Monday, December 31, 2012

Coming off Coumadin and Ants...Lotsa Ants!

We said goodbye to another retiring controller today. Bill Szydlo is off to greener, more serene pastures. Congratulations, Bill!

Reference my post from yesterday about Mike. There's an update I added tonight at the end of that entry.

From early on, 2012 has been one that has taken me off my intended path and forced me to adapt, but more than anything, it's also caused me to at times ponder more seriously my own mortality. Up until January 20th of this year I seldom ever gave much thought to that but now I find myself distracted or haunted by those sorts of thoughts more often than I care to admit. Had my experience with bilateral pulmonary embolus been a one-off ordeal, that would've been entirely different and I'd have moved on. But I don't know that it was. Chances are good that I'll never suffer an episode like that again but chances were much more in my favor before it ever happened that I'd never go through that experience but I still did so I find little comfort in that sort of reasoning.

What is mostly driving these thoughts I'm having is that I'll be coming off Coumadin in a few weeks and will no longer be under the drug's umbrella of protection. I feel safe from any worries of clotting while I've got the drug inside me but once it's no longer there I'm sensing that I'll feel a vulnerability that will invade too many of my thoughts. I hope it's something I'll overcome in time, sort of the way I was able to resume riding in 2002 after my collision with a dog at 35+ mph the previous summer. It took a while but I finally was able to ride without the ever-present fear that a dog was going to jump out in front of me at any moment.

What's occupying some of my idle time lately is a fun (and addicting) little game on my Droid called Flow Free: Bridges. It starts out easy enough, perhaps too easy, but once you get into the higher level boards it becomes a lot more challenging. The one downside is that there's no player interaction—no way to compete against others if that's your thing.

I bought Tammy a Keurig coffee maker for Christmas and to my delight, she's really happy with it. Me too. I was never much of a coffee drinker before we met but over the years I've acquired a taste for a decaf-venti-skinny-caramel-latte. But I have to have decaf otherwise I get a pounding headache the next day if I don't ingest more of the stuff and I don't want to be a slave to caffeine. Anyway, this little machine is nice to have around. I bought her an assortment of coffees to try out plus a few for me. I figure it will pay for itself many times over now that we'll be making fewer stops at local coffee shops in the days and months/years ahead. I greeted her the other morning with "welcome to Starbucks! What can I get started for you?" She smiled.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, Rachel surprised me with an ant-farm. She'd told me that she got me something really cool, and she was right. They've changed quite a lot in the years since the days when your only choice was an Uncle Milton setup. Rather than using sand, AntWorks uses a transparent gel substance instead. The gel is also the only food and moisture needs the ants require. I figured it would be a few weeks before my ants arrived after I placed my order but I was wrong. They were in our mailbox by Friday. Luckily I was there to retrieve them before the frigid temperature had a chance to freeze them to death. They were pretty much dormant when I spilled them into their new home from the tube they were packed in.

There wasn't much activity for the first several hours but then they got busy and have been actively tunneling their way around their new home in the days since. The life expectancy of these little ladies (they're all females) is between 1 and 3 months. Did you know that male ants and princess ants both have wings and fly away from the nest to mate during flight? The princess ant will then lose her wings and become a queen, starting her own nest while the male dies soon after mating. Figures. I pretty much lifted that bit of info from the pamphlet that came with my kit.

Here's a link to an AntWorks retailer in case you're interested in hosting your own colony.

The photo to the left was taken this morning to show their most recent progress.

You had to know it was coming: without further delay, I present to you my hard-working ants for your viewing pleasure. Watch this space for continued updates!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Friend of Ours

I made my way through the Bible once again this past year, both Old and New Testaments. This marks my 7th journey through both books but rather than feeling like I have a better understanding of all I've read, I feel just the opposite, especially concerning the Old Testament. I'm not sure I'll go back there anytime soon. I think in the future, I'll explore books that delve into explanations of what I'm struggling with, some of which I've written about over the last several months.

