Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vega4 and Pups Not Feeling Well

Tammy and I were back at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis last Monday night to see Augustana. It was also a chance for me to get to meet one of her coworkers: Job. Job is from Kenya and going to school here. We met at Hard Rock Cafe for a drink before taking our place in line outside the Fine Line in 14 degrees cold. Thankfully Tammy brought along a pocket full of hand warmers to help take the edge off the chill. She's usually got several packs with her whenever we're downtown and the temps are low—she gives them to panhandlers. She's been known to take those who approach her inside a McDonald's or something similar and buy them a meal rather than fueling an alcohol or drug addiction. As we stood in line Job talked to us about politics in Kenya and how his country is on the verge of major change. The old guard has become old and lacks vision and is about to be voted out in December's election. He's piqued my interest in politics other than our own.

The doors opened at eight and we made our way upstairs where we had reserved seats which came with the dinner package. Tammy didn't really intend on purchasing the dinner package but in her haste to secure some tickets online she got more than she intended. It worked out well. I don't think the Fine Line is known for their food but we were quite surprised in a good way. We only had two reserved seats but it worked out well that Job was along because there was more food than we needed and we were able to get him a seat at our table. The opening band was Vega4. Neither of us had heard of them but they put on a very good show—so good that Tammy purchased their cd. Actually, for me, they probably had the best song of the night, a song called Life is Beautiful. I hadn't planned on taking any video of them but I turned the camera on for one of their songs. I'm very glad I did.

Rachel is the one who got us listening to Augustana. I wasn't initially sold on their sound but I'm becoming a fan as their music continues to grow on me. They too put on a good show and I had their tunes running through my head for the next two days. This was my favorite of theirs: Bullets.

The roads finally cleared enough for me to get out and ride the past four days. That's always nice.

I had to take Allie into the vet yesterday morning. Both pups have been fighting some sort of digestive tract infection. We had them on some meds a few weeks ago and they seemed to be over it but they've both fallen ill again. Allie was very lethargic yesterday morning so I got her in with the surgeon whose schedule was light. She thinks that Allie may have hurt her back as her rear leg reflexes aren't as they should be. Definitely some sort of neurological issues there she thinks. She gave me a two week supply of Rimadahl to help relieve her pain and reduce any swelling. It appears to be working as she's jumping up on furniture and stuff in ways that she normally doesn't. That's got me concerned though as she could be stressing her back in ways she wouldn't if there was pain.

We love our pups, and Toby loves his stuffed animals—oh, and us too!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


To learn
To listen
To allow yourself to be
More open
More honest
And maybe hopefully
We’ll make a better world
Where oppression no longer thrives
And everyone is free
To truly own their lives
So that when our time is done
And we’ve quietly left this place
We’ll humbly meet our maker
And feel his warm embrace
Where evil resides within
Hardness follows begging sin
Dreams die in the vacuum
Love leaves
And you’re alone
Hate thrives and fears loom
Give of yourself
To those who can’t
Touch those
Who can only dream
What it is
To be you
To be me
To be free

Kevin g

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Project Concluded and a Letter From Dad

I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever get our latest project off the work table down in the shop. I've been nipping away at it the past couple weeks and finally got it wrapped up a few nights ago. We're very happy with the outcome. This was a design Tammy made for our cabinets above the kitchenette in the basement. It was a very labor-intensive project with lots of little pieces. We'll next begin working on some drawings for similar panels above our entertainment center in the basement. I've been kicking around the idea of a Frank Lloyd Wright style design with some art nouveau splashes thrown in to break it up a bit. I hope to begin doing some sketches this week. I always enjoy being down in the shop working on a project but this winter has found me out on my bike more than other winters with the warm weather we've been experiencing. On the one hand, I'm grateful for the warm days we've had to get out and ride but I'm also grateful for those forced days off when the weather won't allow me to get out and I find myself down in the shop.

I was going through some boxes of stuff today trying to find some long lost sketches and I came across a letter from my father written in October, '84. I was living in Huron, SD at the time with Noy and my stepsons, Dave and Joe. I'd apparently had a phone conversation with my dad where I expressed concern about his drinking and smoking. I'd also written him a letter and expressed some other concerns I had with respect to where I fit into the family. I would've been 27 at the time.

