Sunday, January 13, 2019

Homebrew, A New Addition, and Free Solo

I have a new certification: Homebrewer. I've spent the last few weeks nurturing a glass jug of homebrew in the closet of our den, making sure the temp was just right so as not to shock the contents of the fermenting cider within. Friday was bottling (and tasting) day. My yield was 8 bottles of sweetened hard apple cider, one of which has Rachel's name on it. I honestly didn't have very high hopes that it would be very palatable but it's actually not bad at all. I would like to give it a go again in a few weeks but first I think I want to take a class in homebrewing because I think there's more I need to know than what I was able to glean from the directions in my starter-kit to more fully enjoy the experience and get the most from it.

I've added a new bike to my stable of bikes. I've been wanting a gravel bike since last spring when I noticed how much harder I was having to work on my fat-tire bike to keep up with others on their gravel bikes during the Miesville 56 ride. That it's a more difficult slog on a fatty is a given and I was good with that but something clicked inside me when I began thinking of lengthier rides I could do on gravel roads, away from the more traveled highways I'm typically on. Plus, gravel group rides are becoming quite popular, and I occasionally enjoy the company of others out there. Not always, but sometimes.

I began my search last spring at Angry Catfish in Minneapolis but nothing I saw there really grabbed hold of me and said, "take me with you!" I continued my search online to see what else was out there. That's when I came across this review and another for Giant's new gravel bike. It was everything I was looking for (and more). I pretty much stopped my search at that point.

I've been working with Todd at Michael's Cycles in Chaska and he phoned me two days ago to tell me that my long wait for the beauty pictured to the right (and in this video) was over and that I could come in and pick it up. They're just now beginning to make it to local bike shops after a bit of a delay in shipping them. I'm waiting on a few accessories -- a mount for my Garmin cyclocomputer and a Dinotte LED light for the rear (and for the side roads to lose their ice) before I jump on it for the first time but I anticipate I won't be waiting much longer.

Switching gears.

I was perusing a bike forum (what used to be the Serotta forum) a few months ago when I came across a thread titled, "Climbing Devils Tower". Tammy and I have been to Devils Tower a few times and have watched with amazement the oh-so-tiny people scaling the mountain, so I clicked on the thread to have a look. I was surprised to see that there were several users of the forum who had climbed Devils Tower in addition to some even more difficult climbs. I found the thread to be fascinating reading. It was around the same time that the movie Free Solo was being shown in limited screenings across the country.

The thread on the forum piqued my interest in rock climbing, and I was exposed to a new world of jargon: what are off-width climbs and multi-pitch climbs, and what is the difference between a 5.7 and a 5.1 climb? It all seemed so fascinating to me but I was pretty certain while reading about it that all of it will have to wait until my next lifetime. Or does it have to? I came across this link where you can show up as a novice and after two days of instruction be ready to climb Devils Tower on the third day. Seriously? I never would've guessed that but after poking around a little more online I found videos (an example) that seem to make it look somewhat doable.

In my week's long study of rock climbing back in October, the most compelling thing I watched was a 60 Minutes episode about Alex Honnold (embedded below), the man profiled in the film, Free Solo. I'm not sure there are many riskier endeavors than the sort of climbing he does, but to listen to him explain it, he's certain of his ability to the point that the entire climbing experience is one where he's in a calm state of being. I just don't know that I could ever control my nerves to that degree. I'm quite sure I couldn't.

I'd sort of stopped thinking about rock climbing and moved on to other things until talking with Rex a few days ago over a beer at Celts in Farmington. He'd seen the film Free Solo and was telling me how awesome it was. He later sent me a text to let me know that the movie was playing at the IMAX theater in Apple Valley but not for much longer. Tammy and I went to see it that night. It was so well done; at times funny, and at times riveting, and always captivating. We both loved it!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Disturbing Dream and 2018 By The Numbers

I've been having some wild dreams lately. I had a recurring dream last night, a dream I haven't had in several years, and each time I experience it, I'm left wondering if there's something in my life that I'm neglecting. It started out with me standing by the side of our home, looking up at an airplane that had lost its wings. It was using an engine on its tail to thrust it forward in an erratic way. I watched as it flew out of control, certain it would crash at any moment. A helicopter appeared next to the doomed aircraft and hovered overhead. My neighbor, Tom, a pilot for Delta was watching with me.

