Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ha Ha Ha Ha...Stayin' Alive...Stayin' Alive

I spent the early part of my week researching the Olympus PEN. My dream camera is one that will take both high-quality photos and video and the Olympus PEN seems to do all that and more but in the end, I couldn't bring myself to take one home without more comparisons. My older and wiser brother who knows a good deal about cameras will be in town in a couple of weeks and together we're going to spend some time at National Camera Exchange kicking some tires.

We rented three hours of bench time at Foci Friday morning. Rather than blown glass pieces to show for our efforts we have knowledge instead which is even better.  Danielle started glassblowing 15 years ago and she stopped by our bench to give us some helpful advice. We'd like to work with her in the future and pay her to mentor us when we can sync up our schedules. She has a passion for the medium that is contagious and we both like her style of instruction.

I'm getting to know every inch of property along the side of our home like never before as I spent another weekend out there picking up where I'd left off with our landscape project. I made an early morning run to the compost site east of Rosemount Saturday morning and noticed more cyclists on the road than I think I've ever seen along that stretch of county road 46. Funnily enough, I was able to maintain my composure and not sink into a mild depression because I wasn't out there with them. I was getting a monkey off my back and not riding at all during my weekend would be a small price to pay for that to happen.

Ripping out and replacing distorted lawn edging was easily the most tedious and frustrating part of the job because of the number of roots that had grown under the existing edging pushing it up. The roots needed to be ripped out and it would put the whole project on a slower track than I wanted.

I knew there was a reason I dreaded taking this job on and why I kept kicking it further down the road but I'm happy to have finally tackled it. With the exception of a few stepping stones placed among the plants and mulch the job is finished and I'm quite pleased with how it turned is Tammy.

Before and after and a short before and after video.

Speaking of Tammy...she spent much of the day touching up the paint inside our house in preparation for Rachel's graduation party. Another item off our to-do list.

We watched The Stoning of Soraya M last night. It's the true story of an Iranian woman living under Sharia Law in a remote mountain village who was stoned to death for (in her words) being "an inconvenient wife". In Sharia Law, if a man accuses his wife of infidelity she must prove her innocence but if a woman makes a similar charge against her husband, the burden of proof is still on her—a man's world in every regard. It's hypocritical to sit back while watching the movie and criticize the nation of Iran for being grotesquely unfair toward women (and they are) while at the same time glossing over entire sections of the Old Testament scripture—the foundation of my faith. Yes, I understand that we now have the New Testament but that doesn't erase what once was.

I woke up this morning with the thought of how truly extraordinary it was for Jesus and his followers to go against the grain of a society not much different than the one depicted in the story and how radical they were for doing so. Rent it and maybe ponder that thought as you do.

Rachel's (and my) dance recital is only a two weeks away. We dads have our last practice this Tuesday night. We're ready but another practice is welcome to keep it fresh for us. We'll also get a chance to run through it a couple of times during dress rehearsal a few days before the recital.

Speaking of dress rehearsal—check out the one-piece disco outfit (including the belt) Tammy made for me. I need to find some aviator glasses before our dance to complete the look.

I'd watched for years from the safety of my seat in the auditorium the dads doing their dance on stage and while I always enjoyed it I never considered joining them until Rachel's teacher asked me one night four years ago. I was waiting outside Brenda's School of Dance in Farmington for Rachel when Dana poked her head in the window to tell me that they were in need of dads for the dads' dance and she was counting on me to be a part of it.  Everything inside me was saying 'no' but by the time Rachel and I got home she'd worked her magic on me and I agreed to do it.

The things we parents do for our kids.

The Judge Judy thing? That was her too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Working to Slow Down

Sometimes it's actually nice to go to work to get relief from my weekend, especially when there's been very little downtime during my days off. Such was the case this past weekend.

I thought about going for a quick ride on Thursday afternoon but that's as close as I've been to getting on my bike since last Tuesday. I don't mind the time off as long as I'm being productive in other areas and I've got no lack of things to keep me from being lazy for very long.

Rachel has several of her art pieces on display at the Lakeville Area Arts Center along with other seniors from her class. We stopped in for a look at her display and those of others. She used to have much more of an interest in art than she does today but I think that's mostly to do with a lack of time for it. She's taken a few art classes during her high-school years and has some nice works to show for them.

The doodle to the left was something she did as a cover for a small notebook. Click on it and look at it closely as there's a lot going on in there. Some of it has meaning (song notes and a favorite bible verse) but most of it is simple doodling. Her work has progressed nicely from her early years.

