Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goodbye Cocoa and Road Trip to UMR

28 years ago today I reported to the FAA academy in Oklahoma City to begin my career as an Air Traffic Controller. Of those I reported with to Minneapolis Center (ZMP), only one other remains: Mike Deml. Mike will be forced to retire in July because that's when he turns 56 years old—the maximum age for working traffic. I'll be sure and catch the lights on my way out.

I got some sad news last week. I had two cockatiels back in the '80s and '90s named Coocoo and Coconut—they had one offspring named Cocoa. My niece Melody has cared for Cocoa for the last ten years and she wrote to me to say that he passed away in her hands last Sunday night just shy of his 24th birthday. Odd because I had just been thinking about him a couple days before he died and wondering how he was doing. He was a real sweetheart and will be missed.

The three of us headed down to Rochester on Friday for an open-house at UMR. It was a chance for students to mingle with future classmates as well as a time for both kids and parents to have their questions answered. Rachel is now fully committed to going there and we're happy that she's excited about it. We stopped at the U of M store on the main level of the mall where the campus is located so she could pick out a sweatshirt and a key-chain lanyard. Yes, you read that right; the campus is in a mall. I believe it takes up the top two levels. Here's a photo I took last summer looking back at the school from a commons area among some shops.

The chancellor of the school gave a 15-minute talk to us and stressed that if a student wasn't struggling through the program, they weren't getting their money's worth.  He said the number one thing they're requested by employers out in the world is for graduates who are able to work in a collaborative environment. Tammy and I were talking later and we both agreed that this is something Rachel is going to need to work on. She has a tendency to just do a job to get it done rather than waiting for others to do their part when working on group projects. But we're thinking of some of her experiences in high school where she's dealing with more slackers than she will be in college (hopefully) and that's probably not a fair comparison to make.

We had to hurry back so she could catch a bus bound for Texas and a week-long mission trip with the kids from Prince of Peace in Burnsville.

I had my first Dads' Dance practice last Tuesday night with 13 other fathers of kids at Brenda's School of Dance. That will be a regular part of my schedule for the next few months until Rachel's dance recital in June. I had to play catchup because I had to miss the first practice; not something you want to do. This stuff is much harder than it looks. It's a lot of fun though and it's worth all of the time we put into it. I can't give away what we'll be dancing to this year but here's a hint: polyester.

I was trying to finish the window I've been working on for the last couple of months and I'm nearly there. I spent most of yesterday down in the shop and thought for sure I'd finish it but I ran out of time. I've got maybe another 20 tiny triangular pieces to cut and fit before soldering it. I was running out of daylight and the pups were eying me, Toby especially, wanting me to take them walking. There's a look he gives me that's unmistakable from other looks and I know exactly what it means. If you could see how happy they are out on their walks you'd understand why I nearly always give in. The project can wait; the pups can't.

I was out on my bike 3 times this past week. I'd like to have ridden more with the nice weather we had but work keeps getting in the way.  I shouldn't complain as there are lots of people who would love that problem.  I managed 34 miles today before work in 41 degree weather. Not far but anything is at least something.

Blackdog road has been underwater most of the week. I use it quite a lot when I'm riding but it's not a huge inconvenience for me to work around the flooding. I knew I wouldn't be able to get through but I wanted a photo so I pressed on to the water's edge. One last reminder of a difficult winter that is bent on not letting us forget.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Starting Over and Berkvam's Barnyard

I'm an animal lover—always have been, going back to 4th grade when I was one of two students chosen at year's end to give a new home to one of two lab rats that resided in an aquarium on the back counter of our classroom. My parents were always good about indulging in this part of me. On more than one occasion my mom would find snakes or skinks or whatever else had gotten loose in our home and yell for me to come to catch them. One autumn when I was maybe ten or eleven, I collected two garbage bags full of acorns from our yard and stored them in my bedroom closet intent on feeding squirrels during the winter. My mom went into my room one day before the snows ever came to find maggots everywhere on the floor coming from the bags of acorns. How was I to know?

