Sunday, August 26, 2007

Financial Planning, the Fair, Lost in Hate and Rolling Into 50

Tammy and I met with a financial planner last week to get an idea for where we are in positioning for our pending retirement in six years. It's not cheap to have them do an assessment for us but failing to make the proper decisions now can be much more expensive in the long run. We met with Bridget for over two hours while she gathered all sorts of information about us. Not just the basic things you'd expect but a lot more including our philosophy about investing, saving, spending and how we prioritize our financial commitments. We'll meet again in a couple weeks and go over her recommendations for us.

We made it out to the State Fair on Friday. The traffic was gridlocked three miles from the fairgrounds but that's just all a part of the experience so you take it in stride. It was Rachel's 16th birthday and rather than have a bunch of friends over she told us early on that she'd be happy with a couple tickets to see the Goo Goo Dolls and Lifehouse at the fair with Grant. It was Grant's first concert and even though they had seats toward the back with a pole obstructing their view they still had a great time. Young love.

Tammy and I spent our time crisscrossing the fairgrounds checking out the stuff we normally check out. Of course, we had to disagree with the ribbons given out for the different categories of artwork submitted in the Fine Arts building. I don't think we're enlightened enough to understand why a clay tea strainer which looks like something a ten-year-old created should win a blue ribbon while next to it sits a beautiful etched piece of blown glass with not even an honorable mention. Repeat that a half dozen or more times and you get the idea.

We stopped by the WCCO studios where there were eight stationary bicycles set up to act as generators to help power the news program. When I started pedaling around 8:30pm they were only 4% on their way to having enough energy stored to power the 10:00pm news. My guess is they didn't make it. There were power meters on the bikes recording your output and the number of watts stored. I had fun trying to make it look like I wasn't working very hard when actually I went anaerobic after 60 seconds. I had accumulated the necessary 500 watts in four minutes to earn a T-shirt but my quads felt like bricks. It's those random things you do at the fair which make it interesting and fun.

Our next stop took us in the direction of the Leinie Lodge. We had no idea who was playing but as we got closer I could hear the distinct voice of Dennis DeYoung, former lead singer for Styx. We'd seen his show a couple summers ago at the Taste of Minnesota and really enjoyed it. It didn't look like there were any seats left but Tammy found us a couple. It was so nice to get off our feet. I didn't think the show was as good as the last time we'd seen him. He's got a theatrical side and a rock side. I was hoping to see more of the rock side but what do you want for free? Here's a small bit of video I shot. Please excuse the audio as my digital camera sucks for sound. Not nearly as nice as my Sony Handycam.

It was a long day and we were spent by the time we got home but I can't remember when I've had more fun at the fair.

We're looking at adding a deck off the back of our home. We had a guy from Home Depot come by our house Saturday morning to give us an estimate. I always figured that a deck would be something I'd do myself but so far it hasn't happened. He had a couple of promotional offers which took $1000 off the price in addition to 12 months of no payments or interest. We signed an agreement but as soon as he left I got hold of Dan (who finished our basement) and asked him if he'd come out and give us a bid. He'll be by tomorrow. We have until Wednesday to cancel out of the contract with HD. I think we'll probably save some dollars aside and have Dan do the work for us next spring.

While waiting outside for the guy from Home Depot to arrive there was a plane circling overhead at what looked like the minimum altitude of 1000 ft. I waved to him and he rocked his wings to acknowledge me. I got my camera figuring it was a neighbor and that I could email him the photo. I've yet to learn who was buzzing the neighborhood but the tail number did give me a thought. The Powerball was up to 200+ million and I figured I should play some variation on the plane's number. One dollar is a pretty cheap price to pay for a dream. Okay, three dollars. So much for my thought.

I heard from a friend (possibly former) this past week via email. Mark (not his real name) used to own a shop in Minneapolis where for years I bought supplies. We disagreed about nearly everything political but that was never an issue until he made it one three years ago. He's your typical Bush hater. He'd email me the usual stuff the left puts out about what it means to be a Republican. Some nasty stuff painted with a very broad brush. I always wondered how it was that a homophobic Republican such as myself could have several gay friends including Mark. It was disappointing to watch him morph into this person who could talk of nothing other than his hatred for Bush or anything conservative. He used to be a happy person but by the time we stopped communicating there wasn't much happy about him.

