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.