Saturday, December 31, 2011

From My Notes...

I'm sitting here, New Year's Eve, relaxing by the crackling fireplace with a glass of wine ('s empty...brb) and my laptop. I don't know that life gets any more relaxing. Tammy has been in the office all afternoon and evening taking calls from people in search of medical assistance, sussing out their needs and coordinating any required help. Our most mild and brown winter is going to have a new look when we wake up in the morning as snow is falling heavily. I'm ok with that. I've got a new snowblower that is itching to show me what it can do as well as my Mukluk. They both thrive on snow. I'm becoming more accepting of it.

It's been a full week for us. Aren't they all? I'll typically make notes on my Bionic throughout the week of things I'd like to touch on in my blog and this week there's a long list. I won't get to them all. I've become more aware in recent years that less is more. It'll be difficult to hold true to that but I'll try.

Rachel took advantage of her Christmas break to have her wisdom teeth taken out on Wednesday. Oh no—did she take a shot at my blog while speaking her mind coming off the anesthesia? The razzing she received afterward seems somewhat of a rite-of-passage for people her age. It was all I could do the day after to look at her and not laugh—her cheeks were so big and swollen. She had friends Skyping with her all day Thursday to have a look and a laugh. She's a good sport! The photo to the left was from this afternoon after most of the swelling had gone down.

Rachel showed me a bizarre video she took in Rochester a couple of weeks ago. She and friends were driving back to their home when thousands of crows descended on the city. Almost like something out of the movie The Birds except these seemed maybe a little friendlier.

I took advantage of our unseasonably mild weather this week to begin taking down our outdoor Christmas lights. I finished the job this afternoon. I typically wait until after the first of the year but I wanted the job done and didn't want it looming over me until April as it did last spring. In case I never again hang as many lights as I've done in years past (a serious consideration), I thought I'd capture a little video of what our display usually looks like.

I was back out on my Mukluk yesterday for what I'd hoped would be maybe 35+ miles on the trails. I only managed just a little over 18 and not because I didn't want to be out there but because I took a fall on my left knee that had me pedaling in pain for the remainder of the ride. In a stupid attempt to capture more video of my rides I failed to see a patch of ice that caught my front tire and brought me down before I realized what had happened. I knew right then that the GoPro camera I've had my eye on was a must-have if I'm going to continue to take video of my rides—and I intend to.

My GoPro should be in Wednesday's mail.

These cameras do a great job and have 5-star ratings but I've always had trouble getting beyond their geek factor. I just couldn't ever see myself with one mounted on my helmet. Not to worry. I came across a guy on a cycling forum I post to who takes some really nice video with the same camera but he uses a handlebar mount rather than the helmet mount. This I can do.

We went to a smaller venue last night in Burnsville (Burnsville Performing Arts Center) to see the BoDeans. Tammy realized a month after tickets had gone on sale that they would be playing but she still managed to get us some not-so-bad seats in the front row of the balcony. I was somewhat disappointed to learn when they took the stage that Sammy Llanas is no longer with them. I had no idea. The band revolves around two main performers, Kurt Neumann and Sammy. It was hard to imagine the band without either of them. Still, Kurt did a nice job of playing mostly some of the band's older tunes but with a couple of more recent ones as well. I've seen them many times in concert and while it was a good show, it just simply wasn't the same without Sammy. Hopefully he'll find his way back someday.

We finished out the night at Mainstreet After Hours in downtown Lakeville—a coffee shop/wine bar that I've wanted to check out. We've been there a few times for coffees but never for a glass of wine. We took some seats next to a table by the gas fireplace and settled in. It was a little discouraging to see such a small crowd on a Friday night but the woman behind the bar assured us that they're usually quite busy but that this has been an off week. That's good to know. We really liked it and intend to go back there regularly. There's an atmosphere within that can't be found at some of the more generic stamped-out-franchise places that we typically frequent. Plus, I always enjoy supporting a local business!

Oh, I almost forgot...Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas, 2011 and the Call of a Mukluk

Quite a contrast between last year and this year...

I love a brown Christmas—well, maybe an inch of snow would be acceptable but no more! Oh, wait a minute...I have a snow-bike now. Strike that!

I had some use-or-lose vacation time to burn through before the end of the year so I took Wednesday off and spent it getting familiar with my Mukluk on the trails along the Minnesota River bottom. I actually had a difficult time falling asleep on Tuesday night in anticipation of my ride. I was excited to get out there and that excitement was for a good reason. It was one of the more fun rides I've had in a very long time. I've never experienced anything like that on a bike. More about this later.

Christmas, 2011 is nearly gone as I sit down to add to my blog. I can't think of another year where I felt so detached from the celebration. I'm not sure why. I just never got caught up in much of the hype this year aside from putting up outdoor lights. I'm actually fine with it and to be honest, I'm thinking God would approve because I'm quite sure He's not too keen about what's become of Christmas. I like that we set aside a day where we acknowledge the birth of our savior but the important message of the celebration is so ridiculously overshadowed by the frenzied shopping for just the right gifts and the parties.

Tammy, Rachel, and I left for Tammy's mother's home around noon Thursday after I'd had a chance to sleep a little after my all-night shift. We drove both vehicles so I could come back earlier as Tammy and Rachel weren't leaving until this afternoon. We couldn't have picked a better weekend for travel considering the weather we typically have to contend with this time of year.

I woke up Friday morning and took a walk around the city of Babbitt to take some photos. The plan was for Rachel to come with me but she was catching up on some much-needed sleep so I didn't disturb her. Babbitt is a small mining town that saw its heyday in the '60s and '70s. Sadly, it's a dying town that never found any identity other than mining even though it's located within a stone's throw of the Boundary Waters which attracts 250,000 hikers/campers each year. Ely, just to the north appears to have done a much better job of appealing to those headed into the wilderness preserve.

