Thursday, December 30, 2010

Family Drama

I'll be publishing this post at a later date as I don't want to create any additional drama for my mother who is just a couple days away from some quite risky heart surgery.

My niece, Aleah, has become a cancer in our family and has been using her grandmother (mom) to cause great division within the family for far too long. It's a really sick thing she's been doing and none of us can understand why.

Jackie and Jerry have done everything to reach out to her but each attempt is met with venomous responses.

The latest turmoil began with plans for a Christmas Eve get-together at our home. We're all fairly certain that this will be Mom's last Christmas with us considering her quickly deteriorating heart health and most of us are of like minds in wanting to get us all together with Mom/Grandma/Great-Grandma for Christmas this year.

I asked my brother Keith if he could host Christmas Eve at his house as I didn't think there was any chance that Aleah would come if it was at our home. The whole idea being to create an opportunity for Aleah and her family to be there. He agreed and the message was conveyed to Aleah that she would soon be receiving an invitation to Keith and Tracee's for Christmas Eve. Without hesitating, she told Tracee that she wasn't coming if her mother was going to be there. With that understanding, the plans were changed and we agreed to host the party as our house is better able to accommodate everybody.

So, yesterday I put out an invitation on Facebook to everyone but since Aleah has unfriended me (not only that but she made it so I can't even see her on Facebook) I couldn't include her but still tried to convey the message that she and her family are invited.

I mentioned to Mom that Aleah indicated to Tracee that she had no intention of attending the celebration and with that, I didn't feel compelled to send her an invitation. Mom agreed that it would be pointless. I couldn't imagine a scenario where Aleah would feel slighted for not receiving an invitation but you never want to underestimate this woman.

I stopped by Mom's this morning with coffee and the paper for her. It didn't take long for her to bring up the subject of Aleah and how I should invite her. Aleah had called her last night crying that she wasn't being invited. I couldn't believe it.

This is really a sickness and it's getting quite tiring for us all. Get some professional help, Aleah!

I'm just glad to see that others in the family are now beginning to see her for who she is and as the source of so much distress and dysfunction in our family. Jackie is not one to engage others in her family's troubles and while she sat silent and said nothing for two years, Aleah spent that time campaigning against her mother with lie upon lie. I finally convinced Jackie that she could remain silent no longer. People are finally beginning to hear her side and I'm very pleased with that.

Most people (with the exception of two in my family; Aleah and one other) are very careful to not draw Mom into the drama. But Aleah and this other person are only too ready to go running to her.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 2010 and Oh, What a Little Cutie

I ventured out in my truck this morning and picked up our Sunday paper at the bottom of our driveway on the way out. Today is Monday. I never made it beyond our living room couch yesterday.  I awoke out of a sound sleep at 2:00 Sunday morning to an awful, nauseous feeling. Rather than waiting to see if it would quietly go away I quickly made my way to the bathroom and stood bent over the toilet for just a moment before my insides exploded. I spent the rest of the morning until after 7:00 repeating the above at least hourly. I'll spare you the details. The rest of my day was spent curled up on the couch with our pups.

I was concerned for my mom because she was exposed to the bug as well while at our home Christmas Eve. Our littlest visitor that night had just gotten over the illness (or so we thought) and he must've infected many of us. Tammy tried to get a hold of Mom but her phone was off the hook. I texted Tim and he confirmed that she was sick in bed. Rachel texted us from her dad's home in the early afternoon to say that she too was sick. Keith and Tracee? They're sick as well as is Kelsey, Cole, Dustin, and Clayton. Ah yes, the sort of thing memories are made of.

I'm better now but opted to stay away from work one more day just in case I'm still contagious. Madden appeared fine too when Keith and Tracee brought him over so I'd rather not chance exposing others to this.

Speaking of Christmas Eve; we hosted it at our home again this year. Tammy didn't find out until a little over a week ago that her hours had been changed to a later shift, 1:30 to 10:00 PM, so she had to miss out on most of the night but did manage to join in on her breaks.

Tim dropped Mom off at our home and Rachel and I brought her to Hosanna with us where we met Erin, Clayton, and Anja. Hosanna once again had camels, a donkey, a llama, and other assorted animals on stage to try as best they can to bring the manger scene to life. They do a good job but not everybody thinks it's necessary. Mom and Rachel could do without it and I can't say I disagree with them. I made a comment to Rachel after the service that I really love our church but she countered with the thought that they put too much emphasis on the materialistic side. She caught me a little off guard with that. She used the billboard off 35W as an example. Why the emphasis on live animals to draw people to the church and not a living savior? She has a point. I'm not afraid to admit that sometimes she causes me to pause and reevaluate things. Sort of like when I have a trainee at work who shows me a different or better way of doing something, usually computer entry related. It happens. When they start showing me how to better handle traffic then I'll know for sure it's time to retire.

I'll let the video and pictures I took from Christmas Eve tell the story of the night.

Santa (Tammy) was very good to me this year. After hijacking Tammy's Kindle a few weeks ago to read a book I'd downloaded to it, I got hooked and thought I'd like to have one of my own. Santa must've read my mind. My camera was an early Christmas gift so I could get familiar with it before Christmas Eve. I've spent several hours going through the tutorial and I'm still not finished but I've got a good idea of what I'm doing.

This December is going down as one of the snowiest on record for the Twin Cities. If we keep getting snow at anywhere near the rate we've been, I'm not sure where they'll put it. The snowbanks at many intersections are already dangerous because they're so high causing you to have to cautiously nose your car out into the lane to see traffic.

I'm slowly working my way back to normal after coming off the prednisone more than a week ago. My workouts have been lacking any sort of kick to them but that's expected. I mostly just go through the motions, knowing that my adrenal gland is likely still in a state of dormancy having been put there by the drug. I have a theory that staying as active as I do causes it to spring back to life sooner but some days I have to wonder as I'm left pretty whipped by the end of the day and I lack the energy levels I'm used to throughout the day. I can still sense that I'm more irritable than normal and that's probably the thing I dislike the most.

Tammy and I watched Gremlins a few nights ago. I remember seeing it at the theater in Huron, SD when it was out but as I watched it with Tammy there was nothing in the show that I could recall. It was like I was seeing it for the first time. That's how I often am with movies unless they really do something for me; movies like Breaking Away. I can recite numerous lines from that film. We watched one other movie this week that I won't soon forget: Hachi: A Dog's Tale. The preview of the movie gives too much away so don't read it. Just rent it and be amazed. It's a true story. I had a lump in my throat the size of a tennis ball at one point in the show but then I'm a dog lover who believes God gives us these incredible creatures to teach even the most hard-hearted people about love.

I've seen a few bloggers making a list of their top ten posts from the past year. In looking back at mine I'd be hard-pressed to find ten that really stand out. I did finish a series of writings about my time in the Navy that I found a lot of satisfaction in both recalling and writing about. I began the series a couple of years ago but didn't finish it until last fall so I suppose it qualifies for 2010.  There are 14 posts in total. Follow the prompts at the end of each to find the next one. Here's the first: 1975 Revisited.