Within six months he would lose his job with Control Data to a company called VTC through a corporate buyout. It was a turning point in the direction of our family and forever upset whatever illusions of Cleaver innocence there may have been. My dad crawled inside a bottle and although he went through several treatment programs he was never able to overcome his addiction. At the time he lost his job my parents were in the process of drawing up plans for their dream home out in the country south of Minneapolis. The home they had in Farmington was nice and spacious on seven acres but they wanted to have one built to their specs. Anyway, those plans quickly fell by the wayside as their home went on the market and they made plans to move to the U.P. of Michigan.

My dad would live another ten years and eventually die from emphysema in September '95.

I remember what led up to the letter he wrote to me. I'd been questioning his and my mother's love for me. I don't know if this is a phase of sorts which many people in their mid-20s find themselves in. I cannot recall one time growing up where my father or mother ever told me that they loved me. I didn't have friends whose parents told them that least not in front of me. Maybe it was said when they were alone. I never got that and I'm not sure that I knew there was something missing. I think about who I am today and how I'm not shy to tell Rachel that I love her and how proud I am of her...she's my stepdaughter. If saying I love you is a learned expression I have no idea where I learned it.

In my dad's letter, he paints a picture of an awful childhood where there was little to no love and of parents who were both dead by the time he was nine. He entered his adult life with scars which never healed.

I was one of six kids somewhere in the middle. I can remember never being able to impress my dad with anything I did. I had brothers who were mechanically inclined and that always seemed to impress him. I had some artistic talents but I can't recall him ever noticing. I was an average student who never felt compelled to do any more than was necessary to keep the teachers from calling home. I had a younger brother who struggled in school and so I think most of the focus was put on him...I don't know. My parents never once inquired of me about school and how I was doing. I had friends whose parents were always on them about their homework. High school was such a waste of time for me...all I learned in three years at Thomas Jefferson was how to type. All the while though I knew that I actually enjoyed that time of my life because it was easy and I would soon be out of school and have a ton of responsibilities. I hadn't a clue as to what I was going to do next.

I'm rambling here as I recall some of my thoughts during that time of my life.

I remember approaching my parents out in the backyard when I was maybe 13 or 14 and asking if I could buy a ten-speed bike. All I'd ever had were the stingray varieties which weren't really meant for anything other than beating around the neighborhood. I wanted a bike I could go places on. My dad said no. I'd passed up a chance at an actual road bike a couple years earlier when my dad salvaged an old Schwinn from a junk pile and refurbished it for me. It was too big and none of the other kids rode a bike like that. I remember how upset he became with me when I told him in so many words that I didn't want it. He was applying the finishing touches to the project and threw his socket wrench down hard on the garage floor and said something foul. My dad didn't forget.

The only job around for a kid of my age then was a paper route but those were locked up by other kids. I remember offering the guy who had the route in my neighborhood $100 if he would sell it to me but he turned me down. That was a lot of money back then and no doubt it would have taken me a few months to pay it back but I was desperate to purchase a chance at independence. I didn't earn an allowance. My friend, Miles Harvey, used to get an allowance of $5 a week...unreal to me. Every now and then my dad would give me a couple dollars but it never amounted to much. Six kids.

Halfway through my senior year my dad's job took what was left of our family out east to Pottstown, Pa. I was given the option to move with them or stay behind and finish school. I stayed behind. It didn't take long for me to fail on my own. I was going nowhere and still had no plan or any sort of focus. My sister suggested that I enlist in the Navy. It was early December 1975 and before the month was over I would be in boot camp near Chicago. It was probably one of the best moves I've ever made. I was a kid not ready for college and lacking any sort of direction...say nothing of a lack of confidence.