Some photos from my walk plus a few others...

Tammy's mother made us a great dinner as she always does and we devoured it too quickly just as we always do. We spent some time opening gifts before I got back on the road to head for home a little earlier than I'd originally intended. I was going to leave the next morning but the forecast back home was calling for temps in the mid-30s under sunny skies.

What sound does a Mukluk make when it's calling to you? I have no idea but I heard it.

Toby watched patiently as I gathered my things by the side door to leave before giving me a penetrating look that was pleading with me to take him. How could I resist? I brought him along to keep me company and to give us some time together, just the two of us as I know he loves that. He snuggled into my lap for a while before making a bed out of my jacket in the passenger seat then drifted off into a contented sleep for the 4+ hour drive home. I love that little guy so much.

I was back on the trails by mid-morning yesterday exploring some routes that I didn't have time for on Wednesday. I'm still attempting to find my footing with these two huge wheels I'm riding atop of and trying not to look too much like a Fred in the process. That's not always easy. I found myself more than once for a split second wondering if I was going to remain upright coming off a hill or negotiating something more technical than the straight lines I'm used to on the road. I'm sure I'll soon look back on some of what I find more challenging now and laugh at my tentativeness.

I survived my first fall yesterday. I was negotiating the small gully pictured here, traversing it from left to right not carrying enough speed to carry me over the top and in too high of a gear to pedal my way out of it. I needed at least one more revolution of my cranks to get into the needed lower gear but I couldn't do it. I fell over and slid a few feet back down the hill smiling the whole time. I quickly got up and took a look around to see if anybody saw me before dusting myself off.

Whew! ...nobody saw me...this is too fun!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bring it On!

We've been experiencing some unusually nice weather here in the Midwest! I believe they're talking 40s for Sunday. I love it!

It appears we're in for our first brown Christmas since 2006 and I for one am very happy about that. Or am I? Hmm—I'm actually somewhat conflicted now because I have an altogether new reason for wanting snow. No, it's not because of my new snowblower and no, I didn't buy a snowmobile. I suppose the photo to the left is a bit of a giveaway. I bought myself a new toy: a Salsa Mukluk! I'm joining the ranks of the fat-bikes! ...or however you say that.

My original intent was to purchase a Pugsley Surly (something I've had my eye on for a little more than a year) but after comparing the two over at Freewheel Bike in Minneapolis, I opted for the Mukluk with its aluminum frame, slightly larger size, and better components and wheels. Thanks to Steve at Freewheel for his guidance in helping me sort through the options.

The fat tires will allow me to take this where other mountain bikes can't go due to snow, say nothing of my road bikes. We've got hundreds of miles of trails in Minnesota and now I'll be able to access them with my bike.

I'm really psyched to get out on it but I have to wait as I haven't brought it home yet—hopefully this coming week. I'm waiting for some things to complete the package and once they've arrived I'll go pick it up.

In an effort to realize some of the investment we've made over this past year in our glassblowing endeavors, if you receive a gift from us for Christmas it's likely going to come from somewhere on the table in this photo. Rachel is free to give whatever remains to her friends as we're running out of places to put it.

Coldplay tickets went on pre-sale last Monday for their Xylo Myloto tour. Rachel and I were on the phone together in front of our laptops the moment they went on sale seeing if at least one of us could score something decent. I did...on the floor in the 40th row. Rachel was excited as was I but it was a short-lived excitement. When I went to enter my credit card data I found that it would only take American Express. My Mastercard was useless to me. I had to let the tickets go. I tried once more days later when they went on sale again but without the previous credit card restrictions. The seats I got were less than desirable but were just as expensive as the floor seats. I took a pass much to Rachel's disappointment I'm sure. Sorry, kiddo.

I've upped my score in Air Control to 467 attaining the rank of Air Traffic Controller...haha. I was reasonably happy about that until a friend of mine topped it with a score of 609. It puts me in the top 1% of players worldwide but I know I can do better. The only problem is that to score so many points (or landings) it's easily a 25-minute investment of time and that's not always easy to come by. But it's winter in Minnesota and what else is there to do? Oh yeah...ride in the snow!

Bring it on!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Celebrating a Birthday and I'm Easy to Please

It's been a busy week and weekend. Normally I'd say that it's nice to come to work to relax but I'm just not feeling it lately. I'm grateful for my job but this strong urge I have to be retired often nudges out those more rational feelings about staying around a few more years to better secure our financial future. It's a good problem to have and I get that.

Tammy and I both took off work last Monday to spend time together celebrating her birthday. We got an early morning start with breakfast at Perkins followed by a 9:00 slot time at Foci. I had a good day there and left feeling satisfied with my progress. That good feeling would vanish come Friday. More about that later.

We left Foci and headed home to clean up before venturing 50 minutes north to Stillwater for the afternoon. It had been a couple years since we'd visited the picturesque city on the St Croix river and we were both looking forward to going back. I'd forgotten how busy with traffic it could be. It's nonstop!

We bummed around in and out of shops that line the main drag in search of maybe a Christmas gift or two in addition to a couple of smaller end-tables for our basement. I nearly pulled the trigger on this Jesus action-figure but felt a quick upload to my Facebook wall would suffice. We made it to Northern Vineyards with just enough time for what would be the last wine tasting of the night before they closed their doors at 6:00. With the exception of one west coast grown grape, they produce wine only from locally grown grapes. It's not the type of California red wine that we typically buy but in an effort to support them, we left with 3 bottles. *wink wink*

The woman conducting our wine taste was full of knowledge about the different restaurants in town and gave us a lot to consider. We absorbed what we could from her then headed to the south end of town where we decided on Luna Rossa for dinner. We were seated in a quiet area of the restaurant that would slowly begin to populate as we enjoyed our dinner. The menu had just the right amount to choose from. We split an order of Penne Siciliana which was not only really good but also just the right amount.

