if he had noticed anything unusual about the tree. “No,” he said, “other than all the critters are always eating the wild plums.”

“There’s your evil spirits,” said I.

“What’s that?” Said he.

“Your plums are fermenting, the critters are getting drunk gorging on them, losing their equilibrium and bashing into your house,” said I.

“Arrrgh, I can’t believe it,” said he.

After subsequent observation, he found it to be true. I think he was a little disappointed that there had been no spooks, no noteworthy historical dramas.

So there you have it . . . some of my best client/critter tales.

 

Energy Saving Tips for March

Having a hard time keeping up with your energy bills? I have two suggestions for you. First, set up a family budget (on paper). Call Tri-CAP if you need a budgeting form or if you want to attend our free Financial Fitness class. After you start tracking your income and expenses, get in the habit of paying yourself FIRST. Once you start a savings account, you will learn to live on the remainder of your income. This is a proven fact. You will learn to do without some things, as saving will become a desirable and worthy goal. Before you know it, you will be able to pay your bills on time, use less credit cards with the attendant high interest, and have the security of a growing bank account. The second thing that you can do is to improve the energy profile of your home. How? Ask Tri-CAP to send you energy saving tips. There are dozens of things that you can do to save energy in your home. If your house needs a major energy makeover, ask Tri-CAP for an Energy Advisor Home Visit. For those who are income eligible, you may also receive Weatherization Services, or possibly a low interest rehab loan. Sign up for energy assistance, if you qualify, it is the gateway to many of our programs.

March 2017 Blog

By: Stephen Bjorklund

 

 

 

 

 

The Game of Life

Many Americans see organized sports as a metaphor for life. This sentiment endures in spite of the risk of injury and the many personal sacrifices required. So what are some of the universal lessons to be gleaned by belonging to a team? First, it takes dedication. Every sport worth doing requires regular attendance at practice and game day. Second, you need to master time management skills through personal discipline. If the school work suffers, your place on the team will be at risk. Third, you need to be the best that you can be – not just for yourself – but for the team. Fourth, you must develop a team attitude. Your group wins as a team, not because of one or two star players. You have to learn how to pass the ball. It’s not all about you. The end score is a corporate score, not an individual statistic. Fifth, you have to learn to work through the pain. Sometimes the conditions are less than ideal. Your body may be hurting, and the game day weather may be abysmal. You come to play and be your best no matter what. Sixth, learn integrity, honesty, and good sportsmanship. And finally, seventh, learn to be thankful – to the coach, your school, your parents, your church, and your community.

What about people who were never on a team? Can they learn these same lessons . . . where and how? Yes, through family, faith community, work, community involvement and outside interests. The important thing is to master the precepts: participation, discipline, best-effort, team attitude, perseverance, integrity and thankfulness.

Your family is just as important as any team that has ever been. Teach the precepts well; study the precepts to show yourself approved; and then live the precepts. If the folks at Tri-CAP can assist you and your family in the game of life, count us as part of your team.

Energy tips for February

Step back and take a good look at your home. Go outside and see if the snow cover is consistent over the entire roof. If it’s melted in some places, your insulation or ventilation may be inadequate. Can you see the stud framing lines through your siding, or the nail heads? If so, your building wall insulation or vapor barrier may be inadequate. Do the bottom four inches of your windows frost up? Then you may have too much humidity or not enough ventilation. If so, consider installing a full time whisper-quiet fan in your bathroom. They ventilate all of the time at a low range, and when you flip the switch, they act like a robust bathroom fan. Do your pipes freeze at your kitchen sink or bathroom? Then your rim joist insulation, wall insulation, (or for mobile homes) or the belly insulation is inadequate. Do you have a CO detector and smoke detectors? If you get frequent headaches, you may have CO leakage from your furnace, water heater, or gas stove. Get the detectors, don’t take a chance on Carbon Monoxide poisoning or on a fire in the middle of the night. Stay safe, the game of life is more than a game.

February 2017 Blog

By Stephen Bjorklund

 

“The Purest Art”

Have you ever wondered why our earliest ancestors painted murals on the walls and ceilings of caves? Who was going to see the images? Why go through all of that work of setting up wooden scaffolding, preparing pigments from scarce raw materials and making torches from the scant resources available? This was in the day when the next meal was no sure thing and your life could come to a swift and terrible end at any moment (warring clans; disease; accidental injuries; mammoths; saber tooth tigers; blizzards). So why invest precious survival time in art?