Anyway, Mark sent me an email last week about the 35W bridge collapse and how I need to email my senator and tell him blah blah blah blah. I wrote Mark back and told him it was nice to hear from him again even if it was just to rail on about city hall and I asked him how he was doing. You would think he would avoid the negative stuff which caused the rift between us but he picked up right where we'd left it. Some snippets from his email...

So now every day is my own to do whatever I like. Our house was paid off last year and we are debt free. I have not done any stained glass work since closing the shop over a year and a half ago. Don't really miss it either. The gardens here are great. We water quite a bit and with global warming so out of control I suppose things will only get worse. Have you noticed that the trees have started to die here in MN? Look for big old Cottonwoods that have died this year. I have noticed that several Birch trees and Pines have also not survived the summer. Perhaps we are entering the beginning of the Apocalypse? The death of the trees is one of the signs of the end of times in the Bible.

So that is what I have been busy with. Perhaps I will look for a job when the economy turns around? With the stock market crashing every few days and the housing market in the toilet, who knows when things will turn. You know things are bad when mortgage companies are filing for bankruptcy. Oh well, with the start of the Apocalypse, I may not have to worry about every going back to work. I kind of like this having every day off thing.

It's difficult to say. Maybe he was saying all this in jest but I don't think so. I think he's still stuck in the hate-Bush mode from hanging around too many like-minded people and visiting too many of the hate-Bush websites. Not that I'm a Bush lover—I'm not. If you could only see what his administration is doing to the FAA I work for. But such is politics.

I was hoping to get out and do a long ride on my birthday yesterday but that didn't happen—not with the guy from Home Depot coming out in the morning and a lawn to be mowed. But I was able to get away for a couple hours late in the afternoon. It was a nice ride and I took some time to contemplate 50 years on this earth and how thankful I am for my my health, family, and my life. I pulled over to the side of the road at 7:05 (50 years to the minute from when I was born or so I thought) to call my mom and leave a message for her to thank her for giving me life.

When I got home from my ride Tammy had a message for me from my mom. I was 31 minutes early in my phone call to her. I was actually born at 7:36pm at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Farmington Hills, MI. The doctor who delivered me was Joseph Watts. I weighed 7lbs 14oz and was 19.5".

I don't know how 50 years is supposed to feel but I would never have guessed it would go by this quickly.

An update on the We Power stationary cycling event at the fair...

(WCCO) With the effort of many fairgoers, WCCO-TV was able to use pedal power to broadcast our 'We Power' newscasts.

The numbers we're added up Tuesday -- 3,710 people biked -- many more than were expected. WCCO-TV had planned on powering three newscasts, but fairgoers made enough energy for a little more than four.

I was very surprised at the number of people who wanted to come out and do it," said WCCO General Manager Susan Adams Loyd.

Most people earned a t-shirt and one woman biked enough to earn 13!

The speed record was 4 minutes, but the award for heart may have gone somewhere else.

One woman was bound and determined to get her t-shirt and she was on the bike for 90 minutes," said WCCO engineer Mike Dorschner.

Dozens of WCCO employees worked for five weeks to plan 'We Power.' There were a few times Dorschner was afraid it might not work, but it went off without a hitch.

"We powered essentially everything out there that was involved with the newscast. We powered everything in the truck, the video switcher, the audio board, all of the lights on the stage, the monitors, the sound systems, the cameras," Dorschner said.

In the moments leading up to the first ever human powered newscast, WCCO anchor Don Shelby said he's never been more excited.

"This is the perfect, perfect example of how you can use alternative energy to do something you never thought you could do before," he said.

In total, almost 27 kilowatt-hours of energy was made -- enough to power an average home for one day.

"I'd like to think that we were creating history here in the sense that, yes, we tried something that's innovative and also challenges people about how they consume energy and how to provide alternative means of energy in the future," said Loyd.

The record time was 4 minutes...hmmm...I wonder if that could've been me?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Turning 50

Okay, I admit it, I'm having difficulty accepting that I'll soon be 50. I never experienced this when I transitioned into my other decades so why now? I think I've always associated people in their 50s with those on the other side of life. That side of life where people are more often described as crotchety than effervescent. Where they're (thankfully) less inclined to drive while using a cellphone but more likely to drive for miles with their turn signal on. If they still have a VCR it's likely blinking 12:00 and if they're online they're probably using AOL—the internet on training wheels. I don't want to be lumped in with that group.

