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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

And So It Begins

It's been difficult to tune out the news of the first 5 days of Trump's* presidency, mostly because it's concerning to me and so many others the way in which it feels like we're watching the early stages of a dictator, drunk on power and cheered on by his minions who have sold their souls for a U.S. Supreme Court justice to champion their narrow view of the world. That's how I see it. It did not matter what the man said or did along the way to his coronation and I worry that the initial assaults on our basic institutions of government will matter none to these same supporters.

We've already seen a muzzling of governmental departments and a gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is especially worrying when you consider Trump's* and republicans' intent on abolishing regulations wherever they can. This is a vast overreach we're witnessing and although I'd like to think I'm not surprised by it, I am. This won't be good for the country but neither will it be good for the Republican Party. When the party is over and we survey the land that their scorched earth approach to governing has left behind, I can only hope that these same people will humble themselves enough to chip in and help rebuild what they're now in the process of tearing down.

I've never been more concerned for our country.

But all the news isn't bad. Millions of (mostly) women and some men from around the globe marched last Saturday, the day after Trump's* inauguration in protest of his presidency and the fear it is causing for those of us who support diversity, our schools, our environment, healthcare for those who until recently couldn't afford it, regulations to help prevent another economic disaster as well as regulations for a whole host of issues that lose out to man when greed is allowed to flourish unabated. And I proudly stand with them.

Tammy went with some friends. I wish I'd have gone with them but I didn't feel right tagging along. Rachel was also there among the 80,000+ strong at the capital in St Paul.

The asterisk I'm using after Trump's* name is something I decided on after seeing the controversial way in which he won. Record keepers in baseball began using an asterisk years ago to denote a record that is somehow tainted by circumstances. I intend to keep using it to signify his tainted win at the hands of a republican congress and their endless investigations of Hillary Clinton, the FBI and the way they inserted themselves into the election in its final weeks, and Russian intervention in our election. I hope others will follow suit.

I'm getting in some really nice rides on my indoor trainer using my connection with the online program Zwift. In the Watopia course there's a 7 mile climb 3 miles into the ride that increases in elevation 1670 feet for an average grade of 4.5%. I love the challenge! I was riding it two days ago and racing another rider to the top. We were both putting in strong pushes to try and shake each other but I had to finally let him go. I was gassed! Fun stuff!

I still can't get over how cool the graphics are in this program. I hope to splice together some video to show you in a future blog post.

A friend recently posted on Facebook his favorite song by The Replacements. It got me pondering my favorite from them as well. After not a whole lot of thought I remembered this song, Unsatisfied. It's full of raw emotion and I like that. It's been in my head for two straight days. It also reminds me of my brother Tim and how this was his favorite band. I have a memory of the two of us driving up to Cheapo Records on Snelling Ave in St Paul in my green '82 Mazda 626 some 25 years ago listening to their recent release, Don't Tell a Soul. Tim told me how he used to be at their concerts before they ever became well known and how he'd occasionally talk with the band members. He even wondered if their album, Tim was named after him. I told him "no way" but I was actually fine with him hanging onto his belief or dream because why not?

Here's to you, Tim.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


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!

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.