Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Chic

Charles "Chic" Williams passed away last Sunday of a heart attack. Chic was a retired controller/supervisor at Minneapolis Center and although our careers overlapped by many years I never really knew Chic while we worked together. Our workplace could be like that. He friended me on Facebook a while back and I've enjoyed getting to know him in the years since. Chic was only 70.

Recently Chic had been posting videos on Facebook of a tame little squirrel he'd befriended when his dogs took off after it in his yard one morning when he let them out. I had been asking him about the settings he was using on his video uploads because I was trying to share them with another friend who had also recently rescued a baby squirrel. Chic preferred to talk so he surprised me with a call instead and we chatted for a half hour.

Chic said the squirrel ran for cover in a fern plant in his backyard after the altercation with his dogs and he went to see if it was okay. As he got up next to the fern, the squirrel jumped from where it was hiding and onto Chic's sleeve before quickly crawling up to his shoulder, a place where it would eventually feel more and more at home. He went on to tell me how he and his wife would enjoy their coffees in the mornings on their patio and how Buddy (Chic's name for his new friend) would always come around and playfully keep them company while taking whatever scraps they had to offer. Chic built a cage for it to sleep in at night inside their home and although it had freedom to run off at any time, it chose to stay. He even talked about taking Buddy on a cross-country trip with them. It was the sweetest thing to watch the videos Chic posted of the two of them playing.

But then about a week ago he posted a comment to say that Buddy was gone. "The call of the wild" as one of his friends commented. It was a sad time for Chic I'm sure but he knew the risk all along of someday losing him -- we'd talked about it. He said he was fine with whatever time they'd have together.

I hung up the phone after our conversation and I was struck by what a genuinely nice man he was -- just so easy going and friendly -- a sentiment that would fit right in with what many were saying about him on his Facebook wall today. He will be missed.

And it appears that Buddy is missing him, too. A friend posted on a thread about Buddy being gone: "Buddy came back yesterday, Charles Chic Williams, he misses you and so do I. Rest in peace, my friend."

Yes, Chic -- rest in peace.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Jericho Mile and My Miles

Rachel has been doing some travel in her position as an admissions representative for the University of Minnesota at their Rochester campus. She visits high schools to meet face to face with students to make them aware of UMR's program and to generate interest in it. Typically her stops are within a few hours of Rochester and they will often include overnight stays but last weekend found her in Tempe, Arizona where she was attending a CIVSA seminar. She enjoys the travel, especially when it takes her to much warmer climes in the dead of winter.

Our Spectrum Cable bill is well over $200 per month and we're not even getting any premium channels. Part of what's driving it is the cost of renting the boxes that serve each television. We currently rent 6 boxes, down from 8. I think we can get by with 6 sets. I know -- embarrassing. There are few other options for us other than Spectrum. I've heard such horrible things about Comcast's support that I won't even consider them. Spectrum has been very attentive to any of our needs especially when it comes to connectivity issues that we'll occasionally experience and so we remain with them.

We still have a VCR but it had been offline for a few years until last week. There's a video I'd been wanting to watch with Tammy for the longest time since buying the tape online several years ago but I lacked motivation to climb behind the cabinetry that surrounds our TV in the basement and do the necessary contortions to get at the wiring -- until now. The movie, Jericho Mile is one of my favorites. It was a 1979 made-for-TV movie starring Peter Strauss who played the part of Larry Murphy, a man serving a life sentence for killing his father in what he felt was a justified act. He serves his time by keeping mostly to himself, running laps on a dirt track around the prison yard in worn out basketball shoes. But he's fast and he catches the eye of one of the staff who recognizes his raw talent. The movie is filmed among the inmates at Folsom State Prison and delves into the dynamics of the prison population.

Here's a trailer for the film and here's a link to the full version on YouTube. I highly recommend it!

One last thing about the movie. I play a game with Charlie where I drag him around our wood floors using a stuffed animals of his while he bites onto one end of it. The game is always punctuated with me telling him to "stay down foo!" as he slides on his belly. I get that line from a scene in Jericho Mile. Here's the clip. I know -- probably really boring, silly nonsense to anyone else but this is part of my world.

I used last week to log more miles on my feet in one week than I ever have, mostly at Mall of America where I walk laps switching between levels with each trip around the mall. In another lifetime when I was a runner I'd typically run 50 to 60 miles each week with occasional peaks of more than 70 miles. Those were no slouch miles as I pounded them out trying to keep my pace at 7 minutes per mile or better. I sucked at holding back and salting my workouts with easy days. I know my knees would've been thankful had I not been so demanding of them.

