Groundhogs Day

Groundhogs Day and the snow is dirty on the sides of the road and the piles of ice in the shopping mall lots are nasty to navigate.

On Groundhogs Day Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early Spring! Phil did not see his shadow indicative of winter being over and Spring on the way!

The warmth of the spring sun will soon appear with longer days and the end of icy roads. The spring equinox brings with it the rebirth we crave when things begin to become oppressive. With each March the weather comes in like a lion still hovering between winter and summer. The winds are cold and the rain icy and damp and just when we can’t stand it the morning sun burns bright and the warmth is powerful. The skies turn blue with clear weather clouds and it is on that day we know spring is almost here.

Winter ends as quickly as it begins. Open the door to the great outdoors and feel the warmth of the first spring breeze. Enter the yard to explore the joys of nature during the transitional season of rebirth. The fragrant scents of the season pound the sense of smell. The honeysuckle is over powering walking near the long line of shrubs with beautiful white flowers hanging waiting to be picked and tasted by pulling the pistol and its nectar from each flower. The magnificence of the magnolia trees and the pink flowers entices us to climb up into the arms of the branches as we did as kids, innocent and loving the gentle scent from the flowing petals. The buds from the dogwood will blossom into the pinks and whites of cross like structures. Small but mighty trees with the spiritual wonders of hope. Walking slowly across the yard the buds on the huge oaks are ready to burst open with the promise of a new day, a new season, another chance.

Popping out of the ground still cold from the winter ice is the crocus, first out and proud of it. Crocus is followed by the pansies, daffodils and impatience. Warm rains help to encourage the spring growth. Everything about this warmth of the spring season prepares us for the joys of planting, weeding and watering. Encourage it. The herbs come first with careful preparation of the pots. Parsley will stand up to the cool nights so it is planted first, then the mints as we almost taste them in our teas and meats. Finally the basil, which needs more sun and warm summer nights or it will not survive.

Tending to the wildflowers and roses and rhododendron shrubs balances out the gardening, some fruits… some vegetables… some herbs. Variety is the spice of gardening and the garden comes alive in the spring. Pruning the roses, digging a plot for tomatoes and eggplant, trimming the azaleas we are outside in the fresh air enjoying the nurturing rays of the sun. Mowing the lawn and smelling the fresh cut grass, walking back and forth making beautiful lines as we follow the mower is meditative, as valuable as a walking meditation which by the way is called Kinhin in zen.

Up and down back and forth forgetting the mental chatter, the problems at the office, the decisions that need to be made, just being here and now in the present. Walking thru the gardens preparing and seeding is in the now. Notice the blue jays chattering, the cardinals and scarlet tanagers brighten up the vibrant colors of nature and the little chipmunks making chirpy sounds as they run and scamper about preparing for the new life of this spring. Be well.

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Snowing Like A Russian Novel

Snowing Like A Russian Novel…
and a perfect day for a meditative Nordic Ski Adventure

It’s snowing like a Russian novel with freezing temperatures, but you move forward because today is the day you will Nordic ski.

Feel the wind and ice forming on your face and every area of exposed skin. Walk slowly toward the paths available in the clearing.

North will take you down a trail of prepared pites or parallel groves cut in the snow. It is neatly cut by machines and frequently the choice of the cross country skier.

South heads out into a mountain of snow untouched by anything except nature. The choice is obvious. With the full realization that opening a track through deep snow can be arduous you move forward, placing your snow boots into the ski and picking up your poles.

The basket at the end of each pole assures you that you won’t sink too deeply into the beautiful white powder. The poles pushing off of the classic ski motion, left leg push right pole, right leg push left pole. Rhythmic, repetitive motion gliding with each stride releasing endorphins and keeping you in the now.

The poles for steadiness and propulsion feel like extensions of your arms and move with you as extended limbs. Rhythmic, pulsating, gliding forward on flat terrain up and down small hills without breaking the stride of this walking meditation. Left, right, left, right there is no thinking now only the beautiful cadence of the rhythm. If you are thinking you are not meditating.