Thanks for your interest in my blog and best wishes to you all in 2011!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Social Network Christmas

One of the white squirrels (as of last winter we had two) that frequents our feeders met an untimely death this past week. He got tangled up in the cornstalk feeder we have on the side of our house by the bird feeders. I was sad to discover his lifeless, frozen body tangled in the metal tines of the feeder knowing he suffered a difficult death. He was a nice addition to the wildlife we have in the area and I'll miss him.

I was standing in line at Michaels Wednesday afternoon waiting to pay for a picture frame and matting that's to be part of a Christmas gift for my mom. While waiting, I spied some containers of gummy candies at the end of the register and agreed with my inner voice that I needed to bring a couple of those home with me to have for a Christmas Eve gathering at our home. I'd no sooner had that thought when I took notice of the woman finishing paying and walking toward the door. Is that Luan I wondered? I couldn't see her very well as I'd just caught the side of her face as she turned toward the door.  I called her name, "Luan!" She turned and her face lit up when she saw it was me. She walked back and we stood there attempting to catch up on too many years as the cashier rang up my order. We continued our conversation outside.

Luan and Jim were my neighbors where I previously lived. They're really good people; salt of the earth type. Yearly Christmas cards don't do justice to a friendship like theirs but that's all it's been since I moved away. Jim was diagnosed with MS a few years after I left and life for him has become a struggle as his MS is an aggressive form of the disease. I exchanged phone numbers with Luan with a promise to give Jim a call and get together.

It wasn't until I was stuck in gridlocked traffic trying to get on to county road 42 that I realized I'd forgotten to add the gummy candies to my stuff at the register.

I made good yesterday on my promise to call Jim. I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon at their townhome in Burnsville getting caught up on 18 years. I had to laugh at one point—I learned some things about my former wife/life that I never knew and at the time they were reluctant to say anything to me. Maybe it was just as well.

On the way home, I stopped at Starbucks to grab a couple of coffees. Tammy was in the office and I always enjoy surprising her with one. I pulled up to the drive-thru window and got a surprise of my own. Tracee was handling the register and had been on the other end of the speaker when I placed my order for a grande-dark-roast and venti-decaf-skinny-caramel-latte. I took the opportunity to try out my new camera.

Yes, I've outgrown my Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 for an upgraded Lumix LX5. I don't think I could be happier with this little gem of a powerhouse. My other camera was poor in low light shots and I decided to not let another Christmas Eve or family get-together fall victim to it.

I spent a few hours this week going over the settings and menus trying to get familiar with it so I can make the most of its ability but I've got a considerable amount more to learn. I knew a real test for it would be our stained glass lamps so I took a bunch of bracketed photos of them last night and was very pleased with the results. Excuse me for getting a little carried away with the Wisteria lamp. It takes nice video too with the ability to zoom while in video capture mode. That's not something most cameras offer. Not having that ability would've been a deal-breaker for me.

Tammy and I made it out to Southdale Wednesday night. I can't remember the last time I was there. I'd heard there were a lot of vacancies but that's not true—there were some. I wouldn't say the mall was bustling with people but it appeared to be holding its own. Steve Casperson and I used to ride our bikes there when we were 8 years old back in 1965. We were neighbors for less than a year when my parents rented a home on 66th street and Lakeshore Drive. The mall has held up well over the years and I was glad to see that.

My shopping is done and everything is wrapped that can be with the exception of what has yet to make it to our front door from Amazon.

I came across this on Facebook today and thought I'd share it here: A Social Network Christmas. I really like this.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hunkered Down

I'd taken my red Serotta (what's up with the Hugh Jazz seat bag?) in to Flanders Bros in Minneapolis several weeks ago for some upgrades. Adrian called Wednesday afternoon to tell me it was ready. I combined my trip to pick it up with a stop at J Ring Studios in St Paul for some stained glass supplies. I left my failing Mavic Ksyrium rim at the shop to be sent back across the Atlantic to be rebuilt. Rather than investing $1000+ in a new set of wheels, it makes more sense for me to have the one repaired for a few hundred. I'll be good-to-go for several more seasons with it.

It's been over 2 weeks since I've ridden and I'm getting that need again but the break has been nice. I've been able to focus a whole bunch of time on other stuff, namely stained glass. More on that toward the end of this entry.

Friday morning I went back to the lighted tree on Cedar Avenue in Bloomington to get some video and daylight shots of it. I wanted to capture it with a blue sky background and it would be my only chance for a couple days with a menacing storm approaching for later that night. The owner was a really nice guy who encouraged me to take whatever photos and video I wanted. If you're not familiar with it, here's some video of the 100-year oak when it's lighted.

And here's a shameless plug for the Facebook page I started for it. Like it!

Tammy and I headed out to Mall of America Friday night to kick around for a few hours. I know it's not cool to admit this but I absolutely love that place, especially in the winter with the Christmas decorations suspended throughout the mall. It's a nice diversion to have so close by (15 minutes) in the dead of winter. Even on the worst shopping days of the year you never get a sense that it's crowded.

On the drive to the mall, we got a pic/text from Rachel saying she was outdoors watching Elf at Peace Plaza in downtown Rochester with friends. They had some fire cans/heaters of some sort set up for warmth. After the movie, she was "on my way to a social dance to practice my ballroom!" She's not one to hang around and watch the world pass by.

We got to the mall and hit Starbucks for some coffees then cruised the levels before stopping for dinner at Noodles and Company. Macaroni and Cheese with Meatballs—does it get any better?

We got home just before the snow started falling. It wouldn't stop until later the next evening and would go on record as the 8th largest snowfall for the Twin Cities. We hunkered down with the comfort of knowing we had nowhere to be for the duration of the storm. Between a few ventures out to snowblow the driveway and shovel the walk, I hung out down in the shop working on stained glass.

The metro area ended up with 15-21 inches of snow and a collapsed Hubert Humphrey Dome. Our snowbank at the bottom of the driveway is already all of 5 feet high and looks to be easily on its way to surpassing last year's record snowbank height. I take pride in the neatness of my snowbanks and so should you.

Some random outdoor video during various stages of the storm.

I spent most of last week working on the 5th of 6 panels over our entertainment center in the basement. I'm never a good judge of how many hours of labor I have left in a project because I'm much more optimistic than I should be. I think with this project, in particular, it's important to be precise in its fabrication and because of that, I find it's a slower process than I plan for. Anyway, I finally had it ready to solder late this morning and spent most of the afternoon putting the finishing touches on it and getting it hung. We're very happy with how these are turning out. One more to go.

Here's a short video that does a better job of showing how they look together than my camera can capture.

But seriously, it's time to get back to Foci before we forget everything we've learned.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Socialism Today or There's Enough For Everybody

The pacemaker replacement surgery last Friday for mom was only partially successful. A third lead from the pacemaker that winds its way through and around her heart to more fully involve the whole heart had to be disconnected as it was coming in contact with a nerve causing her diaphragm to spasm. She was disappointed because without the third lead (something her other pacemaker didn't have) her condition wasn't much different than before surgery. Tired all the time. They told her it would be 7-10 days before they could see her again to attempt to fix the problem. We didn't have to wait that long.

Tracee called me yesterday morning to see if I'd talked to Mom yet today. I hadn't. She said she sounded extremely tired on the phone and that she was going to put in a call to her doctor to see if she could get her seen asap. Mom is always one to minimize her need to be seen and not one to want to be fussed over so the chance that she was going to take the initiative to make the necessary calls was slim. After some back and forth between Mom and her doctor's staff, it was worked out that I could take her in late this morning for an early afternoon procedure to replace the bad lead.

