Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trike Trials and Class 3 of 5

I ventured beyond the barriers of closed Blackdog Road the other day to see how much work remained before the road was open to traffic again. The Minnesota river is well within its banks now but the flooding has left behind tons of silty sand that is still being gathered up and taken away. As I negotiated the tricky surface on my bike, I noticed several nesting pairs of Canadian Geese just off the road's edge. They're fine for now as there's no traffic to speak of but once the road is reopened I'm not sure how they'll adapt.

I got a phone call from my mother last week and listened as she excitedly told me about her plans to buy a trike for riding around her neighborhood. She's been having increasing difficulty doing her daily half hour walks (she'll be 82 in November) and thought that a trike would be a good way for her to be able to get some exercise. I too thought it was a great idea and one that I'd never considered.

Without telling our mom, all six of us siblings pooled our money and purchased a trike for her as an early Mother's Day gift. Keith and Tracee took her to Erik's Bike in Burnsville Sunday afternoon and let her pedal it around the parking lot to make sure it was something she could handle. It didn't go as smoothly as she would've liked but we were sure that with a little practice she would eventually master it. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. She can't seem to coordinate the steering and that results in the bike not always going where she wants it to. She called yesterday to say that she was going to have Keith pick the bike up and return it. She sounded disappointed and shaken up by her venture away from home earlier in the day. I felt bad for her. I'd like to work with her some more because I'm certain she could learn to ride it with a little more practice but I don't want to pressure her.

Some video from a couple days ago.

Tammy and I had our 3rd glassblowing class at Foci studio in north Minneapolis last night. As we drove into the city during rush-hour traffic I took note once again of the solid double white line along sections of 35W and wondered when we can expect our briefing on the rules for using these lanes. The signage associated with the markings is lacking. We either missed the briefings or there's no such animal because they seem to be up and running already.

We spent our first two glassblowing classes making simple paper weights as we learned how to gather and shape the molten glass. Last night was our first attempt at actually blowing air into the gather of glass and working it into a cup shape. Very basic stuff but not nearly as easy to do as it looks. My first attempt shattered in the glory hole because I fiddled with it too long during one of the phases and allowed it to cool more than I should have. One simple phrase you learn early on, 'hot good, cold bad'.

Tammy's first effort was beautiful and I was happy for her because I think she was feeling like I was catching on to this faster than she was and that's not so. She finished the night with two successful pieces out of three attempts while I managed only one. It can be a little frustrating but that feeling is soon replaced by one of determination when you take another turn at the bench and try to learn from your previous mistakes. We're both loving the experience. We have one more instructional class next week followed by our final week where we're on our own as our instructors stand back and observe us.

There are many talented glassblowers working in the studio and it's easy to feel intimidated because of our limited ability but what we both sense is an environment where people are very willing to help us learn to art and that's encouraging. When our classes are done we'll be free to rent space and work among the others. We intend to get right into it and not delay otherwise we'll be less comfortable going back the longer we wait.

Look for our paperweights and goblets at a craft fair near you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Shocking Fix from Tires Plus

I went to Tires Plus in Lakeville last Friday morning to have the oil changed in my truck. While paying for it, the guy behind the counter mentioned that all four shocks were leaking and in need of replacement. He said that for a truck with as many miles as mine (97,000) it's not uncommon. I thought for a moment and told him that I was quite sure I'd had them replaced maybe two years ago. He said that can't be so because they looked to be original. Two thoughts were running through my head: the work I paid for two years earlier was never done or he's trying to sell me something I didn't need.

I explained to Jimmy that I was sure I'd had the work done at his shop but he said he had already looked and there's no record of them having done it. My next thought was that I'd had the work done someplace else. Regardless, two years doesn't seem very long for shocks. I asked him if it was possible that I didn't get what I paid for. He assured me that anybody in his shop caught selling a customer something they didn't need or not doing the work results in immediate termination. That's what I wanted to hear but was that all it was?

I left for home and when I got there I pulled into the garage and proceeded to empty the contents of my glove-box onto the passenger seat. I'm good at keeping receipts for work done on our vehicles so I was reasonably sure I'd be able to find it. And I did. Sure enough, all four shocks had been replaced in May 2008. I called Jimmy at Tires Plus and gave him the invoice number which he located in their database. Why he was unable to find it before I'm not sure.

