Sunday, May 31, 2020

It's Not Too Much To Ask, Is It?

I read a book a couple of years ago titled Waking Up White by Debbie Irving where she writes about her life of privilege that allowed her to ignore the hardships of others different than herself. Once realizing that she was indeed privileged, she set out to try and more clearly understand the ways in which her privilege manifested itself in her life while at the same time helping her to gain a better understanding of the struggles of others who don't share a similar privilege because of their skin color. It was eye-opening for me and dovetailed well with what has been an ongoing effort in my own life over the past dozen years or more to try and see the world through eyes other than my own. A practice that has revealed in me my own tendency to be ignorant of others' struggles.

I'm a work in progress.

Before reading Waking Up White, I already understood that my life was one of privilege but I had never taken the time to try and put myself in the shoes of someone who wasn't so fortunate, at least not in a way that challenged me. I began to wonder what it must be like to live with the heavy burden that because of my skin color, people were making hurtful, inaccurate judgments of me. It's a thought-provoking, worthwhile exercise to undertake. The problem with it, though, is that I'll oftentimes move too quickly on to other thoughts in my head and I'm back to enjoying my life of privilege. I don't think any of us who aren't a person of color can truly know what it's like to live under the never-ending specter of racial animus. It's a burden and I can't imagine what that would do to my psyche over time. It has to be demoralizing no matter how strong a person may be.

I encourage you to do the same—to try and imagine life as a person of color and under the judgment of others and what that might feel like. Unending.


I rode my bike into South Minneapolis Thursday morning to have a look for myself at the scene where George Floyd was murdered under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that led me there.

As I approached the area I slowed to a stop and observed for a few minutes before getting off my bike and slowly walking around what was a surreal scene with people quietly leaving memorials and paying their respects to George. Pedestrians traversed the intersection while people in vehicles patiently waited for a break. A few people were painting a mural of George on the south wall of the Cup Foods store that George was murdered in front of. A group of 3 men stood around a motorcycle, talking about injustices at the hands of police that they'd witnessed. A minister stood on a corner of the intersection next to me, live-streaming his thoughts to (I assume) his Facebook followers. And then, out of nowhere, it hit me and I found my heart in my throat as I stood in front of this small memorial. I had no connection to this man other than a human one yet there I was on the verge of shedding tears for him. Senseless racism had taken another one of theirs from them and I felt terrible.

Colin Kaepernick taking a knee on the football field during the national anthem in a quiet protest of police brutality was too much for many of you. Conservatives ridiculed him and accused him of being unpatriotic, never once agreeing that maybe the man has a point. He does. Peaceful protests in the streets by those standing up to the violence and marching in George's memory were met with tear gas and rubber bullets while just weeks earlier, hundreds of white protesters, some armed, gathered inside Michigan’s state capitol protesting the closing of stores during the pandemic. They were met with no violence whatsoever. I'm tired of the hypocritical double-standard that black Americans are faced with each and every day, and I'm tired of family and friends of mine who still don't get it. It's disheartening.

I spoke with the minister after his live-stream. He warned me not to go near the scene of the previous night's riots 3 miles to the east, saying there was still a fair amount of unrest there. I considered his advice but decided to have a look for myself. I figured I could approach the area slowly enough to survey it and make a determination if it was safe. It was.

I went one block out of my way to check on Glass Endeavors where I purchase my stained glass supplies. My heart sank when I saw that one of their front windows had had a cinder block thrown through it. I chatted with Zoi while she worked to clean up the mess. I prayed the shop would survive the coming nights' unrest.

I didn't see any unrest that the minister had warned me of. Instead, I found people walking around in seeming disbelief at what had become of the area. Again, I got off my bike and walked slowly around the area, surveying the damage which was extensive. The AutoZone store was a complete loss with only the front door left mostly still standing while the rest of the building had collapsed. Helpful people worked the area with trash bags picking up what they could, trying to make the best of an awful and sad situation.

The only tension I saw was from a group of people facing off against a phalanx of police, venting their anger at them. Additional police overlooked the crowd from the rooftop of the 3rd precinct police department. The building's windows had been broken out in the previous night's melee. The building would go up in flames later that night—just so unimaginable to me as I stood there in that moment.