It all went well. The doctor told me he replaced the lead with a longer one that allowed him to more fully route it away from the nerve that was causing the problem. He was hopeful that this would make a marked difference in her condition.

My disappointment with Obama is growing but not because he's too liberal. He appears too ready to give in to Republican demands. Clearly, he capitulated to Republican hawks who have a fantasy that we can actually win in Afghanistan when he escalated our efforts there. I'd love nothing more than to be able to make that country a better place for those who live there but the sort of change they need isn't going to happen because we forced it on them. If stability ever is achieved there, and I have no illusions that it will be, it certainly won't last without our continued presence. At some point, we have to recognize that whatever small successes we're experiencing there, they're being outweighed by the expense. How many more lives and how much more money before we admit that? Are we at war with al Qaeda still or is our focus the Taliban because it seems we went in there for one reason but now we're there for another. I'm confused. Is Osama bin Laden even alive still?

The most recent way in which Obama let me (and you) down was yesterday when he gave in to Republican demands to extend Bush's tax cuts for another two years, even for the top earners. There's simply no way for us to add to the massive amount of debt we already have but we are. I could see a much stronger case being made for extending unemployment benefits than I can for tax breaks for the wealthiest of us, but now we've added both to our list of things we'll put on the next generation to figure out.

I'm usually an optimistic person who doesn't let these sorts of worries occupy much of my time because there's nothing I can do about them. Lately, I find myself wondering more than a little if we're headed for financial ruin as a country? I can't see how we're not.

People are quick to dismiss Bernie Sanders as an out of touch socialist. If that's what he is then you can label me one as well. The views I was offering in the dialog that followed (click on the image to the right) were not views I was looking to legislate but rather, idealistic thoughts about what we need to do to strengthen our middle class, without which there can be no economic recovery.

A co-worker friend had all the Republican talking points down. He was quick to point out that Bernie was only playing the class warfare card and looking to redistribute wealth. He, of course, mentioned that you don't go after corporations, the "golden goose", with higher taxes because you'll only stifle their production and ability to create jobs. I get that but what about Exxon? (as mentioned toward the end of the thread)

The point I was trying to make is that the divide between the haves and the have-nots gets wider every year and to have the vast majority of our country's wealth in the hands of so few can't be a good thing. When a corporation rewards a CEO with a multi-million dollar severance package for driving his/her company into the ground at the expense of the company's labor force, we have a real fundamental problem. When did we begin to reward such incompetence while at the same time showing such great disregard to the real people who are at the heart of a company; its workers?

For me, this entire discussion came down to greed and that's not something easily legislated away. My coworker is all for a company doing whatever it must to keep their operation running as efficiently as possible and that the labor required to make that happen is something to be discarded when no longer needed. That was my impression anyway and to a certain extent, he's right. But I think what we're seeing more and more today is a lot of people sacrificing themselves for a few at the top who are tightening their hold on the masses a little more with each passing year. I don't like that trend.

We're no longer our brothers' keeper and that's not a mindset you can force on anybody, certainly no more than forcing peace on those unwilling in the Middle East. It's something we either collectively do of our own free will or we get crushed under the weight of our capitalist greed. Look around.

The idealistic me says take care of one another and the rest will sort itself out. There's enough to go around for everybody.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Say a Prayer

Mom has surgery tomorrow morning to replace her pacemaker with a pacemaker/defibrillator combination. The last time I wrote about this I'd said that her doctor didn't feel her heart was strong enough for this procedure but he's decided to go forward with it anyway. I don't want to look at this as being a last-ditch effort to resuscitate her life but considering how weak her heart is, what else can it be? The surgery is a risk, there's no question about that. The doctor was very clear with her when he told her they lose people in her condition on the operating table. Still, it's about quality of life and should this turn out successfully, she'll have a return to her old self; the indefatigable, independent older woman in her green '97 Ford Escort wagon running around town and occasionally jumping on the freeway to blend with 70mph traffic.

I want her back to her old self as do we all.

One thing that has caused me to pause and take notice is her attitude. I admire the way she's facing up to all of this, putting one foot in front of the other with hopes of improving her quality of life while taking the ultimate risk in the process and understanding that if it's not meant to be then that's fine as well. She's a Christian woman with a strong faith; one who has no doubt about where she's headed when her time here is done and it shows. All too often we Christians are more aligned with the everybody-wants-to-go-to-heaven-but-nobody-wants-to-die crowd. Earthly survival is at the core of our DNA.

Say a prayer for her if you're so inclined.

Tammy is heading for Rochester this afternoon to spend the evening with Rachel. It's part of a surprise birthday gift from Rachel to her mom. She doesn't know it yet but Rachel has tickets for the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at the Mayo Civic Center. As I mentioned in my previous post, Rachel has a love of the Nutcracker and dance. This will be a great show for them both.

They're also getting together with the head of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at UMR for dinner at their home. Tammy had talked with Rick on the phone over a year ago and he mentioned then that he was looking to being an outreach to UMR as there was nothing in place yet. I can't even remember how Tammy got Rick's name but we quickly lost touch with him after Tammy's computer crashed and she lost his contact info. Anyway, early in the school year Rachel and Elsa went to an Assemblies of God church in Rochester and connected with their youth group. Through the youth group, Rachel has connected with Rick once again. We're going to shift some of our support from our home church to help support their ministry. It's been very easy to see God's hand in bringing this all together.

Obama has stated that he intends to freeze federal workers' pay for the next two years. I don't necessarily have a problem with that as they should be doing that and more. I'm a federal employee but considering my pay had already been frozen 3 of the last 4 years by FAA management there's talk that we air traffic controllers won't be caught up in this proposal. Our dispute was resolved in arbitration and I'm hopeful that our contract will work to set us apart from the workforce at large, much the same way the postal service is. It's really the only fair approach considering we are the only government entity (13,000 of us out of 1.8 million federal workers) who've already had their pay frozen.

I've been down in the shop for the last few days making some nice progress on panel 5 of 6 for our entertainment center. It would be nice to wrap this one up this weekend if I'm able to and get busy with the final one. I knew these were going to be labor-intensive when I began doing them and I'm fine with that, it's the sort of work I prefer but I'm ready to do other stuff; possibly another lamp. These have been two winters in the making.

I've been in a Gordon Lightfoot music listening mood lately. I think I'll queue him up and get busy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Another post that won't see the light of day until I've retired.

I began a cluster headache cycle at the beginning of October that went into the first week of November. I came off the prednisone (30mg max) and was doing fine until this past weekend when my headaches returned. This follows a pattern I experienced 3 years ago when I had two cycles close together.

I took some time yesterday morning to go through my training diaries where I record details of my headache cycles along with the number of meds taken. A couple of the cycles caused me concern because I never want to relive those days. The one from 3 years ago and another from 2003. In each of those cases, I thought the headaches were done but they came back stronger than they'd been. 2007 was probably my worst year because I'd lost my medical during the initial phase only to get it back and then have the headaches return. We were in the middle of the imposed contract days with tensions running high and I didn't want to lose my medical again so soon for fear of never getting it back and being forced to retire much earlier than planned. At its worst, I was taking 70mg of prednisone (acts as a prophylactic) a day and still getting headaches. I was also running low on Imitrex (a nasal spray to stop breakthrough headaches) and feeling a mix of desperation, anxiousness, and depression. Prednisone will do that to you.