Our doorbell rang last Saturday and it was a young guy inquiring if we wanted any of our trees trimmed along the side of our house. I'd last had it done seven or eight years ago and I was unimpressed with the job they did for the money I paid them. I wasn't interested in repeating that scenario again but Josh caught me in a weak moment and I told him I'd meet him out by the side of our home to hear his pitch.

He had big plans for trimming our two large red oaks and clearing the rest of what remained including some buckthorn, all for $1000. I really hadn't planned on parting with that sort of cash so I countered with a plan to only trim the oaks and remove an elm that was leaning and lacked shape for $400. We ended up settling on the job for $500 and although I knew I was likely paying more than I should, I was fine with our agreement. They were working on a neighbor's yard a few houses up the street so I wandered over to have a look at their operation. I had no idea what to look for.

They arrived late the next morning, much later than they said they'd be and proceeded to give me the hard sell on the full job they'd try to sell me on the previous day. The owner of the company took me aside and explained that the poplar tree was nearing its life expectancy and another tree looked to have been hit by lightning. Yeah, I could see all that but I had no intention of parting with $1000. A few counter-offers later and we'd come to an agreement on the full deal.

I captured some of the job for YouTube then headed off to work while withholding payment until I could see it the next day.

They did everything we asked them to do but the starkness of what was left behind really saddened both Tammy and me. Our wild area between the houses that served as a nice habitat for squirrels and birds is all but gone except for the two oak trees.
I'm sure birds will still come to our feeders but we'll miss watching the squirrels chase each other through the highways of limbs that once connecting the trees that are no longer.

Before and after, before and after, before and after.

I immediately began thinking of ways to restore the area, understanding that it's going to take years before it will ever be as inviting a place for small wildlife as it was just one short week ago. I looked out the window yesterday morning to see that the two albino squirrels are still in the area but it's not the same.

I didn't think I was going to have any projects to do this year but I was wrong.

Rachel had a bunch of friends over to work on their outfits for the Minnesota girls highschool basketball championship game that Lakeville North was a part of at Target Center in Minneapolis last night. The team is coached by Andy Berkvam and the kids were dressing up as farm animals to be a part of "Berkvam's Barnyard". I have no idea if it's a new thing or tradition—this was the first I'd heard of it.

I got a text from Rachel last night while she was at the game to tell me that she was on TV. I wasn't surprised. I tuned in and sure enough, she and her friends were getting quite a bit of exposure with their costumes. I was glad I'd remembered to record it for her. She said they were disappointed because they'd spent hours working on a huge banner they were going to unroll in front of their group but security took it from them before they could use it. They pleaded with security to allow them to tear it into smaller sections but they wouldn't even allow that. Their disappointment couldn't have lasted too long based on the fun they appeared to be having.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Melt and More

I went around our home early Saturday afternoon moving our clocks forward so as to make the loss of an hour less of a shock to my internal clock. I had the following text conversation with Rachel Saturday night while she was at her dad's house.

Me: clocks get moved ahead tonight
Rachel: what time?
Me: you have to get up at 2 am and move them
Me: set your alarm
Rachel: so wait, if i set my alarm on my phone for 8 so i can leave at 9...will it still be the same time?
Me: won't be
Rachel: why not?
Rachel: ahh so confusing
Me: because it has to be done at 2 am or it doesn't count
Me: plus its the law
Rachel: :( urajerk
Me: hahaha

I spent most of my weekend down in the shop working on the 4th of 6 stained glass panels for our entertainment center. It was a rainy weekend for the most part so I wasn't feeling the tug of my bikes all that much. I got called in Friday night for an all-night overtime shift so any motivation I may have had for a Saturday ride was all but gone. I made enough progress on the window that I should be able to finish it in the next two weeks and my guess is I'll probably wrap up work in the shop at that point until next winter. Each year I tell myself that this will be the year I find time to still dabble in glasswork during the summer but after the winter we've just had, I can guarantee this won't be the summer. I'll be indoors as little as possible.