But then something else caught my attention. I noticed a trap door in our front flower garden that led to a lighted room beneath the garage. I realized then that my dog Sparky was down there and that I had forgotten about him. I last said goodbye to Sparky (in real life) in 1983 when I moved to Huron, SD and I couldn't take him with me. In my dream, it had been months since I'd checked on him and I felt terrible that he'd been neglected for so long. The dream always leaves me feeling profoundly sad that I could do such a thing and that a being so dependent on me was left to suffer.

I took a week off from stained glass work during the holidays but I'm back at it again. I finished this piece last night. It's been a while since I've done a similar panel and I wanted one to add to my inventory. It's a little on the spendy side for a sun-catcher but I'm happy leaving it to sit on my site until the right person comes along. I think I'll work on some lesser expensive pieces over the next week.

I was pleased with my miles both down in our basement and out on the road in 2018. I track meaningless stuff. It's just what I do. 2018 by the numbers:

Cycling: 5138 (8269 km)
Walking: 398 (641 km)
Walking with our pups: 268 (431 km)
Golfing miles: 229 (369 km)
Elliptical: 34 (55)
Rower: 8 (13)

I neglected both my elliptical and my rower but I hope to improve on those numbers in 2019. Strava (an app I used to help track meaningless stuff) puts together a nifty year-end summary. Click!

I've been riding indoors during the winter months for nearly 39 years. I never could've imagined when I was riding my first set of rollers after returning home from my enlistment in the Navy what indoor riding would one day become. I love it! And it's great training!

I lined up with 2269 others this morning on the island of Watopia for the first stage of the Tour de Zwift challenge. I gave it all I had for a little over an hour and it left me with an endorphin high that lasted for hours after the race (it's technically just a ride but tell that to the vast majority of us pushing as hard as we can). That was my first experience taking part in any sort of group ride on Zwift. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I also pushed harder than I otherwise would have. Win-win!!

That's all I've got.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Life Phases and a New Hobby?

Over the past several months I've become somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of how fast my life is passing by. It's kind of disturbing. Weeks, months, and years fly by like I'm in some sort of time warp. I think in terms now of how many more years of mobility I have left to live the active lifestyle I enjoy. It's not something I take for granted. Do I have 15 more years? 20? Maybe 25, tops? All I know for certain is that whatever amount of time remains in this active phase of my life, it's going to pass much too quickly. Now, more than ever, I have a difficult time sitting still for very long and watching my remaining time here slip away at a pace that saddens me. I've got at least a dozen books I'd like to read but I tell myself there will be plenty of time for reading in my next phase of life. It's come to that.

We've been enjoying a mild winter in the Minneapolis area. I'm not complaining but I wouldn't mind some snow and cooler temps to make for decent trail riding. The temp inside our insulated garage has been hovering at around 40ºf (4.5ºc) on its own with no help needed from our ceiling mounted electric heater -- yet.

We had Drew's (Rachel's boyfriend) family over last Saturday. It was nice to spend some time together, getting to know them more. They're good people. And our downstairs got to see some action for a change. Since Rachel went off to college it's been a little quiet down there with the exception of my time spent there for workouts and stained glass work. We all enjoyed ourselves.

Over the past several years, Tammy and I have made a point of downplaying the Christmas celebration. Where it's most noticeable is in the lack of Christmas decorations both inside and outside our home. It probably takes us no more than a half hour to decorate our small tree and hang a wreath outside on a permanent screw to the right of our front door. No more Department 56 village displays or other touches of Christmas that in years past seemed to become an unwelcome guest after a few weeks. And I no longer do an outside light display. I missed it the first year without it but I quickly got over it when I realized how much work I was putting into setting up the display and taking it down.

Tammy and I did exchange a few gifts. The gift from her that I like most is my Northern Brewer Hard Cider making kit. It was a total surprise. I spent some time Thursday going over the information and getting it up and running. I'm intrigued by it and the idea of experimenting with different blends of fruits to create different flavors of cider. I've got it set up in a closet in our den. It appears to be fully engaged in the fermentation process. Tammy ordered the kit online but didn't notice that the company is located in St Paul, less than a 25-minute drive from home. We stopped in there yesterday to check out what else they have. It's an impressive little shop. I'm quite sure we'll be back.