Leaving the restaurant, I programmed my Bionic's GPS to see if we had enough time to make it to Costo in Burnsville before they closed. We'd have enough time to give it a once-over. I needed to see what all the buzz surrounding this place was about as a few co-workers swear by it. Neither of us was very impressed. I honestly couldn't see any difference between it and Sam's Club—even the layout. I'm not much for Sam's Club.

Thursday night found us in Northfield to take in their Winter Walk festivities. The shops along the main street (Division Street) are open later than usual and the city is alive with people milling about from store to store. I made my way toward the rear of the Scandinavian shop, Paper Petalum where an older man sitting in front of a Krumkake iron offered me a sample. He introduced himself as Al Croon and we began to chat while I waited for Tammy to have a look around. He told me that his father came to America from SmÃ¥land, Sweden in 1862 seeking opportunity. He settled in Stillwater. He mentioned how he's been to Sweden several times and what always struck him was how similar the landscape is between where he's lived his life here in Minnesota and what he saw in Sweden. I suppose that's why so many Swedes settled in this part of the country; for the familiarity. Tammy came by and joined in our conversation. Our time with him was the highlight of the night—just a very interesting and down-to-earth guy.

We were back at Foci on Friday where I struggled unlike any other time in the last few months to find my rhythm. It was a difficult three hours for me but I came away with some knowledge about what not to do so all was not lost. I would love to say that my poor performance was because I was pushing the limits of my abilities but that simply wasn't so. I had a frustratingly off day but one that only causes me to be even more determined to improve.

We were assembling our Christmas cards Saturday afternoon when Rachel called to ask if I'd heard that pre-sale tickets for Coldplay go on sale Monday morning for an August show. I wasn't aware of that. The best seats aren't available for pre-sale but we'll take whatever we can get seeing as how our chance to score any at all is so small to begin with. Regular tickets go on sale this Friday so we'll try again then, too.

We met friends Joni and Rob at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre last night to see Hairspray. The dinner there typically leaves a bit to be desired but it was okay. The show made up for whatever the meal lacked. And what a fun show it was! It moves along at a high-energy and fun pace. We've seen two musicals there in the last year (Jesus Christ Superstar being the other) and have loved them both. I think we'll keep the theater on our to-do list from now on.

I'm not feeling the Christmas spirit at all this year. I'm not sure why but it's just not there and I'm not one to pretend it is. I was down in the shop cleaning up when Tammy asked me if I had any requests for Christmas gifts. I honestly couldn't think of one. Nothing. After she went upstairs I was trying to shred some bank statements in the shredder but it wouldn't work. I tried everything I knew to fix it but in the end, I gave up. On the way to take it to the trash in the garage, I mentioned to Tammy that I actually did have a request for one gift this Christmas. I'm easy to please.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Practice Retirement Day

Toby is becoming finicky about his drinking water needs. I've noticed for a while that he appears to appreciate freshly drawn tap water over a half bowl of stale water left over from the previous day while neither Allie nor Charlie couldn't care less. I came into the laundry room where their water bowl is kept and he was standing in front of it looking at me then back at the bowl. The other night during our small-group meeting for our church I could hear his distinct bark coming from the laundry room. I went to check on him and he was standing in front of his nearly full bowl of water. Apparently, it wasn't fresh enough. I refilled it and he proceeded to drink to his heart's content.

We were back in the studio on Friday for a few hours in the morning. We found Steve back in the cold shop working on some pieces. It was good to see him again as an illness has had him sidelined for a few weeks. He came out later and sat at our bench to chat, observe and give us some pointers. We're so thankful when he does that. It's always intimidating having him watch us but the trade-off is more than worth it for the wisdom he imparts. I honestly don't know that we'd be as involved at Foci as we are had it not been for Steve coming alongside us and shepherding us along. He's been a major inspiration and support for us.

We went to Outback Steakhouse on Friday night without a reservation. I'll have to remember to phone ahead next time. We had a 50-minute wait but we didn't really mind as we found seats right away in the waiting area in front and we had our smart-phones and conversation to occupy our time. (I managed to improve on my high score in Air Control to 320 and I'm now a certified Flight Director! If they only knew) We were seated in a quiet booth toward the back and apparently, our order of steaks took longer than it should have. The manager came by our table, kneeled down and began to apologize for the delay explaining that our food order ticket got lost behind whatever machine prints it out on the line in back. She asked us if we'd like refills on our glasses of wine and a dessert at no charge to make up for the inconvenience. I didn't feel it was necessary but I could tell Tammy was happy to have a refill so I agreed. We considered sharing a dessert but took a pass instead. It's still one of our favorite places for dinner.

We woke up to our first shovelable snowfall of the year this morning (4 inches) and I was actually somewhat glad to see it as it gave me a chance to try out my new Ariens snowblower. I went out last night and got it gassed up and ready to roll this morning. Yeah, I was looking forward to getting out there. I love it! The one thing I noticed most was how quiet it is for an 11 hp engine. As I said in my last entry: it'll be the last snowblower I'll ever need to buy.

I'm taking tomorrow off from work to celebrate Tammy's birthday. We've got a busy day planned with an early morning breakfast followed by a few hours of bench time at Foci and then an afternoon of bumming around in either Excelsior or Stillwater. Getting out of bed early enough to do all we have planned should be the only challenging part of our day. I'm looking at it as a 'practice retirement day!'

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2011

We had a really nice get-together at Jackie and Jerry's home for Thanksgiving. I can't recall better weather for the holiday than what we enjoyed; sunny skies and temps pushing into the 60s with very little wind. Short-sleeve weather. My only regret was not bringing the pups with us to play with Tucker and Gracie in their fenced-in backyard. They would've loved it.

