Thursday, June 26, 2008

Buzzed, Alpha, Riding and Calf Convulsions

Rachel had some friends over the other night and turned our garage into a hair salon. Tanner is a good sport. He shaved his head in preparation for the mission trip to Guatemala that he and Rachel and some of the kids from their Hosanna group are taking.

Tammy and I have been attending Alpha classes at Hosanna for the past ten weeks. Alpha is a course designed for people at all levels in their Christian faith as well as nonbelievers. It's something we've been wanting to do for a while but our schedules didn't allow for us to do it together until now. We were divided into small groups the first night and have remained with the same people throughout. I wasn't sure what to think of setting aside nearly three hours every Thursday night for ten weeks (through part of summer no less) but once it began, I soon realized that I was getting a lot out of it. I found that it became one of the highlights of my week.

The course concluded tonight and we've decided that we'd like to keep our small group together. We're going to plan on meeting at our home every other week initially and go from there. Tammy and I had been talking about getting involved in a small group and this became the perfect opportunity for us.

I got new license plates in the mail today for my truck. I hope this isn't a sign of who I'm going to become now that I'm in my 50's. Bah, as in humbug.

I've been off this past week and I've taken some time to focus on my riding. Not that I haven't been doing my share but I've missed doing some of the longer rides I enjoy so much. I hadn't been taking time for them and maybe I simply needed a break because I feel refreshed. I managed a few 100+ mile rides this past week and hope to put in one more tomorrow.

Last Friday's ride took me out to St. Bonifacious. I started out expecting to do 70 miles but during the ride I was on the phone with Tammy and she told me to enjoy the day and that I'd earned it. That's all I needed to hear. Besides, she would be doing her telephone-nurse-triage thing until 7:30 that night.

The ride began with beautiful weather but coming out of Belle Plaine, I noticed the clouds were thickening and what looked like the beginnings of a line of weather behind me. A few miles later, climbing Hwy 282 out of Jordan, it looked like it was going to be all I could do to make it home ahead of the storms. Thankfully, I had a tailwind for the final push home but there's about a 1.25-mile section on Texas avenue where I had to turn north. It was there that I hit the gust front from the storms. Turning on to Eagle Creek Avenue I picked up the tailwind again and did my best to beat the rain. Big drops began to fall but then they'd stop. I knew I was on the leading edge of the storm. The roads were wet by the end of my ride but Lakeville was spared the heavy rains. They went north and south of us. The threat of severe weather always adds an interesting wrinkle to a ride when you're out there with no protection.

I was back out again for another long ride on Monday. I had to go through Hastings and I wasn't sure what to expect with the bridge repair they're doing. Whether the bridge is open or not can be hit or miss. When I arrived it was open to one lane of traffic at a time. I waited my turn with the others then crossed into Wisconsin for some of the best riding in the area along Hwy 35. I hadn't been to Bay City for a while so I made that my goal. From Bay City I would backtrack a bit and cross back into Minnesota at Red Wing. There's a nice gradual climb coming out of Red Wing for nearly three miles that I always look forward to. I finished the day with 105 miles.

I left the house yesterday not sure how far I'd go. Part of me thought I'd bring it home after 50 miles but I also had thoughts of doing something much longer, on the order of 150 miles; possibly to Mankato and back. I find that I'm doing a better job of listening to my body these days and going with what I feel rather than strict adherence to a predetermined mileage. With the temp pushing into the upper 80's I decided that 150 miles could easily be more than I needed. I've done very little hot weather riding this year with our cool spring.

I had a driver in Shakopee let me know that he didn't have any appreciation for cyclists. He passed me with no more than 8 inches to spare and flipped me off as he went by. I've gotten good at not reacting in kind and realizing that some people simply have issues and they aren't likely to change. I made an effort to remember his Minnesota license plate; LHS 907.

I made it to Glencoe, bought a 64oz Gatorade and found the shade of a tree to sit under. I checked in with Tammy to let her know I was okay and that I was going to head for home.

Looking at my GPS I noticed that I'd gained 4 minutes of daylight from when I'd left Lakeville. It's always a bit disheartening to watch the days grow shorter as I can't get enough daylight as it is. As of today, my Garmin Edge tells me the sun is setting at 9:02 and the days have just begun to get shorter.

On the way to Glencoe I made note of a road which I thought could make for an interesting route home rather than going back the same way I came. I'd never taken this stretch of Hwy 25. I was feeling a bit adventurous and my legs were doing fine so I decided to see where it went. Shortly after turning onto it I saw a sign for "Green Isle 7 miles". Cool. A few weeks ago I'd seen a sign for Green Isle coming out of Belle Plaine but I wasn't headed that way so I took a pass on it then.

It turned out to be a nice diversion from my regular route and with a lot less traffic. There wasn't much in Green Isle but once Hwy 25 veered east out of the city, the road turned to fresh blacktop which would take me to Belle Plaine. The sort of road you expect to find in heaven.

I couldn't help but have thoughts that this is why I ride while I was out there. Gorgeous weather and a beautiful road with such little traffic. I remember thinking that it must have been a big expense to put so much money into a road which is used by so few. But I didn't mind.