He offered to do the work of replacing the shocks for only the cost of labor. If I believed him, the work needed to be done but I still wasn't convinced he was being straight with me:

  • The shocks had less than 17,000 miles on them and all four had failed?
  • The invoice for the original work was actually in their system but he couldn't find it?
  • He told me the shocks looked like original equipment but they were supposed to have been replaced by his shop?
I'd been told at my last oil change (different shop) that one of my shocks was bad so I wasn't totally surprised that they needed attention. Maybe I'm a fool for giving Tires Plus another chance but I decided to allow them to go ahead and replace the shocks.  But, as Jack Byrnes (Meet the Fockers) says, 'they're no longer in my circle of trust'.

I did the Hampton loop yesterday in some ridiculously strong winds (a steady 30 mph) from the southeast. It was all I could do to manage 13.7 mph on the way out without pushing too hard on my knees. The ride home was entirely different with sustained speeds often times easily over 30 mph. A few miles south of Coates on highway 52 I thought I'd break out my Droid and capture some video while seeing if I could dial the speed up to something in excess of 40. I held my Droid with my teeth in an attempt to try and shift gears. I've titled the video 'Stupid Bicycle Tricks'.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Damn the Torpedoes Full Speed Ahead

I'm too over-scheduled. I find relief in knowing that life should return to something resembling a more normal routine in another month. Until that time I'll focus on my unscheduled weekends.

We're both excited about our glass blowing class. In our first lesson, we went over the different tools used in manipulating the glass and the proper way to move about the work area to minimize the risk of burns. We also learned some fundamental considerations when working with the molten glass. Something that became apparent once we sat at the bench and began to shape the glass was that nothing was as easy as our instructors made it look. There's a knack to everything. More to follow as we progress.

I've been struggling with Hosanna's (our church) decision to leave the ELCA. Whether we remain a part of the ELCA is unimportant to me but what does concern me is why we're leaving. The ELCA recently voted to allow gay persons in a committed relationship to serve in leadership positions in the church including pastoral positions. It was this decision that caused us to poll our membership to see what we collectively wanted to do; to remain a part of the ELCA or to part ways. Our membership voted overwhelmingly, 97%, to leave. We're quite sure of ourselves. I'm in the 3%.

The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin and it's not my intention to argue that. Where I'm finding difficult is how we're able as a congregation to single out homosexuality among a whole lot of other sins (sins that many of the 97% in our congregation embrace) and make this our line in the sand. We're taught that there aren't degrees of sin; that one sin isn't worse than another. What about gluttony? That too is a sin but I don't see us removing persons from leadership positions in our church with a body mass index above a set level. Why not? To me it's hypocritical to single out gays and lesbians.  What message does it send to them? It's certainly not one that says 'you're welcome here'.

I was volunteering at Hosanna's Tuesday night community outreach shortly after Hosanna's decision to leave the ELCA was announced. I was helping an elderly man from his car to a meeting he was attending inside and down the hall from where we were set up painting nails and applying religious-themed tattoos to little arms. I knew Ike when he lived across the street from me up until 5 or 6 years ago. I walked with him over to the table where he liked to sit. A man got up out of his chair to greet him: "Ike, did you hear the news? ...we're leaving the ELCA...isn't that great?" The man was gleeful but did he know that Isaiah also has a daughter who is gay? I doubt it. I doubt that Ike shared in his friend's happiness.

To be fair, our lead pastor was very careful to tell the congregation on more than one occasion leading up to the vote that this wasn't about taking a stand against gays, but rather, following biblical doctrine that makes it very clear that the direction the ELCA has taken is opposed to what the bible teaches. I get that but this to me is a very clear message that there are degrees of sin and while we're able to overlook some we're not able to do that for them all. We've got lots of gray areas here and it's troubling to me. I don't have an answer but I do have a suggestion: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

I took to the roads this afternoon to get in some much-needed saddle time. I had visions of a 100-mile ride working through my head but once I got to Belle Plaine I lost my motivation and headed for home. Coming through Chaska, I opted for staying north and crossing the river on highway 101. I wouldn't learn until I got there that it was still flooded over. I pressed on up Flying Cloud Drive past the airport and looked back at the flooded river valley. It's taking a long time to subside.