There was more to see but I'd seen enough. I got on my bike and began the ride home, somewhat numb—my mind trying to process all I'd seen. How would this play out in the days to come? How would it end?

I have so much to say about all of this but I suppose this is enough for now. I process things best when I write in my blog and I still have so much about what is unfolding all across our country that I need to understand.

Here's a collection of photos from the 38th St and Chicago Ave intersection as well as the Minnehaha Ave and Lake St intersection.

I put together a video of my ride and some of what I saw. If you've seen my ride videos before you'll know that I typically begin and end them in the same place, be it in my driveway or a parking lot; it's my signature of sorts I suppose. It seemed to take on a different feel with this video, though, as I left my world of white privilege and traveled into the inner city, to an area of devastation and sadness before returning to the relative safety I take mostly for granted. It caused me to pause and reflect when I saw it in that light.

The people I observed Thursday morning were sweet people simply in need of respect, fairness, and justice; nothing more than what most of us take for granted. It's not too much to ask, is it?

That's all I've got.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Immigrants, and The Inaugural Heywood—Sort Of

I was up early last Saturday to participate in a ride out of Northfield (25 miles south of me), trying to get a jump on the day with hopes of completing the ride before forecast rains arrived in the afternoon. I tuned to the '70s music station on Sirius XM for the drive, curious to see if I could guess the month and year of Casey Kasem's Top 40 Countdown rebroadcast that was playing ('70's music will always have a special place in my heart). The first song I heard was "Wildfire" by Michael Murphy, number 29 of the countdown. I guessed the rebroadcast to be from either April or May of 1975 because that song (as songs sometimes do) always takes me back to a memory of sitting on the bus for the ride to school from my apartment in the spring of that year, my senior year. It's also a favorite song of mine. Sure enough, the show was from May 17th, 1975.

The number 22 song on the countdown was "The Immigrant" by Neil Sedaka—a song I hadn't heard in maybe decades.

I drove the stretch of Highway 19 toward Northfield listening to Neil's distinctive voice while contemplating the lyrics to the song, my thoughts drifting to the refugees and asylum seekers on our southern border whose stories have been mostly forgotten, overshadowed by the coronavirus that continues to loom over much of the world. Are we still that welcoming place we were led to believe we are; that shining city on the hill—a beacon for others to look up to? Were we ever?

I arrived at the parking lot near Bridge Square with the song still in my head where it would remain throughout the ride.

I accompanied Tammy to an appointment in South Minneapolis Monday morning for some minor surgery. I wasn't keen on hanging out in the hospital for the few hours she'd be there so I went for a walk along streets I was somewhat familiar with, having lived not far from the hospital when I lived with Noy in her home at 2406 13th Ave South from 1981-83 before we were married. I walked past her old house to have a look and reminisce for a moment before moving on.

My walk eventually took me to the Minneapolis Institute of Art where there was a striking display of thousands of life vests tied to the columns at the front of the building. The life vests were actual vests worn primarily by desperate refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria and Afghanistan before making the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece in 2015-16. It was a sobering display and one that brought "The Immigrant" song to the fore of my mind again to run on a loop in my head for the rest of the day.

Is turning our backs on the crisis the response Jesus would've offered? I don't know about your Jesus, but my Jesus is better than that.

I'm saddened by what's become of our country and I wonder how much longer we can keep this fragile democracy together traveling the path we've been taken down; punishing refugees and those seeking asylum; stripping away assistance for the neediest among us to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy; ignoring the rule of law and replacing experienced civil servants with grifters loyal to a corrupt, lying, destructive, and totally incompetent president. We must do better.

(This blog entry continues below)

The ride I was taking part in Saturday morning was the inaugural Heywood ride, replacing what used to be the Almonzo gravel ride. The Heywood was actually canceled due to the pandemic but at Michael's suggestion, a handful of us decided to ride it anyway, separately, as we've been doing for the past two months of Saturday rides along various routes. It was such a fun experience. I was a little concerned going into the ride not having done this distance (110 miles, 177 km) on my gravel bike. I paced myself and settled in for a steady-Eddie approach to the distance and chipped away at it while capturing some video along the way. We couldn't have asked for better weather with moderate temps and a nice breeze at our backs for the return.

