Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dumbfounded and Pop-up Professionals

Finally! I was able to get outdoors on my bike a couple times over the weekend. Our temperature climbed out of the single digits (and considerably more) long enough to thaw out our frozen, snow-covered shoulders giving me ample room to do my thing. It also gave me a chance to get my 1998 red Serotta out on the road after having a bunch of work done to it over the winter. New fork, bars, stem, and saddle. I'm very pleased with the upgrades and the help of Adrian at Flanders Bros.

Thursday's route took me south to Castlerock then west toward Webster. There were a few icy patches to negotiate but traffic was light enough that I never had an issue taking the lane when I needed to ensure I had good footing. It was close to 30 degrees for most of the ride. That may seem cool to some but from the perspective of anybody who has endured our winter, it's nearly short-sleeve weather. It was a 44-mile day.

I got out again yesterday for 49 miles in 22-degree weather. I'd only planned a 30-something mile ride but as is common I had no good reason not to stay out longer. Tammy was in the office and my stained glass project could wait. Here's some random video from my day.

Speaking of video—I was back at Flanders having a little more work done Friday morning when I had to circle the block before finding a spot to park. I took a one-way street to work my way south before making another attempt to find something in front of the shop when I noticed a couple of cars coming toward me going the wrong way. The reason was soon obvious. There was a truck up ahead trying to negotiate an icy driveway and it was blocking the way. I watched for a few seconds before finding myself dumbfounded by what I was seeing. The video speaks for itself. I thought about getting out to help but as I shut off the video to do that, another guy came along but they appeared to decline his offer to help. I filmed a few more seconds before putting it in reverse and continuing on. Thinking back, I should've gotten out and offered to help if for no other reason than to snap pics of both license plates involved to give to the police so the owner of the car would know what happened. No, my confidence in my fellow man to do the right thing is not so great. I may still go back on Friday and see if I can find the car and follow up.

Mom is going back to the hospital for more surgery in the next week or two to re-affix the 3rd lead to her pacemaker/defibrillator which has once again become disconnected. Surprisingly, though, she's feeling okay for now.

I got a text from Rachel Friday night telling me "My dogs are barking hardcore. Wooo!" She's found a group of dancers in Rochester that she's spending time with. This night they were doing the Foxtrot and preparing for an upcoming competition. It's different than any other style of dance she's done so she's finding it fun and challenging. Plus, there are some very talented dancers in the group she says.

She also sent me a text with a picture of a makeshift ping-pong table they've set up in their apartment. "I keep up with the boys" she wrote. I'm not surprised because we used to play a lot together when we had a table of our own before finishing our basement. It was years later before I confessed to her that I used to play her left-handed to make it fairer. Funny thing though (and I told her this, too) is that I probably got as equally good left-handed (we played a lot) as I am right-handed, which isn't necessarily saying much. Still, she's got a pretty good game...for a girl.

She's enjoying herself at UMR and we're really happy for her.

I don't suppose I could make this blog entry without making mention of the uprising in Egypt that is grabbing all the attention. I don't know what to make of it nor does it appear that our government has any more of a clue. This is such a precarious world we live in. A short primer on Egypt.

Paul and Kate are part of our small-group at church. We meet every Thursday night (a group of 11 of us) for a few hours. Together they make the most amazing Christmas cards and we're now blessed to be on their list. These are so much better than any other Christmas card you could imagine or that I have ever seen. Life got in the way and they were a little late in getting them out this year but they're very much worth the wait. Here's a short video to show how the card unfolds followed by some closeup photos.

Front view, overhead view, left side, center and right side. Kate is a graphic artist; the calligraphy is her handiwork. I told them that they went through a lot of trouble for something that's going to end up in our trash at week's end. Just kidding, of course.

I have a confession to make: we let our pups on the furniture; in fact, they sleep with us. If you come to our home you're likely to notice the smell of our dogs. I really don't know this to be true because if the scent is there, I've grown so used to it that I can't tell. We (me, anyway) make no apology for that because to us they're family. See what I mean?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

American Idols and Saturday Sightseeing

Today's sermon at Hosanna was about idols in our lives and what sort of things are competing for our attention. It came at a good time for me.

I never thought it would happen but I'm becoming bored with the internet. In the last few weeks I've cut my online time down considerably, and I'm seriously liking this trend. Something I wouldn't expect to happen to me in the dead of a Minnesota winter. I still check my email daily in addition to Facebook and some forums I participate in but aside from those interests and my weekly blog updates, I don't have a whole lot drawing me back. If this trend continues (and I want it to) I'll also be pulling back from the forums which will leave me with just Facebook and my blog as regular stops. My blog will no doubt be the last man standing as I'm growing weary of Facebook as well.

