Playground Structure: Reciprocating Snake

The below reciprocating snake structure was observed in a playground in Kildare, Ireland:

This structure might be a great addition to a playground area with a lot of space.

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LDS Miracle in Ethiopia?

Elder M. Russell Ballard, an LDS apostle, recently retold one of his personal spiritual experiences, proof to him of miracles.  His talk is summarized in

Elder Ballard relates an experience he had in 1984 visiting Ethiopia during the terrible ’83-’85 famine. He was assigned as a member of the presidency of the 70, with Glenn Pace then head of church welfare to determine how to allocate $6M to help as many people as possible. The suffering he saw at the feeding stations has never left him. He wanted to be able to give them the gospel for them to have the strength to hang in there. At that time there was just one member of the church in Ethiopia; Brother Hadlock worked for Boeing in Addis Ababa. They were able to locate him, and the next day being Sunday they met with him for sacrament meeting. They took sacrament of crackers and water together. There were four people present, and all bore their testimonies. Miracles happen when we are struggling to know the mind and will of God. When it came to be Elder Ballard’s turn he felt that he should bless the land. He did so and asked that it should rain. On returning to his hotel he knelt and prayed about what he had asked for. At 3.30 rain came pouring down and people ran into the streets to collect the water. He saw what the water meant to the people. Every day that he and Elder Pace remained in Ethiopia it rained. We need to believe in miracles and be the focus of such miracles.

This alleged “miracle” is difficult for me.  I don’t believe that God is above “stirring the pot.”   Elder Ballard’s story sounds more like a “faith promoting rumor” than a real miracle.  Stories like these make many members roll their eyes, and do more harm than good.

There are several problems with the Ethiopia story:

  • The implication is that God only listens to an LDS authority.  And that He ignored the pleas from Ethiopians.
  • The drought lasted another year.  So the “intervention” was very temporary.  Why didn’t Elder Ballard continue to request godly assistance?  Why didn’t he stay in country if he was so successful.  Afterall, the rain was more important than the $6M.
  • There is a very egotistic interpretation of this alleged intervention.

While it is important to pray, prayer should be viewed more as an act of introspection (meditation if you will) rather than a plea for godly intervention.  Mankind (and womankind) needs to learn to solve its own problems.

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Outdoor Waterless Urinals in Paris

Over 50 years ago, I served an LDS mission in northeastern France (Alsace-Lorraine).  Public urination was a problem.  For example, on the exterior of Strasbourg’s beautiful Gothic cathedral were “defense d’uriner” (don’t urinate) signs.  The signs didn’t seem to do a lot of good.

Apparently, public urination is still a problem.  According to National Geographic (Nov 2017):

Since before the days of Napoleon, [France] has battled the odorous scourge of les pipis sauvages, or wild peeing.  The widespread practice of public urination is technically illegal.  But that hasn’t seemed to staunch the streams that pour into the streets, into planter boxes, and onto lampposts.

The city is currently testing a possible solution to the problem.  It is called a uritrottoir, or sidewalk urinal, and looks like a boxy trash can with a planter-box lid.

The receptacle is filled with odor-fighting straw or sawdust.  When it is full, after about 200 “deposits,” a sensor alerts an attendant to empty the contents.  The mixture is taken to a site where it becomes compost, and eventually, the compost becomes plant food.

Uritrottoirs Are Intended to Improve Sanitation and Odors of Urban Paris

The devices are fairly expensive at nearly $5,000 each.  And they may encourage more public urination, instead of less.  But hopefully they will improve the street smells of urban France.

The Uritrottoirs are waterless.  So one perhaps unintended consequence of the devices is water conservation.

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Visit to Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Bret Berger’s and my’s recent trip (July 2017) to Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique,was coordinated by the Carr Foundation.  Greg Carr, founder of the foundation, is a high school friend of Bret’s and his foundation has a 20-year agreement to manage Gorongosa NP.

While in the Park, we stayed at the lodge near the entrance.  The accommodations and food at the lodge made our stay very pleasant.

The foundation’s stated goals for the Park are:

  • Protect its biological heritage,
  • Increase scientific understanding,
  • Enable nature-centered media creation for education and inspiration,
  • Create good jobs for people who live near the Park, and
  • Enrich visitors with adventure, aesthetic and spiritual experiences.