The big melt is on and for the last few days our sump pumps have been kicking in with great regularity; at one point, every few minutes. Another week like last week weather-wise should be the end of our snowcover but this is Minnesota and there's still several weeks of winter to get through so I don't want to get too far ahead of myself mentally.

We've begun thinking about Rachel's graduation party which we're planning to host the 3rd Saturday in June. I'd like to put together a couple of DVDs of photos and video from her life to have playing in the background on our sets in the garage and family room. In addition to what all we'll serve, Rachel's plan is to have some ethnic food from both her mother and father's side; lefse and egg-rolls. Tammy makes lefse and Rachel's father makes egg-rolls so we've got that part covered. We may enlist my mom to make some Swedish meatballs although there's no Swede in any of us. Trying to keep everything chilled will easily be the trickiest part. We may have to beg for some refrigerator space from a neighbor or two.

I want to add some simple 'tooltips' to some of the thumbnail photos on the site for Keith's shop; the sort where you can read a description of the photo when you hover your mouse over it. For my family's website I've used the 'alt tag' function to add descriptions for thumbnail photos and while this works fine for Internet Explorer it's not so simple with Firefox or other browsers. In Firefox you need to right-click and view properties to see the description which is too cumbersome for what I want.

I thought I could embed some simple Javascript (JQuery specifically) to get the job done but Javascript is more involved than any simple HTML coding I've done so I've decided to try and learn it from the ground up with a Javascript for Dummies book. I'm not very far yet but I'm excited about learning something new and have wanted to study this for a while but I didn't really have a need to. Now I do.

Speaking of learning new things: Tammy and I drove up to Foci studios on Thursday to pick up the paper weight projects we made last weekend. They look like big cat-eye marbles; about what I expected. While we were there we watched a guy (Steve) make the most beautiful bowl with help from a couple of other artists. We're both at the beginner stage where we're still trying to figure out how the massive glowing orange blob of glass at the end of the rod is shaped and colored so it's incredibly interesting to watch. Steve has only been blowing glass for four years but you'd never guess it by looking at some of the work he's done. Beautiful stuff.

As soon as we got home I went online and singed us up for glassblowing classes that will run for five weeks beginning in April. I'm excited about jumping into this but I'm also just a little intimidated by the thought that one or both of us may have little or no talent for the art and that would be disappointing. We're about to find out.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Old Art but A New Endeavor

It seems just a short time ago when Rachel would sit in the back seat of Tammy's Saturn, too small to safely sit up front as Tammy would chauffeur her to wherever she needed to be. I'd taxi her at times but Tammy did most of it. She's so much more independent now that she's able to get herself around and I'm not just talking within a few mile radius of home. She drove out to St Paul Excel Center last Tuesday night to meet up with her bff Camille for the John Mayer concert. Not all that long ago we'd have probably not allowed her to drive there on her own but we're changing. When I was her age I was in boot-camp in the Navy so that thought helps me keep things in perspective.

I was out the door before she got up for school the next morning so I texted her to see how the show was. She had a blast and didn't get home until just before midnight so she took the first hour off school. The senior-slide continues but her grades are holding up.

She was tasked with coming up with a design for tickets for her school's Sadie Hawkins dance. She's always been very creative and I've said for years that I could see her working for an advertising agency although that's not what she wants.

I don't know at what point our work as parents is done but I think she's pretty much the person she's going to go out into the world as and I know for certain the world will be a better place because of her.

I spent a good part of last week putting the finishing touches on a website for Keith's shop. It was necessary to take the domain down from their current host company and get it moved over to the GoDaddy servers where I've got my sites hosted. I'm glad to have the job finished. There's still a bit more work left to do but the bulk of it is pretty much done. I'm using Google Analytics in the background to see what's driving traffic to the site and I hope to eventually get it indexed with Google toward the top for local searches. Check out some of his shop's work—here's a link.  If you're in the greater metropolitan area of the Twin Cities please consider giving them your business.

