The Looking Glass

 

You can tell a lot about a person by what they do for recreation. The internet marketers are keeping track of everything you buy on-line, and everything you look at. They are profiling you as we speak. If you have a TV service, they are modeling you as well. They know about every show and commercial that you watch. Your credit card company is also logging every transaction. Once you have been evaluated by any of these entities, they can profit by selling your profile to other businesses or advertisers. The department stores are also tracking your purchases. We are living in a glass house – nothing is private and nothing is off-limit . . . or sacred. Have you ever bought anything through the mail or over the phone? You may have opened Pandora ’s Box.   So everybody knows your name . . . but how well do you know yourself?

I like good movies, how about you? I’ve been thinking about the movies that I like the best, my top twenty-one. Perhaps if I write them down they may form a pattern. I’ve never done this before, so here goes. Maybe I’ll become more self-aware by pausing to peer into the looking glass. You could do the same.

Top 21 movies

  1. Ben Hur, with Charlton Heston and Haya Harareet.
  2. The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter.
  3. For Whom the Bell Tolls, with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
  4. Spartacus, with Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons.
  5. Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart and Walter Houston.
  6. The Sand Pebbles, with Steve McQueen and Candice Bergen.
  7. The Bridge on the River Kwai, with William Holden, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa.
  8. The Phantom of the Opera, with Claude Rains and Susanna Foster.
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird, with Gregory Peck and Mary Badham.
  10. The Yearling, with Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman and Claud Jarman Jr.
  11. The Robe, with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons.
  12. Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
  13. To Have and Have Not, with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Walter Brennan.
  14. The Shepherd of the Hills, with John Wayne, Betty Field and Harry Carey.
  15. King Kong, with Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot.
  16. The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.
  17. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.
  18. Across the Wide Missouri, with Clark Gable and Maria Elena Marques.
  19. The Red House, with Edward G. Robinson and Allene Roberts.
  20. Scarlet Street, with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett.
  21. To the Last Man, with Randolph Scott and Esther Ralston.

Here are the patterns that I see:

  • Well made movies with Bible themes are powerful stuff.
  • Human nature, light and dark, is fascinating. Life choices are the ultimate test.
  • War and conflict can bring out the heroic and unselfish nature of man.
  • We can imagine our best life through love and adventure stories.
  • When the hero is a tragic figure it mirrors life, courage can be short-lived.
  • Stories about coming of age are priceless, we can re-visit our youth.
  • Science fiction and horror stories reach deep into our imagination.
  • I like any well-told tale about Native Americans – their culture is compelling.
  • The perverse nature of man is worth exploring – we all have it in us.
  • Comedies don’t make my list – I must be too serious.

What do you see? Let me know.

January energy saving tips: Take a quick look at your house, if you have icicles, ice-dams, or uneven snow melt at your roof, it means heat is escaping into your attic and you need to do some air sealing, especially around your attic access panel. If you can see the stud framing lines behind your siding, or the nail heads, you don’t have proper moisture/air barriers in your outside walls; if you have frost or condensation on the bottom of your windows – you have too much moisture in your living spaces – relative humidity should be around 40%. If it’s higher, your air quality and your health could suffer. If you see these things, and you are signed up for energy assistance, give Tri-CAP a call. Have a safe winter season. Thanks to all of you from Tri-CAP and enjoy some good movies this month!

January 2018 Blog

Written by Stephen Bjorklund

Abandoned

I accumulate a bushel of miles every month at work, while covering my four county, central Minnesota territory. Occasionally I encounter an abandoned homestead. The windows are gone, the clapboard siding is weather-checked and gray, patches of cedar shingles have blown from the rooftop. Often, the yard is overgrown with brush . . . and the barn roof sags in the middle, showing signs of carrying the times. Sometimes, remnants of lace curtains dance in the breeze, gently swaying in and out of the window openings – bearing witness to the loving touch of a farm-wife of so long ago. If one observes closely, you may see time travelers – flowers still blooming . . . surrounding by love the domain of the lady of the house. The delicate Forget-Me-Nots beckon. The scene speaks. Who were they? What was their life? How many children and grandchildren began every important thing upon this hallowed ground?
The farm fields around the five acre homestead are groomed and planted – rock piles and rock walls periodically positioned between the fields. They stand as a testament to decades and generations of rigorous toil upon the land. Picking rocks, bailing hay, milking cows, tending chickens, and manuring out the barn were all rites of passage for every youth that moved and breathed here. Now, a new generation abides as stewards of the land – they stand on fields prepared for them . . . a legacy.
I contemplate whether the old house and barn could be resurrected, brought back by some young, motivated couple, to begin life here once again. It would take special people with a deep and abiding love of the land. I know how much work, and money, the project would require. My wife and I reclaimed two old farmsteads throughout our marriage. I never regretted a moment of the task. As I pass by on the country road, I hope some young couple will see what I see and take hold of their own dream.
Everything can have a greater meaning. Sometimes, our own life can appear to us like an abandoned house. Our paint jobs-ajar, our roof-top needs repair. The cold seems to blow right through us . . . chilling bone and marrow. We feel isolated – the sunshine has left us, we feel unkempt and overtaken. At times it is hard to look forward to even one good thing. The good news is that we never have to remain in a dark and somber place. Life is good, God is good, and you can renovate. Life can begin a-new, you can be good as new. It will take some work. It will take some effort . . . to begin with you need to decide to begin. Remember this . . . you are more important than any house that was ever built . . . you can start your own legacy.
If Tri-CAP can help you begin, through our many family oriented programs, we will be waiting for your call.
Energy tips for the month:
If you use the old style incandescent light bulbs, switch to CFL’s or LED’s. In the winter, open the drapes during the day and close them at night. Let the sunshine help heat your house. Instead of turning up the thermostat, wear a sweater and use a blanket. Fix leaky faucets or toilets right away, don’t wait – it’s your money going down the drain. Wash full loads of clothes and full loads of dishes. Plan out your shopping trips for the week and do all of your marketing during the same trip to town. This will save you gas and extend the life of your car. Change your furnace filter every month, and get a clean and tune on your furnace every two years (every year if you use fuel oil). Install a programmable thermostat.