As Tammy and I were walking to our truck at the far end of the parking lot after church we were exchanging thoughts about idols in our lives. I told her of my lack of interest in being online (certainly an idol of mine) and wondered if that was something God had been putting on my heart? She confided in me her main idol but then turned the focus back to me with encouragement for me to keep writing in my blog if nothing else. I'm glad for her support in that pastime of mine because I think 20 years from now I'd regret having given up on this. It's quite possible though that I'll be placing less emphasis on it.

I've been spending some of my extra time in our workout room and am really enjoying the diversion that it provides. I want to get out and ride but the weather and roads haven't been cooperating at all. It's been bitterly cold, so much so that the sun is having very little effect on the thin layer of snow along the shoulders. Usually, we can get a foot of snow and the shoulders will be fine for riding within a day or two but not this year. Speaking of cold: I left work after the all-night shift a couple mornings ago and walked to my car in -27f air. That's seriously cold. Fortunately, there was little wind.

I got up early Saturday morning intent on putting in a long effort on my rollers: 50 miles for sure and possibly something much more depending on how I felt. I even had everything set up the night before so I could get the most from my morning. I was on them by 6:02 with 5 water bottles at the ready in case I went real long. And I did. I climbed off after 100 miles—4 hours and 37 minutes later. I was spent but glad to have finally put some serious extended time on them. Rather than watching Tour de France video,s I spent my time watching episodes of Build it Bigger on the Science Channel. Fascinating stuff, especially the episode about the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

Tammy was meeting a friend at the Capitol in St Paul for the annual March for Life rally which commemorates the 1973 US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. I met up with her later with some friends from our small group at church. We were touring the James J. Hill House together on Summit Avenue. The sun was getting low in the afternoon sky by the time our tour began and the house was only lit with period lighting minus the gas lamps used back in the day to supplement the undependable supply of electricity making it quite dark for photos. Still, I managed to get a few.

It was an interesting tour and one I'd recommend but probably better seen in the summer with better daylight and when you can tour the grounds. From there we went across the street to the St Paul Cathedral to tour it. Tammy was there earlier in the day for a prayer service with 3000 other people. She was telling me how spectacular the stained glass was but by the time we got there the sun had just set leaving little backlighting for photos but still somewhat doable.

We finished out the night with dinner at the world-famous (isn't it?) Mickey's Diner. I'd been there once before but it'd been 20 years or more. Not a place to go if you're on any sort of weight-loss program.  The malts and burgers were just as they should be—tasty and filling.

Mickey's only seats 40 but we were all fortunate to find places to sit within minutes of getting in the door and out of the below zero weather. We sat in front of the grill where I never noticed the cook pause for even a few seconds as he kept the orders moving. I've always thought that short-order cooks have all the makings of what's needed to be an air traffic controller but why it is that I can't cook I have no idea.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Who Am I? What Am I?

Rachel is heading back to college in the morning after having been home for the last month on Christmas break. It doesn't seem like we got to spend much quality time with her. Between our jobs and her being off with friends, the time came and went too fast. She's had a busy break from school and I'm sure it's been nice for her but I have a sense that she's ready to go back. Her Facebook status from a few days ago read: "k im bored of lakeville." I think a record number of jigsaw puzzles have been assembled in the short period of time she's been home: 5, maybe more. We did manage to go out to dinner together Friday night at Mongolian Grill.

Tammy was going to drop her off near Mall of America tomorrow so she could catch an early morning bus for the 75-mile ride back to Rochester but she's going to take her back herself. The drive down will give them some time together and I know Tammy is looking forward to that. Plus, the bus trip with Scooter on her lap would maybe be a bit of a hassle. I wish I was going with them.

Rather than paying ridiculous prices for her books at the bookstore on campus this coming semester, we've resorted to buying them online. Rachel's idea. I think we saved $250 by getting them used at, maybe more.

I'm especially concerned about how much our driveway has lifted this winter where it meets the garage. It looks to be easily a half-inch higher than either of the previous two winters since having it poured. I know that pretty much all concrete driveways eventually crack but I was hoping to go a few more years without that happening. It must be the more than normal amount of moisture we had in the ground when the hard freeze set in that's to blame. Not that it matters but I'll be keeping an eye on it.

