Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Fitting Farewell

We got home Friday night from Babbitt where we'd gone for Tammy's father's funeral. Tammy went up earlier in the week and Rachel and I followed a couple days behind in some rainy weather. We dropped the pups off at Jackie's then set the Garmin for 58 Fern Court and put the car on autopilot. It was our typical drive up to Babbitt where we spend a good deal of time chatting and catching up. It's been a busy summer for both of us and with Rachel having been away much of the past month, we had lots to talk about. Coldplay and Mat Kearney made for good background music.

(Her car is pulling to the right and it was annoying me to have to keep constant pressure on the wheel. She's grown used to it and didn't seem to notice that it was a problem. I took it in first thing Saturday morning to Tires Plus and now it's good until next pothole season.)

The further north we got the more I found myself reminiscing about Morrie. When we came through Virginia where he'd been living the last two years it hit me in a way it hadn't to that point that he was no longer with us. There was an empty bed at St Michael's.

How many times had he traveled these roads in his more than 50 years of living in this area? He had lived through the heydays of mining on the Iron Range. He'd seen the upstart city of Babbitt go from next to nothing to a thriving, bustling area that probably saw its peak in the late '70s. As he aged so did the city to the point that it too is dying with too little fresh blood coming in to sustain it. I commented to Rachel that I wondered what would be left in another ten years at the rate it was going.

We stayed in Ely, about 20 miles north of Babbitt. It's the last stop before entering the boundary waters where canoes on top of SUVs are a common sight. We headed out Friday morning for a 9:30am viewing with the rest of the family and the 11:00am funeral service. It was nice to see all the family who traveled from out of town to be there.

No doubt the Senior Center would be vacant this morning during Morrie's funeral. He hasn't been a regular there for over two years but every now and then he'd make it back and there would be big smiles and slaps on the back when he did. I wondered if they still had his coffee mug hanging with the rest of them and how long would it be before it's taken down?

I was one of the pallbearers and sat across the aisle from the family. Any other service would've found Tammy's mother sitting in her regular pew about halfway from the front next to the butterfly window but not today. It was a nice service with a bit of humor thrown in which Morrie would have appreciated. I may have laughed a bit too loudly at one point but the image of Norwegians in a ditch hunting for Lutefisk was too much.

Pastor Barnes closed out the service by playing a Norwegian hymn that was also played at Morrie's father's funeral. Tammy found it online and had a CD player set up in the back of the church. It's a beautiful song that added a nice touch to the service.

In stoic Norwegian fashion, there were few sniffles or tears that I could discern during the service but once outside during the 21-gun-salute, several people broke down. It was a touching tribute to the man that I think he would have been pleased by.

In typical Lutheran style everyone gathered in the church basement for lunch; a lunch which in another time would've found Morrie likely toward the front of the line and going back for seconds.

Glen Maurice Storbeck

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moving Forward

I've done my share of bashing FAA management the past few years and for those who have been following along and are interested, there has been some movement with respect to our lack of a contract. Our union, Natca, met with FAA management last month at President Obama's direction to try and come to an agreement as we're currently operating without a contract although management says we have one. An agreement was reached on the vast majority of issues but the most important one, dealing with pay, ended in an impasse and was sent to arbitration.

Arbitration was all we ever wanted; our day in court to be heard. We had that.

The arbitrators came back with their decisions last week. I thought I'd sit down sooner than this to blog about it but I couldn't seem to muster the interest to do so. Not that I'm all that jazzed to blog about it now but it's an important footnote to have in my blog for years from now when I'm looking back on my writings and reminiscing on my life that was. I don't have much to say other than I'm glad that this is behind us and we can now begin the process of moving forward rather than continuing on this road we've been traveling for three years.

A day or two before the decision was released I penned this post on our union's forum...

"One thing I'd like to see in the arbitrators' decision would be a rebuke of FAA management and how they've disrespected the workforce the past several years or better yet, a suggestion from them that key people involved in the development of our current culture be demoted or fired.

A guy can dream, can't he?

Kevin g"

I really wasn't expecting this but in their decision, the arbitrators begin their introduction with the following rebuke of FAA management—just as I'd hoped for.