My faith is still intact although I'm feeling more confused than ever. I suppose the easiest way to say it is that I've become someone who has more questions than answers and those questions leave me bewildered. Also troubling to me is the way we Christians pick and choose those parts of the Bible we want to strictly follow while ignoring other even more meaningful scripture such as how Jesus calls us to help our fellow man or how he taught passivity while abhorring aggression. I'm seeing so little of what Jesus modeled in our society today from those who identify themselves as Christians. The whole gun-rights debate is one thing that stands out for me. And for the record—I'm far, so far from who God wants me to be.

I'm at work as I write this. As I got back into the area an hour ago, the supervisor pulled me aside to tell me that a friend of ours who retired from air traffic control nearly 12 years ago has been very recently diagnosed with terminal lung and bone cancer. He's been given 6 to 12 months to live. That is just so sad. Mike is such a good guy. I tried to phone him but there was no answer. I think there may be a few guys who worked with Mike that possibly catch my updates here. I have KH's phone number if any of you would like it. You can find my email address in my profile here.

As Lee was telling me about Mike, it suddenly dawned on me that I'd dreamt about him just last night. I don't think I've ever had a dream that Mike was a part of but I have a history of this sort of thing happening with my dreams. Mike was a bike nut like me and used to ride a lot until he was hit by a car several years ago and gave it up. In my dream, Mike was back on the road again and he was enjoying his bike more than ever. He was smiling and so full of life. Lee said that Mike was remaining optimistic and even making plans for golfing this summer. I wonder if I can get him to squeeze in plans for a ride with me?

Edit: Monday night, 12/31

I just got off the phone with Mike. He's optimistic about all he's facing but at the same time, he acknowledges that his cancer is only treatable and not curable. Still, he's praying for a miracle. He's expecting to begin a regimen of both chemotherapy and radiation soon.

He mentioned that he has a CaringBridge site and was happy when I told him I'd spread the word about it. I'll link to his page but it may be that you'll need to go to the main site and register before you're able to access his pages. He's listed as Mike Koch1.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I drove down to Rochester yesterday morning to bring Rachel back for Christmas. Our time is going to be so limited with her though as she leaves for her dad's home tomorrow. She'll spend a couple days there before making her way back to Rochester and her job at the assisted living center.

We got to chat on our drive back and that's always so nice. She brought up the Newtown school shootings and asked me what I thought about it all. So much has already been said and I don't want to get into that here except to say that we're drowning in guns here in the US and I'm afraid it may be too late to stem the tide of senseless killings. The gun guys have won and easy access to firearms is there for just about anyone. And now we're all stuck with the constant drip, drip, drip of senseless deaths day after day. Get used to it. Sad.

Anyway, Rachel mentioned how she'd read something Morgan Freeman had written on Facebook about the Newtown school massacre which really resonated with her. I had to smile (not that there's anything about this subject to smile about) because I'd read the same posting but learned later that the words weren't his at all. I explained to her that for some odd reason people are often attributing untruths to Morgan's name on Facebook, usually announcing his demise along with an RIP remark. Sort of like being Rickrolled.

She likes her job quite a lot and that's reassuring to all of us that she's in the right field. Both she and Tammy had much to discuss yesterday afternoon over a delayed but delicious Thanksgiving dinner that Tammy put together. She's most certainly following in her mother's footsteps in many regards but she's going to do it in her own way.

We took some time after dinner to take a page from not too many years ago where we'd all sit on the couch together and read the Christmas story from the Bible. It was nice, pups and all. We exchanged gifts afterward. A high-tech ant-farm Rachel bought me being one of my favorites. It's so cool! ;-) I went online right away to put my ants on order to beat the Christmas rush. The company ships them out year-round as long as the temps are forecast to be above freezing where they're headed. That may be a little while for me. There will always be this kid inside of me fascinated by simple stuff.

