Thursday, March 23, 2017

How Far Would You Go? And Meet the Folks

I'm not vain and neither am I considering flying my Learjet to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun but I'm pondering the question: how far would I drive to see a total solar eclipse? I may be about to find out. This very rare event in a city near me is going to happen on August 21st, 2017 and it will put Lakeville in an area about 80% eclipsed. To get to where there will be a total eclipse I'd need to drive to Lincoln, NE., a little more than a 6 hour drive. I think I'm off that day, and I think I'm in!

I checked this site for future total solar eclipses for the rest of my life and it appears the one in August will in all likelihood be my last (and first) chance to experience one. Missing out on it would be even more upsetting than not realizing The Paper Kites were in town last Saturday night at First Avenue!

Our Google Pixel phones are on their way after a wait of a few weeks while they were sold out. Rachel dropped her LG G4 in the tub last month and has since been relying on some outdated LG phone she picked up on Craig's List for $40 that struggles to do the most basic functions. Tammy's iPhone 6's ringer no longer works and it's become very slow so she's looking forward to something new as well. As for me, my LG G4 is okay but is still continually disconnecting itself from our wifi. I could continue to use it but with Tammy and Rachel's need for new phones I'm willing to sacrifice it for the sake of a clean break from Verizon. I'm a giver. After doing some research and with an excellent review from a friend in hand we've decided to go all-in with Google's Project Fi and leave Verizon behind.

Verizon tried to make a last ditch effort to get us a lower plan cost but I told the rep we had already committed to Google and their very reasonable rates and decent coverage. We'll pay $20 a month for each line and then just $10 per GB of data. If I use 2.45 gigs of data in a month the cost will be charged at just the portion of data used; in this case $20.00 (line cost) + $24.50 (data usage) = $44.50 + whatever additional fees are normally applied. No costly overage fees because there are no limits -- you just pay for what you use. That seems reasonable to me.

We drove down to Rochester to see Rachel on Saturday afternoon to deliver her bike and see Beauty and the Beast. I took some time to walk her through the steps of repairing a flat using CO2 while assuring her that a few choice swear words may be helpful during the process of trying to get the tire back on the rim. I was right.

We went for dinner to Grand Rounds Brew Pub where we were happy to be joined by a new male friend in Rachel's life -- Drew. I'm being careful not to say "boyfriend" although that may well be appropriate. We had a nice time at our formal "meet the folks" get together.

A friend sent a link yesterday to a list of mountain bike races this summer and one in particular caught my eye. This one. I'm giving some serious consideration to at least the 77 mile ride. The 122 mile ride would be a lot to chew off on my fat-bike but it's not out of the question. Tammy has given me her blessing to pack up the car and go for it. Hmmm..

I allowed my mild OCD to take the lead on Sunday's ride. It's actually something I've been wanting to do for awhile. A nice leisurely pace while checking out some local streets I've never gone down and a way to get some exercise on a day when I wasn't up for working out. Win-win.

Seriously, my OCD is under control.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

23andMe and Our Growing Family Tree

My nephew Dan recently sent in a sample of his DNA to 23andMe to have it analyzed. The results showed that he had a close match (of the 1st or 2nd cousins variety) with Emily, a woman in Montreal, Canada. How could that be? They exchanged emails. It turned out that Emily's mother, Cynthia, was born to a single woman named Erie in 1947. Erie never married but took the last name of her daughter's father even though she'd lost contact with him and I assume never heard from him again. Emily told me that they were always told the name of Cynthia's father was John Gilmore. My father's brother Jack also went by John.

From what Emily has told me about her grandmother, Erie was a strong, independent woman having served in the Women's Army Corp during WW2. She taught veterans job skills at a vocational school after the war in Brockville, Ontario, a city some 2+ hours southeast of where my father and his brother Jack grew up in Douglas, Ontario. I've learned that my father also took office management vocational classes in Brockville around the same time Erie taught there.

It's not known if John/Jack knew of Cynthia. Erie left Brockville in 1947 and moved to Kingston when the school closed. Within a few years of Cynthia's birth John would move to California, raise a family and retire there. John passed away many years ago as did his wife more recently. I know so little about Jack and his family because my father was reluctant to ever want to talk about his family. His childhood was difficult and none of us siblings ever pushed him for details.

Erie raised Cynthia to be a strong woman, forbidding her to learn typing for fear those skills would lead to a job with her "working for a man". Cynthia would marry, become a successful attorney and raise two children.

When I was first shown the photos of Cynthia I was stunned! In some of the photos of her I saw my sister Claudia but in one in particular, the photo to the left, I saw my father. It was a "wow" moment for me. There is no question that there's a family resemblance. Her smile and her eyes I've seen before, more times than I can count in my father's own face. The photos I have of my dad at a similar age as Cynthia in the photo show some resemblance but probably not so much to someone who didn't know him -- here, here and here.