Feel the pulse of the motion and the joy of being out in the natural beauty of the winter forest. See your breath as you exhale in the cold crisp air, and feel the rhythm of your breathing in sync with the movement of the skis.

You are alone and at peace with your solitude. The isolation and lack of communication is growing on you as you leave the sounds of the city behind. They are exchanged with sounds of winter birds chirping, little red foxes looking out from behind their hutches and magnificent bucks with brown shaggy fur snorting like ponies.

The smells of the forest are overwhelming with the heightened senses in this environment. All of the cabins have cedar aroma from burning logs in their fireplaces. Breathe in the beauty and breathe out the stressors. There is a familiar smell of family and fun and a spiritual awakening from the pine forest, bringing up memories of joyful Christmas aromas. Breathe in the joyful scents and breathe out the mental disquietude.

Stop for a rest and sip nourishment from your water bottle. Replenish your cells with the fluid of life. Value the moment and allow yourself to be happy. Relish the moment as feeling really alive with gratitude for who you are and what you have. Prepare to climb the hill in front of you as there will always be hills and valleys in life. Spreading your skis out so they look like the letter V, herringbone up the hill with a passion to reach the other side, feeling a sense of accomplishment as your reach the crest.

Take a deep breath and push off to glide down the hill at a faster speed pointing your skis inward to snowplow and control your descent. Acceptance that change is inevitable for the rest of this ride because at the bottom is a frozen lake. Hitting the lake at full speed in the skating motion of the cross country skier allows you to change on a dime as is often the case with the trials and tribulations of life.

Pushing first with the right leg as an ice skater and shifting all of your weight to the right leg you find your cadence once again and soon settle in with a feeling of balance and grace gliding through life and across the large lake to the other side.

Transfer your weight to control the glide and slide into the snow completing the journey with a feeling of success, a joyful job well done and the serenity of the meditation known as mastering tranquility.

“I’m So Busy…” Efficient Time Management

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” 

We draw wisdom from the genius of Socrates. The structure and organizational skills of the masters inform and educate us. In 1906 two giants, one American and one European developed theories and plans to increase productivity and enhance time management.

In the 1906 in Western Europe a French/Italian named Vilfredo Pareto set out to study the distribution of wealth in Italy and found that a few families owned most of the wealth of the country. More specifically he found that there was an imbalance in that 20% of the families owned about 80% of the wealth creating an unequal distribution. Pareto was an economist but he also noted that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. Others found this to be the case in many situations and many countries so the 80/20 rule was formulated and ultimately named after Pareto. It became a rule of thumb after it was obvious that 80% of a company’s complaints came from 20% of its customers and 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its sales staff.

The 80/20 Pareto Rule in relation to time management: there is imbalance in what we do and what we achieve. 80% of what we achieve comes from 20% of what we are doing. Therefore, that is the equivalent of getting everything done in just one day of work and the rest of the week only tiny amounts get done. This is a major concept and one worth intense study.

The concept or principle applied means spending more than 20% of your time on what really matters creates better time management resulting in a huge amount of increased productivity in both your personal life and business work programs. The trick here is identification of what matters and application of prioritization to omit imbalance.

In 1906 in America a Princeton University graduate named Ivy Lee was setting the stage for becoming the founder of American public relations and publicity. In the process, his methodology created amazing productivity in the workplace. Mr. Lee established a philosophy called Declaration of Principles and along with his business partner George Parker they formed Parker and Lee one of the first public relations firms in America. Parker and Lee met working for the Democratic Party in the Presidential Election of 1904.

Lee was first hired and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then was hired by Charles M. Schwab. Mr. Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel. Mr. Schwab asked Lee to consult on better productivity at Bethlehem Steel. It was at this point Mr. Lee who was operating his own corporation developed and introduced the Ivy Lee Method. Ivy Lee was so confident of increased productivity that he made the deal with Mr Schwab not to pay him for three months and only if the method worked effectively.

The Ivy Lee Method of increased productivity and Time Management:

  1. At the end of each day write down six tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Prioritize these tasks in order of importance, not if they are easy or fun.
  3. When you begin focus only on the first task until you complete it.
  4. Repeat the rest in order from the list.
  5. Move anything not completed to the next list.
  6. Repeat the entire process.