I still had a couple of hours of daylight to work with by the time I got home. I was tempted to see how many miles I could pile on but I didn't. 115 was plenty in this heat.

I was sitting on the couch with Tammy after I showered and I noticed my calves twitching as they like to do after a ride. The video camera was nearby and I thought, hey—this is why there's YouTube.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reminiscing...part 3

Continuing with a series of posts I started this past week. This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 and part 2.

When our family moved to Bloomington in 1966, I'm not sure that any of us thought we'd be there very long. My dad had a history of moving us between Minnesota and Michigan every year or two. I suppose it was all a part of climbing in his position as a financial manager with Control Data. In Kindergarten and 1st grade I was in the same school. I was in a different school each year from 2nd grade through 5th grade. I'm not sure my parents even fully unpacked between some of our moves.

When we moved into our home on 102nd street there were no schools within walking distance but construction would begin on Hubert Olson Elementary/Jr. HS shortly after we arrived. Our little neighborhood was situated between Hubert Olson and the soon to be built Thomas Jefferson HS. Our days of moving from school to school were over even if we didn't yet know it. Stability is good.

Continuing with my walk through the schoolyards and my old neighborhood.

As I left the grounds of Hubert Olson I walked across the street to the southwest corner of Jefferson High School's property. I remember sitting on the hill in the photo to the left with Kurt Langer on the last day of 9th grade and talking about our plans for summer. Kurt's girlfriend, Colleen Morrison, and my girlfriend, Sandie Jacobson, were best friends.

A few years earlier, before the high school was built and before the hill was smoothed and sodded, it was more of a cliff-face. Mark Testin and I were there looking for skinks one day when we spotted one going down a hole in the dirt. When a skink is chased it will separate its body from its tail in hopes that the predator will go after the wiggling tail and not the body. We didn't let that fool us. We dug as fast as we could trying to get to the skink before it got too deep into the cliff-face. In a matter of moments we were being swarmed by bees. The skink had gone down a yellowjacket nest similar to this one. We took off running up the street a quarter-mile toward our homes all the while trying to slap and brush the stinging bees off of us. I was stung a dozen times or more but I had no adverse reaction. Mark had to spend the night in the hospital. I can remember seeing my mom drive by us in our station wagon while we were running home but I think she thought we were just having fun—you know—running and slapping ourselves at the same time. I can't ever remember having any nightmares about that incident.

Across from the hill and the track is a memorial for Tomas E. Burnett, Jr., class of 1981.

I can safely say there will never be any memorial for me at Jefferson no matter what heroic deed I may perform. I never left a mark; no legacy whatsoever. Pretty much all I've got to show for my time at Jefferson is an ability to type reasonably well and a damaged right knee.

The incident with my knee happened on the softball field which would be in the middle of this photo—the backstop and bases are gone now. I was batting when I hit the ball and ran for 1st base. There was loose gravel over hard-packed dirt and I slipped before I ever got out of the batter's box. I heard what sounded like somebody cracking their knuckles except that the noise came from my right knee and the pain was excruciating.

I'd torn ligaments and cartilage and would end up in a leg-length cast for nearly a month to immobilize my knee. That was pretty much all they did back then, or maybe that's all my insurance covered.

I got out of the cast and I was doing well; even running a bit. Less than a month after having the cast removed I was walking down a grassy slope one morning outside my apartment building with my hands full of stuff as I was in the process of moving. The grass was wet with dew and I slipped only to hear the familiar sound that cartilage and ligaments make when they're being damaged. I lay on the grass and I remember feeling nauseated because the pain was too much. My leg would be put in another cast.

I'm still in recovery from that incident back in the summer of 1975. My knee will never be what it once was. Even with all of the cycling I do, there's a noticeable difference between the size of my right and left quadriceps.

Just for the record, never did the cast hinder me from getting behind the wheel of my Ford Maverick. My Maverick had a bench-seat with a 3-on-the-tree transmission. I was able to stretch my right leg out over the bench-seat and work the clutch, brake, and gas with my left foot. Yes, I'm proud of that.

I walked along the south side of the school toward the balcony which overlooked what I think is supposed to be a courtyard. The facade on the balcony was crumbling, maybe from years of weather or maybe from kids picking at it. Below the balcony to the left was what we called "the pit". It was where students could go to light up. There would be a teacher stationed just inside the door but for what I'm not sure. It was no secret what the students were doing out there—even the pot smoking. I could be found among them in my junior and senior years. A few from in the pit.

There wasn't much else to see of the school. I'd been inside it a few years ago when Rachel had a dance recital there. I wish I did but I don't have a lot of fond memories from high school. I found it a complete waste of time, or so I thought. The opportunities were there but I was too immature to take advantage of them. I regret that.

The walk back to my truck parked in the culdesac took me past the high school's tennis courts. I paused when I came to M's backyard opposite the courts. I believe they still live there. I looked for activity around their house as I'd intended to stop and say hello but I never saw anyone. Their backyard was the scene for the one and only time I ever saw my dad threaten somebody.