While visiting Gorongosa, we were introduced to some of the foundation’s projects designed to accomplish the above goals.

Our specific project was to add playground equipment to a nearby primary school.  It was an extension of goal 4 to improve the lives of “the people who live near the Park.”  Toward that goal, we helped with the installation of a swing set and climbing tower.

Swing Set Installed at Vinho Village near Gorongosa NP

We also went on 4 short safaris to view the animals and general environment in the Park.  We had the same guide for 3 of the 4 trips.  He was very informative, funny, and served a tasty gin and tonic.  His best joke was:  “the impala in the park are also referred as nadi which stands for ‘not another damn impala.'”  (Okay, maybe you had to be there to appreciate this attempt at levity.)  These safaris are an integral part of goal 5.  Having said that, I don’t remember having any particularly “spiritual experiences,” probably a character flaw on my part

Lion Cub in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

We were also introduced to some of the Park’s scientific activities (goals 1 and 2). Their science officer showed us their expansive efforts to identify and categorize the plant and animal diversity in the Park.  The foundation also has agreements with several US universities to do research in the Park

Science Officer Showing One of Gorongosa’s Plant Catalogues.

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Three Must-do Adventures in Central Romania

During a recent trip to Romania (Oct 2017), there were 3 areas/sites that I really enjoyed.  The area around Medias is known for its wonderful fortified churches.  While we didn’t visit any, they were very prominent features in the regional landscape.

Fortified Church near Medias, Romania

The Transfaragasan Highway is reputed to be the greatest road in the world for driving because of all its many switchbacks and wonderful scenery.  And it is a lot of fun.  When we drove it, there was quite a bit of snow on top.  This activity is highly recommended.

Transfagarasan Highway in the Carpathian Mountains

We also visited a hilltop fortification between Sighisoara and Brasov named:  Cetatea Rupea.

Cetatea Rupea East of Sighisoara

This medieval castle is beautifully sited and not far from the highway.  It has been heavily restored and there is a small charge to enter.  It is a great place to stretch your legs and get some exercise.  There are nice views of the surrounding countryside from the top.

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Installing Swing Sets in Roma Romania

Recently a friend, his cousin, and I traveled to Eastern Europe to install 2 swing sets in central Romania. The work was coordinated by an LDS service missionary couple.  They lined us up with a British couple working with Roma (gypsy) children and special needs adults.  Their organization is:  Love Light Romania.

Ron and Jo

The first installation was at a school that tutors Roma children, those who are behind in their regular classes.  The school is located at Jacobu, situated in the hills above Sighisoara. We installed a 4-seat swing set.  That is the only playground equipment that we could install at this site because of limited space.  Except for the pipe, chain, wooden seats, and cement, we brought the swing set parts with us from the USA in our checked airline luggage.

Testing Out the New Swing Set

Painting the Completed Swing Set

Jo with Roma Children

We lodged in a rustic guesthouse (named Owl’s House) provided by our hosts.  Jacodu reminded me of something straight out of the Middle Ages.  The ancient houses, gravel road, and horse- or cow-drawn wagons.

Street Scene in Jacodu

The second swing set installation was at a residential home for adults with special needs located in the hills near Medias.  The sign on the gate reads:

Let the children come to me for the kingdom belongs to such as these.

At the home (aka the Sanctuary), we installed a 2-seat swing set.  Jo’s son and several of the residents helped with the installation.  One resident was so excited that he screamed and jumped up and down.

Testing the 2-seat Swing Set

The Swing Set Work Crew at the Sanctuary Site

The goal of the first swing set is to encourage Roma students to attend tutoring sessions.  The goal of the second was to provide recreational and calming activities for several of the adults.  A short video of the swing set installation work can be seen here.

Jo and Ron are Christian saints.

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Gemeskut (Shadoof) in Central Romania

While traveling in central Romania, we ran across a narrow valley with shallow groundwater.  Several of the farms along the roadway had gemeskuts.  They are being used for stockwatering.

Gemeskut in Central Romania

The gemeskut has a history that goes back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  The Arab name for the counterpoise lift is shadoof or shaduf.

Gemeskut Well Used for Stockwater

The gemeskut or shadoof is still widely used in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia to raise water from shallow groundwater, ponds, and rivers.  Wikipedia labels it an irrigation tool, but today it seems frustrating slow for that application.  It would seem more useful for stockwatering.

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