We were back at Gertens Thursday night to pick out some trees and shrubs for an area along the side of our house that's been in need of a makeover; not something I've been very motivated to tackle.  It's going to take years but we're hoping to once again have a nice habitat for squirrels and other animals to romp around in.

I spent most of my weekend out there first pulling weeds and then bringing in some perennials to eventually create a lush ground cover. Thanks to our next-door neighbor Karen for her generosity as she gave me free rein to take whatever I felt we could use from her landscaping. Her backyard is like having a nursery right next door. Most of what I transplanted is wilted from the shock of being uprooted but I'm hopeful they'll all spring back to life.

Before and after. From another angle, before and after.

This first part of the job is nearly done. All that's left is for me to place some stepping stones within the mulch. Part two of the makeover is to remove what grass is left along the pathway to the backyard then dig in some stepping stones and re-sod the area. That's on my to-do list for next weekend; stay tuned. The area gets a lot more sun than it did before we had the trees removed so I'm hopeful that grass will be able to grow there again as it used to.

We attended Megan and Dan's reception on Friday night in Northfield. Megan is also a controller and was a trainee of mine a few years ago. It was a fun night and a chance for Tammy to finally be able to meet some of my coworkers. It was also an opportunity for me to show the guys some of the moves I've been working on at Tuesday night dance lessons. We nearly closed down the reception but not quite. We planned to stay until maybe 11:00 but didn't leave for the 25-mile drive home until nearly 12:30.  We were having too much fun to duck out any sooner.

A few photos from my camera which doesn't do so well in low light...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gardening, Glassblowing and Senior Prom

I'll need to blow the dust off my cyclocomputer so I can read the screen next time I go for a ride. My bike and my laptop have been taking a backseat to everything else in my life lately. That's not to be confused with whining as I'm quite content to have these distractions or other areas of interest.

We got up earlier than normal Friday morning for our yearly trip to Gertens with the Kings of Leon providing background music for much of our day. With coffees in hand we strolled through Gerten's doors sometime before 9:00 in hopes of beating the crush of people intent on taking advantage of the first nice day in recent memory to buy and plant flowers.  We have our usual routine and pretty much know where everything we need is at despite how huge the grounds and overwhelming the selection.

It's our time to exchange notes about what worked last year and what didn't as we look over the variety of flowers and mentally plant out our garden spaces in our heads as we load our carts before heading for the checkout.

We arrived home with a full truck bed but it wouldn't be enough. We'd spend the rest of the day planting and would get most of it done but the finishing touches wouldn't be applied until Saturday night. It's nice to have the job behind us for another year.

Saturday morning was another early one as we'd made plans to meet Bill at Foci in Minneapolis to watch him and his glassblowing partner, Lucinda. I'd been there last Saturday but Tammy couldn't be with me so I wanted to come back so she could also see the sort of stuff they were doing. Tammy could now understand why I was so excited when I'd returned home last weekend after watching them. She wants to get back in the studio again beginning this coming week. She'll get no resistance from me.

Here's a set of photos I took from the morning. I also filmed Bill creating a vase as Lucinda assisted him. The video doesn't capture the early stages where color is applied to the glass before the first gather but you get a good idea of the phases needed to mold the glob of glass into something useful; in this case, a vase.

Rachel's senior year is quickly winding down. She finished her AP tests last week and for the most part, is on cruise control for the remainder of the school year. Her prom was last night and we were along for the ride up until all the kids climbed aboard a chartered bus for dinner at the Mall of America and then on to their prom in St Paul. Tammy did a great job on her gown; I don't know that I've ever seen her more beautiful.

Photos and video from yesterday afternoon.

Speaking of being along for the ride, Tammy mentioned today how we've been living vicariously through her. She's absolutely right. It's been a fun journey these last four years as she's experienced so much through both high school and church. I don't know how we're going to manage without her so central to our daily lives but we will. I suppose on some level our glassblowing will serve to help occupy our time as we adjust to life as empty-nesters.

Until then, we've got a senior party to plan.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Congratulations and Welcome, Madden

I have to apologize to my brother Tim. He posted a link on Facebook to a song by the Kings of Leon a few months back and I commented that I didn't understand the hype surrounding these guys. I was wrong: Closer

Congratulations to my niece Lindsay and her husband Joe on the birth of their son, Madden. Also, congratulations to Keith for reaching grandparent status! I can't help but wonder how the world will change in this little guy's lifetime?