My brother, Keith (the one on the left), was maybe 7 or 8 at the time and he did something he shouldn't have—something that Mr. M wanted me to tell my parents about. I can't remember what it was but I didn't see Keith do it and I told Mr. M that I wasn't going to tell on Keith, or some such words. I was being a smart-ass more than anything. He grabbed the collar of my shirt and made it clear that I would convey his unhappiness with my brother to my parents. He was being heavy-handed.

When my dad got home I told him what had happened. Together we went over there and my dad walked into M's backyard where Mr. M was sitting on the back step. I can still hear my dad say, "If there's any shirt pulling to be done around here, I'll be the one doing it", wanna piece of me? Mr. M got up from the step and went inside and that was that. Somewhere along the way, they made amends.

I got back to my truck and decided that I wanted to see if it was possible to walk around the school's pond across the street from our home. I hopped the fence and got beyond the heavy growth to find a path. I used to love to spend time here as a kid—tadpoles, snakes, frogs, turtles, anything that moved in there had my interest. I actually hatched a mosquito larva once in a fishbowl next to my bed. I came into my room one day to find the newly emerged mosquito stretching its wings on the rim of the bowl. I set it free outside.

One sad note for me: the shoreline of the pond is where I buried my pet rat, Topo; named after Topo Gigio from the Ed Sullivan Show. I actually stopped to see if I could find the approximate spot where I'd buried him. I could do an entire post on Topo. He wasn't just an ordinary lab rat. He was one of two rats in my 4th-grade classroom and I got to keep him when the school year was done.

A few days ago I wrote a letter to the owners of our old home to ask if they could accommodate my mom and me on a tour of their home. I'm still hoping to arrange that but I'll understand if they decline.

I'm glad I had to stop for the light at the intersection a few days ago while on my bike. I may have breezed past without giving much thought at all to what I've written here. Reminiscing is good for the soul

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reminiscing...part 2

Continuing with a post I made a few days ago...

I got back in my truck and headed in the direction of my old neighborhood about a mile away. I made a small detour and drove past where John Bodger used to live. How is it that I still remember his phone number after all these years? 831-6859.

I parked in the culdesac behind our old house and in front of what used to be the Testin's home. I got out and walked around the culdesac snapping a few pics. There was a guy mowing his yard in what had been the Barbour's residence back in the day. I interrupted him and told him that my folks had built the house behind him in 1966 and would he mind if I stepped into his backyard to take a few photos. He was a man of few words; "go ahead". I was half hoping to engage him in conversation about the neighborhood and give him a perspective from forty years earlier but he had more pressing issues with a lawn that needed mowing. His lawn will need mowing again in a few days.

It was odd to be standing in his backyard viewing our home from this angle. I looked to the right to see if the volleyball court in the Testin's yard was still there. It was. I remember how the adults in the neighborhood would sometimes get together at night to play volleyball. I also remember the time my dad twisted his ankle and had to leave the game. Some of us kids would hang around hoping they would need us if there weren't enough adults for a game but that was seldom the case. Gale Testin would usually give us some court time before or after they were done. He was a mellow fellow who would often stroll around his yard enjoying his little corner of the world. He died too soon from cancer in the early '70s.

I made my way back out to the street and tried to thank the guy over the noise of his lawnmower but I don't think he cared much. I walked around the corner to the front of our old home and shot a few more photos. I've uploaded them here to my Flickr account.

A while back I blogged about actually getting to meet the people who now live in the house and their invitation to come inside.

I walked up the street toward the elementary school. I looked to see if I could find our initials in the cement of the sidewalk along the way but those sections were either replaced or our etchings were hidden by grass overgrowing the concrete.

I made my way between a gap in the fence which led onto the school grounds and walked toward the hill behind the elementary school. As a kid, we'd spend countless hours sliding here in the winter. At night the lights from Buck Hill could be seen off in the distance. I learned to golf in these schoolyards. Atop the hill was easily my favorite place from which to tee it up. You had to be careful not to slice or push your shot to the right because school maintenance workers would park down there beyond where the hill sloped away. I don't think I ever hit one of their cars but I know that too often that area came into play.

Down past the hill on the other side was a playground where I got into the one and only physical fight of my life (with the exception of a couple skirmishes on the ice). I was in 6th grade and I'm not sure how it happened but it was orchestrated ahead of time that Bob Johnson and I were going to fight after school. I'm not a fighter but I went out there so as not to be looked at as being a wuss. The next thing I knew there was a circle of kids surrounding us and we were soon scrapping it out. It didn't last long. A teacher had pulled us apart and just as quickly as it began we found ourselves in the Principal's office attempting to explain why we were fighting.

I walked around to the front of the building to see if I could get inside. I hadn't walked through the grade-school wing since leaving in the spring of 1969. I tugged on the door and it opened. I explained to the receptionist just inside the entrance that I was one of the original students at the school when it opened in the fall of '67. She assured me it would be fine to walk the halls and take some photos.

It took me a minute or two to get oriented but once I came upon the boys' restroom everything else seemed to fall into place. I remembered how we used to walk as a class, single-file to the restrooms. When we were done we would line up along the wall and wait to walk back to our classroom together. I have a vivid memory of measuring the height of my shoulders against the lines in the brick of the wall as my shoulders matched up with one of the lines. I located what I figured would have been the line I'd used all those years ago and imagined myself that height again as I stood there. The line would've been the one running through the number 211.