We all went out to see The Hobbit in 3D later on. Lots of stuff on the screen to take in at times. We took a pass on the D-BOX seating. It was an $8 upcharge per ticket and we'd never heard of it before. There were two rows of seats in front of us dedicated to the experience. For the most part, the seats seemed to be mostly still but other times during more intense scenes they were moving around quite a lot. I think I'd like to spring for them next time and try them out.

I'll close now with this: I posted it a couple years ago in my blog and thought it would be nice to bring it back out again.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Skipping Christmas and a Mini High-School Reunion

I hate being sick. I've spent the last 6 days pretty much out of commission as I try to recover from a head-cold and assorted body aches. Whatever this bug is that I've picked up, it's left me with little energy to do much at all. After four days of being housebound, I convinced Tammy to go out with me Thursday night and walk around Mall of America. Yes, we made it back for one last time this year after commenting on my last post that we wouldn't. It was so nice to be doing something other than nothing. I thought I was doing better when I got up Saturday morning but a workout on my CompuTrainer told me otherwise. I wanted to pack it in after an hour but I finished. I'm not sure why.

In my time on the couch, I've played too many games of Ruzzle. My ranking is steadily climbing as I'm getting better by challenging random players from around the globe. It was the simple distraction I needed this week.

We had to cancel our bench time at Foci. I didn't want to be there spreading germs in addition to having no energy for being in front of a hot furnace. I stopped down anyway to pick up our work from last week. I had two vases that I was reasonably pleased with. I sat for a while and watched Steve and Craig work their magic with a bowl Steve was blowing. So beautiful the work they do. Someday.

Tammy asked me a few days ago what I thought about not sending out Christmas cards this year. Neither of us is feeling motivated to do the Christmas thing this holiday season the way we have every other year. Plus, we never came up with a theme and a photo of us for the card like we do every other year (last year's photo). I told her that I didn't mind not sending cards out as it pretty much dovetails with everything else I'm feeling (or not feeling) about the celebration this year. I think she may eventually cave on the idea of not sending out cards but we'll see. We do plan to go to my mom's for Christmas Eve after I get off work and spend some time with her. She's happy about that and looking forward to it. So are we.

The photo to the right is our simple Christmas tree. We usually have this one set it up in the basement but it's taking center-stage this year. That's all the Christmas decor you'll find inside our home.

I'm not sure where this apathy is coming from. Maybe it's my shifting feelings about the church and about organized religion in general. I have to laugh when I hear people talk about a war on Christmas as if they're defenders of some great celebration that God is happy about us observing in his honor. Actually, I think if he's paying any attention at all to the silliness we're going through down here as we celebrate this tradition, he's likely shaking his head in bewildered disapproval. It's just a hunch. So what are we really celebrating and how is the way we're doing it honoring Christ? Seriously. If we want to have a holiday where we give gifts to one another I have no problem with that. Having stopped for more than just a few minutes to ponder this I've come to the conclusion that this really ought to revert back to the pagan holiday it began as all those years ago and leave Christ out of it. I don't mean to offend anybody. It's my blog and it's where my feelings are at this time in my life.

I'm a bit of a loner these days, not really involving myself much with any particular crowd of people, preferring to do things with Tammy mostly. But back in the day from 9th grade until halfway through my junior year, I had some steady friends that I'd kick around with. We'd all sit together in the lunchroom and hang out with each other when we could after school and on weekends. And of course, throw in a couple of summers as well. Those friendships didn't end but they sort of fizzled out when Sandie and I broke up New Years Day, 1974 after having been together for more than a year and a half (which is a long time at that age). I sort of muddled my way through the remainder of my high school days doing my own thing, kind of the way I am today. But like I said, those friendships never died.

I recently got an email from Pam, one of the people in our circle of friends all those years ago. She'd stumbled onto my blog while researching something about our school. A reference I'd made in a blog post about Thomas Jefferson High School in Bloomington showed up in her search and she began to read. She soon realized that she knew the writer. She emailed me, happy to have found my contact info, she told me a little about what she'd been up to and said she'd like to get some of us together at her home. What a fun email from her that was to read. I was all-in!