Mr. Charles M. Schwab sent Ivy Lee a huge check three months after implementing this plan at his corporation. That check for $25,000 would be equivalent to half a million today. Mr. Charles M. Schwab is not Charles R. Schwab from the brokerage fame. What are the odds of two men with the same name becoming billionaires?

Time Management:

  1. Ponder the organizational skills needed to increase productivity.
  2. Visualize the tasks to be completed.
  3. Prioritize the plan.
  4. Metacognitive techniques and routines should be incorporated.
  5. Procrastination needs to be omitted or controlled.
  6. Clear the chatter in your head: meditate and single task.

 

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Princeton Architecture

Princeton University was founded in 1746 initially to train Presbyterian Ministers. The campus moved from Elizabeth to Newark operating with the name College of New Jersey until settling in at its present location in Princeton, New Jersey in 1896. As a university it is considered to be ranked one of the top five institutions of higher learning in the nation. Princeton University has educated two United States presidents, twelve supreme court justices, five chairs of the Federal Reserve, sixty-three Nobel Laureates and eight secretaries of state.

The university was named after British William III of the House of Orange-Nassau and the colors remain orange and black for team sports with a tiger as the mascot. In 1768 Princeton University President John Witherspoon changed the direction from educating ministers exclusively to training American leaders. In 1969, Princeton University admitted women and allowed women in the eating clubs during the early 1990’s. Some of the notable graduates include: Bill Bradley, James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, Aaron Burr, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Jimmy Stuart, Jose Ferre, Brook Shields and Will Stanton.

The pictorial focus of this blog is on the architectural style of the buildings that are found on the campus in 2018.  The early style of High Victorian Gothic is still found in a few of the oldest structures. It features the use of polychrome multi color decorations.There are also some Romanesque Revival in style with simple rounded arches and windows, but Princeton University now favors Collegiate Gothic. Collegiate Gothic has a rectangular plan with pointed arches and recessed entrances. Enjoy our photos.

National Natural Landmark: Boulder Field

In a remote area of Eastern Pennsylvania in the Appalachian Mountains there are 16 acres of rock formations dating back to saber-toothed cats from the last ice age. The boulders that make up the huge field some of which measure 25 feet long, appear upon arrival to be a dry lake but it is so much more. It is also not a glacial deposit, but rather according to geologists the result of freeze-thaw, frost and gelifluction from over 20,000 years ago. However, the most extensive ice sheet to cover the area containing this boulder field occurred prior to 900,000 years ago. So the freeze thaw made smaller boulders from bedrock. During the ice age the permafrost of mud and sand moved the boulders and then moved small rocks to the bottom and the larger boulders to the top.

The magnificent Boulder Field was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967 and remains mostly as I remember it from my first visit in 1988. There are a few more trees and vegetation and perhaps in many more years the forest will again claim the area, but not in my lifetime.

Upon arrival at Boulder field there is a strong temptation to run out onto the boulders only to realize the spaces between them makes it difficult, and they do move when people hop around. Most people never make it out more than ten feet from the forest but many locals in fact seem to negotiate a walk right down the middle without effort! My photographs use examples of the two primary rock formations. The first found in Boulder Field is Quartz Conglomerate. The other prominent one is Red Sandstone have various shades of red caused by iron oxide rust.

Boulder Field is located in Hickory Run State Park in Pennsylvania. The area also includes Sand Spring Lake and Hawk Falls and some of the best hiking in the Poconos.

Blue Blood

Sometimes when you are doing something as simple as walking on the beach there appears an unexpected opportunity to learn profound things about the world and its humblest inhabitants. My dear Uncle Al joined me on such a walk many years ago. On a sparsely populated area of the New Jersey shore we came upon dozens of small male and larger female horseshoe crabs mating in the warm May weather. The females were laying their eggs in the moist sand. My Uncle, who had been an observer of this process for years, explained that these pre-historic rituals dated to around 1/2 billion years ago adding to the paradox of this primitive arthropod known affectionately as a living fossil. He gently lifted one to show me the structure of the crab, carefully avoiding the tail, not because it could harm him, but rather because of the importance of the tail in enabling them to turn over. If the tail of the horseshoe crab is damaged, the little fella would not be able to maneuver and flip. The horseshoe crab, a misnomer, is not really a crab at all, but rather an arthropod and invertebrate with no spine.  Horseshoe crabs have fascinated me ever since that first encounter.