In the 2007 headache cycle, Rob would eventually convince me that I had to tell management that I needed to come off the boards until I got through it. I was able to do it in such a way that I kept the flight surgeon out of it and didn't lose my medical again. I worked on some administrative stuff until I got through it.

Giving up my medical is the last resort for me.

Anyway, I had a headache come on while at work yesterday afternoon. I used an Imitrex and hid in a stall in the bathroom while I waited for the pain to subside. That didn't happen. I tried to compose myself as best I could and made my way to the geek room to pack up my laptop then hurried out to my truck. I phoned Mark at the desk and told him I needed to take the rest of the shift off. It was difficult driving home.

Later, after recovering, I discussed my options with Tammy.

Option 1 is to simply give up my medical to work traffic and take a month off until the headaches have run their course. There are 3 holidays at work that I'll miss out on and I'd rather not give up that pay but I may not have a choice.

Option 2 is to hope that the 50mg of prednisone I'm on will keep the headaches at bay and go to work with that amount of drug in me. I've done this and provided the headaches aren't an issue, this can work for me. I'll go on about my business as I have earlier in the cycle where I told my supervisor of my condition but assured her that I was keeping the headaches under control with the allowable amount of prednisone: 20mg.

I called Kristy at the desk this morning to tell her that my headaches had returned and that I was going to take the day off to see how I was doing. We've been tripping over each other on Tuesdays so staffing wasn't an issue. Hopefully, I'll get through the day okay and be able to fall asleep tonight so I can return to work tomorrow.

One thing I noticed when going over the history of my headaches is that the prednisone seems to do much better for me when I couple it with my riding. When I'm riding regularly, I seldom have breakthrough headaches. It's when I'm not working out that I get many more headaches that I have to treat with Imitrex. I mentioned this to Tammy and she was skeptical.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend 2010

Rachel rolled into town Tuesday night after classes, ahead of what was looking to be some nasty weather for Wednesday that never materialized. She and her roommates along with some friends had their own Thanksgiving dinner at their place before saying goodbye for the long weekend. She was excited to be home because many of her friends were also going to be in town and it would be the first time they'd be back together since leaving for college. Plus, she was going to be able to see Amy, her 4-year-old sister. Amy thinks the world of Rachel and it must seem like ages to a little kid that age to be apart for even a couple months.

"Rachel...look at me when I'm talking to you!" Hmm...Rachel is pretty sure she knows where she got that from. Too funny.

I've been hearing for years about Keith's deep-fried turkey and finally got a chance to experience it this Thanksgiving.  I was told it's not greasy and I had no reason to doubt it but still, I had to try it for myself.  It's very good. Besides not being greasy, it's cooked in a fraction of the time it would've taken in an oven.

Tracee and Keith did their usual great job of hosting. Thanks, guys.

We spent some time before and after dinner Thursday putting up Christmas decorations. It was nice to have Rachel home for that as it's become a fun tradition that we all do together and I wasn't ready to let go of that after she left for college. Have I ever mentioned that we're a bit nuts for nutcrackers? Tammy started a collection for Rachel years ago and she adds at least a couple to it each year. I manage the Dept 56 village scene. Maybe it goes back to me always wanting to have a big toy train set as a kid and knowing this is the closest I'll get to that dream.

We had our own Thanksgiving celebration the following day with just the three of us. Tammy baked the turkey in a brine solution after a friend raved about her results doing this. We too were quite pleased with how it turned out and no, it wasn't salty at all.

Usually (I say "usually" because we missed 2009) each year we do a family photo for our Christmas cards with one of us coming up with a theme for the pic rather than just a plain ordinary photo. More recently we did our Wii characters for 2008 and our last pre-Charlie year had all of us in our glasses for 2007. This year it's a "snuggie" year. I think maybe snuggies are a bit 2009 but it's the best we've got and once we committed to the idea, Tammy went through the effort to make all but Rachel's on her own.

They're toasty!

Tammy and I ventured out to Mall of America Black Friday night. I love the mall, especially at Christmas. I'm strange that way. On the way back home we detoured to check out the lighted tree west of Cedar Ave just north of the river. It's covered in an awesome display of lights. There were a few other cars pulled over in front of the house doing what we were, getting a better look.

I've created a Facebook page for the tree. Feel free to 'like' it. Glowing Tree in Bloomington

And here's a little bit of video I took.

I started putting out feed once again on the side of our house for the birds and squirrels. They're back but not in the numbers we had last year due to the deforestation I had done last spring.

I'm off work for a couple weeks while I've got some meds coursing through me. I hope to indulge myself in a bunch of stained glass work during that time.

Be well. I hope to be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And So It Goes

As I came into work yesterday, the guard at the gate asked me if anybody had ever told me that I look like Bryan Cranston from Malcolm in the Middle? "I've heard of the show," I told him but "no, I've never been told that." I made a point as I found a parking spot to remember the actor's name so I could look him up later. Years ago my sister used to say that I reminded her of Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains. There was a time when Rachel thought I looked like Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys. I'm not sure what to think? A few days ago one of my coworkers suggested I change my Facebook profile picture to Dale Gribble from King of the Hill. And so I amused Leslee and the few people who 'liked' her post on my wall and did as she asked.

I'm glad they weren't making comparisons to Howdy Doody or Alfred E. Neuman.

I only managed one ride on my bike this past week: the Hampton loop. My riding has slowed to a near halt but I'm fine with that as I was ready for some time off.

I spent a couple of hours in the garage Saturday night breaking down my blue Serotta and cleaning it for use indoors on my rollers. While wiping down the rear wheel I noticed a good size crack in the rim of my rear wheel on the drive-side. I looked a little closer and found another. Needless to say, I won't be taking this wheel out on the road again. I figure it's fine for use on my rollers and will likely see if it'll get me through the winter but I'll have to watch those cracks closely.

My red Serotta has been in the shop for a few weeks, waiting on parts for a front end overhaul. I'm having the fork, stem, and handlebars replaced. I'm also switching out the saddle to another Turnex Pro to match my other ride. The setups on both bikes should be a little more similar now and that's what I'm after. So, until I get my bike back from the shop I'm stuck inside.

Among the nicknames we've got for Charlie the one I'm using the most lately is Poo Peter. We can't seem to break him of that nasty thing he does.

My Congressman, John Kline, has been on a crusade to eliminate earmarks. While I think they too need to be looked at I think his time would be better spent on things more important such as the ridiculous amount of money we're spending on our military or other budget busters such as Medicare.

Earmarks amount to 2% at most of our budget but you would think with all the attention they get that the amount would be much higher. Why such concern about earmarks when there are other areas with considerably more waste that dwarf whatever savings could be realized from cutting all earmarks? In trying to get our deficit under control, a preoccupation with earmarks is akin to trying to bail out a flooding/sinking rowboat with a spoon rather than a bucket. much spending on our military is enough? In a sense, aren't the terrorist states winning when they've got us wrecking our economy and seeing boogeymen under every bed, behind every closed door as we attempt to defend ourselves against any possible threat they may pose? Not that there haven't been successes but at what cost?