In 2006, these parties failed in an attempt to achieve a mutually bargained successor to the then-existing “Green Book”. Subsequently, management imposed its own version of all conditions of employment. That so-called “White Book” contained numerous provisions that served, from 2006 to 2009, as the terms and conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees; ranging from the trivial to the essential. Some provisions addressed work rules related to the daily business of running this highly complex shop. Others were economic take-backs, in the name of fiscal prudence, that constituted unprecedented draconian reductions in compensation, bordering on the unconscionable.

The “WhiteBook” included the following preamble, evidently imported wholesale by the Agency from the negotiated 2003 (“Green Book”) Labor Agreement:

"This Collective Bargaining Agreement is designed to improve working conditions for air traffic controllers, traffic management coordinators/specialists and US NOTAM Office (USNOF) specialists, facilitate the amicable resolution of disputes between the Parties and contribute to the growth, efficiency and prosperity of the safest and most effective air traffic control system in the world.

The true measure of our success will not be the number of disagreements we resolve, but rather the trust, honor, and integrity with which the Parties jointly administer this Agreement."

This hortatory language, stands as a monument to wishful thinking. Among other things, unilateral imposition of this document generated more than 450,000 grievances which, to this day remain unresolved.

Whatever else may be said of the White Book document, it is neither a “Collective Bargaining Agreement” nor an “Agreement.” The abrupt imposed changes in working conditions from the collectively negotiated Green Books to the unilateral White Book was so profound, and spawned so much hostility and distrust, that the labor-management relationship since has degenerated into a state of dysfunctionality.

Their words summed up nicely a most difficult culture that those of us in the trenches have had to stomach the last three years. One would think with words such as the above that the arbitrators would then take the next step and right the wrongs that were imposed on us but they didn't. Rather, we'll be getting yearly raises once again beginning with the new year instead of two more years of frozen wages.

I should probably be upset that my base pay wasn't restored to what it should be, some 15k more than it currently is but I'm not. I can move forward knowing that this is the way the world sometimes works and that life isn't fair. It wasn't everything I/we wanted but it's the process we asked for and were given. It's done. What would make this better would be a freezing of managements' wages for the next three years just to make it fair but I've got better things to do than fight for that. I'll still take my occasional jabs at FAA management but I'm ready to move on.

I've got my faith, family, health, and a great job in an uncertain world. To dwell on the negative now would be wrong.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Long Goodbye

Tammy's father passed away late last night. He had been living three hours north of us in a retirement home in Virginia, Minnesota for the last couple of years after injuring himself in several falls at home. Forced to live out his final years away from home was a difficult transition for him. Tammy's family went through some strained times as not everyone was in agreement about how best to proceed when it became apparent that he could no longer care for himself.

Tammy's intuition prompted her to drive up and see him last Thursday. His Alzheimer's has advanced so much in the last year. She didn't get the sense that he remembered her nor did she feel that he had long to live. I got a call from Tammy's sister and her mother last night around 6:30 saying that he wasn't doing well and that the nursing home advised them that they should come. Tammy was at work and I texted her with the information. She told me she didn't think he would make it through the night and to keep her updated. I asked her if it would be inappropriate for me to text her should he pass. She said that would be fine. I suppose some may think that would be insensitive. I suppose I'd disagree. A little after 11:30 Cindy called to say he was gone. I'd been texting Rachel throughout the night as she was at her dad's house. This is the first loss of this sort she's been through but she's doing fine.

Morey retired from the mines in the mid-'80s. He was a diesel mechanic who performed maintenance on huge trucks with tires taller than you or I. He loved to hang out with the guys at the Senior Center and have coffee. He enjoyed his yearly pass to the golf course until several years ago when he could no longer play the game. In addition to his job in the mines he also used to do cement work on the side. Tammy worked for him one summer during high school striking joints as he laid foundations. He was a simple man who left many friends and loved ones behind, including me.

Our garage floor project is done. There was a lot more to it than I imagined and I'm glad I hired the job out rather than opting for the do-it-yourself-kit-in-a-box approach. Not that those don't work but I was afraid of the headache I'd be left with after a few years once the epoxy bond had begun to release and the only good fix would be to remove the entire finish. Our floor was quite pitted and that alone was enough to deter me from doing it myself.