December 2017 Blog
Written by Stephen Bjorklund

November Time

November is a wild month. It demands action from man and beast. It’s like a time piece racing ahead to a final, inexorable winding down. It’s the harvest season for mankind . . . the migration season for millions of birds. It’s a swing time for nature as fall transforms into winter. The ponds freeze, frogs and turtles settle into their resting places. Black bears seek out their dens . . . the mother’s giving birth before the sleepover ends. Snow finally blankets and insulates the earth, like our grandmother’s best patchwork quilt, and man is obliged to cease from his hectic harvest activities.
I’ve seen some wondrous sights in November. Once, while raccoon hunting with my buddy Norm, we encountered a huge snapping turtle on a moon-lit night. The creature was lodged on the bottom of a pond, clearly visible through the ice of Chuck’s Lake. Norm tapped the ice with the butt of his rifle, right above the turtle, and it reacted in a flash leaving a cloud of silt. It disappeared into the cattails. I’ve always wondered how that turtle could awaken from its deep torpor . . . and then instantly vanish. It’s a mystery. How does a turtle morph from an air breathing creature into one who can survive underwater? Must have to do with that great and indiscernible November clock. And how about frogs and toads? They crawl into the mud or under a pile of leaves, and then freeze solid. They don’t thaw out until April. Impossible!
On another memorable November day, my son Aaron and I were deer hunting close to the Canadian border. It was a 10 degree below zero, windless day. I made a slow drive over a ridge toward my son, stopping to catch my breath. It began to snow from a clear blue sky. As I marveled at this oddity, I saw a puff of smoke rise from a clump of brush at the base of a dead-fall. About every 30 seconds there was another blast of steam, which lingered in the frosty air. Another mystery. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was sitting next to a bear den. That old bear was breathing on November time, slowed down to two beats per minute. I, on the other hand, quickly vacated the scene . . . no need to awaken the old boy.
Well, we can’t crawl under a pile of leaves or fall asleep under a tree until spring, so the question remains, are we ready for winter? Here’s some energy tips to help you smile at the season.
The Hundred Dollar Rule
Here’s something easy to remember, I call it the hundred dollar rule. For electrical consumption, if your monthly bill is more than $100, you are a high consumer. For heating fuel, if your monthly bill exceeds $100, you are a high consumer. If you replace an old appliance with an Energy Star rated appliance, it will save you $100 per year in electricity. (This applies to each of the following: fridge; chest freezer; clothes washer; window A/C.) If you wash your clothes in cold water, it will save $100 per year. If you turn down the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees, it saves $100 per year. If you change  the filter on your furnace once per month, it saves $100 per year. If you seal your rim joist; caulk the air leaks; and insulate the lid of your attic access panel, it saves $100 per year. If you are using more than one fridge or chest freezer, re-organize and use one of each. One hundred dollar savings. Next spring, plant pine trees to the north and west of your home, and big leaf trees to the south and east . . . one hundred dollar annual savings in heating and cooling costs. Next summer, use a fan instead of your central A/C, it saves at least $100 per summer. There you have it, the hundred dollar rule. If your monthly bills are more than $100 for heating fuel and $100 for electricity, call Tri-CAP and sign up for energy assistance. It may open the door for a home energy visit and possibly weatherization services, as well as the CIP appliance program (income guidelines and program guidelines apply).
November 2017 Blog
Written by Stephen Bjorklund

Song of Fall

October whispers a wise old sound,
the best in life is fleeting . . .
would that trees retain their color,
splendor drifting to Autumn grounds.

The colors live in mind and memory . . .
embrace their short-lived reign.
Note that friends are like October,
we try to hold them but in vain.

The old appreciate the season.
We remember what we cannot hold.
Reason exposes all our parts
as seasons race upon our thoughts.

What is real, what we value
becomes severed and untouched by time.
I can live my love of fall
this year and decades past the same.

Love and time indwell October,
shortened days, geese in flight.
Nothing mutes the chilling grandeur
awakened by the bracing nights.

It’s a wonder that we surrender,
any friend or part of us.
But our life too steps to the season
fallen colors fulfilled as browns.

So what is left, what’s to be said?
A thank you would be nice.
For if God should tarry . . . taking measure,
October seasons with delight.

Fall energy tips: If you have fuel oil or propane, check the fuel level in your storage tank. Sediment from an empty fuel oil tank can back-flow into your furnace and destroy it; and running out of propane may require an emergency fill by your provider (after hours or on the weekend), which can cost an extra 100 to 200 dollars for the service call. Be wise and don’t run out. Call your energy vendor and see if they will work with you on a payment plan. Don’t forget about local resources, apply in October for Tri-CAP’s energy assistance program (financial guidelines apply).

October 2017 Blog
Written by: Stephen Bjorklund

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