I remember how my mom used to make balloon wine in the late '60s. She would set her gallon jug(s) out of the way in the basement with whatever ingredients she was using to make the wine. She would place a balloon over the jug's opening and once the balloon had inflated and then deflated through the fermentation process, the wine was ready to drink. I have no idea how palatable it was but I think she mostly enjoyed the anticipation of what her efforts may produce. Sorta like how I feel about making my hard-cider. I haven't enjoyed a Christmas gift this much since Rachel bought me an ant farm several years ago!

That's all I've got.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Finding My Etsy Stride and a New Addition Coming Soon

If this mild weather continues, we may be back to a snowless landscape by the end of the week. I prefer the look of snow rather than the browns of the alternative during the winter months but I'm content either way. Not having to muck out the garage floor from the snow melting off our vehicles is a bonus.

I took advantage of today's warm temps (40º f / 4.4º c) to put on my walking shoes and do my Orchard Lake loop. It's an 8.7 mile loop that I do in around 2 hours -- a little longer if I'm stopping to take photos. It felt nice to have the sun on my face. I saw this little guy working his way across the sidewalk and it had me wondering, what do caterpillars do during the harsh winter months? I looked online and came up with this: "They find a protected place to rest and enter a type of hibernation called diapause, where their body functions decrease and their growth pauses until they wake. Many wrap themselves in leaves or other organic matter, holding it in place with silk for extra protection." That's about what I figured. The little fella was out for a stroll on a beautiful afternoon, just like me.

I've been selling my stained glass artwork on Etsy for a little over a year. I was telling Tammy when I started out that I wasn't going to be discouraged if it seemed I wasn't finding an audience for my art right away and that I'd give it at least a year. So, here I am, one year later -- how am I doing? I've found homes for 21 of my smaller panels and for 1 of my larger panels. I'd say it's been a success. I'll keep at it with hopes that I'll have even more sales in the coming year, but honestly, I just love engaging the creative side of me. It's a bonus that others like my work enough to purchase it. I've got a package by our front door heading out to Broadalbin, NY tomorrow containing the piece in the photo to the left. I do my best to get orders out in the mail the same day I receive them.

Rachel and Drew took us to see a Minnesota Wild game Thursday night. I used to love to follow hockey when I was young but that was long ago. I couldn't even tell you any of the Minnesota Wild players names but we enjoyed ourselves. They were scored on in the first minute of play but that was the only goal they would allow. They won 5-1. And the crowd went wild!

It had been more than 25 years since I'd been to an NHL game and that was at the old Met Center when I took my father to see his last game. I didn't realize how poor of health he was in. The walk to our seats took a lot out of him. I recall him having to stop to catch his breath along the way due to his emphysema. My father was from Canada where following hockey was in one's blood. He was on a business trip in the '70s and on his flight was the Minnesota North Stars team. He had a small notebook that he had the players pass around and sign their names in. He gave it to me and I somehow lost it. He asked to see it years later and I couldn't find it for him. I felt bad.

I'll soon have another bike in my stable. I put money down on a gravel bike at Michael's Cycles in Chaska. My choice was a Giant Revolt Advanced Zero. It's a really sweet bike and it checks off all of the boxes I was wanting it to: carbon fiber throughout; disc brakes, and Shimano Ultegra components, all at a very reasonable price. I hope to have it in the next few weeks. If the weather continues to be mild, you can find me on gravel roads within a 50 mile radius of home.

That's all I've got.



Friday, December 7, 2018

A Slowing Toby, Goodbye Aunt Joyce, and a New Family Member

It was two years ago today that Allie left us. That was such a sad time. Toby (Allie's littermate) is coming up on 15 years 4 months. His hearing is mostly gone and his vision is very limited but he seems content. I know his time with us is short. He's reluctant to go walking in the colder temps but when I last had him out about 10 days ago with Charlie, he led us in a run most of the last tenth of a mile home. It's been nearly a year since we've done the Fleet Farm loop (as I refer to it) on our walks and I'm fairly certain he'll never do it again. It was a favorite walk of Toby's because the roads that took us by Fleet Farm added an extra mile to our walk. I always let Toby lead us and I would smile when he'd tug at his leash to take us across Jonquil Trail in the direction of the roads that would take us by Fleet Farm. He knew exactly what he was doing. He would come home, drink his fill from his water bowl then splay out on the wood floor, panting with his tongue hanging out with a smile on his face that left no doubt, he was one very content boy. How I miss those days with him and for him.