The part of the project which surprised me the most was the amount of flake it took to do the job. I'd have guessed they'd maybe use 20-30 lbs of the stuff; not even close. Skip measured up 300 lbs of flake figuring the job would take 250 lbs but wanting to have some extra in case his numbers were wrong.

I took video of nearly all phases of the job with the exception of the final clear coat where they sprinkle aluminum oxide over the surface to give it a non-skid finish. Here's the first of three videos. The end of each video comes with a link in the last few seconds to link you to the next video.

We're happy as can be with the results. I'm guessing that Keith will have the cabinets for us sometime in the next few weeks and we'll be able to wrap the entire project up.

My search for the right TV and cooler for the space continues.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coincidence or Godincidence?

I'm a Christian. Since I've been old enough to rationalize the existence of God I've been a believer. My dad was raised Catholic and my mother Lutheran. Growing up, we attended Lutheran churches with all eight of us taking up most of an entire pew. I can remember that it was a big production to get us all ready for Sunday morning services. It wasn't unusual for my dad to spend part of Saturday night polishing our shoes. T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes weren't an option. Our parents were sowing seeds that I think for the most part took hold in all of us siblings to varying degrees.

There was a time in the late '90s where I was between churches so to speak. I'd stopped attending Family of Christ where I was a charter member. The church was going through some turmoil which would culminate in the founding pastor's termination. I was disappointed in things that I saw and before too much time I quit going entirely. Occasionally tuning in to one of several Sunday morning church broadcasts would be as close as I'd get to church for a few years.

Sometime in the summer of '97, I'd gone to bed on a Saturday night with intentions of getting up the next morning and going for a ride before my afternoon shift at work. I had a vivid dream that night that I was in the home of a friend from high school, John Bodger, and it was 1973 all over again. We were sitting around his kitchen table and talking as we used to. There wasn't much more to the dream than that. It had been ten years or more since I'd seen or heard from John and I wasn't even sure if he was still living in the area.

The next morning before I could get out on my bike I had an urging or prompting that I should skip my ride and go to church instead. Hosanna had just moved into its new building about a mile from my home and for a while I'd been kicking around the idea of giving it a try. I called the information desk to find out what time their services were then made my way over to the church.

I took a seat toward the back and spent several minutes reading the notes in the bulletin while people filtered in. Pastor Bill Bohline began the service by welcoming any visitors and assuring us that our presence at Hosanna this morning was no mistake and that he believed the Lord had led us there. Who was I to disagree? He then asked us to stand and take a moment to greet those around us. There was nobody to my left, I looked to my right beyond the 5 or 6 empty seats between myself and the next person and found myself face to face with John from my dream the night before. Coincidence? I don't think so. I'm not sure if I tried to tell John in that moment what was happening but eventually I would.

I was feeling good about my decision to skip my ride.

I can't remember what Bill spoke about that day but there was one other coincidence or God-incidence (as I would learn to refer to it) that happened which helped assure me that I was in the right place. My favorite hymn has always been All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name. I'm really not much for hymns but for whatever reason I've always liked this one going back to when I was in grade school. It was also one of the songs they sang at Hosanna that morning. I didn't know it then but Hosanna sings very few traditional hymns opting for more contemporary music. In fact, I can't recall ever singing it again at Hosanna.

I've had no desire to find a different church and have been a regular at Hosanna since that summer morning. It's where I belong.

Where am I going with this blog entry? Stay with me, it gets interesting.

The speaker at Hosanna last Sunday was one of our former pastors, David Housholder. He told of a profound experience he'd had the night before which became the centerpiece for his sermon which was about listening to that inner voice, to those urgings you have but you're not sure why.

David told of his love for the game of soccer and of his admiration for Alan Willey, a player, number 9 for the long-ago defunct Minnesota Kicks professional soccer team from the late '70s. David told about how two years ago he wanted to get a Minnesota Kicks jersey with the number 9 on it. He searched the internet but couldn't find one. He contacted a woman he knows who deals in the manufacturing of sports apparel and she told him that there really wasn't much she could do to help him due to copyright laws. Not to be deterred, David pressed on in his quest to obtain the jersey.

David had one other avenue to pursue. In his youth, he was hired by Don Byerly to work in one of his Byerly's grocery stores here in the Twin Cities. Don, who would later become the owner of the Minnesota Kicks had retired to California where David now lives. David contacted him about getting a release to have the jersey made. Don still remembered him and was happy to help by giving him permission to have a remake of the jersey done, and so he did.