Friday was a total rain-out and I loved it. They even canceled the Twins game at their new open-air stadium and I loved that too but that's for another discussion. The rain gave me a good excuse to head downstairs to the shop and begin work on the next panel for our entertainment center. I can't remember the last time I worked on a stained glass project this late into the spring.

Tammy had to work yesterday morning while I went into north Minneapolis to watch a friend blow glass for a couple hours. I first met Bill maybe 15 years ago when we'd both frequent a now-defunct stained glass shop in south Minneapolis. Bill's passion was making lamps as was mine but he eventually moved on to glassblowing. I forget when the desire to blow glass first struck me but I have to wonder if it was maybe Bill who planted that seed.

Bill has been a regular where Tammy and I took our glassblowing lessons. I last saw him when we toured the studios in October 2005. Here's a collection of photos from that day. He makes the art look so easy and I know just enough to understand that it's much harder. After watching him I couldn't wait to tell Tammy about the techniques I observed him using and how I want to try some of them when we next rent studio time. Talk about inspiring. We're inspired!

I finally gave in and bought an inexpensive sonic cleaner for degreasing my bike parts. I had a chance to use it last week and it works every bit as good as I was hoping it would. It's not big enough to hold my chainrings (front sprockets) but it does a nice job on the chain and rear cassette. I'm not obsessed with a clean drive-train but for those times when I'm trying to achieve one this sure helps. I use a citrus degreaser in a plastic bag that holds whatever it is I'm cleaning and then submerge the bag in the sonic cleaner's tank which is filled with water. It uses surprisingly little degreaser this way.

I'd written earlier about plans my siblings and I had for buying our mom a trike for Mother's Day and how that maybe wasn't such a good idea. I was disappointed for her when the trike didn't work out but we regrouped and decided to buy her a refrigerator instead. I think she'll get more use from a new fridge anyway so all is well.

The photo on the left was taken earlier today on my way into work. Mom will be 82 in November.

Happy Mother's Day to all who are.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Indecent Proposal

It's tradition at Rachel's high-school that guys don't simply ask their dates to prom; that would be too easy.

I was leaving the neighborhood on the way to work early one morning recently when I noticed question marks written in chalk every ten feet for a block along 170th street. They stopped at the top of the hill just beyond Jaguar with someone's initials and the word 'Prom?'. I couldn't make out the initials as it was still dark and I was moving too fast for my bleary eyes but I wondered if maybe it was directed at Rachel? I waited until afternoon to text her and see if it was. She hadn't noticed them on her way to school in the morning because the sun was in her eyes but she was quick to admonish me for saying anything because if it was meant for her then I may well have spoiled the surprise. As it turns out, it wasn't her invite and she's not sure who it was intended for.

Trina, Rachel's friend across the street, got her prom date request in the form of Skittles spelling out a request on her garage floor to 'follow the rainbow' or some such line which led to a prom date invite inside her home. Trina's parents were in on the plan.

As I was saying in my previous post, these requests are nearly always pre-approved so there's little chance of rejection.

Rachel's invite was also expected and pre-approved.

I let the pups out late Sunday night to find Rachel's car covered with yellow post-it notes. It was her prom invite. I looked a little closer in the light of the street lamp and noticed there was writing on several of the notes on her driver's side window, more than simply 'Prom?' and while I waited for the pups to do their thing I read them. I've never been accused of being a prude but the one-liners on the post-it notes left me disappointed in her date for prom. I had Tammy come out and take a look at my find and she proceeded to take them all down (the notes on the driver's side window) with the exception of the only non-crude one there was.

I thought we should show Rachel the notes but Tammy thought otherwise.

I was up the next morning as Rachel headed out for school and got a quick photo of her as she opened the garage door to see that her prom invite had arrived. I didn't want to spoil the moment but I also didn't want her date to think all was well. I mentioned to her that there were a few inappropriate notes left among the post-its and that Mom had removed them. I left it at that, figuring she would find out from Alex himself what he'd written; and that's what happened. She explained later that night that Alex felt stupid about what he'd done and intends to apologize to us. I was young once too and did some things I'm not so proud of. 

Our dads' dance practice is moving along fine, in fact, I think we're ahead of schedule. As of last night we've made our way through the entire medley of disco songs we'll be dancing to and it's all beginning to come together. We'll be able to work on the finer points (read style) from now until we take the stage in a little over five weeks.

Tammy made a black, one-piece jumpsuit for me with silver panels for the flares in the legs and arms. I only hope my dance moves will do it justice but I know that'll never happen.