In typical Jerry and Jackie style, the dinner was great. What more is there to say?

Photos and video from the day.

My 24" Simplicity snowblower has served me well over the years since purchasing it new in the fall of 1986 but I decided it was time to replace it with what will likely be the last snowblower I'll need to buy in this lifetime. When we're due for another new one I'm guessing we'll be living the maintenance-free townhome lifestyle.

I've had my eye on an Ariens blower for a couple years but I just couldn't ever find it in me to pull the trigger until Friday. I decided I may as well do it now while I'm still fully employed rather than wait until we're retired. Not much buyer's remorse here either. With 11 hp and 30" wide, it's more machine than I'll need but that will only serve to raise the stakes for the other guys in the neighborhood. Oh, and did I mention it has hand-warmers? I may leave that little bit of advertisement just as it is for a while so there can be no doubt.

I confessed on Facebook Saturday that I've become addicted to The Housewives of Beverly Hills, if only for the afternoon. I began watching it for a couple hours while walking on the treadmill but it didn't end there. I kept watching for several more episodes while waiting for Tammy and Rachel to return home so we could put up Christmas decorations together. It's said that money can't buy happiness. This show appears to prove that claim.

We got a good start on our decorations but there's still much to do. As is tradition, Rachel and I worked on the tree while Tammy tended to the other displays. Charlie found that the bottom row of branches on our artificial tree makes a good back-scratcher. We watched him do several laps around the base confirming for us that he is indeed the nuttiest dog we've ever had.

Tammy and I cut out early to go kick around the mall for a couple hours. It's a nice diversion on a Minnesota winter night.

Each year for the past few we've included a family photo in our Christmas cards. A recap:

2007 saw us all wearing glasses

2008 we were our Wii characters

We missed 2009

2010 found us about as awkward as we get in our snuggies.

So what to do for this year? We were sipping on some coffees from Starbucks while tossing around some ideas on the way home from church this morning when Rachel came up with the perfect plan. A photo of each of us in our own self-absorbed way portraying the typical American family plugged into a virtual world, mostly oblivious to the real one around us. I like it!

And so I present to you our Christmas 2011 family photo!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Sunday Evening with Rachel and Mat

I relented to Rachel's pleadings and spent much of Friday putting up our Christmas lights. The task included two trips to Fleet Farm for lights and several trips up the ladder to the roof which really doesn't bother me much at all. It's the section along the front of the house where I have to fully extend the ladder and stand on a rung beyond where I should and reach further than I like to secure the lights that gives me the creeps. I always hate that part and am glad when it's done for another year. I was somewhat amused at Rachel's logic though in that I "have never fallen off the roof before!" Haha! Tell me that when I'm lying broken on the ground below. The job is nearly done with the exception of some shrubs and our flowering crab tree.

And just in time.

We had our first snowfall of the season on Saturday afternoon. What a mess. I don't think I've ever seen an inch of snow cause so much havoc out on the roads. But truth be told, it was more a combination of warm roads and falling temps working to create an icy layer with no residual salt to help melt it away. An inch of snow is usually a non-event but not this time. I ventured out for a trip to Burnsville Center but altered my route to avoid a backlog of traffic. What a mistake. I found myself on County Road 42 in gridlock. I finally made my way via some back roads to where I was going. It was stupid to even be out there but I never imagined it could be so bad and so I pressed on. It was nice to be home in one piece.

Tammy has been working on Christmas tree ornaments at the studio. I may have to have her teach me so I can try my hand at them as well.

I took off work early last night to go on a father/daughter date with Rachel. I always enjoy those times with her. Our main purpose for going out was the Mat Kearney concert at First Avenue in Minneapolis but as usual, we worked a nice dinner into the evening. She chose Fuji Ya on Lake Street in Minneapolis. I'll have to take Tammy there because I know she would love it as much as we did. Once we made our way beyond the bar area filled with '70s disco music we were seated in a nice, quiet booth toward the back.

The menu offered much to choose from but we eventually settled on a Rainbow roll and a Caterpillar roll with an appetizer of deep-fried soft-shell crab. It was all so good. Where has this sushi been all my life?

We contemplated another item off the menu but decided to find a coffee shop instead for some hot drinks and pastry while we killed time out of the cold before the doors opened at First Avenue. It was a fine idea but we spent a considerable amount of time in the 14f weather trying to find an open Starbucks. Rachel used the GPS on her Bionic to guide us and we learned a valuable lesson in the process. That lesson being that when and if we finally make it on the Amazing Race (there's never been a step-father/step-daughter team) I'll be in charge of navigation. She's a good driver, I'll leave that to her. She agreed.

We stood in line out in the cold for 20 minutes when we got to the venue before being let inside. There were quite a few people ahead of us but we still managed to position ourselves in the 2nd row of people behind the railing in front of the stage. A spot we'd occupy for nearly the next four hours.

This place hasn't changed in the 30 years it's been since this used to be a regular stop of mine on the weekends with Gary Sink, busting moves out on the dance floor that I'm quite sure would leave the guys in my dads' dance group nodding with their approval.

The show was sold out to a mostly college-age crowd. Rachel pointed out what looked like one other dad among the sea of heads and for a moment I considered waving to him.

We'd never heard of the opening act, Leagues, but they actually had a couple of songs that I easily warmed up to. Mat took the stage at 9:45 and proceeded to play a 90 minute set of a lot of songs from his newest release but also a smattering of older stuff as well. It was such a good show!

We hung around for 25 minutes after they cleared the stage to see if we could get a photo of Rachel with Mat and have him autograph her CD sleeve but he never made another appearance. Still, it was a great night. Rachel enjoyed herself and that to me was all that mattered. A text from her tonight confirmed that. "My voice is shot. I have a feeling this won't go away for a while".