A few of us met in Bruce's backyard afterward for a celebratory beer and conversation about the ride. The social aspect of our rides has been missing of late so it was nice to be able to do this in our social-distancing way. I had to laugh, though, because at one point I had to spring up out of my chair to stretch out a cramping left hamstring. Moments later, Bruce popped up out of his seat to stretch out a cramping quadricep muscle. It's the sort of pain you earn—a pain that says, job well done!

That's all I've got.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mice, Starlink, and of course, Riding

Our home has become a no-kill place for mice. We'll occasionally catch a mouse in one of our traps down in the utility room or in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. I always feel bad that the only solution seemed to be to kill them to rid our home of them. I found a no-kill trap online a month ago and it appears to work really well. I've caught two mice so far. The only improvement I'd like to see with it is an ability for the trap to send a notification to my phone when a mouse has been caught. I doubt there's much of a demand for a feature such as that but I'd pay extra for it. I try and check our traps twice each day.

Our spring season seems slow to get off the ground this year. We've had a smattering of warm days but nothing sustained. It looks like our warmer temps will arrive on Thursday for an extended stay. I made two trips to Gertens this morning to buy some hanging baskets and a few flats of flowers. I had to bring them inside due to one last night of frost warnings for tonight. Tammy and I plan to finish the remainder of our flower shopping on Wednesday. Gertens is typically very crowded no matter what time of day or day of the week we go but not so today. I would estimate 80% of the shoppers were wearing masks along with 100% of the staff. Do masks make a difference? I have to believe they do or caregivers wouldn't be so insistent on wearing them. That's reason enough for me to don one.

Have you seen the Starlink satellites, a broadband project by Elon Musk, flying overhead? They're quite cool to see although I have friends who aren't too fond of them, one of those friends being an astronomer. There are so many of them that they can be a nuisance for astronomers peering into deep space. There are several apps you can use to help determine when the next viewing in your area will be. I use Find Starlink: android and iPhone. The app will tell you where and when to look in the sky and the magnitude of brightness to expect.

Sales from my Etsy site were slow after the 1st of the year and I was expecting them to stay that way due to the downturn in the economy but I was surprised with 6 sales last month. It's about that time of year when I close up shop until next winter. But still, I'm hoping to take advantage of whatever rainy days are in store for us and add to my inventory.

We had 6 deer in our yard well before dusk one night recently. In the mix were triplets that were born last spring, still staying close to their mother. It's crazy the amount of wildlife we have in the suburbs where one would think we'd have forced them from their habitat with our presence. They love to munch on our plants and I really don't mind. I love seeing them.

After 19 years of faithful service, our water heater developed a slow leak and had to be replaced. The repairman who replaced it said the typical life expectancy for a water heater is only 10 years. We're good-to-go again.

I made it down to the trails along the Minnesota River last week for a really fun ride. It had been a few months since I was last there. Most of the floodwaters have receded leaving the trails in very nice condition. I hope to keep making this ride a regular part of my warmer weather riding and not just during the winter.

And one last video—this one from last Saturday's ride out of Northfield. It's our way of keeping our cycling group connected even though we've put our group rides on pause during the pandemic. After analyzing the forecast winds, Bruce drafts up a route for us all to ride; a route that hopefully gives us a tailwind on the return back to Northfield. Some ride the route clockwise while others ride it counterclockwise, giving us a chance to stop for a few minutes when we see another rider and chat a little while keeping our distance. These rides have become one of the highlights of my week.

Stay safe.

That's all I've got.

Friday, April 24, 2020

A Walk and a Chat

What a beautiful Minnesota day today! I'm out on the deck for the first time this year, enjoying the sounds of Mandolin Orange with Charlie at my side. And there's little to no wind for a change!