Before I learned that Emily always knew her grandfather's name to be John, I was contemplating the idea that Cynthia's father was actually my father especially when I learned that he was in Brockville at the same time as Erie. But then I dismissed the idea.

This is where it gets interesting. I received an email from Emily tonight where she explained the breakdown of DNA for me. I'll use her words because it's somewhat technical and I'll lose something in the translation otherwise. Emily wrote:

"I’m attaching a histogram which shows how close the DNA match is for a large group of people who are known second cousins (which Dan and I should be if Jack was my grandfather). The numbers along the horizontal axis express the DNA match in units of centiMorgan (cM)… the higher the number, the closer the match. My match with Dan of 9.56% can be equivalently expressed in units of cM as 650 cM, which is way higher than the upper limit of 522.9 on the horizontal axis. Our match is “off the charts”, so to speak, for second cousins."

Credit to The Shared cM Project for the histogram data.

So, I'm sorta-kinda back to thinking that there's a real possibility or probability that Emily and Dan are indeed 1st cousins and if they are then that can only mean one thing -- that my father was actually Cynthia's father as well. I'd like to have my DNA tested to see how closely it aligns with Emily's. It would also be helpful if one of my cousins on my father's side could submit their DNA for testing to see whose aligns more closely with Emily's family. Whichever side matches more closely would tell us with some certainty (I would think) whether Cynthia's father was Jack, as was believed or my father.

I find this all so fascinating.

Some additional information: Erie Medora Boyd was born Jan. 19, 1921, in Elgin County, Ontario (on the north shore of Lake Erie). Erie was one of eleven children, and all except for possibly one have passed away. Her parents died when she was around fourteen, and five of the younger children, which included Erie, were taken into foster care by the same family. She died June 9, 1982 in Hamilton, Ontario of lung cancer from smoking.

Cynthia passed away at the much too young age of 66 on May 20th, 2014 from Multiple System Atrophy. The photo to the right is Emily and her mother, Cynthia.

I'll close with a beautiful tribute to Cynthia written by her friend:

A Reflection by Gloria Nardi-Bell

Friday, March 10, 2017

Another Branch to Our Family So Says 23andMe!

The thought of having my DNA analyzed for a more precise understanding of what sort of mutt I am has been mildly intriguing to me. I considered doing it a while ago but I was told that the results are quite vague and to not expect any sort of real definition that can point one in a specific direction to see where their ancestors came from, so I took a pass.

But now I'm not so sure it's all that useless.

A family member recently sent his DNA off to 23andMe to see what he could find. He found a lot! I won't go into detail but what I can say is that there's another branch to our family on my father's side that none of us knew existed. It's quite cool and the photos I've seen leave little doubt that there's a connection. I hope to be able to be more specific in the near future but now is not yet the time.

My go-to road bike is a 2006 Serotta Legend Ti with 48,000 miles (77,000 km), and it continues to serve my needs well. We've been through a lot together. I'm on my 2nd set of wheels, I've worn out numerous rear clusters, chainrings and chains and I've upgraded the cranks to add a power meter, plus I've swapped out the saddle a few times. But one thing I hadn't replaced until a few days ago are the pedals. I was going into this season with some very worn pedals and I started worrying about coming unclipped due to wear. Adrian at Flanders Bros in Minneapolis was happy to get me fixed up with something more dependable for the next 48,000 miles. I've also got some new shoes on order to replace my Sidi shoes that Adrian estimates are from the early 2000s. They too have served me well. It will be nice to have my feet more firmly anchored to my bike.

I got a text from Rachel a couple days ago asking "Will you help me find a new bike? I'm thinking $250 budget". I got back on the phone with Adrian to see if he could help us out -- and he could but it was going to cost considerably more than her budget allowed. I met Rachel in Bloomington where she'd had a meeting with a prospective UMR student at my former high school, Bloomington Jefferson. We drove together to see Adrian at Flanders Bros. He was expecting us and had the bike setting out for her to take a test ride. It was love at first sight! No kidding. He had to swap out the stem for a better fit to accommodate her longer torso but he had us on our way in time to beat most of rush-hour traffic.

We parted ways at her car and I took her bike home and set it up inside. She posted a photo of it on Facebook and I commented that I was "giving it the VIB treatment". She's really excited to have her new ride and I'm excited for her. Tammy was even mentioning how she'd like to start riding her bike to the health club once the weather warms. It looks like I'll have one more bike to service but I don't mind because that's what retirement is for.

The Paper Kites have been around for several years already but their music is new to my ears, and I'm loving them, especially this song..

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Glass Talk and River Trails Church

I've done zero stained glass work this winter and I'm a little disappointed in myself for not making time for it. But it's not something I want to force to happen so I'm content to know the craft is waiting for me when I'm ready to dive back in again. I seem to have so many other things that vie for my attention -- bikes and walking, mostly. Too often I find there's not enough hours in a day for me but that's a good problem to have in retirement I figure.