I blossomed in the Navy. For lack of a better way to say it; I found myself. I knew what was expected of me and although I complained as we all did I still enjoyed my four-year enlistment. It wasn't something I wanted to make a career of but it was a place to take stock and find direction. Early on in my enlistment, I was approached by Chief Petty Officer (Doc) Johnson...the ship's Corpsman about becoming an officer. It would be a huge commitment should I choose to take the path he was showing me. It would mean a year of prep school then four years of college followed by a four-year obligation to the Navy as an officer. Should I fail or quit anywhere along the way I would have to go back and resume my enlistment where I'd left off. It wasn't even a sure thing but he told me that he could get me all the recommendations I would need to make it happen. In the end, I couldn't commit myself to the nine-year obligation...I was only 19 at the time. I sometimes wonder if I would have made the program and what would have become of my life had I taken Doc's advice. I appreciated his vote of confidence nonetheless.

At one point in my enlistment, I hadn't been home for 18 months—that's a long time to a 20-year-old. I remember thinking how great it would be to finally see my folks again. I arrived at the airport and caught a cab to a preset meeting place where I'd rendezvous with my folks. I remember asking the cab driver if it was okay if I first greeted my parents quickly and then come back and pay him. No problem. I distinctly remember feeling that I was more excited to see them than they were to see me. It didn't really matter as I was home for a month but the memory remains.

One thing that both Tammy and I do with Rachel is to sit down and get inside her head to find out what's up, to see if I can get her to tell me who her latest crush is or what plans may be in the works. I enjoy that. It's especially fun if we're doing something together and we stop somewhere to get a coffee. She's slowly becoming her mother with coffee in the morning and naps in the afternoon. Give her some coffee and she won't stop talking—it's too cute. Anyway, it was very rare that my dad or mom would ever sit down and pick my brain. I'd like to think that we had heart to heart talks when I'd come home on leave but I don't remember that ever happening. I just don't recall ever doing much of that with them. I suppose that's why I find it hard to relate to my mother in that way today. It should be a natural thing but it's so far from that. Our conversations are pretty generic without a whole lot of meaning with the exception of the falling out we experienced this past August. I won't go into that here; read further in the blog for that if you're interested.

Tammy's experience growing up was really no different and probably worse with an alcoholic father who was a full-blown drunk while she was growing up. At least my dad waited until the kids were out on their own before he self-destructed. If there is anything good which can come out of this it's that our pasts have made us more sensitive to Rachel's needs and we don't want to make the same mistakes our parents made. I want to be there for her as much as she'll let me without getting in her way. I want her to know that I'm interested in all that she does and that I'm there for her but most importantly I want her to know that she's loved.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

46,650,380 and a New Sister

Tammy's niece and her husband were over for dinner during the holidays and while they were here Pat had an incredible game on Simpson's Pinball Party. He got the high score on the machine which up until that time had been held by Rachel at 29,000.000+. I'd been nowhere near that score and seemed content to be happy with anything over 10M. Anyway, Pat comes over and racks up a score of 32M+, blowing Rachel's score out of the water. I'm scratching my head wondering why I suck so bad. I watched him play and I couldn't see anything he was doing which I wasn't. He did mention that he got a bunch of multi balls during his game and those racked his score up. So, this past couple weeks I've been playing it a few nights a week and finding my touch. I had my best game on Monday where I finished with a score just 200 points shy of Pat's machine high score. Talk about bittersweet; I get my high score ever and it's a measly 200 points less than Pat's after scoring 32,000,000. Hey, at least I got to enter my initials. This story doesn't end there though as I had the game of my life the next night when I scored over 46,000,000. I was playing out of my mind and loving it! It sucked to drain the last ball the way I did as I lost it on a rookie move, and I was so close to 50M. I made sure to tell Pat's mother-in-law so she could pass along the bad news to Pat.

Our Chia Homer has sprouts but they're not so evenly distributed. I'm rotating the thing every day so it gets even sunlight but one side is definitely doing better than the other. I think I'll give it another week and then it will have worn out its welcome. Tammy got it for me as a gag gift and didn't think I'd actually do anything with it. Hey, if she's going to take the time find it, buy it and wrap it for me for Christmas the least I can do is spread the seeds out over it and give them some water. These things do require a bit more attention than you might think. You have to water it twice a day as the head is made of porous clay and the water seeps out into the tray below. Keep it topped off or your seeds toward the top won't germinate—sort of like ours.