And so we did, Friday night. It was such a nice time.

Pam met me at the door and welcomed me in. I had to smile. Her laugh and smile haven't changed in the least. She's the same sweet person and that comes through so clearly. She led me into the living room where everybody had gathered. Greg got up and met me when I walked into the room. I'd recognize Greg anywhere. He does not change! Yes, he's a little older but he's still Greg. You're not likely to find a more unassuming guy. Sandie was next to greet me. I'd last seen her at our 25-year reunion 12 years ago. It's always nice to see her. As I was giving Sandie a hug, a guy approached me and stuck out his hand. I figured it was Sandie's husband because I had absolutely no clue who else it could've been. And finally, there was Colleen—another person that I'd recognize instantly no matter how much time has passed. Colleen and Greg were high school sweethearts and have been together since. I go back the furthest with Sandie and Colleen.

I took a seat on the floor by the fireplace and we began to chat. What a nice time it was. After a few minutes, it finally dawned on me who the guy was that I didn't recognize. It was Gregg, aka Freddy! How I didn't recognize him I have no idea. Maybe it was because I was thinking he was living in Asia where I'd last heard he was. Anyway, once I heard him talking and laughing there was no mistaking who he was. And what an interesting story he has to tell. I'd like to have had so much more time talking with him. He describes himself as a Travel Painter. He's painting his way around the world. Rather than go into it here I'll give you a link to his biography online and his recently closed blog. I do hope he starts it up again someday.

We spent a few hours chatting and laughing with one another before the night ended much too quickly. I'm so grateful to Pam for bringing us together. I mentioned in an email to everyone when I got home last night that I'd love to see if we can get even more of us together at our house this summer for another mini-reunion. I know you can't tell from the photo but we're not getting any younger.   :-)

This is us—Greg, me, Sandie, Pam, Colleen and Gregg (camera shy behind Colleen)

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Busy Few Days

This weekend flew by so ridiculously fast. It wasn't until I got to work around noon on Sunday that I was able to slow things down a little. We're in the midst of our first big snowstorm this winter.

We made plans to meet up with friends last Thursday night to spend a few hours together in Northfield (25 miles south) to take in the sights of Winter Walk. It's an annual event that the city's Chamber of Commerce puts on to draw visitors and attention to the many shops that make up the downtown area. We weren't meeting up with our friends until after 5:00 so we got there at 3:00 to give us a chance to bum around a little together. It was a nice time.

We got up early the next morning for 3 hours of glassblowing at Foci. Steve was there and I commented to him that I'm feeling a little stuck in my progression, that I should be further along. He assured me that it's something all glassblowers go through and to not worry too much about it. It was good to hear him say that. I know I'm making steady improvements but they're not coming as fast as I'd like. The expected plateaus seem to be longer than I'd imagined they would be. Steve said he'd like to spend an hour with me next week and observe how I'm doing. I'd like that a lot.

As it turned out, I had a better than average day in the studio. I made 3 vases that I was reasonably happy with but I won't be certain how happy I am with them until I pick them up this Thursday. I need to hold each vase in my hands and look each one over, seeing how the color transitions played out and such before I can pass judgment on them.

We found ourselves back at Mall of America Friday night. It's likely the last chance we'll get to spend some time there before the holidays are over. I left there feeling like I'd had my fill of the mall for the season. We finished out our night at Ernie's Pub and Gille which we've recently discovered and are growing fond of. It has a quiet atmosphere that provides us with a relaxing way to wind down the day, chatting or playing each other in Ruzzle (my favorite smartphone game lately) as we sit there in the dim lights of the bar amid the few other tables of people. The help is so attentive and always deserving of more than a 20% tip.

