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!'