It seems up to this point like a lot of effort for a simple jersey.

He said he'd worn the jersey only a few times in the couple years he's had it but when he left for Minnesota on this most recent trip he brought the jersey with him. Part of his coming here was to speak at the Conference of the Holy Spirit at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills last weekend.

Just before leaving for the conference David had a change of mind about the shirt he was wearing. He swapped it out for the orange #9 Minnesota Kicks jersey instead and then left to speak. He mentioned that he's usually not one to put much thought into what he wears. If you were to ask him to not look down and describe the shirt he is wearing at any particular time he probably couldn't tell you. On this night though his shirt apparently mattered.

North Heights is a large church and the conference attracted an overflow crowd. After speaking, David stayed around for a couple hours to do some ministry. Toward the end of the night, a man approached him and said: "I'm Alan Willey". David said that they were both so overcome with emotion that they struggled to find words for one another. Alan said that he had been asking God to show him some sort of sign that he was on the right road and where God wanted him in his life.

How must Alan have felt seated in the audience and to have David come out wearing the jersey he used to wear? And David, standing before a capacity crowd wearing the jersey of a player who was last active in the sport nearly 30 years ago and having that same man just happen to be in attendance. That can't be considered a simple coincidence by any reasonable person. How would you figure the odds on something like that?

There are coincidences in life I suppose but I think that more often than we realize what we're really seeing are Godincidences at work. Look for them, they're there.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Summer Stuff

Rachel left for Guatemala last Monday morning on a mission trip with the youth group at Hosanna. This is her second time going to Guatemala having gone last year too. She'll be back Tuesday night.

She had been spending a lot of time with her boyfriend Josh in the weeks leading up to the trip. She went with his family for several days to South Dakota then Josh came with us for a few days to Babbitt. On the heels of those two trips was Sonshine Fest where they spent four days tenting it with the youth groups from Hosanna and Prince of Peace.

She was at Lake Geneva Christian Center last week for youth camp. It was easily the best camp she'd ever attended and she's been to many. She brought back a DVD of her week which looks very similar to this link from the same camp on YouTube. She didn't let on right away when she came home that she'd also made a difficult decision while at camp.

I was downstairs alone watching TV before going to bed late last Friday night when she got home from being out with Josh. She came into the basement and sat down on the couch next to me with tears streaming down her face. She looked over at me and said: "I just broke up with Josh". It surprised me as I had no idea that was coming and apparently neither did Josh. She said it was something that she decided she needed to do a couple days earlier at camp. She'd been with Josh for most of that afternoon and evening before finding the right time to tell him. He thought that she was kidding but her tears convinced him otherwise.

I was so sad for her as we sat on the couch together. We talked, I mostly listened for a half-hour as she sorted through her thoughts.

She said that Josh wants to still remain friends and hang out but I told her that would be difficult to do. I said, "us guys may say we just want to remain friends but in all likelihood, his real intentions will be to get back together with you, just know that". She understood.

Josh was by the house a couple times on Sunday; once to bring Rachel a DQ Blizzard and later in the day to drop off a pizza he'd made for her where he works at Nick-n-Willy's. He's not making it easy for either of them to move on.

She left early the next morning for Guatemala and left this comment on her Facebook: "I'm going to live for something bigger than myself." She also changed her status from "in a relationship" to "single".

My hope is that Josh will give her the space she needs to do what she needs to do. So far that's not happening. He wants to come with us when we pick her up at the airport on Tuesday night. I feel bad for him. He's a good kid and I don't want to see his heart broken but I don't see any way around it; for either of them.

Speaking of school—Tammy and I took a road trip 75 miles southeast to Rochester last Thursday, our 10th anniversary. The University of Minnesota has an extension campus in Rochester that she and Rachel toured a couple weeks earlier. They both liked it and wanted me to see it. I too liked it, a lot. The curriculum is geared toward careers in the medical field which is where Rachel would like to focus but on specifically what she can't say just yet. All of the students take the same classes the first two years and branch out from there so it takes the pressure off her to have to decide on something so soon. Those first couple of years will give her exposure to career paths she may not have considered up to now.