I know that what I just wrote is totally unfair but isn't there a hint of truth to it? I'm not saying I'm hip or even cool. I'm just saying that I'm still the same person I was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago—really. As I said, I'm having a difficult time grasping this new age I'm becoming. I admire my uncle Don. We were out to see him a few years back and he was still driving the heavy traffic on the freeways in Oklahoma City. He was very active for a man in his mid-80s with no signs of slowing down although I'm sure he could tell you of a few aches and pains. I hope to age as he has.

Tammy took me to Jax Cafe' in north Minneapolis for an early birthday dinner last night. How come I didn't know about this place? What a nice restaurant. It just vaulted to the top of my list of favorite upper-end places to dine. We sat out on the patio with its incredible ambiance, right next to the trout stream. After dinner we went across town to a jazz club called the Artist's Quarter in St. Paul to listen to the music of Irv Williams. Irv's music was a bit melancholy for us so we only stayed for one set. I like my jazz a bit more jazzed. Any time we get out together for a night on the town is a nice time.

Speaking of birthdays—Toby and Allie turned 4 yesterday! I love those little guys!!

I was on my bike a couple days ago and I had what can only be described as a spiritual moment. I was coming down a hill on Hwy 45 north of Jordan. I'd never traveled this road before and wasn't sure what to expect. Without getting all weird, let me just say that the beauty of God's world stood out in ways that it often doesn't. I thought to myself that this is why I ride. It wouldn't have done any good to have my camera as it couldn't have captured the moment.

I find myself moving into a more conservative approach toward my riding; yeah, I'm getting older. There isn't any way I can ask another 9000+ miles from my body this year as I did last year and expect to keep riding into my 60s and 70s. So, I've decided that the only smart thing to do is to shoot for a number which allows me to ride with noticeably fewer aches. I think that number will be between 6500 and 7000 miles. That's still a lot of riding and allows me more time to do other stuff, like rollerblading. I'm considering getting back into blading as I always liked that workout but somehow fell out of it. I think I quit in favor of more bike time. I don't remember. Tammy isn't sure that rollerblading is such a good idea as she thinks it could aggravate my knee. She may be right. I'm still undecided.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Project Complete, Collapsed Bridge and a Little Americana

My two week vacation is over but I'm not all that sad about it because it also means that two weeks of having our home in a state of upheaval is also over. We wrapped up our flooring project and got everything put back in place so now it's time to relax...not I said, I'm back at work today. I suppose this has been what is referred to as a working vacation.

The guys from Above All Hardwood Floors in Prior Lake did a great job for us. I don't think there's any way Tammy and I could have done anything near this nice had we done the work ourselves. I can't get over the difference the wood floors make in the richness of the rooms. We're very satisfied with the outcome.

I chronicled the project on video for my YouTube account and spliced the scenes together tonight. You can find the video here

I ventured on my bike into Minneapolis on Wednesday in an effort to try and get some photos of the collapsed bridge on 35W. I didn't have much success in getting very close to the bridge as they've got a tight perimeter set up around it. I could get within a quarter-mile at some points but there wasn't much to see. Every intersection along the perimeter had between 1 and 3 police sitting on lawn chairs to keep people out. I thought it was overkill but what do I know?

The fall of the bridge will most likely work to the advantage of those who would seek to raise taxes to pay for improved roads. I'm not necessarily opposed to that but I have to wonder if the money we spent on light rail may have been better spent on improving what was already there?

We experienced a bit of Americana Thursday night while taking in the demolition derby at the Dakota County Fair. I remember 3 years ago when I had to convince Tammy and Rachel that it would be a fun thing to do. They didn't believe me but they humored me and went along anyway. They had a blast and we've been going ever since. This year Rachel brought her boyfriend, Grant and they even sat with us. It was a fun time. I hope Grant didn't think I was too nerdy with my video camera but YouTube had no good videos of the derby. They do now! The compact cars were the best.

We hung around after the show and put all sorts of junk food into our bodies in an effort to make them stronger. That's my theory anyway...eating junk food makes your body stronger than healthy food as your body needs to fight harder and grow stronger to subsist on such a diet. Make sense?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Project, the Interview, the Fair and Family

We're slowly getting our home put back together after having hardwood floors put in on most of the main level. I'm an organized type and not accustomed to having stuff in such disarray but disarray is a necessary part of the process. I hope to have a YouTube video of the steps involved in the project later in the week.