Tammy painted and redecorated our spare bedroom as well as our bedroom over the last few weeks. It's nice to have a new look. She's really good at that sort of thing—home projects and such. We're talking about doing hardwood floors on the main level sometime in the next year. Between the two of us, I think we can do it ourselves without too much trouble. I recall how before I met her she re-laminated her countertops in her town-home. I couldn't tell they'd been re-laminated and she did that herself. I love that about her. Like last night, for example, I've been trying to find a simple laptop stand for my laptop but what I'm looking for is no longer available. I can't even find it on the net. Some guys at work have these simple little brackets which the laptop sits on top of and allows for airflow underneath to keep it cool while also tilting the keyboard up for comfort. Anyway, Tammy has this simple idea using a wine cork and a heavy gauge piece of wire, and walla, ghetto laptop stand! I can't wait to show the guys at work.

I was on a ride the other day (another beautiful winter day with fall-like weather) cruising through Bloomington and having to wait yet again for the light rail choo-choo. It never seems to fail that I have to wait for the thing every time I pass by the Mall of America. I suppose I wouldn't mind so much if it were actually carrying people but this thing hardly has anybody on it. I had to wait for it twice this time through and I made a point of looking at how full it was; I'd guess no more than 5% for each of the choo-choos. We paid a lot of money for the thing but I'm not seeing much of a return on the investment. Maybe it will prove to have been a good investment years from now, just not yet.

Rachel has a new baby sister: Amy Nguyen. We dropped Rachel off at her dad's house last night and stopped in to see the little one. She's a sweetie for sure with long slender fingers—artists hands. She was born on Monday morning. We spent 45 minutes with them. It's nice that we've built our relationship to the point where we can enjoy each other's company. There is 15 years difference between Rachel and Amy so I'm not sure what sort of sister bonds will develop over the years. I mentioned to Rachel that when Amy is her age she will be 30. I'm sure that in the next few years as Amy grows and develops her own identity it will be fun for Rachel to spend time with her. As it is now she's not too thrilled about going to see her dad for the weekend. Amy will give Rachel a reason for getting excited about spending time there. I have no doubts that Rachel will be a great older sister.

We came home last night and watched Little Miss Sunshine. What a funny show. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family as I did you'll enjoy it all the more. Toward the end we were laughing so hard...a good belly laugh.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Life Goes On...For Us

I came into work last Sunday afternoon to learn that a fellow controller who retired last year died of a heart attack on Thursday. It really caused me to pause. Scott Clark was such a nice guy. He was 50. I wasn't a close friend of Scott's but we spent many hours in the break room laughing and passing along whatever gossip there was. On my way out of the control room tonight I noticed his obituary on the supe's desk. I had no idea he was a semi-pro tennis player or that he was invited to try out for the junior Olympic ski team in the '70s. He was also a fine controller in addition to being one of the good guys. It was nice knowing you, Scott. Another friend at work had his last day today—Dave Proehl. I hope he's able to enjoy his retirement for many years to come.

I'm working my last all night shift and will begin my new schedule next week. I used to enjoy finishing out my week on this shift but my body has been rebelling the past few months. I needed a change so I'll give the new schedule a try for the next year and see how it goes. I can always go back to what I used to work if this isn't what I hoped it would be.

Tammy and I are a bit behind the rest of you who watch, 24, but we're intent on catching up. We're into the 9th hour of season 1 and so far we're enjoying the ride. I'm terrible at figuring out what's going to happen next while she's always a few steps ahead. I really think she could write this stuff as she always knows what's going to happen, so much so that I have to tell her not to tell me what she's thinking 'cause she'll give it away.

Tammy and Rachel got me a Homer Simpson Chia Pet for Christmas. It's just now beginning to sprout. Each Christmas Tammy and Rachel give me something Simpsons and this year was no different. I can't say that I've always wanted one but now that I have it I'll make the best of it. I've been making certain to water it twice daily so the little sprouts grow to a full head of hair. It should be interesting to see what Homer looks like with hair. I'll post follow up photos.