Around a couple more corners I came upon my old 6th-grade classroom. I have so many memories from this room. The mock election we held in the fall of 1968 is one of them. I voted for Nixon. A few weeks later it appeared I'd cast a vote for my first winner, or so I thought. This Republican thing isn't new for me but the disenchantment is.

I walked outside the school and headed toward the west side of the parking lot where just beyond the lot and down the hill was where we'd play hockey. I negotiated my way through the thick overgrowth and down to where the rinks used to be. Again, so many memories from my time spent here. This view is standing just to the left of where the warming house used to be and looking out over where the pleasure rink was. This view is in the direction of where the hockey rink would've been. It's been years since they took out the warming house and boards that made up the hockey rink. Maybe as the neighborhood aged the demand was no longer there. When we were young, there were five to six rinks within two miles of home, maybe more. There's a good chance that the number is zero today.

The southwest side of the school's parking lot was where you could find the best sledding—on Hamburger Hill. It wasn't on school property but was actually somebody's backyard. They apparently didn't mind because you could always find kids sledding there. Even in the summer there would be big sheets of cardboard that kids would use to slide with. The hill doesn't look as big as it once did but I have no doubt that it's the same as it was except for being a bit overgrown with grass.

Just beyond the hill was Mark Spliethoff's house. In Jr. HS, several of us hung out here probably more than anywhere else. His parents were divorced and his mom was rarely home, or so it seemed. You could get from his back deck onto his garage roof pretty easily with a chair. The joke we'd play was to be ready with a bucket or two of water when we knew someone was riding their bike over; we'd douse them from above. That joke only worked a few times. I'm sure that made quite an impression on Mark's neighbors to see us running around on the roof with buckets of water.

The Elementary and Jr High schools were connected. Mark's house was across from the Jr High and the football/soccer fields. I walked across the field toward the south side of the school and wasn't sure what to make of the soccer net. It gave me the impression that the program and the net were both abandoned. The fields used to be kept up but now there are more weeds than grass.

My parents would get us season passes to the school's pool each summer. It's just inside these walls and it's where I learned to swim. The grass in the previous photo used to be a huge fenced in cement patio where you could lay out in the sun after swimming. I suppose the demand for the pool has gone the same way as the demand for hockey rinks.

From this photo you can see off in the distance the hill I spoke of earlier where I mentioned I used to like to golf from. The schoolyards were great for that. I'd often kick around with a few clubs and golf balls for a couple hours at a time, sometimes with my dad or brothers. Maybe it's a lack of funds for upkeep but when we lived here you would always see the yellow sprinkler tractor making its way around the grounds. There's no trace of them now. This field also made for a good dare once for somebody to streak across.

Look for the rest of this step back in time in a day or two.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

At an Intersection in My Life

I was on a ride yesterday when I found myself waiting for the light at the intersection of France Avenue and Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington. I was only a mile away from where I grew up from 1966 to 1975. As I sat waiting for the light, I quickly surveyed the area and noticed that there was very little left from when these were my stomping grounds. I thought to myself that I should come back to take a slow walk around and do some reminiscing.

I got up this morning and drove my truck back to the same intersection to have a closer look; my camera in hand.

I pulled into McDonald's parking lot and went inside. I ordered my usual: Egg McMuffin, Cinnamon Melts, and a large decaf coffee. I recalled when this McDonald's first opened in the early '70s. Before then, the nearest McDonald's was off Nicollet and I-494. Maybe once a month a couple of us would go there and bring back dinner for our family of eight. I can still remember holding the warm bags of food on my lap for the 10 or 15 minutes it would take to get home and the smell coming from within. It was all a kid could do to not reach in and grab a few fries that had fallen to the bottom of the bag. Sometimes the temptation was too great.

I left my truck parked where it was and walked across the parking lot to Valley West shopping center. I remember riding my bike here with Miles Harvey while it was still under construction in the late '60s. It was through this parking lot where Doug Orman, Kurt Langer and I were chasing each other on our bikes when I suffered a nasty spill. The pedals disengaged on my bike and I went down hard, breaking my wrist. I was on my sister's three-speed and the problem with the gears/pedals slipping was a known one, in fact, my dad had told me not to ride it for that very reason. I should have listened.

After my crash, I was walking home through Jefferson high school ball fields when my sister came running up behind me asking me what was wrong. I was no longer riding the bike but pushing it. I showed her my wrist. I wasn't sure if it was broken, I just saw a big lump and knew something wasn't right. My dad was between jobs for a few weeks during that time and he had no health insurance for our family. He wasn't happy with me, especially since he'd told me to stay off the bike. I don't think two minutes went by on the drive to Southdale Fairview hospital where he didn't express his disappointment. I got it.

On the other side of the parking lot is what remains of the old movie theater which opened when the mall opened. After the theater closed I believe it became a bank but now the building stands empty. I remember going there on a double date with Sandie Jacobson, Kurt Langer, and Colleen Morrison to see John Wayne in Cahill, U.S. Marshal. I have no idea why we went to see a John Wayne movie other than that must have been all that was playing.