We had our last glassblowing class tonight and now we're able to book 3 hour blocks of bench time unassisted to work on our skills. I think we'd both like to find experienced people to work with and mentor us (something they recommend) but until then we plan to practice what we've been taught and begin to meet some of the other artists who rent space at the studio. I'm glad we decided to take the class now as I've been wanting this for a while and didn't want it to become another woulda-shoulda-coulda on my list.

A quick plug for Tracee's website: The Black Cat Market. If you're looking for beautiful handcrafted jewelry you may want to check her site out.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Prom, Dead Sea Scrolls and Crocs?

Tammy has spent parts of the last two weeks working on Rachel's prom dress. They went shopping for one but just as two years ago they didn't see anything worth spending somewhere on the other side of $400 on so they stopped at Joanne Fabrics and found a pattern and some material and got busy.

She's only been to the one other prom and that was done as a favor for a friend. Last year she couldn't make it because it conflicted with her dance recital weekend. She didn't want to miss her senior prom and we wanted to see her go. I think she may have had to talk some guy into going with her or at least that's the way she explains it.

She was telling me how a couple weeks ago at school it was crazy with people trying to arrange prom dates. You need to be sure the person you're asking is going to say 'yes' so there's a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering. She's going with a group of 46 kids and of those 23 couples, only 3 are actually dating. They're renting a bus to drive the entire group to Mall of America for dinner and then to the prom and back to where they started. I don't suppose I imagined that she wouldn't have at least several guys approaching her for senior prom but she's been content to be on her own since breaking up with Josh last fall. Josh is also part of her group.

We got together with some friends from our small group at church Thursday night and met at Cossetta's in St Paul for dinner. From there we headed across the street and down the block to the St Paul Science Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. The DSS have been dated to around 200 years before Christ and are important because they pretty much remove any doubt about the authenticity of the Old Testament, which before the DSS discovery had only been dated to I think the 9th century.

There's more to the exhibit than just the scrolls and I want to be careful not to minimize their importance but the other artifacts they have on display from the era that the scrolls were written add a perspective that brings even more meaning to the experience.

There are 5 sections of the scrolls on display (actually, there are 15 on site but only 5 viewable at a time as they're rotated) and they come at the end of the exhibit. I would've thought there would be many people with their noses pressed up against the dimly lit glass making it difficult to get a good look at them but I found them very accessible. I got in close and studied the print while trying to imagine what sort of quill pen strokes created the writing; writing that was very legible and neat. It dawned on me that what I was looking at was written possibly hundreds of years before Christ's birth and that thought caused me to pause especially when reading sections of Isaiah 53 originally written 700 years before the birth of Jesus. I'd never been so close to something so historically significant. How the scrolls managed to remain intact and undisturbed for 2000 years is truly a God thing.

I definitely recommend going to see the exhibit if it comes to a city near you.

We had our 4th of 5 glassblowing classes last Wednesday night. I love the classes but having to rush afterwards to get to work for the all night shift is getting tiring. I'm looking forward to finishing our initial instruction so we can schedule time that works with our schedules. Tammy wants to take a secondary glassblowing class beginning in July that meets Thursday nights. Count me in.

I got out for a quick ride yesterday and did my best to dodge the scattered rain showers that dogged me the last half of the ride. I had some help. I had the browser on my Droid dialed in to the local weather radar and it gave me a good idea of what to expect. Did it keep me dry? No. In years past when I was out riding in threatening weather I'd give a quick call to Tammy and have her give me her best interpretation of the weather radar on the Weather Channel. Not to diminish Tammy's efforts but this setup is much better.

I'd never stopped at Tim's house (another controller from work) but I knew he was in the area when I got about 18 miles south and I easily found his place. He's got at least a couple of years worth of projects on his plate but I figured he could spare 20 minutes to give me a rundown of his list from a grassy area where my cleats wouldn't collect any mud.

I've been reading his (now defunct) blog updates on his latest project but they didn't prepare me for how big it is. To repeat a word Rachel likes to use, it's gynormous!

I expected to see Tim in his overalls but the crocks on his feet surprised me. I couldn't imagine any self-respecting hobby farmer wearing crocks but there he was. I told him about a group on Facebook that I belong to: I Dont care How Comfortable Crocs Are, You Look Like A Dumbass. He laughed. I pedaled away and hadn't even gotten out to the main road when it struck me that I missed a good photo-op with Tim in his crocks.

Improving on a failed attempt from the previous week I returned to the scene of the near demise of my Droid to get the video that had eluded me.

And that's a wrap.