I couldn't seem to get enough of my time walking last week and before I was done I had amassed 87.81 miles (141 km) of walking at a pace of between 14 and 15 minutes per mile. And my knees never complained. Hey, I'm retired and can guiltlessly engage in such ridiculous endeavors. It was fun.

My fat-bike has been idle for a month but I hope to be on it again soon. For now I'm content to ride my indoor trainer using an online program called Zwift where I ride with others who are also hammering out miles on their indoor trainers. It's very motivational and has some quite cool graphics to add to the experience. I had my first ride with the program this afternoon and had a blast!

Time to head over to the Zwift FAQ page and learn more about the program and what it can do.



Monday, January 2, 2017

Steps, Lava Lamps and My Faith Struggles

My shins are sore from all of the walking I've been doing (64 miles in the past week) as I continue to compete in the weekly Garmin step challenges. I've been doing most of my walks at either Mall of America or on our treadmill but yesterday and today I walked outside. The bike paths and sidewalks are very icy in spots so I was often walking on the shoulder of the road where there was better footing. Heavy rains more than a week ago followed by freezing temps left the mountain bike trails a ribbon of ice and unless you have studded tires, which I don't, the trails are unrideable. It hasn't been a good winter for studless fat-biking and I don't expect to be on mine anytime soon. I'll be firing up my CompuTrainer this week.

We had a low-key New Years Eve. We went out for dinner then came home and were fast asleep well before midnight. I was whipped and had a pounding headache that had been with me off and on for a few days. I was sure the fireworks at Buck Hill would wake me but I slept through them. This retirement gig with the decent sleep I'm getting is more than nice.

I'm in need of a new lava lamp. The one I have is probably 25 years old and there appears to be some etching on the inside of the glass that I can do nothing about. It functions fine otherwise. I also have a lava lamp for my desktop on the Windows side of my Mac. There's an image of it to the left. It's actually quite cool. You can configure it to small, medium or large and choose whatever color you like. I have mine set to random. Here's a link to download it if you're interested. I haven't found a good one for a Mac OS.

I considered buying a new lamp through Amazon but there's nobody in the U.S. that makes a quality lava lamp anymore -- at least according to what I read in the reviews on Amazon. I learned that the original company that came up with the idea for the lamp is located in Britain and for a variety of reasons they won't ship to the U.S.. From all I've read a Mathmos lava lamp is so much better than what can be found here and so I'm content to discontinue my search and look at my etched lava lamp for an occasional mellow vibe as needed.

I was lamenting on Facebook a few days ago about my struggles with my faith. I wrote:

I've been struggling with my faith lately and mostly it has to do with what I've seen from fundamentalist christians (intentional lower case "c") and their embracing of Trump. Faith is a tricky thing -- you have to really trust the people delivering the message -- that they're being straight with you and living the life they profess to believe in. Yet, how can I trust them when I see how they've rallied around this phony man who represents the worst in all of us?

I understand that God used lots of failed people to advance his kingdom and so there is that but this is beyond believable. It leaves me no choice but to question all that I've been led to believe by these same people who hold themselves up as the godly among us (Not all of you, but clearly a large majority of those who identify as evangelical). I can't do that anymore and still respect myself.


And so I struggle because I do believe in a higher power -- I'm just not so sure that the truth is what I've been taught because I can no longer trust that the message of too many of our churches hasn't also been corrupted along the way by those with an agenda similar to what we've just witnessed, and so it throws everything into question for me.

Propaganda is a powerful tool and I can only conclude that many of you have fallen victim to it. When you do finally come to realize that you have in fact been duped (by not only Trump but by the entire republican party and right-wing media) and you summon the courage to admit that to yourself, please know that those of us who have been where you're at welcome you with open arms. We will need your support in the future to fix what will most certainly need fixing before his embarrassing reign is through.

And no, I will not stand with you in support of this buffoon.


Yes -- I know -- very off-putting if you don't agree but it's how I feel. Watching Trump and listening to the ridiculous lies he tells, one after the other (and no, there's no comparison between Hillary Clinton and Trump in terms of lying) and reading the childish messages he tweets all leave me shaking my head that anyone could possibly think he's fit to lead our country; especially evangelical Christians. And let me say -- I don't hold myself out to be some paragon of virtue -- in fact, I'm far from it. But neither am I running for president or using my religion to marginalize others who don't share my beliefs or are different than me.