The campus is only a few years old and is situated downtown among a bunch of shops; sort of an unlikely place for a college campus. The dorms are more like condominiums or apartments. Each unit is 1500 square feet, 2 bedrooms with 2.5 bathrooms shared between 4 students. The tall building in the background of the photo houses the dorms/apartments.

We don't know where she'll attend college in a year but of the few they've visited so far this is the one we're probably all leaning toward. Tammy and Rachel have a few more they're scheduled to visit in the next few weeks.

We spent a few hours cruising the sidewalks and skyways of Rochester checking out the shops and people watching. This lady with her three kids in tow caught my eye. I motioned for Tammy to have a closer look. No telling what shows when she sits down.

As I said, it was our 10th anniversary. We spent some time reminiscing about our wedding day (here are some photos from that day on the bottom half of this page), where we've been and our plans for the future. Without question, I can say that the past 10 years have been the most meaningful and enjoyable of all my years. I'm so blessed to have both Tammy and Rachel in my life. Thank you God and thank you Digital Cities. And to think, my hesitation to buy a computer a little over 11 years ago nearly kept our paths from crossing.

What will the next 10 years have for us?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Becoming a Dull Boy...

...all work and no play.

I've been living in our home for over 17 years having had it built in the spring of 1992. Much of that summer was spent working on the countless jobs necessary to get a new home up to speed with landscaping taking up the bulk of my efforts. I don't think I had any idea going into it how much work was involved but I was 34 and determined to do it all with the exception of a couple areas where I paid to have some work done: having a Bobcat come in and drill 60 holes for shrubs and paying another guy to evenly distribute ten dump-truck loads of black dirt over our corner lot for a better base than the typical clay soil we have to work with. It was an exhausting summer of work but I felt good about all I'd accomplished and the money I'd saved over having paid someone to do it. However, having said all that I still maintain as I did after that first summer in our home that I'd never buy new construction again.

I was looking through some photos to add to this post and I came across one where I'd just put the finishing touches on the landscaping from all those years ago. Then and now.

Three of our trees are Ash trees and I'm concerned about losing them to the Emerald Ash Borer which recently made its way to neighboring cities.

Not long ago I was pondering whether I still had the drive or energy to take on those sort of jobs again. None of my summers since that first one here have been anything nearly as laborious and it's safe to say that I've grown soft. This year finds me recalling what those 12+ hour days felt like back then. Nearly all of my vacation days (and weekends) this spring and summer have been spent working on projects around our home with very little time for doing what I usually do...riding. I suppose the good thing about all these tasks is that I really hadn't planned to do any of them when the year began. Had I made a list earlier in the year of all I'd be taking on I'd probably have been too depressed or overwhelmed by it to do any of them.

The year began innocently enough with this unplanned project and then this one plus a few other various jobs not mentioned in my blog. A few weeks ago was our trip to Babbitt, a Working Vacation.

Which brings me to the latest and hopefully our final project of the year; finishing our garage. I hired out the sheet-rocking and taping but managed the painting on my own. It didn't seem that painting out the garage was going to be much more than a two-day job but it's taken me a good deal longer than that. I'm not a slow worker but I'm particular about how things get done and I like to do them right. I suppose that accounts for the extra time it takes me to complete a task. I'll keep my day job.

A friend from work, Earl, came by earlier in the week and dropped off his trailer for us to use to store the contents of our garage while we're having an epoxy finish put on our garage floor. It's a four-day process that began this morning with Skip and Tony coming in and removing the top layer of concrete with the use of hand grinders and a walk-behind sandblaster that did the majority of the work.

They also chipped out some areas where there was excessive scaling of the concrete from erosion due to winter road salt. Once that was done they covered the entire surface and filled in the pits with a base layer of epoxy. They'll be back tomorrow to put down the main layer of epoxy which will have the color chips we've chosen.

Our floor will look a lot like this sample. The sample is a combination of 30% gray, 30% white and 40% buff. The only change we'll make will be to add 5% of the mauve color to the left in this photo—not a lot but just enough to work with some of the reddish tones in the brick in the front of our house.

Lots more has happened in the last week and maybe I'll try and touch on that in another post in a day or two. It seems my blog has taken up residence off to the side next to my bike while all these projects win out competing for my time.