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Gini Coefficient and More

We've been enjoying the new Coldplay CD that came out a couple weeks ago: Mylo Xyloto. The one song on the disc that I can't seem to get enough of is Major Minus. I can't wait to hear when it comes around on my iPod Nano while on my bike. I have an extra gear for songs such as this!

We were in the studio for four hours on Friday morning. When we got there we went straight to the cold shop as we always do to check out our work from the previous week. I was especially pleased with two vases Tammy did, here's one of them. She's beginning to expand more in the shapes she's doing and it's fun to watch. I had one piece I was happy with.

Tammy spent her studio time Friday working on Christmas tree ornaments—something she's been wanting to do for a while. Out of a half dozen she did, I think there will maybe be at least a couple keepers. She suffered her first nasty burn from the annealer door. Those things are bound to occasionally happen. I spent my time trying to perfect some smaller, purple tea-light candle holders for our friend, Marielle. Out of six I did I'm hoping to have two of a similar shape and size; that was my goal.

We kicked around Mall of America Friday night. I love that place, especially when the weather turns cool and we're just looking for an excuse to get out of the house. It appears they've got most but not all of their Christmas decorations hung. Yes, it's early.

We were open to ideas for where to eat when we stumbled onto Johnny Rockets. My grilled chicken club was perfect but the fries were just so-so. Tammy had a burger and we both agreed that one meal split between us would've been the way to go.

I think my war-on-leaves may be over for the season. There's still more to fall but I'm willing to call a truce. My mowers have never been dirtier and I couldn't wait any longer to clean them and put them away for the season. Dirty mowers and clean (and happy) mowers.

I know, I'm a bit geeky.

I've been avoiding politics on my blog for a while because I find it more depressing than I care to think about and I'm sure people get more than enough of it in their daily lives, they don't need it here too. But I do need to make mention from time to time of where my head is at for my own recollection years from now. Indulge me for just a bit.

I'd like to think I'm an independent voter but lately, I'm much more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates. I believe they understand best that a vital component to the economic recovery we seek as a nation is a strong middle-class; something that's been taking a beating in recent years. Corporate greed has reached truly sickening levels and I've had enough. Right-wing pundits are quick to point out that the top 5% of income earners pay nearly 58% of the taxes. What they fail to point out is that those top 5% also earn the vast majority of income. What conservatives also won't mention is the fact that 43% of our country's wealth is in the hands of the top 1%. That's a number that should disturb you. And I have to add—these frustrations of mine aren't born out of envy. I'm blessed to live an upper-middle-class life.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income/wealth inequality as measured among a population. The lower the score the more equality there is. The values range from a low score of 0.23 for Sweden (the best) to a high of 0.70 for Namibia (the worst). Look at the rankings in the link and see where the U.S. falls. It's not good. Keep in mind when reading the rankings that those ranked first are the worst. Out of 140 countries listed, 100 of them show a better distribution of wealth among the people than the U.S.

In case you haven't noticed, Sweden is a remarkable country with a strong economy which leaves many of our thriving metropolises here in the United States wanting. I'll take whatever brand of socialism they're embracing any day over our capitalistic greed. Hearing how we're the best country on the face of the earth or that the world has ever known is getting very tiring because we're not. We're not even close.

How do we improve on those numbers? We certainly don't do it by refusing to even consider tax increases on the wealthy. But that's the hard-line position Republicans have been taking. They claim that raising taxes on the wealthy will only stifle job creation. Really? The Bush tax cuts (for the wealthy) have been in place for nearly ten years but there's been no resulting job creation from them. Where's the proof? That's all I'm asking.

Okay, I'm done talking politics.

I didn't put out any Halloween decorations this year, not even our cute Dracula display from last year and I'm giving serious consideration to taking a pass on our typical Christmas light display. It takes me the better part of a day to string them all and last year they got buried under our first snowfall and barely made an appearance the rest of the holiday season. I've heard it mentioned a couple times that we're supposed to have an even snowier winter than last year. Hmm. I know that Rachel will want them up and it always gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing she appreciates them as she does but I'm not sure what to do.

A friend from work fell off his roof Saturday breaking his wrist and shattering an ankle while hanging Christmas lights. There's all the excuse I need I suppose.

But I'm a sucker for Christmas lights...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy 83rd, Mom!

I first came across this little brain-teaser several years ago. I'd like to think that I tend to give up on these things too quickly but more accurately, I think I'm just not smart enough to figure them out.

Notice how the picture shifts from 12 people to 13 people. Where does the extra person come from or disappear to? The answer is obviously right before my eyes and yours—so tell me.

Tammy's bonsai plant is not only surviving, but it's also thriving with plenty of new growth! She's got many skills but botany has never been among them so I'm pleasantly surprised. She's been talking about getting another bonsai plant but there's just one thing that concerns me: they need to be watered daily. That means not only do we have to find somebody to watch our pups when we leave town for a few days but we also have to find someone to water her bonsai plants.

I've been enjoying my new Droid Bionic and have experienced few problems if any in the month or more that I've had it. The one feature it has that I'm liking more and more is something called Swype. It's been around for a couple years but is new to me. Check it out. I do my share of texting and find Swype so much quicker than what I'm used to. Your results may vary.

Mom turned 83 last Thursday. I and most others in my family held out little hope last spring that she would live to celebrate the day. We're happy to have been wrong. She continues to plug away at life and although she's been slowed considerably by her weak heart, she's by no means being kept down. She still drives herself around to her appointments and volunteer commitments while picking up friends along the way.

Happy 83rd, Mom!