We can throw all the money in the world at it but in the end, it's still an impossible task. But maybe that's the key here—throwing more money around.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Really Shouldn't Care But I Do

Winter arrived Saturday in a rather big way with 8" of wet, heavy, heart-attack snow. My 1986 Simplicity snowblower takes "heart-attack" out of the equation. Tammy and I had plans to spend a few hours perusing a craft fair at Canterbury but bad roads changed all that.

I'd been watching the forecast and spent most of Friday outside putting up our Christmas lights and finishing what little yard work I had left. I suppose it's possible the snow will all be gone by this time next week and I'd have another shot at getting it all done but it's nice to have all my outdoor jobs finished for the year. I also appreciated being able to get the lights hung while it was still warm enough to do it without gloves.

We're entering a new collaborative period at work between labor and management called WE; an acronym for Workforce Engagement. It's a program designed to give each and every worker a voice in the direction we're headed as an organization; at least that's my understanding. We've had similar programs in the past and while I'm not necessarily opposed to them, I am highly skeptical about management's true intentions. Had this been something they wanted to do on their own out of an honest heartfelt need to rebuild a relationship with the workforce that too many of them took glee in destroying, I'd be more inclined to embrace it. But that's not what's happening here.

What we're actually seeing is the influence of a labor-friendly White House administration; the same administration that got us a contract last year after 3 years of imposed work-rules. I'd love to believe otherwise but any controller will tell you that had McCain been elected, we'd all be looking at our 5th year of frozen wages while watching management and staff receive their raises as they always have. And to be clear in this age of overwhelming budget deficits: I was actually fine with frozen wages for 5 years as long as everybody FAA-wide was sharing in the pain. But it was only controllers who were called on to make that sacrifice; 15,000 people out of 1,800,000 federal workers.

The troubling thing is that we're only an administration change away from a return to where we were.

I have a relatively short time left in my career and I really shouldn't care but I do.

Now that Republicans have regained control of Congress with a fiscally conservative (I won't be fooled again) agenda there's been no lack of discussion in the news about what programs to cut to solve the massive budget deficit facing us. Last Saturday's NYT had a Budget Puzzle where you take charge of our nation's finances and see how whatever programs you choose to cut affect the deficit.

Give it a try.

Here's my solution. What's yours?

Tammy thinks I should be President but she doesn't want to be the First Lady. What's a guy to do?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

25 or 6 to 4...

...did you ever wonder what the lyrics meant? Wonder no more.

Mom celebrated her 82nd birthday last week and I don't think the significance of that day was lost on anyone close to her. With the deteriorating trend of her heart's health, I think there's little chance that she'll live to see another. I'd love to be wrong.

Jackie and Jerry invited the family over to their home last Sunday to celebrate with Mom. It was an especially nice time and the weather couldn't have been better. Not everyone chose to be there for her and that to me was unfortunate.

Some day I'll expand here on the dynamics of my family, but not now.

I brought our pups with me and they had a free-for-all in the backyard with Gracie, Tucker, Nell, and Diesel.

Whenever there's a get-together at Jerry and Jackie's, you can be sure that you're in for some fantastic eats and this day was no exception. Jackie is without question the Martha Stewart of our family and I mean that in the nicest of ways. I'll typically starve myself in preparation for a visit to see them. I actually invited Rachel and me to their home last Thanksgiving because Tammy had to work and Rachel and I were left to fend for ourselves. With their help, I thought we fended quite well.

I catch my share of grief when I pull out my camera(s) at these events but I do it with an eye to the future so myself and others can look back on these days and remember more clearly what they were like.

Photos on Flickr

Video (abbreviated)

Video (extended)

While uploading photos of the party to Facebook I noticed that Facebook now allows for high-resolution photos. They're not actually high res but they're better than their default/standard option. Additionally, YouTube recently lifted its 10-minute video limit and now accepts videos up to 15 minutes long.

Our warm weather streak continues with the temp likely pushing beyond 70f today. I'm going to leave my bike sidelined this afternoon and spend a few hours putting up our outdoor Christmas lights. I could actually use a break from riding as I've been hitting it pretty hard for so late in the season. I'd love to be out riding today but I want to make sure that my appetite for riding is always wanting. There was a time not long ago when I'd lost some of my desire and I don't want that to happen again. Burning out on something so important to me isn't good.

The guys at work will no doubt agree that I've been practicing moderation in the workplace for a while.

Getting back to song lyrics: what about the Pompatus of Love as sung about by Steve Miller in The Joker?  There's an answer for that, too.

Tammy just phoned me. She's at the park with the pups and telling me how beautiful a day it is outside. She couldn't understand why I wasn't intending to ride after work and encouraged me to get out and enjoy what daylight I could. Maybe I shouldn't disappoint her.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Miscellaneous Musings Late on a Saturday

I came home from work late last Sunday night and noticed the backyard light was on. A doe and her fawn had tripped the motion sensor light and were nibbling on some Euonymus shrubs that line the side of our yard. I watched them for ten minutes before going upstairs to show them to Tammy. They're beautiful animals and I felt privileged to be able to watch them as they cautiously made their way around our yard. It's not in my makeup to hunt them or any other animal. I'm conflicted though because I'm no vegetarian either. I don't have issues with hunting or the processing of animals for food when it's done the right way; it just won't be me doing it.

There was a recent story in the news about singer Troy Gentry and his bogus claim to have killed a dangerous bear while on a hunting expedition. It turns out it was a total fabrication and what actually happened should cause any of his fans to use their CDs of his for skeet practice. See for yourself.

Like any sport, you've always got your cheats. Bicycle racing is deluged with them.

I saw one other video this week that caught my eye. I can tell you that I definitely don't buy into the time traveler theory but I do find the image in the video intriguing and wonder exactly what the person is doing?

Suppose for a moment that somebody was so forward thinking that they were able to plant a person in the film pretending to do something that would only be relevant nearly 3/4 of a century later. I wonder what a film producer might do today that somebody toward the end of this century would find themselves using stop-motion to watch again and again not believing what they were seeing?

Rachel texted me a few nights ago: "So a bunch of kids are dressing up like faculty tomorrow. Guess who I'm dressing up as?"


"The chancellor :)"

And she did. She said he saw her in costume the next day and smiled but then began laughing really hard after he'd passed her by when he realized who she was pretending to be. So did the rest of the staff. Somebody took a photo of both of them together and I'm hoping she'll get me a copy of it.

Mom had another appointment with her doctor last Tuesday and the news she received wasn't good but I think it was expected. The doctor told her that her heart was too weak for any sort of procedure that could maybe help it beat more efficiently. That included another shocking of her heart as she had done last month. That procedure lasted only 10 days before her heart returned to its fibrillating state. I think she had her hopes up that they would be able to do that procedure again with better results.

She returns on Friday for a test to determine her heart's efficiency/capacity on its own. If it's at least 35% she'll have the option of having her pacemaker/defibrillator replaced. Anything less than 35% and it won't be an option for her. The doctor also stressed that a procedure of this sort on someone in her condition is risky and that they do lose people.  She's willing to pursue it as it appears she has no other option.