I also understand that this is about abortion and Trump's choice for at least one justice to that bench. There was a time not long ago when I was an ardent pro-lifer, so much so that I could even be found marching around our state's capitol in the March for Life. But then I realized that the party I was supporting wasn't so much pro-life as they were/are pro-birth. There's a big difference. If all you care about is getting the baby out of the womb with little regard to how it will be supported, your thinking lacks depth. Unplanned pregnancies are going to happen and when they happen to a woman who can ill afford to bring a child into the world or even carry it to term because she lacks a decent paycheck for her labors you're going to have people opting to abort a child rather than allowing it to live.

I used to be a frequent listener of some Christian rock artists but even they have lost favor with me as I recoil from the faith I once embraced. I still have the Christian fish tattoo on my ankle and I'd like to keep it but if this religion of mine keeps going in the direction it's going my tattoo's days are numbered.  But then I ponder -- leaving the tattoo as it is will show others that we're not all a throwback to a much darker time. As I've said here before -- the word "awful" used to mean awe-inspiring. The word "Christian" is currently being redefined and I need to find a way to distinguish myself from those who have hijacked the meaning of Christianity for their own self-serving and harmful political reasons. I won't go quietly because I do believe it's too important to simply give up and walk away.

I'm happy to say that in spite of how conflicted I've been lately about my faith, we're happy with our new church home at Family of Christ in Lakeville. I don't sense any of the judgement I witnessed at Hosanna and neither is there the conservative mob-mentality that was evident there which bared little resemblance to Jesus. It's sorta like I've been thrown a lifeline in an ocean of uncertainty.

There is one Christian rock band I can still listen to. Jars of Clay took it on the chin from conservative Christians two years ago when lead singer Dan Haseltine dared question out loud the harsh stance from many Christians toward same-sex marriage. He only asked the question but it was enough to cause a coordinated effort to have their music removed from rotation at stations around the country, hurting them financially. The love of Christ is too often missing-in-action from those who most loudly claim to be followers of Jesus.

Here's a video I recorded of them from 10 years ago before YouTube allowed for hi-def. They have my respect and continued support.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Week, 2016

I'm sitting by the fire on a rainy, Christmas Day afternoon with Toby and Charlie to keep me company. Tammy and Cindy are visiting their mom at Trinity Care Center in Farmington. We're so pleased with the level of care she's receiving there. I remember how we were hesitant to have her placed in a nursing home environment but it's turned out to be an excellent decision.

We had a nice Christmas Eve service last night at Family of Christ -- our new church home. We like everything about FoC but we especially like its down-to-earth feel. It's not the mega church we're accustomed to and that's a good thing. As an aside -- we attended a Hymn Tap sing-along last Monday night at The Dubliner Pub in St Paul where some of the local faithful gather once each month to sing hymns of praise and enjoy a drink or two with dinner. We even bumped into the pastor from FoC and chatted for a while. Like I said -- down-to-earth.

Rachel left for her dad's a few hours ago but not before making some nice progress on a puzzle we started last night. I think it's far enough along that Tammy and I can put the finishing touches on it.

I spent several hours this week getting my new MacBook Pro up to speed. Rather than create a partition with VMware as I did with my last laptop for some Windows programs I still use, I decided to simply use the Boot Camp option on my Mac. The only drawback is that I can only run one operating system at a time. VMware allowed both to be running simultaneously but it was a strain on the computer's resources and it's really not necessary for my purposes.

The biggest challenge for me was in resurrecting our website on my laptop. It's a large site that I built with Microsoft's Expression Web 2 and I don't keep a copy of the actual site, opting instead to allow GoDaddy to keep it backed up for me. For whatever reason I wasn't able to simply drag and drop folders of photos where they belonged as I rebuilt the site. Instead, I had to take chunks of photos and drop them into the proper folders. It was very labor intensive but it's done for now until the next hard-drive crash.

I sent my failing MacBook Pro to my brother Bryan in Oregon and he was able to resuscitate it with a new hard-drive. I considered that option too but I'm happy for him to have it, knowing it's in good hands and has a nice new home.

We visited Rachel at her new digs in Rochester. She and RaeNelle moved from the outskirts of the city into a home nearer to downtown -- her 10th move since leaving our nest. They're happy. It was nice to spend the afternoon with her. We drove to Winona, an hour away for lunch then kicked around the city checking out the various shops.