Rachel posted this to my Facebook wall last night...too funny! ...especially the last two brothers but the boy at 2:25 concerns me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

She's Not Normal

Rachel mentioned to us a few weeks ago about a desire she has to travel to India this summer and volunteer with a medical team there. I admire so much her ambition to follow her heart and seek out that which is often only found on the road less traveled. She's not normal. Can I say that? Tammy made a brief mention of Rachel's budding plans for India in the video I posted to my previous blog entry which prompted a couple of responses from family and friends. Rob from work commented on how his daughter did much the same thing by traveling to India a few years ago as a college student to study and the life experience that it was for her.
He gave me his daughter's contact information to pass along to Rachel. I'm hoping she seeks her out for any and all advice she has to offer.

Speaking of Rachel: for all the many times I mention her here, I was surprised to find that when I did a wordle on the content of my blog, Rachel's name barely registered. I don't understand that. I would've thought her name would be in huge screaming letters obvious to even the most cursory glance, but it's not. She's there but you have to look closely.

We've been taking advantage of the cooler weather to spend more time with the pups at Ritter Farm Park in Lakeville just a few miles from home. Toby is so cute. No matter where we go walking he always has to pause somewhere along the way, make eye contact with me then jump up to give me a big lick on my face. I've always taken this to be his little way of thanking me for taking him on the walk. The last time we were at Ritter I got three separate kisses from him. I love that little guy so much!

I stitched together a panoramic view of the park last week. Click here for much greater detail but do give it a little time to load as it's 12 MB large but (I think) worth the view.

More views from the park.

I was very happy with a couple of vases I did last week. The steel blue color is a little different than what I've been working with and it's quickly becoming a favorite. I hope to play around with it in combination with other colors over the next few weeks. I'm so glad we didn't wait until we're retired to begin this adventure like we'd originally planned several years ago. There's so much to learn here and we're both happy for the headstart!

We took part in the Lights Out Halloween party at Foci Friday night. I resurrected my Austin Powers identity for the night while Tammy stitched something together more in the spirit of the occasion. We had fun watching as the too few people we actually knew had to do double-takes to recognize us. It was a much larger crowd than I think either of us anticipated.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sidelined and She No Longer Lives Here

I had to take some forced time off my bike this week and given the mild weather we've been enjoying it left me chomping-at-the-bit to be out there. Sharp pain in my right calf had me hobbling around for most of the weekend. When an ultrasound was negative for a blood-clot (my main concern), the radiologist suggested it was possibly a muscle tear deep in the tissue and undetectable. A muscle tear? The only thing I could come up with was when I was hauling my 24 bags of leaves out to the curb Monday night after work. I was trying to hurry the job along so I'd run between each trip. Oddly enough, the pain which began abruptly didn't show up until 36 hours later which had me discounting it as the reason but I can think of no other.

Too many times this weekend I was tempted to try and sneak in a short ride to see how it felt but Tammy's admonishment to rest it because I'd only aggravate it won out. She's a telephone triage nurse so I have little choice but to heed her advice.

I came home to a voice-mail yesterday. It was a collection agency looking for my former wife whom I've had no contact with for several years. Tammy returned the call and assured them that she no longer lives here.

End of story.

Not quite.

I received another call this afternoon again asking for Noy. I got a little pissed because I could sense that they weren't going to believe whatever I told them and that I was going to continue to get their harassing phone calls for who knows how long. They told me that because I'm listed as her spouse on whatever it is she's delinquent on, they will be attaching whatever claim they have to my social security number. The caller insisted that I needed to send them a copy of our divorce decree. Hmm. I wasn't sure what to think. Tammy suggested that the divorce is public record and they can find it for themselves. I like the way she thinks. I emailed them the docket number and date of our divorce and left it at that. I'm not all that secretive about my personal life as my blog will attest to but this seemed a bit much to divulge to some anonymous party even for me.

I hope she's not gotten herself into too much trouble.

We both had a very good day of glassblowing on Thursday afternoon. I felt that Tammy really pushed herself and reached a new level of accomplishment. I was happy for her. We're excited to go in next week to see how our pieces turned out. We're comfortable with just one 4-hour session each week now that we've reached a level of proficiency we can sustain and build on rather than two to three sessions a week for 3 hours each time. We're finding our footing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What Will They Think of Next?

I had an extended weekend having taken the last two days off from my work-week. I don't have plans for any more vacation days this year and likely won't take any until next June. It's times like this when I catch myself daydreaming about retirement and the ultimate days off, Monday through Sunday. If I had to guess when I may finally pull the plug on my career I'd guess December 2013. That's the tentative plan anyway and it's definitely subject to change. I'm not even sure I've shared this date with Tammy yet.

I spent Wednesday being totally lazy. It was a rainy, stormy day and that made it all that much easier to ignore any yard work that may have been taunting me. Tammy and I traded Wordfeud moves with one another throughout the day then spent a couple of hours in the evening, coffees in hand, kicking around Mall of America. I love that place!

Speaking of Wordfeud!

I've uploaded nearly my entire music library to Google Music. This is an amazing program/service and one that begs the question: what next? I don't think I could've imagined this just a few years ago. I used it Thursday while driving down to pick up Rachel in Rochester to bring her home for the night (she and Tammy were attending the So You Think You Can Dance tour at Target Center). Rather than shuffle through the 6 discs in my truck's CD player, I tapped into my music library on the 'cloud' and pressed shuffle. How cool is that? All of my music, right there!

I had a lot of fun blowing glass on Friday. All four pieces I worked on, three vases and a bowl, survived the process and made it into the annealer where they'd spend the next day or two ramping down from nearly 1000f / 537c to room temperature. Tammy shot some video for the archives of me making a vase and I hope to add it to next week's blog.

At Rob's request (a fellow air traffic controller) here's a link to a Flickr set where I've been uploading photos of most of our pieces.