The experts have divined the following scenarios: placating the spirits of game animals in order to ensure a good hunt; a religious rite paying tribute to the deities of animals and nature; territorial markers claiming hunting and clan territory; or merely documenting for posterity a great hunt. In other words, the experts don’t have a clue. The art remains a mystery.

Perhaps the answer lies in observing ourselves. People are drawn to observing art and to making art. Place a room full of children next to a pile of paper and crayons and they will soon be drawing and coloring. What do they draw? Mom and Dad. Friends. Play. Trees and animals. Things that they are afraid of. Special holidays. Snowmen, reindeer, pine trees, sliding. Butterflies and flowers. Frogs. The sun, rainbows, jump ropes. Their home.

Is there a greater pattern in this art? Like cave art, it’s a mystery. Some things we know are true – if art did not mean something elemental, why would people stop to study it? Why would they have the compulsion or desire to create it? The beauty of art is that it stands the test of time. The cave art is wonderful, whatever the intent of the artist. Our children’s art is wonderful, no matter the scope of their talent.

As an energy advisor for community action, I go into four or five houses across four central Minnesota counties every week, and I always look at the photos and paintings on the walls. I am drawn to them. They reveal multitudes about the residents and what’s important for them. Their art is a mirror – a window into their deepest thoughts.

Just last week I visited an older client who lived by herself, and who occupied her time with art. She had quite a set-up by her favorite arm chair. There was a desk top table that rolled over her chair, with a work surface and tray for her supplies. A dozen cylindrical holders harbored a myriad of colored pencils and ink pens. This represented her time-tested stash, obviously selected with great diligence. I marveled at the collection. Then I asked, “What do you like to draw?” She pointed behind me, to the living room wall. There a dozen framed pictures were neatly displayed. Each was exquisitely rendered – scenes of flowers, birds, owls and many other creatures. I asked, “Do you sell your art?” She gave me a puzzled look, and replied, “No, I just do my art for the love of drawing.”

And maybe that’s the answer. Our ancestors and our children may do their art for love’s sake.

 Energy tips for January

Install a ceiling fan. It’s the cheapest way to move heat and also provide summer cooling. At night, close your curtains; when the sun shines, open the blinds and curtains. Use CFL and LED light bulbs. Install cheap weather-stripping kits behind your wall outlet covers. Cover windows with plastic, or caulk the cracks with strip-away caulking. Install weather-stripping around your attic access hatch. And don’t forget to call Tri-CAP and check out all of our energy saving programs.

January 2017 Blog

Written by: Stephen Bjorklund

 

 

What did you say?

On the way into work this morning a police car passed me. I was going the speed limit and it was hilarious to observe as all of the cars and trucks (that flew past me) slammed on their brakes . . . suddenly becoming enlightened. The presence of the patrol car acted like a cork in a bottle – about fifteen cars and trucks were obliged to travel henceforth in a tight-knit caravan, all the way to St. Cloud. We had become an impromptu brotherhood of guilty souls.

This anecdote is a classical example of how we see and say things. We take our life experiences and arrange them in our mind on a scaffolding of literary devices. In the short paragraph above several literary devices were employed. We are usually not aware that we are using these devices, we just think the way we think and say the way we say.

So how are you doing with your holiday shopping? Do you remember the reason for the season (alliteration); did you purchase special foods for the family get-togethers, like jumbo shrimp (oxymoron); financially speaking, were you able to keep the wolf away from the door (anthropomorphism); was your shopping experience right up there with feeling the cracks spread as the rock (from the equipment trailer ahead of you) fractured your windshield (cacophony)?

We all grapple with our thinking and speaking process, and know it or not, we are all craftsmen who frame our experiences in the most delightful of ways.

We at Tri-CAP hope you have a happy winter. If we can help you in making your home warm, snug and efficient through our many programs – please give us a call.

December energy tips: Change the filters on your furnace monthly, it will save you money (the furnace will not come on and off as much and it will run more efficiently); and also the air quality will improve (this reduces dust, allergens, dust mites and other contaminants). If you have not had a clean and tune of your furnace in more than two years – get one. This will save you big money on your heating fuel consumption. Consider having your duct work cleaned, to also improve air quality. Make sure your heat registers and cold air returns are open and that nothing is obstructing the air flow. Turn down the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees, and take short showers. Your water heater is thirty percent of you energy bill, so use it wisely. If you are struggling with your energy bills, are facing a shut-off, or your fuel tank is on empty, call Tri-CAP. For income eligible families, we may have just the help you need.

December 2016 Blog

By: Stephen Bjorklund