We keep a diaper on him now while he's in the house because he's prone to piddling whenever the urge strikes him. Tammy found them online and they work great. We place an absorbent pad inside the diaper wrap and allow him to roam the house as he pleases.

Tammy's aunt Joyce passed away last Saturday. Joyce was a favorite aunt of Tammy's and she would regularly make trips into St Paul to spend time with her. Joyce taught her the art of making lefse and krumkake. The photo to the right is from one year ago. Making lefse was a yearly tradition they would do together going back at least ten years. She would've been 90 on New Years Day. She will be missed.

Tammy and her mother both celebrated birthdays on Wednesday. Elaine turned 93, I think Tammy turned 30-something (insert smiley here). We met Rachel at the nursing home where Elaine is a resident. We visited with her for a while before going out for lunch. Her Alzheimers continues its march forward. I can elicit an occasional smile from her but I can no longer say it's because she recognizes me. She's a favorite among the staff at Trinity Care in Farmington, just a 20 minute drive from our home. We couldn't be happier with the staff there and the care she receives from them. Tammy is there for a couple hours at least 3 to 4 days each week.

Speaking of making lefse -- Tammy has enlisted me to help her in the kitchen when she gears up for the production. It's actually a lot of fun. I mostly just handle the griddle, leaving the more difficult work of rolling out each lefse to her. We agreed that I'd try my hand at the last ball of riced potato to see if I could do it. I did just fine.

We have a new member in our household -- a Roomba! And what fun! Honestly, I could stand and watch the little vacuum do its thing for hours. Think I'm kidding? It's an amazing little bit of technology that I absolutely love.

I made it to the river bottoms for Global Fat Bike Day last Saturday. We had about 30 people in our group. The weather and trail conditions couldn't have been better. Lots of fun as always!

That's all I've got.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Catching Up

My blog has fallen in priority as I've been spending most of my time down in my shop working on stained glass projects. One would think that making an entry in a blog would be a quick 30-minute exercise but it's not. At least not for me -- not usually, anyway. But here I am, determined to make an entry of some sort for future reference.

I began a rather large stained glass project for Bryan and Sue last spring after we'd returned from visiting them in Oregon. They had a decades-old, wood framed stained glass panel hanging in the sidelight of their front entry which has a few cracked pieces of glass. I offered to remake the window, figuring it would be just as easy to simply redo the entire panel rather than repairing it. They told me it wasn't necessary to copy the existing panel and to feel free to do whatever my heart desired for the space. And so I did.

I came up with plans for a 3-part panel but I didn't share the design with them, wanting it to be a surprise. I started work on it back in May but soon shelved it for the warmth of the outdoors and the many distractions that awaited me there -- until a few weeks ago when I was ready to commit to bringing it to life.  I completed the project and entrusted it to Colleen at FedEx in Lakeville to package it and send it safely on its way. And safely arrive it did! A photo from the inside looking out and outside looking in.

Since clearing off my work table I've been busy creating some stained glass sun-catchers for my Etsy site, trying to get my inventory up for people in search of gifts for holiday giving. I was able to knock out 3 of them this past week (here, here, and here) but I sold 5 so I have a net gain of -2 for the week. Tracee was kind enough to account for 3 of the 5 that sold. It's been so nice being down in the shop again. I love the ability to lose myself in a project for hours at a time. I plan to add several sun-catchers to my Etsy site each week in the coming weeks before Christmas.

I had to purchase a new indoor trainer for my bike. Since upgrading my MacBook to the Mojave operating system a couple months ago, my CompuTrainer no longer plays well with Zwift, the online program I ride with. The smooth graphics I was used to seeing had become choppy -- useable but not what I need. The techs at Zwift have tried to find a workaround for me but haven't been able to. They think the problem is with the drivers within my CompuTrainer's program and its interface with Mojave. So, I pulled the trigger on a Wahoo Kickr Core a few weeks ago and have been more than pleased with it.

I've listed my CompuTrainer online to try and find a new home for it but so far I've had no luck. I lowered the price to $190 tonight and would be happy to go even lower if there's anybody interested. FYI- it requires a Windows-based operating system to do the initial calibration each time you ride it. Here's a link (for those on Facebook) where you can see the ad. And here's a link to a video I made about how the CompuTrainer works.