We were at Grace Lutheran Church in St Paul last Saturday and I absolutely fell in love with their faceted stained glass windows that were assembled in the early '60s. Of all of the stained glass styles I like, faceted is the one that does the most for me with its bold, abstract renderings. I've never tried my hand at the style but I'd like to someday.

Here's a series of videos about faceted stained glass construction if you're interested. (I have autoplay enabled so one video plays right after the other for me; it's possible your settings aren't the same.)

This winter seems about done even though we're only in the first days of March. The long range forecast is for daytime temps mostly well above freezing. I've been fat-biking for 5 years and this is the worst of all those years as far as snow covered trails are concerned -- lots of ice but very little snow cover. I took to the trails along the Minnesota River bottoms last Sunday morning for a very enjoyable experience on mostly dried out trails. I skipped church and spent some time talking with God out among his creation. That works just as well for me. Video below.

For my fellow Zwifting friends, in case you hadn't noticed there's a new volcano route on the Watopia course for your enjoyment and pain. I stumbled onto it this morning. It's a nice addition. Zwiftblog talks about it and gives instructions for how best to find it here.

Time to go make a dent in a growler of coconut stout that the lovely stepdaughter acquired for me today! Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

She's Been Activated and I've Been a Bad Boy

I attended my first ever protest last week in front of the Burnsville office of 2nd district Congressman Jason Lewis to draw attention to his reluctance to hold a townhall meeting with his constituents so people can voice their concerns and yes, vent some anger. Between protesting Wells Fargo's support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the pipeline itself and the Woman's March in January, Tammy has been walking the walk and showing up at these protests with her signs, not content to only voice her concerns on social media and leave it at that. She's been activated. I went along with her to get a feel for what's happening at the grassroots level. I see more of this in my future as well.

We also attended a meeting at a friend's home last week to view 13th, a documentary on Netflix about the history of mass incarceration of African Americans in the U.S.. The documentary delves into post Civil War racist legislation that in effect kept many African Americans from truly living as free men and instead, still enslaved but to the states through our prisons where they were stripped of their right to vote and have a voice. It's an eye-opening film that I encourage everyone to watch, especially if you're someone who's inclined to roll your eyes at the mention of white privilege.

I've been a bad boy. I had some videos on my Vimeo channel of an Adele concert I attended with Rachel more than 5 years ago. I think I had maybe 3 or 4 of her songs on there and it was enough to get my account terminated. That was a big blow to me. There's no fighting it because I was in the wrong but still, it kinda hurts. I'll typically look to see if there are other videos of the artist present before uploading any of my own because some artists are much more strict about that sort of thing than others. Anyway, I just looked and there are no more Adele concert videos by her fans on Vimeo and I'm sure there are many fewer accounts just like mine. This whole ordeal leaves me with a bunch of dead links on my blog to videos I'd posted on Vimeo -- my preferred online video host. Fortunately I've got most of my videos backed up to my YouTube channel and I'm in the process of redirecting the links.

For the past few years I've been using a free music archive of songs from various artists as background music for my ride videos so as to color within the lines of copyright rules and that works pretty well. It's odd though because today a friend posted a song hosted on YouTube to his Facebook account by a fan of George Harrison. How is it that something like that isn't taken down? I don't get it.

I took Tammy's 2006 Subaru Forrester with only 128,000 miles on it into the shop to have a problem looked at. When making sharp turns at slow speeds there's an uncomfortable binding feeling in the front wheels. It turns out the front differential which is tied into the transmission is beginning to fail and the fix is a new transmission to the tune of $4500 -- about the value of the car if it was in good shape. That's a fix that won't be happening. We decided to kick the tires on some new cars in the Subaru showroom and ended up putting money down on a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek just like the one in the photo to the right. We won't be able to take delivery for another few weeks as it's still in transit.

We've had a tease of spring weather for the past 10 days here in Minnesota with record breaking temperatures often in the mid 50s to lower 60s (12 to 16Âșc for my metric friends). It's been nice but also concerning to many who worry about the larger picture and what's happening with climate change which is only becoming more difficult to turn a blind eye to.

We took the pups for a walk around Lake of the Isles last Sunday. They loved it but they were so filthy by the time we got back to our car.

I've been getting in some nice walks and I was out on my road bike yesterday. It's been nice to feel the sun on my face again. Our snow is gone but more is on the way beginning sometime tonight. I came so close to going out this afternoon and putting down the fall fertilizer application I missed in November but I don't want my neighbors to think I'm any more crazy than they already suspect.