I spent some time with her last Wednesday and we talked openly about what she's facing. She seems content with her situation. She commented that she's not in pain and that she has a comfortable, warm home. I hope to be that accepting should I find myself in her shoes one day. Her doctor told her that it's a sudden death when people die from her condition. She repeated this to me a few times; I'm sure it's weighing on her. How can it not?

We've got to have the least inspiring collection of gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota this election cycle than we've had in a long time. All of Mark Dayton's signs must be confined to Minneapolis because I'm seeing very few in the rural areas or wherever I find myself out riding. For every single Dayton sign, I'm seeing at least a hundred signs for Emmer, his main opponent.

Dayton will be getting my vote. He's at least being honest about the need to raise taxes—none of the rest of them are.

I thought I was done with my long rides for the year but I was wrong. The temp was in the 40s today with sunny skies and all my yard work was done. I tried to get out early enough to beat the wind (9:30) but it didn't help much. It's late October though and I'm still cranking out the miles so I was smiling.

The plan was to add a couple cities to my Edge 305's database: namely Winsted and Watertown. I got those plus a few more.

133 miles

Usually, I'll shoot some photos along the way but this time I thought I'd stitch together a few videos from the day instead. No doubt a real yawner for anybody else but this is stuff for me to look back on years from now, so humor me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Breathing New Life Into Old

My truck is nearing ten years old. Between new tires, ball joints, front axels, and a fuel regulator, I've had to sink more money into it in the last few weeks than I'd care to think about. I gave it a coat of wax last weekend for whatever protection that may provide from the salt of a pending winter season. I also spent some time cleaning the engine. Before and after.

With Rachel at college, it's not likely I'll be driving something newer anytime soon. But that's okay. It fits me like a worn pair of jeans and I don't worry about small scratches and stuff. I just want it to run well.

Speaking of Rachel: she was elected to Student Senate for Student Affairs Committee, U of M Twin Cities. She'll be UMR's representative. Our little go-getter.

Mom is off to the doctor once again this morning, still in search of a solution for a weak and inefficient heartbeat that has her tired much of the time. She'll have an occasional good day but they're too few. They gave her heart a shock last month that restored her heartbeat to a normal rhythm but it was short-lived. She said the procedure sometimes has to be repeated a few times before it takes. There's also a heart ablation procedure that her doctors are considering for her.

I started my riding season last spring with intentions of keeping my mileage on the conservative side, just as I had the previous two years. I figured I'd be happy with anything over 4000 miles and I was pretty much on pace to do exactly that through the first few weeks of June.

Funny how a trip to the bike shop and a few minutes with Scott Flanders can change everything.

I'd been having saddle issues and had been through several different saddles in the last couple of years in a futile attempt to find one that allowed me to be in it for more than just a few hours at a time. I'd have small successes but nothing sustained. Scott set me up with a Turnix Pro and made some adjustments to my position on the bike which gave my cycling new life.

A new pedal stroke that eliminates mashing of the pedals on the downstroke while emphasizing more glutes has also been key.

Since June 22nd, I haven't looked back. I've ridden more in these last four months than any other four-month period. Ever.

A bit of geek extrapolation for me to look at many years from now (the blue line being this year's progress):

The first half of the year comparisons

Last half of the year comparisons


I got out Friday morning for what may have been my last longish ride of the year—133 miles along the Minnesota River Valley down to Le Sueur then points east. Some of my favorite riding of the year was done along the part of the route that follows the river. It's lightly traveled and scenic with several rolling hills. The ride put me over 6000 miles on the road for 2010. Can I make 7000 before the snow flies? I'll soon know.

I'm a solo rider out there battling the wind on my own so when the occasional farm machinery happens by, I'm quick to catch a draft. They're thick out there this time of year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Fall Ball

Toby is back to his old self and we're all grateful for that. He's snuggled into my lap as I type this.

We made it out to Ritter Farm Park with our pups this week and they were thrilled (at least they seemed to be) to see the llamas again. They were off in the distance when we came by their field but we were able to call them over. Before long, the llamas had their noses through the fence trying to get a better look at the little guys who were being so vocal toward them but sticking close by us for protection.

The high water table I was talking about in a recent post that I thought was causing our sump-pumps to run was actually a leak in our underground sprinkler. I was out raking leaves last weekend and noticed a wet area near the surface not far from where the mainline to the sprinkler runs. I shut the system down and sure enough, our pumps quit running not long after. It was a sizable leak and I'm glad I stumbled onto it when I did. I spent too long repairing it Tuesday on a vacation day from work but I'm glad to have it fixed.

Rachel is having a blast at UMR. She's home for the weekend—sort of. We don't see her much but that's expected. So far she's not feeling overwhelmed by the curriculum but it's early in the year yet so there's still plenty of time for that.

I'm glad that Tammy and I are connected with her on Facebook because it allows us to have a piece of her in our daily lives as she posts photos from her world and updates her status. We get our own personal texts and phone calls from her too which keeps us connected.

Did I mention that she has a crush on her Humanities teacher? Apparently, he's "so hot!"

I can't remember a better fall season for riding and I've been taking full advantage of it. It's been a ball! The only tricky part is waiting for the temp to climb enough in the morning so I can leave without needing a base layer (with the exception being knee-warmers) and for me that's 45 degrees. That's too cold for most to be dressed so lightly but I find that once I'm working it, I have little trouble staying warm. Better to be a little chilled early on than overheating later once the temp is well into the 60s with the sun shining.

I managed 135 miles on Wednesday and 118 miles on Friday; both part of a 410+ mile week on the road. I don't think I've ever put up those sort of numbers this late in the season. It helps to have a wife who encourages me to go out and enjoy the weather while I can. I'm so spoiled.

Tammy and I have never been ones to decorate for Halloween—much. We were walking through the Burnsville mall late last year when we saw a little guy on clearance that we had to have. I'll bet you'll want one too...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Toby's Troubles and Full Fall Days

My typical routine on my way into work for the all-night shift is to stop at McDonald's in Farmington for a large, light Lemonade. It's always $1.07 and I usually have the exact change in hand for the person at the window. I placed my order last Wednesday night and the total came to $1.70. Huh? I asked the cashier and she said that all their prices were raised since they're having their Monopoly promotion. Again: huh? I paid the extra amount and proceeded to the next window to get my drink. I looked at the advertising on the cup as I drove away and was somewhat miffed to read that 1 in 4 players wins; the other side of that coin being that 3 in 4 players lose out. I'd say that .63c is a considerable amount extra to pay for a $1.07 drink to play their silly game. Oh, and the real kicker...the peel-off game piece on my cup wasn't even there. My guess is the person who handed me my drink had a nice collection going.

Somebody please let me know when the promotion is over.

Toby gave us a scare late last Sunday night. Our pups sleep in bed with us and I woke up around 2:30 AM to find Toby sitting up with the sheets wet around him. I turned on the light and saw that the wetness was actually blood from his rectum. I woke Tammy and she got on the phone with an emergency vet clinic in Apple Valley to make arrangements to have him seen. They told us it was likely a ruptured anal gland and that we should bring him in.

And so we did.

And that's what it was.

They took him into surgery and we left for home to get some more sleep. We returned a few hours later to pay the balance of our $580 bill and bring him home. The poor guy had a few miserable days to follow.