I've been listening to Rachel Maddow's Bag Man podcast. It's fascinating listening and possibly quite relevant to our times. Here's a quick preview with links in the description for where to find the podcast. There are 7 half-hour segments but only 5 of them have been released so far.

Tammy and I changed out the fairy garden scene at Trinity Care Center where her mother is a resident. Tammy is really good about keeping it relevant to the season. I tagged along to help out. Before and after.

Charlie has about the biggest appetite of any living creature I've ever seen. I have to tie him up in the morning when I feed him so he doesn't hurry over after he's finished his bowl of food to help Toby with his. Tying him to the leg of a chair works okay but Tammy came up with something even better. She found a bowl at PetSmart that prevents your pet from being able to devour their food so quickly. It's a hit! And Charlie doesn't seem to mind the extra effort. His feeding time has gone from 3 to 4 minutes to something closer to 10, and Toby gets to eat in peace. Win-win!!

That's all I've got.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Routines Are Good

My day usually begins anywhere from 5:30 to 7:00 when Toby wakes up and lets me know it's time. His most effective method for waking me is a fake sneeze that sounds like the real deal, but I know it's not. We head downstairs and I let the pups out, standing with them in the front yard while they do their business. The occasional coyote or fox are enough of a threat that I don't like to leave them unattended. We go inside and I turn on the gas fireplace in the sunporch to take the chill out of the air so it's toasty warm when Tammy comes down a half hour later. The pups prance at my feet while I fix their main meal of the day.

I reach over and flip on the TV to Morning Joe to get a recap of the previous day's happenings. I like my news shows to offer a variety of opinions from people across the political spectrum, and Morning Joe does that. During commercial breaks, I'll switch to some of the other competing morning shows to see what they're discussing. Two minutes of Fox and Friends is all it takes to confirm that they're still nothing more than hard-right propaganda (not that I was expecting anything less). Their man-in-the-field from somewhere deep in Mexico this morning was reporting that the caravan of asylum seekers working their way toward the U.S. on foot was traveling at the rate of 200 miles (322 km) per day and will be arriving at our southern border in San Diego in one week to ten days. That's impressive! I couldn't do that on my bike, much less walking while carrying a toddler. I think to myself, how dumb do they think their viewers are?

While the pups devour their mix of dry food and refrigerated food, I'll typically have a bowl of cereal or I'll thaw out a frozen breakfast sandwich (90 seconds on level 3 in the microwave followed by 45 seconds on high) and a glass of OJ or milk to wash down my daily dose of meds and vitamins. I almost always wake up with a song on repeat running through my head: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears was today's offering. This has been a favorite of mine for the past 10 days or so since posting this video to my Facebook account.

Routines are good and this is my routine.

Usually, I'll have an idea for how I want to fill my day but not always. I like to get my workout done in the morning but since I have no afternoon shift at work to be mindful of, I'm content to take it slow for the first hour and see which way my day wants to unfold on its own. The past few days I've been good about getting down on my indoor trainer and knocking out my workout along with a few thousand others on Zwift before noon. Yesterday's ride was London's Triple Loops course -- a favorite of mine that starts out flat and fast but makes up for it in the last half with a good amount of climbing.

My OCD is such that I typically need to try and get up every last leaf before the snow begins to fall but I seem to have been caught off guard this year. I was going to vacuum up leaves one last time but a covering of snow has descended on us and unless I can get out there before Tuesday (our last compost pickup of the year), the leaves will remain until spring. The long-range forecast has us well below freezing until the middle of next week so it's not looking good.

I took some time to change the oil in my mowers and give them a bath after I finished mowing/vacuuming last week. That simple act will help to assuage any lingering nags about a leaf-free yard. For those scoring at home, my final tally for the year was 63 bags of leaves!

The midterm elections are over and Democrats made some impressive gains across the country. That's a good thing but it's not enough, not when I ponder the fact that there's still half of the country out there that supports this most corrupt administration and is content to put party over country. But the winds are changing and what has been a strong headwind has undeniably diminished some.

Tammy and I attended a protest at the Capitol in St. Paul last night with several hundred others who showed up in a light snow to protest Trump's* firing of Jeff Sessions and the (likely illegal) appointment of Matt Whitaker to take his place and oversee Mueller's investigation. It's estimated that there were 900 such demonstrations across the country last night by people who truly care about our democracy.

That would be us.

Time to get on with my daily routine and see what course I'll be riding on Zwift.

That's all I've got.