I'm up to 177 planes landed in the Air Control game on my Bionic (see previous blog entry) before I pranged two together. I used to dream about air traffic situations during my days as a trainee but not since—until Thursday afternoon. In my dream, I was in the sector at work but the airspace I was controlling was that of the Air Control game and it was crazy busy. I yelled out "I need a D-side! ...and a Tracker!" I was swamped but before help arrived I was awakened by Tammy when she came into the room.

My goal is to actually reach Air Traffic Controller status but I'm around 100 planes shy of that and really struggling to do any better.

Hmmm. Maybe I ought to be rethinking my retirement date.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm Declaring War!

I mentioned Spotify in a recent post. I'm even more of a believer in this music program now than I was a couple weeks ago. I enjoy getting suggestions from friends which is one of the features of Spotify. Listening to a track that you like and want to share with a someone? Drag the track over their username located on the right side of the player and they'll receive the notification and a link to your suggestion. Just that simple—but they need to be a Spotify user as well.

We both struggled to try to blow glass this week. Some sessions are like that so you make the most of learning from your mistakes. There's never a lack of those. I had a three-gather vase take a dive off the punty onto the concrete floor but survive the landing. Together we were able to re-punty and salvage it. I tried to fire-polish out whatever scuff marks it picked up but I'm thinking it may be a candidate for my first attempt at a sandblasted finish to help hide any remaining marks. There's a sandblasting booth in the cold shop at Foci.

Tammy's focus has been on bowls lately and it's beginning to show. The photo to the left is of one of them. The blue is so beautiful in the sunlight.

It's that time of year again: I'm declaring war on leaves! I filled our two 65 gallon compost bins with leaves yesterday, even getting inside the bins to smash them down to make room for more. I then proceeded to fill another 20 leaf bags to go out with the trash on Tuesday. Before and after. And this is just the beginning as most of the leaves are still on our trees. Ten years ago Tammy talked me into buying a John Deere riding lawnmower. This is the time of year when I'm most glad I did as it makes pretty quick work of leaves. Still, I dread the work.

I was playing with my Droid Bionic a few nights ago and found an air traffic control game called Air Control. It's actually a lot of fun. In the hour I've spent playing it I've reached the rank of Captain with 111 planes landed in one session before suffering a mid-air collision that stops the game. I suppose it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that there are actually some similarities to the game and the actual job in that you've got to have a good scan as well as a plan to keep them separated. Check it out.

We've had some fantastic October weather for doing just about anything outdoors with temps in the 80s most of the week but it's been much drier than I like. I managed to make it out for a few nice rides even though the winds were at times so strong that it got a little dicey. Still, it was nice to feel the heat of the sun on me in a big way so late in the season.

I'm not sure how many longish rides I have left in me this year but hopefully at least a few. I hadn't done the Henderson loop (101 miles) in a while so I was happy to be able to do that at least one last time before it's not practical due to cooler temps and less daylight. One of my favorite stretches of highway is county road 40 between Carver and Henderson following the Minnesota River a few miles west of 169. Not much traffic, a nice road surface and rolling terrain make it ideal for cycling. It's the sort of stuff I find myself daydreaming about in the dead of winter.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

We're Now Happy Bionic Owners!

We were back in the studio blowing glass on Friday morning. Jackson, Joe, and Kevin were bringing to life works of art on the bench next to ours that we can only dream about at this point.

I was excited to see how our pieces from the previous week turned out. Typically I'll remember whatever I place in the annealer as being much nicer than it actually is but not this week. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked back into the cold-shop to have a look at our work and find that I wasn't at all disappointed. Three-gather pieces now have me intrigued more than ever but I couldn't help but wonder if I should stay with the two-gathers we've been working with until I perfect a few more forms? I'll keep wondering because I did some larger pieces again on Friday. Very fun stuff!

I boxed up some of our pieces and sent them off to Sweden Saturday morning to a friend of Tammy's and mine that we met last winter while playing WordFeud together on our phones. English is only a second language to Marielle but you'd never know it by the way she owns us in this game. We've become good friends over the many months we've been playing and I was happy to send her some of our work.

Rachel and I have been on the fence about whether to upgrade to the new iPhone 5 when it comes out any day now or to stay with the Droid family. She's been doing most of the research so far and for a while was reluctantly leaning toward the iPhone while I've been wanting to stay with a Droid. There's just something about that little green notification light you know. It's not necessary that we get the same phone but I think we both wanted to. She posted a one-word message on my Facebook wall the other day, "woah" with a link to the new Droid Bionic. She then followed that up with a less hyped link offering much more information. A text two days later pretty much sealed-the-deal for me, "a girl in my class has the bionic. its so sick."

We're now happy Bionic owners!

The phone is nothing short of amazing! I could never have imagined just a few years ago a handheld device this size having so much capability. Who knows what the future holds for these addicting must-haves? And to think that I once boasted I would be the last guy in Lakeville to go online. Haha.

Charlie turned 3 years old on Friday. He's always so happy and full of dickens. I'll come in the back door from the garage after being away and while Toby and Allie are busy jumping up on me, Charlie is off in search of a toy to bring me so we can play. It never fails. I've never had a pup as playful as this little guy. When we first got him Tammy and I thought he may have some alpha-male tendencies but that's not so at all. He just wants to play. You can't help but just laugh at this little guy and love him.

Tammy's 4-year-old Dell laptop is the most frustratingly slow computer ever and it's been reformatted at least twice. She has patience that I simply can't understand to be able to still use it. We were out at Mall of America last night and I steered her into the Microsoft store as we walked by it. She asked what I was interested in and I told her "I just want to check out the laptops" and then I asked her if she wanted to pick out one for herself? "Really?" she said. "Yes, your Dell days are over" I replied. She decided on a smaller Toshiba that will be ideal for all she'll need it for with plenty of speed and hard-drive space. She's quite happy with it and I'm happy for her.