The eggs that survive grow and  molt many times until fully grown. The eggs that are eaten by shore birds are part of the ecological balance and are amazingly important to human quality and quantity of life. If fewer horseshoe crab eggs are available as a result of diminished populations, then the Red Knot birds in Delaware, New Jersey and South Carolina also end up on endangered lists. The significance of this is the effect on both declining horseshoe crabs and medical science. As it turns out the horseshoe crab provides a life saving liquid used in biotechnology that affects anyone who has ever been to the doctor or a hospital, which is just about all of us.

The liquid which at present only comes from the horseshoe crabs around the world,  has to be harvested in laboratories. The horseshoe crabs are taken from the beaches and brought to labs, turned on their sides and an instrument to draw the blood is attached near their hearts. One quart of this precious liquid is valued at fifteen thousand dollars. The crabs are then returned to the sea usually within the three day period because the gills need to remain moist. It is estimated that between 15-30% are so stressed they don’t survive. Looking at both perspectives or the middle path it becomes increasingly obvious that the labs are doing everything possible to insure the survival after returning them to the sea. The researchers are also working around the clock to produce a synthetic alternative to bleeding the crabs. The value of the liquid blue blood is so important to medical science because anyone receiving a routine injection at the doctors office or injectables for insulin, knee replacements or the routine use of hospital instruments is safer from the potential of life threatening infection thanks to our little horseshoe crab friends.

The horseshoe crab swims on its back for most of the year to migrate to sand or mud. In the spring, several males fertilize the female eggs and after many years they grow and molt and emerge almost in the same area where they were born. They have survived millions of years due to their protective blood stream which prevents the ocean bacteria from killing them off like 90% of other pre-historic creatures. The horseshoe crab, unlike vertebrates have no hemoglobin. They use hemocyanin to carry oxygen and due to copper in hemocyanin their blood is blue.

The technical process includes an understanding that Amebocytes from the blood are used to make Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL) which in turn is used to detect bacterial endotoxins in medicine. They detect E.coli, for example, on the medical instruments and devices mentioned earlier. The gram stains normally used can not detect and do not recognize endotoxins leaving medical technology no choice but to use this method.

In addition the careful handling of the horseshoe crab harvesting is set by law in the states of NJ, SC and Delaware and they help fund the research of a synthetic compound. Finally, it has been suggested that feeding the little guys a diet high in copper before release might help reduce the stress and the loss of 30% of their blood supply during the process. It is certainly worthy of research by the scientific community.

So, as we walk along the shores with our children and grandchildren it might be interesting to teach our future leaders the respect, compassion and value to human life that Limulus polyphemus, the “American” Horseshoe Crab provide to all of us.

~Nora D’Ecclesis


Dance of the Peacock Spider

Entwined together…

There is a small spider less than a centimeter found in Australia called the peacock. The male peacock spider dances for love by chasing the female with a series of abdominal thrusts and producing an ornately colorful fan off his tail. He moves his appendages in what looks like a dance of perhaps a creative traffic cop’s arm movement  to offer direction to drivers.

Several males dance for one female simultaneously and when they sense she lacks interest and obviously rejects them, they flee quickly to avoid being her lunch! The one lucky male who is accepted by the female is not much better off because after mating she devours him anyway.

The initial attraction is charged with all the attributes of the most profound infatuation in life, the in love at first sight moment. The twin flames are madly in love and the rest of the world is of little importance. Human dating is a dance, ritualistic by cultural norms and loaded with rejection, insecurity and yes, peacock strutting. It either produces moving into relationship and joy, or abandonment and rejection. Thankfully, human dating rituals don’t end in a New Jersey trip to the Meadowlands swamp. 

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