Rachel called while we were there, just wanting to chat. She's such a nice interruption. She was a little frustrated with work, venting about the lack of staffing just as her mother would complain when she was working in the same environment. I told her that she will one day be in management and that what she's experiencing today will be important for her to remember years from now when she has people beneath her who are struggling with the same issues. Always remember where you came from. But still, I'm not happy that she's forgoing (just like her mother used to) her breaks as she tries to complete all of her tasks because she's only enabling the facility she works at to get by with fewer people on staff than they should have. But I understand that it's the mindset of so many people in that field who care more about the people they're entrusted with than they do for their own needs. I admire that even though on some level I'm troubled by it.

We finished our weekend with our neighborhood's annual house-hop. Always a fun time and a late night. I'm struggling with a sore throat now, not sure if it's the beginnings of a head-cold or from having to talk too loudly last night. I can't believe how loud we are as a group at these get-togethers. Unless you raise your voice you're not going to be heard and that causes others to have to raise theirs too. Maybe I'm one of the few among us with reasonably good hearing yet and all the others are going deaf with age? Yeah, I think I may be on to something.

Hear for yourself...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The View From My Basement

I'm doing some serious vacillating about my decision to retire on January 2nd, 2014, precisely 393 days away. The more I ponder what to do the more I'm finding myself inclined to not put a firm date on it and just take it a month at a time. It's a nice position to be in and regardless of what we decide, the day will come and go all too fast. Keeping everything in perspective is important at this time while not becoming too seduced by the idea of an easy life. My ducks aren't quite as lined up as I'd like them to be. Close, just not quite there yet for the long haul—but soon.

Tammy and I spent most of Thursday at Foci. After our 12:00 to 3:00 slot time on the bench, we went out for dinner at Cossetta's in St Paul before returning to Foci for a sandblasting class a few hours later. Glassblowing artists will often sandblast designs into their pieces or simply sandblast the entire piece to give it a look other than that of shiny glass. Craig sat with ten of us and explained the process before giving a demonstration. It was interesting to watch but just as interesting was listening to Craig's approach to art in general. He spoke about how our mind likes to make sense of what it sees. Finding everything in order to our eyes, our mind is quick to move along and process the next bit of information it receives. By disrupting this order with some aspect of our art being a little out of place, we create interest as the mind tries to make sense of what it's seeing. I like that.

He taught us how to mask off areas of our blown glass and in the process create 3-dimensional images within the piece by sandblasting in stages as more and more of the masked off areas are exposed. I've got a vase at home that I think would be a good piece to try this on. I'm considering a delicate vine that winds around the vase as it traverses upward. I'll have some of the leaves more recessed than others to create depth.

Changing gears...

I've been working out at least 5 days each week for the past several months. I've found a nice routine and I like that. Our elliptical machine gets the most use as it's my go-to workout when I'm pressed for time as is too often the case. I need at least two hours if I want to climb aboard my bike and hammer out some miles. My bike is easily my most intense workout.

Speaking of my bike, I had an appointment with a physical therapist last week who's been working with me on stretching. Sean, who has been trained in bike fit had me bring one of my bikes along so he could video me on a trainer to make sure that the issues I'm having with my knees aren't related to my position on the bike. It was one of the more beneficial hours I've had in a while. The video doesn't lie. My seat was too high causing my foot to come too much out of its flat profile at the bottom of my pedal stroke. I was also a little too forward in my position on the saddle. Pushing my saddle back 1 cm and lowering it 1.4 cm will give me a more efficient position and powerful pedal stroke.

Sean videoed me from 3 perspectives: side, rear, and front. It was the front view that enlightened/disturbed me most. Ideally, when viewed from the front, my hip, knee, and ankle should line up throughout the pedal stroke with no knee wobble from side to side. It was obvious to me that I have knee wobble and it could easily be the cause of much or at least some of my knee pain. I inserted small shims/wedges in each of my pedal cleats to help correct the problem. I've done two rides since using the wedges and I can say without question that they've helped me. I still need to transfer the changes we made to my blue Serotta's saddle over to the saddle on my red Serotta, the bike mounted on my CompuTrainer.