I walked through the mall and tried to picture some of the stores which used to be there. Of course, none of the originals remain. I remembered the bank where I had my first savings account and the Radio Shack where once a month you could get a free transistor battery. Its spot was vacant. There are some military recruiting offices toward the back section which weren't there before.

I stepped outside behind the mall to see if the bike trail through the woods was still there. It was a scenic shortcut for us. The woods don't look much different but any access to whatever was left of the trail was now blocked off.

I walked back across Old Shakopee to what used to be a happening place: Andy's Tap. It too is now closed and from what I hear, that was a fairly recent closing. I only went there a handful of times over the years. I recalled a lunch I had there with my dad and Keith in the early '90s when my dad was in town. To the right of Andy's Tap was The Sweet Shop (long since closed) which sold all sorts of penny candy. We'd sometimes take our bikes there after school and for 50 cents you could ride away with a nice stash of sweets.

To the left of Andy's Tap was a drug store but the space is vacant now. Beyond that and south is what is left of Bloomdale. There used to be a grocery store there which I remember going to with my mom as a kid. I'm not sure but I think it was Red Owl, or maybe it was Country Club. Several other stores have come and gone in the same space since, most recently a True Value Hardware store but now there's no longer anything as it too stands vacant.

The one shop in Bloomdale I remember most of all was an indoor golf range where you could hit balls against a screen in an animated setting. There was nothing else like it. For a few dollars you could play 18 holes of golf against the screen in the dead of winter. I never had the money or my clubs to play there but the shop always intrigued me. It was sad to see what had become of a place which as a kid was always so alive with activity.

I left the intersection which brought me there and walked south along France Avenue to the ball fields of Westwood Elementary school where I attended 4th grade. I thought about the time my dad came to one of my ball games. I sucked. I knew nothing about batting. I remember being at the plate and looking over my left shoulder to where my dad was sitting on a small hill as he watched me strikeout. I recalled his advice later to get my bat cocked and ready to swing rather than have it resting on my shoulder. It sounded like a good idea.

The modular units outside the main school building which served as classrooms for many of us were now gone. I think 4th grade with Mrs. Struve was probably one of my more enjoyable school years. It was also the year I would get to take one of our lab rats, Retta or Gretta (I can't remember which), home for my very own pet. More about that later.

I approached the front entrance and saw a sign of the times. The security didn't amount to much as the receptionist simply had me sign my name to a sign-in sheet and put on a visitor's badge, then I was free to roam. I didn't go far. I found the east entrance which was the one I used to enter and I used that as my point of reference. The door to the right was where we used to get our singing lessons. I must have totally failed that class as I can't sing a note. I have vivid memories of being in that room and singing a song with the lyrics "Ahdoray-oh! Ahdoray-boomday-oh! Ahdoray-boomday-retsetset, awsay-pawsay-oh!" I have no idea what the words mean.

Down another hall, I found the lunchroom. It doesn't look like much has changed. Again, I have distinct memories of being in this room as well over forty years earlier. Maybe had I stepped inside the room and looked around it would have evoked even more memories. I do have one odd recollection from here: whenever I hear the song, I Think We're Alone Now by Tommy James and the Shondells, I'm taken back to this lunchroom. I have no idea why.

I walked outside and headed back toward France Avenue. I had to take a photo of the chimney which rises above the school. I always thought it was a cool looking chimney—not round like all the others I'd seen but with corners. I also appreciate the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

I walked back up France avenue to the southeast corner of Old Shakopee where the Dairy Queen used to be. The building is gone and has been replaced with a Bruger's Bagel shop. They rebuilt the DQ at the other end of the parking lot next to Mount Hope Lutheran Church where we attended for one year before we left the area.

I headed back toward the intersection on the northeast side. There was never much on that corner, at least for me. A gas station and an assortment of small shops. One of those shops was a coin dealer where for one summer (maybe longer) my brothers and I (mostly my brothers) were into collecting coins and filling up the little blue coin holders with our rare coins. We never found the holy grail of pennies...the 1909-s vdb.

Across the street on the northwest corner used to be Harold's Skelly gas station. It's where my dad would take our cars to get worked on. When my folks moved away in my senior year, my dad bought me a 1970 Ford Maverick. We brought it by Harold's and paid him a few dollars to give it the once-over. I remember gas being pumped at his station for thirty-something per gallon. His shop is gone and so is the building. They've turned the corner lot into a small park with some benches.

Just beyond the park is Penn Cycle. It's been there for probably close to 30 years but before it became a bike shop it was a hardware store. I recall going in there with my dad as a kid and looking around. I think the owner died of cancer.

It's surprising that the bike shop seems unaffected by time as does the McDonald's next to it but most everywhere else you look it's been either totally renovated or it sits vacant. Bikes and burgers—maybe that's where the smart money is at.

I could easily write a dozen blog posts about memories from this little intersection from my youth. Maybe someday I will. I got back in my truck and drove to my old neighborhood to continue my stroll. I'll post about that later.

To be continued: part 2

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Hat-tip to Tim, Father's Day and A Plea

A friend from work, Tim, has a tutorial soldering video which is also doing remarkably well. Check out Headless Solder Guy.

I had to work Father's Day but Tammy and I were able to get out Friday night for dinner at Outback. Rachel was going to come with us but a night spent with friends won out.