And I found the perfect shirt for me in a local bike shop!

I've been getting in lots of miles at Mall of America as I work to win this week's Garmin step challenge. I dug a hole for myself early on in the week but I came back strong, walking 14.5 miles on Thursday, 12 miles on Friday and 8 miles yesterday. And I did that among the crush of Christmas shoppers! I know I'm not supposed to say this (as a guy) but I love the mall. I just do.

I'm retired so what else do I have to do with my time, right? I probably shouldn't say this either (because then you'll certainly know I'm not right) but I preceded each of those walks with 2 hours on the elliptical.

With 6 hours left in the challenge I think I can add this one to the "win" column.





Thursday, December 15, 2016

InFIT Sim and It's Been a Good Run

I loaded my clubs into the back of my Subaru Forester Tuesday afternoon for a round of golf at Pebble Beach -- one of the more distinguished courses in the country (except I really didn't know I'd be playing Pebble Beach). I had an hour of golf simulator time scheduled at InFIT in Albertville, about a 50 minute drive northwest of Lakeville. InFIT was looking for people willing to play a round of golf on their simulator in exchange for writing an online review to help get the word out about their facility. I was only too happy to help.

Here's my review:

This was my first time playing on a golf simulator with the exception of when I was fitted for my clubs last spring.

Colton spent 15 minutes with me to make certain I knew how to get the most out of the simulator experience — how to aim my shot, read the green and understand the graphics on the HD display as well as some basic computer inputs to the software. He then left me on my own to enjoy a round of golf in a comfortable 70º environment while it was only 8º outside.

Playing a round of golf on the InFIT simulator is fairly straightforward. There were at least 20 actual courses to choose from. I chose Pebble Beach.

The experience gives you very real feedback. It shows the flight of the ball; ball speed; distance and some other data related to each swing and shot. Every time I felt I’d hit a bad shot the simulator was right there to confirm it. You know the feeling you have when you’ve pulled a shot, hit a ball pure or pushed it — the simulator confirmed all that my club head was telling me at impact. I could look at the HD display and watch as my ball went just where it felt like I’d hit it. I was very impressed.

The greens are fast and once you get used to their speed they’re quite realistic. They run between 10.5 and 11.5 on the stimpmeter. The display will show you the contour of the green as well as your ball’s height above or below the hole and distance to the hole. You line up your putt toward the hole on the screen after factoring in the breaks and let the overhead optical sensors show your result on the HD display. It’s actually quite cool and works much better than I imagined it would.

After holing out you’re advanced to the next tee.


A feature I found helpful was the “mulligan” button on the computer. I was able to play a shot more than once in a variety of ways.

The only drawback I could find with the simulation was that there didn’t appear to be a way to factor wind into the simulation. I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before you can do that. Possibly it’s already there but I didn’t see it and played my round with no wind.

I played just fine using running shoes. You can wear your regular golf shoes but I don't feel it's necessary.

I found the experience very fun and beneficial and although it’s a bit of a hike for me to play there — I’ll be back. It was that good.


I think I'd like to try and get there once each month during the winter. That's my plan.

I fired up my 6.5 year old MacBook Pro yesterday morning to make a quick lap around the patch before stepping onto the treadmill for a couple hour walk -- but there was a problem. My trusty laptop was so painfully slow. It was unusable. I rebooted it twice more but without any improvement. I tried running an antivirus program but closed out of it when I realized it would take all day to run. I decided the best thing I could do would be to take it to the Apple Store at Mall of America and let the folks behind the Genius Bar run some diagnostics on it.

And they did.

It took less than 5 minutes for the technician to find that my laptop had suffered a hard drive failure. He said the hard drive could be replaced but I would either have to do it myself or have someone other than the Apple Store do it because my laptop was deemed "vintage" and they no longer provide parts or service for something of its age. I could probably have it resuscitated for a around $100 but I figured we'd had a good run together and maybe it was time to move on.

And so I did.

I'm now blogging and tapping through the net with a 15" MacBook Pro with a retina LED backlit display, 16 GB of SDRAM, 512 GB SSD with Touch Bar Technology. Funny thing though -- there are no USB ports on it but it does come with 4 USB-C ports. I had to go back and get an adaptor so I can plug in my devices.

So far so good. The Touch Bar Technology is kinda cool stuff and I think I'll enjoy using it. Maybe I'll expand on what it's about in another entry here.