We brought him to our regular vet Thursday morning for follow-up and to have the sutures removed. The doctor said he looked good and impressed on us that in the future, a situation such as what he had isn't considered an emergency. It may look bloody but it will heal with or without surgery. But, she also said that the vet in Apple Valley did the right thing by having us bring him in to confirm that's what it was. I don't recall the Apple Valley vet stressing that surgery wasn't necessary although he may have.

We stopped at the desk to pay on the way out and Kris told us that there was no charge. Wow—we weren't expecting that but then it's one of the main reasons we use their facility and will keep coming back; they're very reasonable.

We've been having the most unbelievable weather the past couple weeks with temps making it into the upper 80s both Friday and Saturday. I took full advantage of both days to do some serious riding and yard work.

I got away just before 10:00 Friday morning and began working my way into a 10 mph southwest wind with thoughts of riding to St Peter. It was a perfect day for a Mankato loop but I didn't think I had the daylight for it. I could realistically get 135 miles out of the day but not 150.

I was feeling good as I approached St Peter and looking forward to my headwind becoming a tailwind as I crossed over the Minnesota River into the river town sometime before 2:00 where I headed north. Little did I know of the ordeal that awaited me getting back across some 50 miles ahead.

Tammy was in the office and knew I'd be gone all day.  She asked if I'd text her occasionally to let her know how I was doing. I gave her a quick update then jumped onto highway 169 and had no sooner dialed my speed up and gotten comfortable when I passed a sign giving distances to a few different cities ahead. I stopped and backed up to grab a shot for a Facebook status update.

I was also using the ride to store the names of several cities into the data base of my Garmin Edge 305 as I passed through them. Unlike my 705, it has no map capability and the only points it stores are those I manually enter into it. Since having it refurbished a few months ago I've had to reload all my cities. This would be a good ride for adding detail southwest of home. There's a sense of accomplishment with each city added, at least for me.

The east side of 169 was closed for a stretch of maybe 5 miles and traffic was shuffled to the other side of the highway where I had much less shoulder to work with. I did my best to keep my speed as close to 30 mph in the 40 mph zone as I could to minimize the impact I was having on traffic hurrying to get home at the end of their workweek. One woman shook her fist as she passed me for causing her to have to slow slightly. Whatever.

I got off Hwy 169 just long enough to pass through Le Sueur and mark its position then made my way back to the highway with my sights set on Henderson to top off my water bottles and get some food, something other than the gels that had been sustaining me.

I left Henderson around 3:00 with 80 miles done thinking I'd have plenty of time to tweak the ride to maximize my time on the road and arrive home just before sundown. I did all that and more. Rather than taking the most direct route home through Chaska and highway 41 toward Prior Lake, I stayed north of the river opting to add a few miles and get across in Shakopee. Normally this would've been a good plan but the road was still closed due to flooding and this I didn't know. Once I realized my dilemma I could've turned around and taken highway 41 across but I decided to gamble with the remaining daylight and pressed on through Eden Prairie and into Bloomington for a crossing over the river on the bike path on the south side of 494. I briefly considered mingling with rush-hour traffic and crossing at Cedar but didn't.

I figured at worst I'd be without sunlight for 15-20 minutes. I'd just have to ride more cautiously.

Working my way back over Cedar on highway 13 I was casting a long shadow with 10 miles to go and only 15 minutes before sunset. Fortunately, every stoplight except for one worked in my favor and I made it home a mere 15 minutes after the sun went down. 147 miles total. I could've done the Mankato loop after all.

I was fine with leaving my bike stabled on Saturday and used nearly the entire day to work in the yard. The next few weeks the leaves are going to own me. Still, I was able to make a big dent in the job and am ahead for now. In true geek fashion—a little before and after...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Charlie is 2, A Flood Day Riding and Strike 2

Charlie turned two last Wednesday. Tammy got him some new stuffed animals to go with the dozen others the pups already drag out regularly. I've never had a more playful pup and he knows I'm a soft touch for indulging him. His big thing lately is to taunt us with his toys as if to challenge us to try and get them from him. Or being a mop. Toby and Allie are content for the most part to watch rather than partake in his antics although they both engage him regularly, too. We're careful to spread the love around to them all.

It's been 9 days since the rain stopped after dumping anywhere from 5-7 inches (or more) in a day. What's odd is that our sump-pumps are still being triggered occasionally which must be a symptom of an unusually high water table. You read that right: we have two pumps to be extra safe. We put the additional one in several years ago when we finished our basement. They've never run this long after the rain quit and I'm curious to see how long it continues.

I took to the road Thursday afternoon completely forgetting that my normal access points across the Minnesota River were closed due to flooding. I'd intended to ride out to New Germany crossing over the Minnesota River in Shakopee but soon scrapped those plans after seeing the barricades. I continued on southwest through Chaska toward Jordan wondering if maybe I could get across there but no such luck. I'd given up on making any tracks into the wind in a northwesterly direction so I was content to follow the river and observe the flooding for myself while putting in some beautiful 66 degree fall miles.

I was finally able to get across in Belle Plaine where I followed the river along the other side while wondering if I might be able to get back across near Blakeley but figured those chances were rather slim. And they were. I didn't really care; I was riding and feeling good, plus, it was the beginning of my weekend.

I noodled around out east and south of Belle Plaine before working my way through New Prague while doing some calculations to make sure I was giving myself enough daylight to make it home. I've been cutting it close on a lot of my rides lately. I finished the day working the hills of Judicial with a Loop Road kicker to put me over 100 miles.

I got a message from YouTube a few days ago informing me that our Judge Judy video was being pulled for copyright violation. I'm guilty. That was our 2nd of 3 strikes. The first being for a compilation I'd put together of the Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon synchronization. All of those videos were generating lots of hits so I was disappointed to see them go. I got busy going through our account looking for any other videos that might garner us our 3rd strike so as not to have our account deleted. I took down all of Rachel's dance videos due to their soundtracks and any other videos I could find that had any sort of music playing in them. Some record companies are more aggressive than others about protecting their music with Warner Bros probably being much more of a junkyard dog than any of them.

But all is not lost.

I've resurrected our Judge Judy appearance here.

Our church, Hosanna, has taken a stand on beverages in the sanctuary; or have they? Cup-holders appeared over the last couple weeks and it's now permissible to have covered beverages with you during worship. I'm not sure what to make of it. My understanding was that it was done as a lure to encourage the younger crowd to attend. I get that but I wonder what the next step is in this evolution? A snack to go with your coffee? Why not? The lines between worship and entertainment may be becoming blurred. As I said, I'm not sure what to make of it just yet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Keith's 50th and More

The elections are coming, the elections are coming! And once again I find myself on the opposite end of the political spectrum from where I previously found shelter and comfort. I was a modern-day-right-wing-latte-sipping-SUV-driving-Christian-crusader, and I was right. I seldom if ever questioned the words of Limbaugh or Hannity and I fully bought into the left-wing media bias theory. Tax breaks for wealthy investors and growth of big-business was all that mattered because as Rush was often fond of saying, "no cab driver ever offered anybody a job".  I'm sure I too would be up in arms at the thought of a mosque anywhere near "ground zero" had I not changed.

It's been four years since I put aside my blinders. I have the previous (Bush) administration and FAA management to thank for bringing me out of the darkness.