We received our stimulus payment of $2400 into our bank account last week. What's happening with the coronavirus pandemic is such a huge hit to our economy. If you trust the science behind this pandemic, this is only the beginning stages of what lies ahead. I'd have rather seen the stimulus money directed at those who were hurt by the downturn in the economy rather than to people who suffered no loss in income. This amount of money will do little to help those whose pay has been drastically cut by businesses that had to close their doors.

There is going to have to be significantly more outlay in the form of monies for those in need to carry us through this. For all of the bluster from Trump about the strength of the economy, we're seeing that much of it was merely a veneer as people are struggling to provide even the basics for their families after less than a month of unemployment. I don't know what the answers are to getting us back on track but I do know a necessary component will be voting this clown of a president and a boatload of Republican representatives out of office this November. From my perspective, they've been far more a hindrance than a help with their lack of leadership.

I golfed for the first time this year on Monday. It was nice to back out on the links again. After a few holes, the single ahead of me waved me through. I was being pushed by a single behind me so we decided to pair-up. Within the first 30 seconds of chatting with Mike (not his real name), it was clear that, by the things he was saying, he's a very conservative man. He told me that he's the lead pastor for a church of 10,000 members here in the south metro. He began the church as a bible study in 1995 with 13 people. I thought to myself, this is going to be an interesting round.

We talked about a lot of stuff and I found myself having to push back on some of what he was telling me—some blatant right-wing propaganda. He was saying it's not right that Muslims are still allowed to worship in their mosques when Christians can't worship in their churches. I said I didn't believe that was the case. He was emphatic that it was. He's wrong. Mike also talked about the Clinton Foundation and how it was nothing more than a way for them to pedal their influence around the world and that it is a sham organization. It's not. I had to remind him that it was Trump's organization that was fined for abuses. It troubled me that he'd fallen for this sort of nonsense. I would expect someone in his position to be more discerning about such things.

We talked about same-sex marriage and I told him how I'm troubled by the way the church chooses to focus on that and not the things that the majority of the people filling their church pews are involved in: namely, idolatry. We all have so many idols in our lives but they're never the deal-breakers for the church that same-sex marriage is. I was trying to mostly give him things to consider rather than getting hard answers from him in that moment—because I don't think there are good answers he could give me although I was open to hearing him out.

I recall at one point stopping Mike in mid-sentence when he was heaping praise on Trump. I said, "You know he's using you, right?" Without missing a beat he said, "But it's mutual". The thought of making a deal with the devil kept playing on a loop in my head after that remark. Somehow, I think he is missing the mark of what it means to be a Christian—as are evangelicals worldwide for that matter (in my opinion). I would love to have an opportunity to pair up with him again someday because I have so much more I'd like to convey to him.

He mentioned the names of a few controllers I worked with; Brad, Doug, and Lee—that they're members of his church. I was actually impressed that he was able to come up with those names out of a flock of 10,000. He's not a dumb man. How he chooses to inform himself in political matters would say otherwise, though. And that's what leaves me troubled—watching in real-time how Mike could be so easily swayed by lies because of a lack of discernment on his part; either that or a willingness to want to believe what he wants to believe—facts be damned! What does that say about how men with an agenda could have and likely did influence church doctrine going back to the time of Christ?

We eventually talked about other stuff and I actually enjoyed my time with Mike. He is a very nice guy and (not that it matters) a decent golfer. We're simply on opposite ends of the political spectrum. I do hope our paths cross again someday.

I was back down in the studio last week working on my most involved sun-catcher yet. I'm happy with how it turned out. It's priced quite a lot higher than other offerings of mine but it's actually a bargain for the amount of labor that went into it. If it fails to sell, I'm fine with keeping it.

We've paused our group rides out of Northfield for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. Rather than totally lose the sense of community the rides provide, Bruce has begun organizing a Saturday ride on a specified route that we all ride individually, either clockwise or counterclockwise, sharing photos of our journey with others via Facebook. It's such a great idea. I'll have to take a pass on tomorrow's ride due to some issues I'm having with the shifter for my rear derailleur on my gravel bike. I'll take to paved roads tomorrow on my road bike instead with hopes of being back on gravel next week.

The video below is from last Saturday's ride. Here's a link to the route we rode individually along with some photos.

That's all I've got.