Between the snow and the cold, this has been a tough winter in the Midwest. The snowbank at the bottom of our driveway is higher than it's ever been. We're due for a January thaw but I'm afraid that's not happening.

It's nice having a heated garage but it comes at a price and I'm not just referring to the additional electricity to heat it. Each morning I have to vacuum up all the water that's melted off our vehicles overnight. Floor drains were against code when I had our home built in 1992. It's more of a problem this year than last year with all the snow we've been getting.

The Farmers' Almanac appears to have nailed it with respect to their forecast for the Midwest and their prediction for cold temps and abundant snow.

Speaking of predictions—when I was much younger I'd occasionally glance at my daily horoscope. I can't recall ever seeing a correlation between the daily readings and my life but I suppose I found something amusing in reading it. One thing I will say though is that the overall description of a Virgo fits me in almost every aspect. Here are a few:

The Virgo man is known for being a perfectionist and is punctual, and expects the same from others. He is also fond of cleanliness and hygiene. He likes to see everything in its right place and keep the surroundings clean.

The Virgo man is blessed with a sharp memory and tends to pay close attention to details. You don't have to remind him about birthdays, anniversaries or other important events.

The Virgo man is reliable and dependable in his personal and professional life. He carries out his responsibilities in a perfect way at home and at the office. He can be an ideal employee or a good business partner.

The Virgo man has some weaknesses such as he is very critical, fussy and harsh, and often finds faults in others. He is also interfering, inflexible and somewhat conservative in nature.

In a nutshell, the loving and honest Virgo man is perfect for a long-lasting relationship, as he can be a devoted and romantic partner, careful father, efficient employee and a loyal, reliable business partner.

But so much for all that because I'm now a Leo and I see nothing in common with the characteristics of a Leo and myself:

If you want to find a Leo, go to the most dazzling places in the town. You will find him there, surrounded by people and playing his role in the limelight beautifully.

There are hardly any introvert Leos, only those who pretend to be introverts.

It is difficult to ignore the lion for too long, he will be the center of attraction sooner or later. The best way to tame him is to flatter him; he will turn into a purring kitten. Praising the intellect will work as much as admiring the appearance will.

When he's partying, he will put the dance floor on fire. 

They at least got the last line right!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Junk Food for the Mind

Until a few years ago I used to listen to a good amount of talk-radio going back to the early '80s. Names like Dick Pomerantz, Bruce Williams, Bob Yates, Michael Jackson and Sally Jessy Raphael were regulars on KSTP 1500's lineup. I enjoyed them all but Bruce Williams' nightly program where he discussed money matters was my favorite. As much as anything, talk-radio was a regular part of my week.

I remember when Rush Limbaugh first came on the air nationally in the summer of '88 and how even though I didn't find his show all that interesting initially, I kept getting drawn back to it. Nobody else was saying the things he was with the exception of maybe Morton Downey Jr on TV although in a much more abrasive way. I'd take Snickers on our daily hour-long walk and use that time to get my dose of Rush from the yellow Sony Sports AM/FM/TV/cassette player I'd clip to my waist. I came to question little of what he said and my devotion to his show continued for years. I even remained loyal when he told of his seemingly unexplainable hearing loss and how he was determined to overcome it, only to then learn that his problems stemmed from drug abuse. His denials of illegal activity never squared with his 'man-up and accept responsibility for your actions' message he was fond of preaching but I was willing to give him a pass.

It would be another couple of years but I'd eventually open my eyes to another truth other than the one Limbaugh was offering. I'll still occasionally listen to him but it's very seldom now and with a skepticism that gives him no benefit of the doubt. He lies a lot. I see that now.

I was driving home from work last Wednesday afternoon when I tuned into his program to see what sort of divisive talk he was bellowing. John Boehner was in the middle of his acceptance speech after taking control of the House Majority Leader position. It was difficult to focus on what Boehner was saying because Rush was talking over him and interjecting his take on what Boehner's words really meant which were 180 degrees out from my interpretation.  I could only wonder why he wouldn't allow his listeners to come to their own conclusions about the man's words and why he felt the need to tell them what to think. But I knew the answer; Boehner's words weren't divisive enough for Rush. I actually swore at my radio in frustration.

In the news today was the tragedy that unfolded in Arizona where a crazed 22-year-old shot up a gathering of people attending an open public forum for Congresswoman Giffords, seriously wounding her and killing 6 others including a 9-year-old girl. It's not a stretch to say that hate-radio or talk-radio pushed this person over the edge because it appears the man has problems enough but it's not a stretch to conclude that the sort of divisive talk many are routinely absorbing through people such as Limbaugh, Hannity and others isn't helping matters in the least. It's also not a stretch to imagine that there are some among us who only need a little prompting to act out in violence.