I'm still very much pro-life but I'm no longer held hostage over that lone issue—I now understand that it's not always so simple a decision. I'm also very much pro-labor because I understand that without a strong middle-class there can be no flourishing economy; there can be no overcompensated executives at the top without the sacrifices of the much lower paid masses to prop them up. A symbiotic relationship? It would be nice if it really was. Yeah, I know, my thinking is very simplistic. Sometimes there's no need to complicate an issue.

A part of me hopes that Republicans actually do take back control of Congress as the polls appear to indicate will happen. Rather than simply sitting on the sidelines heckling the quarterback (Obama) just brought into the game trying as he might to make something of the 63-3 deficit he was handed, they can lace up their cleats and get some skin in the game. (insert additional comments here about how it was Republicans at the helm when this ship ran aground) But only a very small part of me wishes for that.

Keith and Tracee put on a nice get-together Saturday night to celebrate Keith's 50th orbit around the sun. I remember how he and I used to be at odds so much when we were younger.  I resented him. The familiar admonishment from Mom and Dad, "you're older and should know better" trumped any defense I may have had when we fought. Taking my Slinky and seeing how far he and a friend could wrap it around our house had nothing to do with me being older and wiser but really, I'm over that now. Really, I am. A nicer guy you're not likely to find.

The plan was for me to take Mom home around 7:00 before it got too late but she was enjoying herself too much to leave. She and Tammy got to spend some nice time together talking the night away. She managed to hang in there until 10:30 when we left and brought her home.

A few minutes of party video.

Before Rachel left for college she spent some time working with Charlie trying to teach him to roll-over. He was always so focused on the treat that it made training him difficult. Plus, Toby and Allie were there to show their skills and distract him or maybe he was actually learning from them. Anyway, he's finally got it.

I went over 5000 road miles for 2010 with Sunday morning's ride, the Hampton Loop. It's been a much better year of riding than I expected it would be. I began the year slowly with lots of knee pain but found my stride in early July with the help of a new pedal stroke and I haven't let up much since then. From 2004-2007 my yearly mileage ranged from 7500 to 9000 miles. I'm shy of that pace this year but when I compare those years with this year from July forward, I'm ahead. The past few months have been some of the most fun I've had on my bike in years.

Speaking of fun on a bike—we roadies can often be seen doing what's called a track-stand at stoplights while waiting for the light to change. Rather than unclip from our pedals and putting a foot down to steady ourselves we'll balance with little to no forward movement. I'm getting bored with track-stands lately and I've found something a little more showy to incorporate into my act.

Check it out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

In a Nutshell

I began my blog with the idea that years from now I'd be able to look back on my life and relive experiences through photos and written details that maybe dropped from my internal hard-drive over the years. I want to be able to understand the road my life has traveled by observing how my thoughts have evolved over time. There's actually meaning and importance to me in those small details I muse about.

I haven't done much contemplative writing for a while. It seems my main focus has been on stuff we've been doing as a family—activities and such. My blog gets a fair number of people perusing it now and I wonder if maybe I'm being less candid because of that. I don't want it to be that way. If I ever do begin writing from a what-will-people-think perspective, I'll have to stop.

I've written nothing about the oil spill in the Gulf or the proposed Mosque near the site of the terror attacks on the Twin Towers in NYC. I've talked little if any about healthcare reform or the massive amount of debt we're accumulating as a country. To be honest, I think I invested too much of myself in all of that during the last election and I don't want to do that again anytime soon.

In a nutshell...

The Mosque? Let them build it. Defining all of Islam by the actions of a few people (yes, a few hundred out of 1.6 billion is significantly less than a drop in the bucket) is disingenuous at best. We're either a country of free people or we're not. I tried to understand those who send me emails denouncing all of Islam and with those who post links ridiculing the proposed mosque but I can't.  I'm a Christian but I in no way want my faith associated with that of the minister in Florida who set aside a day last week to burn the Qur'an. I don't believe that peace-loving Muslims feel any different when they're lumped in with radicals who've co-opted their religion.

Healthcare reform? Republicans had 8 years of dominance to begin to fix the problem but were too busy instilling fear in the masses and chose to do nothing. I was glad when Obama took it on but disappointed when his call for town-hall meetings was met with nothing but angry shouts from the right that made any reasonable discussion impossible. What harm could come from actually debating the problem? Everybody keeps saying that we can't continue on the road we've been on. Let's do something.

The budget? What a mess. Too few of us can comprehend the numbers being bandied about. The interest to service the debt of the stimulus will cripple any hoped for recovery and likely have the opposite effect than the one that's intended. Both parties share in this debacle as do we all. We keep hearing that we can't raise taxes or let the Bush tax cuts expire because of the negative impact it will have on the economy. Is there any proof of this? If one listens to Rush or Hannity you'll hear over and over again how lower taxes only help to put more money in the hands of those who will invest it and create jobs for all. It sounds reasonable enough and I bought into it for years never once questioning the logic. During the Clinton years the individual tax rates for the highest earners was 39.6% while the number of private sector jobs increased by 21,844,000. During George W. Bush's administration tax rates on the highest earners were cut significantly but there were 673,000 fewer Americans employed in the private sector. How can that be?

I went from being 'hard right' just a few years ago to 'anything but republican' which is where I remain today, still skeptical of anybody in a position of authority who pretends to know better than others and more skeptical than ever of those who have theirs and fight to keep it that way at the expense of all else. There was a lot of self reflection that led up to that change.

I got up after the all-night shift Thursday morning and spent a couple of hours playing catch-up with the day while considering soft-pedaling my way through 35-40 miles in the afternoon. As I was preparing my water bottles Tammy suggested I enjoy the day and stay out for a long ride. I hadn't considered that option. The temp was in the mid 50s with light winds. I told her I'd maybe take her up on that depending on how I felt once I got into my ride. I didn't get away until after 1:00 but quickly found my rhythm and liked how I was feeling. I began doing some computing to see how far I could stretch the ride to get the most from it and chose a route that I could shorten up if need be or one that I could easily extend if I was riding well enough. I arrived home 101 miles later with 5 minutes of daylight to spare but I had to make a strong push the last two hours to beat sundown. It was a very good day on my bike.

I'm so blessed to have a partner who encourages me as Tammy does because I get a sense from a lot of guys on some of the cycling forums I frequent that they have significantly less time for their bikes.

My neighbor and coworker, Mark, has been slowly catching on to the cycling bug. We've ridden together a few times in the past month even though I'm typically one who prefers to ride solo. I'm happy to help Mark get started. We went out early Saturday morning and he managed his first ride over 60 miles which is quite good considering how little he's ridden. I spent part of the ride encouraging him to consider the Minnesota Ironman ride in April for his first century (100 miles).

Mom went in last week to have her heart shocked into a more normal rhythm. The procedure took only a few minutes and was successful. Her heart has been operating so inefficiently the last few months but we're hopeful now that it's pumping as it should that her energy levels will become more normal. She's still very tired much of the time.

Tammy and I made it out to both the Lakeville Art Festival and the Renaissance Festival on Saturday. We couldn't believe the amount of cars parked outside the Renaissance Festival. For as many as there were, the grounds inside absorb the people well. I don't see me as ever being the type to dress up for the festival as so many others do but Tammy would like to. She wants to make costumes for us both and possibly Charlie too for next year. Charlie gets no say. I do.