Earlier in the evening, I was getting ready to take the pups for a walk when Tammy and Rachel cornered me and asked if I wanted one of my Father's Day gifts early? Tammy insisted that now would be a good time. They'd bought me a Sony radio with an AM/FM/TV/Weather tuner. I'm a gadget guy but the radio I'd been using on my walks was one I'd bought at least a dozen years ago and Tammy felt I needed something less clunky looking. She was right. In fact, just last week I'd been kicking around the idea of buying a new one but I hadn't mentioned it to her. Funny how that works.

The other gift they gave me was a beautiful cross to replace the one I'd damaged last month. I was pretty sure they were getting it for me and I'm very happy to have it.

There's a show on A&E called, Intervention. It profiles people with addictions who are at or near rock bottom and the struggles their families endure as they helplessly watch their loved ones slip away. Last night the show told the story of former professional bicycle racer, Chad Gerlach. He raced with Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal team for a couple of years in the late '90s. A harmless joke by Chad directed at Lance led to his dismissal from the team and his fall from grace. He poked Lance in the stomach while calling him doh-boy. Nobody has ever accused Lance of having a sense of humor. Chad's addiction soon followed.

It can be a difficult show to watch as too often the addict is unable to overcome their addiction or is unwilling to try. Meanwhile, the family is left to try and move forward without them. In Chad's case, he entered treatment and has been sober since late February. Maybe it was the editing of the show but while watching it I didn't have much hope for him. I'm glad I was wrong. The final minutes of the show gave you a glimpse of Chad having found a new lease on life and focused on his recovery. It was great to see. What struck me most of all was the heartfelt apology he gave to his family for the torment he'd caused them and how truly grateful he was for their love.

My family is no stranger to addiction. We've each had our own way of coping and often times that led to rifts within our family. I was always a "tough love" sort of person. I saw no reason to enable behavior that did nothing but tear us apart. Tough-love should not be confused with no-love. There are still residual wounds that I'm doubtful will ever heal. Personally, I'd love nothing more than a rebirth of those relationships but I'm realistic about the chances of that happening.

We, as a family picked up and continued living life but the dysfunction which entangled us remained. I think we all could have benefited from an intense group therapy session strung out over a few months.

That dysfunction is now being played out in the next generation. I have a sister whom I dearly love. She's a solid person who I would drop everything for in an instant should she need me and somebody I'd never hesitate to call for advice. She and her husband are two of the most giving people I know. They're good people; how else can I say it? I'm disturbed because she's under attack from others in her/our family. Unlike the way our family chose to put our collective heads in the sand, she has attempted to reclaim her family through counseling: a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may approach. Her attempts have been met with a curious silence. I don't understand why people would feel threatened by sitting down and discussing that which divides them.

I'm disturbed that some would twist the truth and campaign against her. I'm sorry that others are willing to sell her out for their own selfish gain. There's no excuse for that. I love you, Jackie.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

Our air conditioner hasn't been doing the best job of keeping up with demand. I first began to notice it last summer. By the time I got around to calling our service company, the temps had cooled too much to put a load on it for them to check it out. They made it out a couple of days ago and found that it was low 1.5 lbs of freon. The guy who came out topped it off but told me that we may want to give some consideration to having it replaced. The compressor was making more noise than it should. He said the average life span of an air conditioner is 15 years and ours is one year beyond that. Furnaces typically last 20 years. We could probably use a new one of those, too, he suggested as what we've got in our home is just standard builder-grade stuff. Nothing at all efficient—just enough to satisfy code requirements I'm guessing. He said the newer stuff is much cheaper to run and will pay for itself over time.

I suppose these are the sort of things you want to replace while they're still working rather than waiting until a crisis. We've got a guy coming out next Wednesday to give us a bid on both our furnace and air conditioner.

We've already got plans to replace our asphalt driveway with a concrete driveway as well as the front walk in a couple of weeks. The driveway isn't in terrible shape but it's showing its age. The front walk is suffering from a lack of rebar to hold the slabs together; they're separating. It's mostly a cosmetic thing and we're still debating the need to have it replaced.

I was on my bike yesterday and saw a concrete driveway which had a nice color to it. I thought that would be a nice touch for ours rather than the stark white color of typical concrete. I phoned our concrete guy when I got home and he told me it would be an additional $2000 to add color. I have a hard time believing that. How much can the upcharge be on the pigment they're using? I'll need to do some checking around and see if I can get some figures together to make a case to our contractor for a more reasonable price if we're in fact being gouged.

I was at Fleet Farm two weeks ago when I got a call from Rachel. Jim Wolter was at our home and wanted to know if I was around. Jim last painted (stained) our house ten years ago and he was back to give us a bid on doing it again. I was hoping to put it off another year with the expense of the driveway but he said we should really do it now to avoid a more expensive job next year. He's right; it really does need it.