It's Indian Summer in the Midwest and we've still got temps pushing into the upper 70s. If you've got a day or two of sick-time left to burn, now may be a good time to do it!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are You Spotified?

I have a love/hate relationship with the fall season. I love the cooler temps and the great riding and dog-walking days they provide but more and more (as the trees in our yard and our neighbor's yards get larger and larger) I'm hating the leaf raking that goes with it. I got a head-start on our flowers and perennials today by cutting some of them back a little sooner than usual. Our trees are all still green but they will soon change and when they do I'll be owned by them as I try and keep up with their falling leaves. Wish me luck.

Tammy took a Bonsai plant class last Sunday at Como Park Conservatory. She had her interest piqued when we were at the State Fair a few weeks ago and observed a bonsai plant exhibit. I came home from work Sunday night and she couldn't wait to tell me all that she'd learned in her class from how to water and fertilize them to what to look for when trying to achieve the desired shape and what that should be. It was much more involved than my tired mind was able to absorb.

The next morning I woke her up by telling her that all the leaves on her bonsai plant had fallen off during the night (of course it wasn't true). I wish I'd had my camera to capture the look of shock on her face as she ran to go look. I'm so mean.

I had more fun blowing glass on Thursday than ever. Typically, we've been doing two-gather pieces, meaning we gather glass from the furnace twice for each piece be it a tumbler, bowl or vase. But when we were in the studio on Thursday the glass level was low in the crucible causing my two-gather pieces to be a little smaller than usual. So I took a third gather. Wow! There was so much more glass to work with. It was fun because it challenged me in ways I hadn't yet been challenged. The piece was putting off much more heat than I'm used to and it blew out considerably bigger than I'm accustomed to. Lots of fun! I managed to get a couple of vases "in the box" (the annealer) and will get a chance to see them when we go back on Friday.

Are you using Spotify for your online music yet? Check it out if you're not. I'm still using the free version but I'm considering going premium. What I like most about Spotify is the ability to listen to an entire song at 360 kps rather than an abbreviated preview on iTunes. You can also make playlists to both save and share with others.  Here's a video that explains many of the features and advantages Spotify has over iTunes: Spotify: The iTunes Killer.

I've been kicking around plans for a celebratory bike ride to the Black Hills in South Dakota when I retire. The idea is to spend a week riding there and having Tammy meet me in the car to take me home after spending a few days vacationing together. Hmmm, I just had a thought. Is it still called a vacation if you're both retired?

Anyway, a friend from work (Paul Osika) retired last month and is now on a two-month odyssey traversing the country with his wife and several others on a supported bike tour. Paul lived with me for several months when we were both going through our divorces in 1997. He didn't ride then but he'd watch as I'd head out on my bike and burn through whatever frustrations I had. I like to think I played a part in him developing such a passion for riding. He left San Diego with his group yesterday bound for Florida. I admit it—I'm totally envious. So much so that I suggested to Tammy that I want to do that too but not with a group. Solo. She suggested that she would love to come along and shadow me in the car, meeting up with me at the end of each day. That would be awesome but I wonder if she would get bored with a month-long trip such as that? I'd love to share the ride with her. We'll add her suggestion into the mix and see what develops.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Arrr Bilge Rat, Hand Me My Grog and Pen

We finally made it back to Foci last Thursday after more than three weeks away. We did alright on the bench but we could tell that some rust had begun to settle on our limited skills. The studio has their furnace issues behind them and is open for full use again so we should be able to get back to our weekly time-slots. We're both as eager as ever to continue to push ourselves and develop as glassblowers!

Tammy's mother spent two days with us this week and was able to watch us blow glass. Our concern with her in the studio with us was that she's so quick to move about so we had to be careful to keep her from getting hurt. It's typically not the 2200 degree glass that burns you but the tools that come in contact with it. An object doesn't begin to show that it's hot until it's over 1000 degrees.

Pat Robertson was in the news this week for a remark he made about one spouse leaving another when Alzheimer's descends upon a marriage. I'm not much of a fan of Robertson and most everyone was quick to pounce on him for his remark but there's a part of me that agrees with the point of view he was trying to convey.

Here are the story and the video.

I was talking with Tammy about us and what we would do if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. She assured me that she would want me to move on with my life but at the same time not leave her behind. I totally get that. But she also said that she could never imagine finding somebody else. How sweet of her but I would absolutely want more for her. Me...what would I do? Hmmm—I'm not so sure. I'm only being honest. I'm not saying that either of us would be out there actively seeking somebody else, but sometimes those things have a way of happening. If I took up with anyone else they would have to know that I'm not fully theirs. I'm guessing I'm on the wrong side of this argument.

It's been a hot period that we just came out of and our pups have seen a lot fewer walks than they'd like but now that cooler temps have returned we're back to our daily routine of either a trip to the park or 45 minutes walking the neighborhood streets. They're happy little guys—see for yourself!

I stumbled onto a fun color-hue test online last night. Check this out. I scored a 4; much better than I thought I would. Maybe it's the graphics of my MacBook Pro. Give it a try. The colors at the end of each row are stationary and can't be moved. Work inward from each of them while trying to align the tiles in the correct color sequence as they fade from one color to the next.

My years seem to be measured by different happenings that Tammy and I routinely do. Fall brings the Renaissance Fair in Shakopee. We don't always make it to this event each year but when we do we never fail to enjoy ourselves. There's really nothing about the period of time depicted here that I embrace or would want to have lived in but still, I find it an interesting few hours.

I don't think the somewhat-slightly-metro-sexual-me would fit in very well in this period but then I probably shouldn't sell myself short. I'm sure I'd have adopted some gruff exterior—possibly a beard and I'd learn to cuss a lot but when I got home to my wife I'd abandon all of that and sip my wine while writing in my, journal (as we guys called them in the days before blogs).

Photos from the day.