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.