Monday, April 13, 2020

It's Clearly Time For Plan B

When learning the art of air traffic control, many trainers like to instill in their trainees the need for a plan B in case their initial plan for separation in a given scenario turns sour. You don't want to be so locked into making a poor decision work that you fail to utilize your alternate plan until it's too late. It's sound advice. And that's where I see us today as a nation, poised to reelect the most incompetent, unfit president in our history because many of you are insisting on making your initial plan work. I get that some of you voted for Trump as a protest vote or that you're a one-issue voter and that's all that matters (I was that guy once as well). I didn't agree with your vote because it was plainly obvious to most that he wasn't presidential material but given the built-in checks and balances of our democracy, I at least expected he would be prevented from acting on his worst inclinations.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Trump has obliterated our time-tested system of checks and balances with a willing Senate and a Republican apparatus that's content to look the other way and give a pass to Trump's criminal actions in exchange for tax cuts for the wealthy and for packing our courts with a hard-right judiciary that also appears only too willing to go along with this grab for power. That's not democracy. It's authoritarian rule with a good amount of fascism added to the mix for flavor. It's not something to cozy up to or look upon with pride. You should be running from it.

I'm at a loss to understand what it is about the GOP in its present form that has people so beholden to it. They're not the party of fiscal responsibility they like to claim they are, nor are they the party of family values—not with a man like Trump leading them. They're pro-life you say? No, not when Trump has directed immigrant and refugee children at our southern border not be given vaccines and not when budgets are cut for needy and struggling families to help offset losses in tax revenue caused by irresponsible tax cuts rammed through by Republicans. How is any of that pro-life? It's been ten years that they've been tirelessly working to destroy the Affordable Care Act while offering up nothing in its place. Recall how Trump promised a new plan within a month of taking office. It was a lie. There was never a plan nor are they working on one.

I politely asked a friend recently in a Facebook discussion what it is about the Republican Party that has him in support of it. I was hoping to get him to ponder the question and while doing that, hopefully, maybe see that none of the things he once liked about the GOP still exist, if they ever did. He never responded to my question—I suppose, preferring to stick with his plan A, right into the ground.

It's clearly time for plan B.

That's all I've got.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Giving Thanks

We're doing our best to shelter-in-place here in Minnesota in our collective effort to "flatten the curve" of the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential services are still operating but most likely with reduced hours, that includes liquor stores. Plexiglass shields are showing up at grocery store checkout aisles and elsewhere to protect workers from customers who may be infected. Markers on the floor provide recommended spacing for customers waiting in line both inside and out.

My heart goes out to the millions who have been laid off from work and have no income, especially those who were barely scratching out a living to begin with. Many retirees are also hurting as their 401Ks have taken a huge hit over the past six weeks with significant losses in the stock market. The market was due for a correction but I don't think many were imagining one such as this.

I'm so impressed by those who continue to show up for work each day to keep the basic infrastructures and various other services of our communities intact. Where would we be without them? I hate to even imagine. I'm sure to always tell the person ringing up my purchases at the grocery store (or wherever) that I'm appreciative of them being there, especially during this time. How nice it would be if when this is all over and we've had some time to reflect, that we'd come to realize the important role these people play in our lives and pay them an amount that shows our appreciation and how much they're valued by us—how we're so dependent on them. We've not done that to this point.

And healthcare workers: I can't fully appreciate all they're sacrificing for us during this time—none of us truly can unless we're in their shoes. I found this Tweet from a 74-year-old doctor from two days ago to be sobering. He's risking it all to be there for others. There are tens of thousands of healthcare workers in New York alone who have answered the call to help with the crisis. These people are nothing less than heroes.

The Trump administration is failing badly as they continue to show no ability or desire to lead us through this crisis. Daily briefings for the country have turned into mini Trump rallies. People are losing jobs, losing loved ones and losing their lives while Trump stands before the nation and brags about being #1 on Facebook. Unfucking believable! But like everything else the man says, it's not true. Thankfully, some mainstream media sites have stopped covering the daily rallies (disguised as press briefings) and will only break in when there's actually information of substance worthy of coverage. I have little desire to comment any further on the imbecile in the White House. Not tonight.