So, between the driveway, painting the house, and replacing the air conditioner and furnace, we've got some expenses to cover in the coming months. I suppose it's nice to have these projects done before I retire. Sorry Tim and Mark but I won't be turning down any OT calls—not that I get any.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Quick Test and a Cyclist's Perspective

Here's an interesting site hosted by Northwestern Mutual Financial Network where you can plug in some specific information and get an approximation for how long you may expect to live. I suppose if a person can avoid getting a terminal illness or having a fatal accident the number you come up with may be somewhat accurate. There are just too many variables along the way. Anyway, my estimate came in at 90 years old.

Not only is Gordy Shields still riding at the age of 90 but he's breaking records, too. To be honest, I think he's alone in his age group. If my body holds up and I'm able, I hope to be riding well into my 70s. It's my belief that once you stop moving, age catches up with you. Maybe that's why it so often feels like I'm on the run...or ride.

Speaking of riding, I rode back across the river yesterday on the bike path adjacent to 494 where it dumps me out by Mall of America. I'd done nearly the same ride two weeks ago on Memorial Day but there was very little traffic then. What a difference a holiday can make. I lost a lot of time yesterday waiting at stop lights.

I'd say that 99.99% of all drivers out there are extremely courteous toward me. When I think of the hundreds of thousands of people who pass me in their vehicles in the course of a year of cycling, it's only ever a handful of drivers who feel it necessary to endanger my life by not allowing me the 3 foot buffer the law requires; or worse yet, giving me the brush back by coming within inches of me. Fortunately, that seldom ever happens.

An incident of a different sort happened a few years ago while riding home on highway 13 just west of county road 5. I was in the zone and hammering out a nice rhythm. A car load of kids came up behind me and a guy in the front passenger seat stuck his head out and yelled at me. I wasn't expecting it and it rattled me. I made a note of the car's color and type and watched as it drove away. I didn't think much else about it and once again found my rhythm.

Traffic along this stretch of road can easily back up depending on the time of day and this was late afternoon: rush hour. A mile later I noticed that there was a long line of traffic waiting for the light at CR-5. Was it possible that I could catch up to the car and turn the tables on the kids inside? Sure enough, I saw their car, still in the right lane and stuck in traffic. The kid who yelled at me never suspected that I'd be able to catch him. I came up behind him, his window still down, got real close and let out a yell as loud as I could, totally startling him. I know it was wrong to do but it was such sweet revenge. I smiled and could see that the other kids in the car were laughing. He smiled too so all was well.

You may wonder why some of us roadies don't use bike paths when they're just off to the side of the road we're biking on. They're actually more hazardous for us than being out on the road. Where a side street intersects a bike path there will typically be a stop sign before the path. It's been my experience that drivers nearly always wait until they're straddling the path to complete their stop. For me to negotiate a bike path safely, I would have to slow at each intersection to be sure a car wasn't going to pull in front of me. It's next to impossible to find any kind of rhythm doing that. It's simply much safer and easier to use the road and leave the path to riders who aren't so much focused on speed and distance. They're great for families on a leisurely ride.

Many of the highways in Minnesota have a nice 8-10 foot shoulder. That's heaven to a cyclist. You may notice that when we're on the shoulder we'll tend to cheat toward the left rather than far to the right where it would appear to be safer. The reason for this is that the further to the right we ride, the greater the amount of debris we encounter and with it, increased risk for a punctured tire. We're seriously not trying to antagonize drivers on the road. It's all a matter of self (and tire) preservation.

I made a slight detour on yesterday's route. A friend at work and his wife recently purchased a dog grooming shop in Savage. I've biked past this area dozens of times this year but I'm usually intent on not interrupting my ride. I had some extra time yesterday and biked up to Tim and Kim's shop but it was closed. Another time, Tim. Maybe I'll leave my bike at home and bring Allie and Toby along. Do you have any treats I can promise them?

Edit: Should Tim decide to find time in his busy schedule and spruce up the outside of his shop this is what the sign above his business will look like.

How 'bout that bike in the photo?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Knock Knock er Text Text, 1st Prom and a Beautiful Day

Tammy got the green light to begin working from home this past week. There were a couple small glitches getting the computer and all her gear synced but it's working fine now. The den used to be primarily my domain but there's not much room for me in there anymore. The sign on the door pretty much says it all. Rachel and I will have to get used to keeping it quiet outside her office; not that we're all that noisy to begin with. Toby and Allie are another story once they get wound up and begin racing around the house.

I covered it in an earlier blog but for those not aware, Tammy is working as a triage nurse over the phone helping direct people to the right care for their needs. I'd much rather see her do this sort of nursing as it's much easier on her body; there's no heavy lifting involved unlike what she's been used to. She'll miss working with the elderly though as she's always felt that has been her calling. Now she'll be helping them on the phone.

Rachel attended her first prom last night. She went as a favor to Matty, a friend of hers from one of her church groups. Matty is a senior at Apple Valley and Rachel goes to Lakeville North. She didn't know anybody except for Matty. I told her that she should look at it as a practice prom for a year or two in the future when she has a boyfriend. She said she got a lot of compliments on the dress Tammy made for her.

My riding has been spotty this year. A friend at work just asked me how many miles I've ridden so far and I told him 2200. He thought that was a lot but I'm typically over 3000 by the first of June. We've got some projects we're having done at our home over the next couple of months so they will no doubt take a bite out of my time on the road. That's okay—I have to keep telling myself that.