We've been in a thawing period here for at least the last week and it's more than welcome but it's surprising how much snow is left yet. With high temps forecast to be in the mid-40's for next week, it should take a nice chunk out of what remains.

I was able to get out on my bike several times this week and managed a real nice 65 mile effort Friday under a cloudless sky with temps in the mid 30s. My plan was to do the Hampton loop, about 41 miles, but less than a mile into my ride I quickly scrapped that idea. It was too nice for that short of a ride.

I always try and set a mileage goal for the year and this year I'm leaning toward 5500 to 6000 miles out on the roads. I'll have considerably less projects around the home to distract me than I had last summer so it shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish.

But then maybe not.

I say that because Tammy and I may have found a new distraction (like we need one).

We had our introductory glass blowing class with Jackson at Foci studios in Minneapolis yesterday and we both came away wanting to do more of it. Tammy went first while I watched. We didn't actually blow glass but we did get to gather a bunch of glass on the end of a gathering rod from the furnaces and manipulate it at the bench into a paper weight. The project takes you through the most basic steps of working the glass into a shape while creating some designs within the glass through the use of color chips and tools.

Jackson cautioned us early on that one of the biggest mistakes people make is in touching the rod too close to the glass where it will easily burn you. Fortunately, we were able to avoid that mistake. You're pretty aware of what you're working with but I suppose some people become too preoccupied with other aspects of what they're doing and forget.

Our pieces are slowly cooling in a kiln (annealing) and won't be ready until Tuesday. We'll pick them up one night this week and at the same time look at seeing where our schedules might allow us to fit in our first real classes. For a while our plans have been to wait until we retire before getting involved with this but I was mentioning to Tammy how nice it would be to already be somewhat proficient at it by the time we retire. We'll see.

Video of Tammy and video of myself at Foci.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is it Spring Yet?

Spring is in the air but the accumulation of snow from a harsh winter is preventing me from becoming overly excited; give me a couple weeks. I've got a hunch our sump pumps will get a workout once the real thaw begins. I say 'pumps' because I've got two for our basement. When we finished the downstairs 5 years ago I thought it best to protect our investment by installing an additional pump on the opposite end of the basement from the other in case one of them were ever to fail. The extra pump also has a battery backup. Long steady all day rains cause them to kick in and I'm guessing the huge snow melt we'll soon experience will also trigger them.

I may have a couple rides yet on my rollers this winter/spring but for the most part I'm doing my rides on the road again. It feels so nice to be out. If I get on the road much before noon it's a bit dicey/icy with the refreeze that occurs overnight especially under overpasses where the road is shaded. I can usually manage alright along the shoulder but where it's covered with ice I've got little choice but to take part of the lane. What's equally as bad or worse than ice are the many potholes I've got to work around. I can't remember seeing the roads as pitted as they are now.

Saturday's ride took me into St Paul under a beautiful blue sky with light west winds and a temp ranging from the low 20's to mid 30's. My bike was a filthy mess by the time I made it home (47 miles later) due to all the melting snow but cleaning it was a small price to pay for being out in the sun.

Although I complain about our difficult Minnesota winters I do realize that living in this part of the country actually works well for me. The cold months force me indoors to work on stained glass projects while giving me a break from my riding routine. It's a bittersweet tradeoff but one that keeps my interest high in both pursuits.

I got out again this morning and did a shortened version of Saturday's ride. I like what the warmer temps and more daylight hours are doing for my mental health; a new contract at the salt mine also helps.

Tammy and I have an introductory glass blowing class this Saturday at Foci glass studio in Minneapolis. I gave it to both of us for Valentine's Day. How cool is my wife for being excited about the class? Glass blowing is often done in pairs from what I've seen. I've wanted to do this for a while but I can just about guarantee that it's not something I'm going to become very involved with until after I've retired; not unless a glass blowing studio opens somewhere south of the river.

Edit: we took our class today (March 6th) and I'm not sure this is something we want to wait another several years to do. We're seriously considering jumping into this much sooner.