And yes, for those of you who are wondering -- that's Pat Elster!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Zwift, A Slippery Solution and Reaching Out

I've pretty much given up hope for getting back on my fat-bike for the rest of the snow season due to the amount of ice on the trails. I can't recall a winter anything like this in the 5 years I've been trail riding.  I'm disappointed because I had high hopes for getting in lots of snowy miles this winter but such is life. All is not lost though because I'm actually getting in some excellent workouts on my CompuTrainer and enjoying the thrashing I receive on it more than ever now that I'm using the online program Zwift. It's both fun and effective at improving my performance.

Check this out -- this is from a recent ride I did.

The video looks a little sparse of riders but there were actually about one thousand others on the course with me. Typically there's never any lack of other riders to try and keep up with or ride off your wheel if that's what you're looking for, and I do enjoy that. There are also some structured "workout mode" features that push me in ways I don't typically push myself. The improvements in my fitness are beginning to show after a month of regular use.

As I was saying -- we've had much more ice than usual to contend with this winter. I took a spill on our driveway last month and fell flat on my back. I was hobbling around for the better part of the next two weeks afterward. I purchased some Yaktrax for a pair of shoes I keep by the front door for when I need to go out with the dogs or check the mail. I could'a saved myself a lot of pain had I bought them weeks ago and used them. I'm very pleased with the traction they give me on glare ice.

I posted the following to my Facebook page a few days ago. I'd like to post it here as well.

A beautiful moment just now. Tammy and I were sitting at a table in a common area among restaurants at Mall of America. At a table near us were 3 Muslim women -- they looked to be a daughter, mother and grandmother. Tammy went over to their table, knelt down and told each of them individually "you are beautiful in America". Their faces lit up. The younger one translated for the older woman and she was overjoyed to hear what Tammy had said. She put her hands to her chest and said "thank you". I love that about Tammy. As we were leaving she went back over to them to tell them goodbye and they each gave her a hug.

There's simply so much anti immigrant and anti Muslim sentiment in our world right now and it's wrong. Those of us so inclined need to push back and take the lead.

What I tried to convey in my words but not overly so was the way the women appeared to be so hungry for what Tammy told them. Minnesota is a friendly place for the most part but I can only imagine that the women Tammy reached out to must feel at least some amount of uncomfortableness when in public knowing there are many who oppose them being here in the U.S.. I would not want to live my life like that and neither should they have to. An approving smile or a friendly word can do so much and it costs you nothing.

And yes, Americans are likely looked down on in some parts of the Middle East. What does that have to do with anything?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

There Will Be No Step 5 For Me

For a few weeks after Trump's* election I'd have fleeting moments where it felt like I was about to wake up from a disturbing dream and all would be well -- he wouldn't actually be poised to be our next president. Whew! What a relief! We really dodged a bullet there!

But I'm still here and this really bad dream continues.

It's one thing for me to grasp that Trump* is our president and that many of you voted for him but it's a whole other thing to come to terms with so many among us who are still not flinching or voicing any reservations about his opening foreign policy blunder with his ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S. and in particular his ban on refugees. I can't get my head around that and I won't even try because to do that would be to admit that there could be a valid reason to the hyped up fear that so many are too willing to accept. John Fugelsang said it best in the meme to the left.

When I think about Syrian refugees I try and imagine those who are elderly or very young or ill -- people who are just barely hanging on without even the most basic necessities of life, and with little to no hope. What if I was among them? Or you? How in god's name are Christians of all people okay with turning their backs on these people? And so I continue to struggle, to come to terms with what just happened to this country and continues to happen to this country -- and all the while republicans and their supporters stand by and not only watch but applaud as Trump* continues his assault on our democracy and on our good name.

The Statue of Liberty is no longer worthy of the inscription at its base which reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

There will be no step 5 for me.

A friend is deactivating his Facebook account in a few days and it caused me to wonder if maybe I shouldn't pack up my tent and do the same. It's just become more depressing for me than I care to admit when I see some of the things that friends of mine are in support of; most disturbing of all being the refugee ban. (Call us crazy but Tammy and I have actually talked about how we would be happy to open our home to a refugee family to help get them back on their feet.) I've decided though to continue to keep my Facebook account active and continue to selectively speak out against nonsense when I see it because neither do I want to look back at this time in our country's history and see that I was silent. I don't think I could respect myself, but that's just me.

It's been a few years since we've been to the Lake Harriet Kite Festival but we made it back this year. Conditions were nearly ideal but I think some of the larger kites could've used more wind. Still, there was lots of color to take in and we enjoyed our time on the lake.

The blog continues after the video.

There were two CDs Tammy and I would listen to over and over again when we were dating in 1999: Marc Cohn's Burning the Daze and Collective Soul's Dosage. We never get tired of either CD and we always try and catch either act when they're in town. Last Friday night Collective Soul was here at Treasure Island Casino and we were there! It was such a fun show!

Here's two of my favorite songs from the night. Enjoy! We did.