It's been a trying week at times as the project hasn't all been as easy as we'd hoped. The main problem was a new dishwasher which didn't fit. The new floors add 3/8" in height and that's enough to create problems. We had them remove the wood flooring under the dishwasher and now it just barely fits. I'm sure it will be a fine addition to our home but up to now, it sits as a piece of junk which doesn't work. There isn't anything complicated about installing a dishwasher...a couple of water line connections and some wire connections. For whatever reason, the water won't flow to the unit and yes, the water was turned on. I called Warner Stellian (where we bought it) and asked them if they could either send a service tech out or allow me to come and get a replacement. They told me that once we've taken delivery the matter becomes a problem for GE. Very disappointing for sure. So, we've got a tech from GE coming out on Tuesday to probably tell us he needs to order a part for which we'll have to wait a few weeks. I went out and bought a bunch of disposable plates and cups.

I was off work last week and have this week off as well. It's been nice to be away from the grind but this has been a working vacation with all the stuff we're doing at home. It will be nice to finish the painting and getting things put back into place so we can relax a bit.

I got together with the folks from the production company shooting the training video for BestBuy. I wrote about what precipitated this in the previous entry. They had us meet them at a home in Eden Prairie where I spent an hour in front of their cameras telling my story. It sort of reminded me of a 60 Minutes interview where they ask questions and I provide as much elaboration as I can which they will, in turn, edit down to something much shorter than the hour I spent talking. I think I gave them some good footage to work with and no doubt said some things they'll leave out. Maybe a bit too hard on them at times but I kept it honest.

Several times I had to wonder why I was going out of my way to help BestBuy. I'd never once even asked about compensation and it was a bit of an ordeal battling rush hour traffic traveling 25 miles from home to do this for them. I just felt that if our ordeal could help others to understand how to better treat customers it would all be worth it. After the taping was done they handed us each a $100 BestBuy gift card and said that if we didn't want to ever again darken the door of their store they would understand but that we could also use the cards online. That was nice of them. Keith, my brother, has been doing some stuff for us as part of our home project so I gave the cards to him.

Tammy and I made it out to the Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis on Friday. We were looking for some art to go above our fireplace. We came away empty-handed but that was more a lack of funds for art than it was a lack of interest in art. Our favorite artist there is Marc Sijan although we've never seen him. Any other booth has the artist along with their work. Not Marc. It doesn't matter. He does life-size human figures with the most amazing detail. I have no idea what his pieces cost as I've never seen prices listed but I'm curious to know.

Rachel is with the kids from Prince of Peace rafting down the Colorado River. 14 of them left in two vans on Thursday and will be back Tuesday. That worked out well for us as we didn't plan a family vacation this year. She's had a full summer so far.

It's been one year since the meltdown within my family. I have no illusions that things will ever be the same nor would I want them to be. Turning a blind eye and implicitly condoning manipulative, abusive, hurtful behavior is wrong. Allowing one mean spirited, angry person to poison the family watering hole without confronting the individual would not have been a responsible or reasonable approach. The cold chill in the air among my family remains. My family is very good in the art of passive/aggressive. The saddest part of the entire affair is that my mother has painted herself into a corner and alienated some important people in her life so as not to upset Claudia. Mom has suffered some chronic medical problems this past year and I have no doubt that stress revolving around this lasting ordeal is the underlying reason. In the past, I've always felt a responsibility to shield her from the manipulations of my sister but I can no longer do that. The stress has no doubt taken its toll on her and I have to wonder what it is my sister Claudia is getting out of all of this? Can't she see what this has done to our mother? Has it been worth it? Are you happy? What sort of world do you live in where the end game is one where you cause division among people who are supposed to love one another? My disappointment with Claudia remains and only she can change that.

It's easy for me to believe that there are those in my family who would like to see me fail in life. That's a sobering conclusion to have to reach but that's where I am. A few years ago when Jerry lost his job, Claudia was gleeful at the prospect that Jackie would have to go to work outside the home. I can't remember exactly how the phone conversation played out but it was apparent that Claudia was enjoying watching Jackie and Jerry struggle after Jerry lost his position with Qwest. No doubt that same sick desire awaits me should I fall on hard times. I've always been supportive of my siblings; happy for their successes and sad for their difficulties. Why do I feel that some of my siblings hold an opposite view toward others in our family? Resentment and bitterness are such a drain and waste of the life you've been blessed with.