Free speech is something we as people put a lot of importance on as we should. But just as you don't yell "fire!" in a crowded theater, neither should it be acceptable to work people up through a constant pounding of the drum of half-truths.  If nothing else, I would hope we would all be a little more aware of some of the messages we're receiving. I found this clip online to be especially interesting given the person being interviewed...

Maybe it's time we reevaluate what we're feeding our minds, that's all I'm saying.

My breaks from the sector at work give me ample time to read or surf the net. My usual choice is to surf but since getting my Kindle from Tammy for Christmas I'm finding that I'm leaving my computer at home more often than not when I leave for work. It's a nice alternative, not that the option to read a book hasn't always been there, I just like it better in a digital format. I'm not sure what that says about me other than I truly have geek tendencies.

Tammy and I made it out to Lake Harriet yesterday for the annual Winter Kite Festival. The sun was out giving us a beautiful day for photography but that also made it nearly impossible to see the viewing screen on our cameras. I wonder if that had something to do with the glare from the snow? The temp never made it out of the single digits nor did the wind speed which made for challenging kite flying conditions but it was still a nice diversion from a Minnesota winter day. Here's some video I shot with my Panasonic Lumix LX5. I'm quite pleased with the results it's giving me.

Oh, and Savoy's Pizza in Minneapolis is some pretty good stuff!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Has Arrived

2010 was a big year for us with Rachel graduating from high school and going off to college. Our lives didn't change much if any but I know we could all sense the closing of a chapter. But more than anything it's been an exciting time. One thing I'm especially grateful for in all of this is the technology that allows us to be just a text message away.

We've taken over her dance floor in the basement and officially turned it into our workout room. I moved our treadmill into it from out of the glass shop which helped to open that space up for me to better move around in. Charlie will have to find something else to stand on from which to taunt Toby and Allie. When I first got the treadmill I was still a runner but these days it's only being used for walking. My running days have been over for a while. That was something that took me a long time to come to grips with. I used to have dreams where I'd be running and they were the best dreams but they always left me a little saddened when I'd awake to realize they were only that—dreams.

My outdoor biking came to a snowy and abrupt halt November 18th with my last outdoor ride. I expected to get out more before the end of the year but I lost my motivation and never looked too hard to find it. I closed out the year with 6759 miles on the road and another 1128 on my rollers. I'm pleased with those numbers. Typically, the last several years have found me doing a considerable amount of outdoor winter riding and I hope to resume that soon enough but for now, I'm content in our basement on my rollers.

Mom continues to make steady progress. She's driving again and has more energy than she's had in months. One month ago I didn't have much hope that she would make it to see the new year. I couldn't be happier for her. Tammy's mother is in town for the next week and I brought her over to visit a few days ago.

We're (air traffic controllers) still waiting to see if we'll be exempt from President Obama's order to freeze federal wages for 2 years. Initially, it was thought that because we have a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement as do US Postal workers who are exempt) that our raises would stand but I have yet to see anything definitive on it. Considering that we recently absorbed a 3-year pay freeze when no other federal workers did I would think that would be reason enough to give us a pass this go-around.

I'm almost ashamed to admit that I fell asleep before midnight New Year's Eve.  But so did Tammy so I suppose that makes it okay. Between my sickness last week and coming off Prednisone, my energy levels have been at a low ebb for the past two weeks. I'm more than ready to reclaim my normal me again.

Every New Year's Day members of Minnesota Kite Society gather just down the road at North Park to do what they do—fly kites. Often, I would either forget to go watch them or I wouldn't notice they were out there until I drove by on my way to work but this year I made a point to mark my calendar and be there. I don't think I could've picked a more lousy year to finally have a look. A frigid temp of 5f and 25+ mph winds kept all but the most die-hard of their group at home. Still, it was interesting to watch. They'll be at Lake Harriet in South Minneapolis next Saturday where there's certain to be dozens of kites to photograph. Tammy is coming with me.

We had Tammy's family over New Year's Day for a late Christmas celebration. Her mother nearly stayed home in Babbitt fearing that the virus which had taken over our home last weekend may still be lingering. Tammy did a full disinfect of our home and gave the all-clear. The hit of the night was a game Rachel brought home that she's been playing at UMR with friends called Quelf. Watch the video below for Tammy's interpretation of a rapping prison guard who has no lips and whose knees are super-glued together.

2011 has arrived.