Yesterday's ride was one of those rides which remind me (as if I need that) why I bike. A beautiful day and an even more beautiful route winding my way along the back roads to Belle Plaine. Just past East Union, I was about to begin a descent when I noticed a motorcycle group coming up behind me. There were easily over 100 bikes in the group. I descended the hill at 45 mph and had one of the riders come alongside me and shout 'nice job!' I needed another couple percent of grade to reach the 55 mph which most of the group was traveling at.

I sold my motorcycle when Tammy and I married nine years ago. I don't miss it all that much. I usually only rode it at night and around here there are too many deer to ever feel comfortable out on the highway once the sun goes down. They say that the deer you hit is usually the one you don't see. Not that I haven't had my run-ins with deer on my bike because I've had that as well. I think my odds are much better at 20 mph on my bike than at 60 mph on a motorcycle.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts About My Father

I came home from work and took the pups for a walk. The plan was to go for a ride after our walk but it began to lightly rain so I decided to work on my bike instead of riding it. Doing bike maintenance is therapeutic for me. Sort of the way I feel about working in the yard the first couple months of the season until it stops being enjoyable. Having a healthy way to unwind is important and for me, that typically means a ride. For my father, that meant hours spent tinkering out in the garage or down in the basement in a poorly lit space in the back of the utility room.

When I was a kid my dad would come home from work and he and my mother would sit in the living room and discuss the day; mostly stuff about the office. She'd mix them a drink or two and for maybe an hour they'd sit and talk. I think for the most part my siblings and I were pretty good about not interrupting them. Mom would have dinner cooking or ready and when they were finished talking we'd sit down to eat. It was the routine. After dinner, my dad would retreat to the basement or garage and tinker with whatever project he had on his workbench. I don't have a workbench; I have the opened tailgate of my truck and a few shelves in the garage for my stuff which works well enough for me.

My dad's radio was nearly always tuned to WCCO AM while mine jumps around from Rock to Talk to Christian to Oldies. Today it was Love105.

I'm told that I'm a lot like my dad. I don't necessarily disagree with that but there were some fundamental differences between us. We both joined the Navy after high-school. I was a radar operator (OS2). It wasn't until after I'd been accepted to radar school that I learned my father did the same job while he served in the Canadian Navy.

I think we both could be accused of liking those things we like(d) to excess. The difference between us though would be that some of his excesses were detrimental to his overall health. My excesses have been detrimental to my knees. For years he tried to quit smoking but he wasn't successful. Smoking is what eventually took his life on September 15th, 1995. He developed emphysema in his sixties and wouldn't live to see seventy years old.

If younger smokers could only see how debilitating emphysema is I think many of them would quit. The problem is that most people suffering from emphysema don't venture out into public because of their limitations and so people don't often see how difficult living with the disease can be. My father spent the last several years of his life connected to an oxygen tank. If that wasn't enough to keep him immobile the lack of oxygen to his lungs was. You would think that emphysema was enough to cause him to quit smoking but I don't believe it was.

I'd like to say that I was extremely close to my dad but that wouldn't be true. I loved him as a son loves his father but we spent too little time in conversation for me to claim any great closeness. I didn't know what I was missing at the time but years later I find myself wondering why our relationship was the way it was. He must have known the validation a kid needs from his dad. I don't know that any of my siblings can say they knew our dad as well as their own children know them.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit with Rachel and get inside her head and see what's important to her at the moment. I can't get enough of the time we spend together in conversation. Tammy and I both engage her a lot and she couldn't be more comfortable talking with us.

It was always understood that my father had a difficult childhood having lost both his parents by the age of 9. He talked sparingly about his early life or for that matter any, of his life. We grew up knowing very little about his side of the family. Our summer vacations would occasionally take us into Canada and once, we actually went to where he grew up near Douglas, Ontario.I learned more about my dad through observing him than through talking with him. I regret that about our relationship.

I remember when he was in his final weeks and being cared for in the intensive care unit of the hospital in Hancock. I drove up to visit him and my mother. While I was there I wandered down to the basement of their home where he had all his stuff sitting out—the latest projects and things he'd been tinkering with when he was still healthy enough. His assortment of tools laying around and pieces of wood stored away for use at a later time just as he'd left them. The basement he'd refinished. I saw his radio/tape player sitting on the end table. Neil Young, Old Ways, laid next to it. I pressed play and the Marty Robbins tape inside came to life. I don't recall which song it was but as I sat in his chair and listened, a flood of emotion overcame me. I remember crying so hard for him and hoping that my mother or sister wouldn't come down and see me. I sat there thinking about how simple a man he was but how utterly complex he could also be. I was sad that there would be no more chances for either of us to redo our past. Our relationship was what it was and that's how it would remain.

He died shortly after my visit. We wonder our entire lives how we'll ever deal with the death of our parents. His dying and my reaction to it didn't play out at all how I'd imagined it would. I felt no profound sadness at his passing; only relief for my mother. I felt guilt over that.

I regret that Tammy never knew him.

I'm thankful to him for the safe and comfortable environment he provided for us while growing up. If I had one wish it would be that he would have found more time for not only me but for all of my brothers and sisters. I think we'd all echo that sentiment.