I passed under Highway 169 in west Bloomington and considered mingling with rush-hour traffic for the mile and a half it would take me to cross the river but it's considered a freeway there and bikes are prohibited. I took a chance and headed over to the Bloomington Ferry Bridge thinking I might be able to cross there but no such luck. The paths along the river were underwater. The further east I pedaled looking for a river crossing the less I cared about being pulled over but 35W wasn't the place to test the law. Rather than the bike crossing at I-494, I contemplated my next crossing option at Cedar Avenue, another bike prohibited route. I rode past it before turning around and headed down the ramp passing cars being metered to get on the freeway. This would only take me a few minutes I figured and any cop would understand since all the river crossings for me had been flooded over the last 20 miles. No cops and no problem.

I arrived home after 84 miles, just in time to help Tammy unload her car of some fresh organics from Nature Valley Foods. She said she wanted to try and make a fresh pizza for dinner and by the time I got out of the shower our entire main level smelled like a pizzeria. I'm digging this organic stuff.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tick Time and Going Organic?

Happy Easter!

I'm finished complaining about the winter of 2009/10. We got through the month of March with zero snow to account for it which left me with not such a bad taste in my mouth after all.

Tammy and I are once again making trips to the dog park a regular part of our routine. We were dividing our time between Ritter Farms and Three Rivers/Cleary Lake but it appears Ritter has one big disadvantage working against it. Ticks. We took the pups there Thursday and later that night found that they were loaded with them. We're at 22 ticks and counting. I took a trip to the vet the next day and stocked up on Frontline. Frontline isn't a repellent nor does it get into your pet's bloodstream. The following is taken from their website:

"FRONTLINE Top Spot and Plus spread over the pet's body by a process called translocation. When applied, these products are gradually dispersed by the pet's natural oils, collecting in the oil glands in the skin. It is then "wicked" onto the hair over the next 30 days. The translocation process can take up to 24 hours to complete."

Fleas and ticks become infected with the poison and die within 18 hours of contact with a treated pet. It's not cheap when you've got 3 dogs to treat at $15 per pup per month but it's worth it to us. I know I can likely find it cheaper online but I don't mind the idea of paying a little more through my vet to increase their profits and keep them there for us.

Ritter Farms is a better park and I don't want to avoid going there. We never noticed a problem with ticks there last year so I'm hoping this is a temporary thing. We did get off the trail at one point as we trudged through some tall prairie grass to avoid some muck along the trail and that may be where we picked up the ticks.

Rachel got back from her mission trip to Texas last night. They spent a week in the town of Orange rehabbing a home that had been damaged from Hurricane Ike in the summer of 2008. She spent most of her time insulating and hanging sheetrock in the home of a woman in her 60s. She was very grateful for the help as she's been living in temporary housing since the storm and is longing to get back in her home.

Tammy and I got a feel during the week for what it's going to be like when she's off to college. We're definitely going to miss her presence but the digital world we live in will help keep us connected in ways that weren't imaginable not so many years ago.

I finally got the 4th of 6 panels done for our entertainment center over the weekend. The blue glass doesn't show up very well in the picture to the right. This photo gives a better idea of the colors being used. We hope to have the two remaining panels completed sometime next winter so we can then get busy dabbling in some other projects.

We watched Food, Inc. over the weekend. It's probably not the sort of movie you want to watch if you don't want to upset the cute farm scene in your head you've been led to believe exists where our beef cattle and chickens are raised. But the movie is about much more than simply dispelling that myth. It's about politicians who are beholden to big business and political appointees who go from working for these huge corporations to positions within the government that regulate the industry. Never a good thing. It's also about the organic food movement and how and why it's gaining ground among consumers; including us. Tammy went to Valley Natural Foods yesterday in Burnsville and paid the $100 membership fee. I'm sure most people who know me will laugh at the idea of me going organic considering some of the stuff I subject my body to in the name of workout food. Anyway, check out the trailer to the movie below. If you're a Netflix subscriber you can watch it online.