Time to go and write out some Christmas cards! We considered taking a pass on them this year but we've relented and will have them in the mail soon to some of you.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Missing My Little Girl and Winter Arrives

I'm missing my little girl. Our home doesn't seem the same since she left. I went to let Toby and Charlie out the morning after she died and I found myself waiting for Allie to bring up the rear the way she always would as the pups filed out the front door. It took me just a moment to realize she was no longer with us. There have been many more similarly small instances of our changed routine that remind me she's gone and each one leaves me with a wave of sadness that washes over me and settles in my heart. This all happened so quickly. I just didn't imagine her leaving us so soon.

I'm reminded of the way she was always content to be the last in line to get her treat of a dog biscuit or baby carrot. She would take it and scamper off to the front room where she would eat it in peace, away from Charlie's attempts to steal it from her. I'd sometimes go out of my way to give her her treat first and make the boys wait. Or the way she would lay in front of their water bowl waiting for me to change the water. She became finicky in the last few years about drinking from the dregs of a dish.

I got to thinking how she was such a trooper in these past few months to do some of the walks we all did together considering how ill she had to have been. How I wish she could've told me she wasn't up to it. There were several walks where I did leave her home sensing she was fine with not going. I wasn't totally ignorant to her needs.

Tammy had gone out and bought new Christmas stockings for all of us and decorated them just two days before she died. Allie's is appropriately white. She's our little angel now. Waiting.

I went out to get the mail yesterday and found a card from Farmington Veterinary Clinic. I opened it when I got back inside and a wave of emotion overcame me. The card was signed by all of the staff. Someone had taken paw prints from her lifeless body and included them. It was so touching and my tears flowed freely as I stood there in our laundry room with Toby and Allie watching me. I'm missing her so much.

Charlie seems to sense that she's gone. He's not been himself the past day or so. Toby is a mellow fellow as it is so it's difficult to tell if he's troubled by her absence.

This is going to take some time.

I made it out to Murphy Hanrehan this afternoon for the first time in months. The temp was in single digits but the winds had calmed from what they'd been the past several days so it was actually quite nice. I've swapped out my 3" maxxis tires for my 4" 45NRTH Dillingers and I've got my pogies on my bar ends to keep my hands warm. I'm ready for snow. And it's snowing. We're expecting 4 to 6 inches by the time it stops tomorrow. I hope to make it to either the river bottoms or back to Murphy tomorrow afternoon.

Winter has finally arrived and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Goodbye Sweet Girl

This is a very sad post for me to write and one I feared I was going to be making sooner than I wanted. Allie died this morning at 8:58. Tammy and I are grieving her loss with lots of tears interrupted by memories of her as we recall those special things about her that made her who she was.

She was a fierce protector of us and our home and she was as loyal as a dog could be. She never had pups of her own but we always felt she would've been the best mom -- always nurturing and so quick to see what was the matter if ever she sensed distress. And she loved to lick! We've been tempted more than once to buy one of those signs that say "Our dogs can't hold their licker" and mostly because of Allie.

I had hoped that the health issues she'd been experiencing lately were going to be something she could overcome but sadly they weren't. She continued to have very little appetite and was becoming noticeably unsteady when standing.

In the middle of the night last night she let out a loud and long wail as she arched her back in pain. I thought she was leaving us then. Her breathing was labored and she was shaking. We tried to comfort her as best we could. I prayed that she would pass on in the comfort of our bed but that wasn't to be.

She wasn't whimpering so I was hopeful that she wasn't in continued pain. There was no question between Tammy and I that we needed to end her suffering. I took the photo to the left as I held her in our home just before leaving. I just needed one last memory of her even though it saddens me to see it now.

We made a tearful drive into Farmington this morning to the vet we've been seeing since Allie and Toby were pups. We had no appointment. She wailed again as we made our way into the vet's office and the woman behind the counter quickly took her from us and brought her back to the doctor. The doctor came out and could see that we knew the seriousness of Allie's condition. She offered to do blood tests to try and determine what was the matter but we felt it was time to let her go. She agreed and assured us we were making the right decision based on what she could see.

This is so sad and so hard. I loved that little girl so much. I promised her we'd be together again someday because I believe in heaven and the only heaven I can imagine is one where our pets are waiting there for us.

Goodbye sweet girl. Thank you for your unconditional love and for all of the joy you've given us. You are so very loved and I will miss you forever.