I thought I had put my bikes away (for purposes of outdoor riding) for the foreseeable future last week while the pandemic plays out, worried about crashing and ending up in the ER. Some friends convinced me that I needn't do that. I reminded them that I'm the guy who actually fell asleep while riding my bike a few years ago. (Truth be told—I was on a heavy dose of prednisone at the time and sleeping very little at night.) I don't think they heard me. Anyway, I'm going to continue to ride outdoors but I won't be riding as hard as I maybe otherwise would and all of my rides will be solo. I'll be on my bike. That's all that matters.

Speaking of rides, below are my two most recent ride videos—the first one from last week and the 2nd one from yesterday.

Stay safe, my friends.

That's all I've got.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Safely Home and Silver Linings

Rachel and Holly made it home safely from South Africa a few days earlier than planned. With things changing so much with respect to international travel, we were relieved to see they made it home with no problems along the way. Rachel is doing a 14-day self-quarantine to be on the safe side in case she's been infected. That makes good sense. The screen for the COVID-19 virus when they re-entered the country was not much more than a cursory once-over. We spent 45 minutes with her on a video chat yesterday. It was nice to see her and hear a little more about her travels.

Much of our country is sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 virus. Non-essential stores are closed as are restaurants however, most restaurants are open for either carryout or curbside pickup. Paper towels and toilet paper are in short supply as is hand sanitizer. A worker in a store recently told me that manufacturers aren't taking orders from stores for hand sanitizer at this time—it's all being sent to hospitals and other care facilities.

The group of guys I ride with from Northfield has suspended our Tuesday night and Saturday morning gravel rides to lessen the chance for passing along the virus to others. It's a smart move and one I was expecting. The guys out of Lakeville that I ride with are still getting together but I won't be joining them until we're well on the backside of this pandemic. It seems an unnecessary risk.

And speaking of risks—I'm still riding outdoors. I've been toying with the idea of parking my bikes and utilizing my indoor trainer instead to remove the risk for a riding injury that may need medical help. I'd rather not burden our healthcare workers any more than they already are but neither do I want to spend time in a hospital where exposure to the C-19 virus is (I would think) higher than most other places. It's possible that once our situation here turns dier (I'm convinced it will), I'll limit myself to indoor rides. It's not nearly the same as being outdoors but they're an excellent workout.

I try not to fret about the possibility of contracting the C-19 virus but I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally think about it. Would I be one of the lucky ones (one of the 80% who would have relatively mild symptoms) or would I be one of the more extreme cases? I came across this sobering tweet last night. The main takeaway from the video for me is that if we go the way of Italy (I tend to believe we will), only 1 person in 50 who is in need of a ventilator will have access to one. That's a frightening number. Most of us know people in the at-risk category. Take a moment to ponder that 1 in 50 number while being mindful that it's a conservative estimate.

For the longest time, I try and find the silver linings in the curveballs life throws; for many, tho, there are few in this pandemic—especially for those who will lose people close to them or who won't be receiving a paycheck, and those whose businesses won't be able to survive more than a week or two of being shuttered—if that. I truly don't know how we make this work without a good dose of that democratic socialism some of us on the left like to occasionally tout. I'm sure there are silver linings to be found, tho. I've seen lots of families with their pets leading the way walking past our house the last few days and I've noticed a lot less traffic on the road when I'm out biking. I'm noticing more neighbors than ever out chatting in the quiet neighborhood streets, making sure to keep a safe distance from one another in this day of social distancing—a term I'm sure very few of us had ever heard of until recently. Those are all small silver linings. They're a start.

I finally made it back down into my studio to knock out a stained glass project this past week. I'm pleased with how it turned out. The design was something I came up with a while back but I wasn't sure if I'd take the time to breathe life into it. I'm glad I did. Here's a link to it on my Etsy site where you can see additional photos of it.

The video below is from our first (and possibly last) Tuesday Night Gravel ride of the season with the guys from Northfield. I'm hopeful we'll get the green light to begin them once again toward the middle of summer but it's anybody's guess at this point. I'm going to miss those rides!

That's all I've got.