And, speaking of my CompuTrainer; I am loving that piece of equipment! I've been using it in conjunction with ErgVideo. Usually, cyclists will speak of indoor training as being too boring or mind-numbing to be enjoyable but I'd have to disagree. I've put together a video of last Saturday's ride to show you what I mean.

But as fun as my indoor cycling is, it's still no comparison to my Mukluk. I'm less than two months away from getting back on that bad-boy and I can't wait!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving, 2012 Style

What a difference a day or two can make weather-wise here in Minnesota. I took off from work early Wednesday to take advantage of some unseasonably warm temps to go walking. The weather was so nice that I was able to get by in shorts and two T-shirts. It's likely the last time the sun will see the skin of my legs until next spring. I did my west loop (14 miles) through Murphy Hanrahan and enjoyed every bit of it, listening to tunes and feeling the sun on my face. It was so nice.

A cold-front came rushing in Thanksgiving day trailing winter behind it.

Tammy and I finally made it out to see Keith and Tracee's new home. They invited us over (or maybe we invited ourselves over) for Thanksgiving. They made their move nearly two months ago but we've been slow in making a point of going to see it because I wanted to have some blown glass done for them as a housewarming gift.

We were so impressed with their home. It's going to take some time to do all of the changes they have planned for it but I think they've got a real gem on their hands. With Keith's ability to take on pretty much any of the challenges the house presents and Tracee's eye for decor, it's going to be quite the place once they've had a chance to apply their fixes.

I can foresee many family holidays being hosted there. Video from our Thanksgiving get-together is at the end of this post.

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to spend a night walking around Mall of America. I know...I'm a guy and I'm not supposed to enjoy that sort of thing but I do. In fact, I love it! We even went there on Black Friday. Not so much to make any purchases but just to kick around together, coffees in hand, window shopping. I'll often have my camera with me just in case something catches my eye that I don't think my Droid will do justice to. We were walking past one of the Starbucks when we noticed several nuns inside gathered around a table. I mentioned to Tammy what a nice photo that would make but that I didn't want to bother them. We walked away but then she urged me to go back and get it. I turned on my heels and didn't give backing out a second thought. They all smiled when I asked if they'd mind if I took their photo. They were so gracious.

Rachel has been working quite a few hours lately and couldn't be with us for Thanksgiving so we went down to be together with her yesterday. I'm not sure that any of us are James Bond fans but we went to see Skyfall anyway. I had heard some raving reviews about it. I think we all thought it was just okay: 3 out of 5 stars okay. There was a great chase scene early on which was fun but I found myself yawning quite a bit from that point on.

We left the theater on the outskirts of town and drove back into the city for some sushi and a chance for us to catch up on what's happening in Rachel's life. I made a quick glance for messages on my phone and found one that said "Kevin ~ I hope I have the right person! It's John @ Ernie's Pub and Grille...Tamara Left her "wallet" here. Please call and advise at 952-435-XXXX." We'd been there the night before and it must have slipped out when her purse fell to the floor as we were taking our seats. Ernie's Pub and Grille is a good place! John was able to find me through Facebook and my not so strict privacy settings. Sometimes that can be a good thing. We retrieved her wallet on the way home.

It was so nice to spend some time with Rachel again. It always is. Before saying goodbye we made plans to go down and pick her up so she can be with us for a couple days around Christmas. I wish it were more but this will work. Our outdoor Christmas lights will be burning brightly to welcome her home.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Scrooge to Griswold in an Afternoon

Tammy has been busy for at least the last month sewing hats and mittens that she'll give away to some of the children she works with on Tuesday nights at Hosanna. For the past 7 or 8 years, she's been volunteering there every other Tuesday painting nails of mostly young children but occasionally adults as well. She's doing such a nice job with these and putting in a lot of hours on them, I had to make mention of it here. I know she'd rather I didn't say anything but it's me tooting her horn, not her. The hats are really cute and the photo to the left is just a small sample of what she's done. I told her that I think Rachel would love a pair of the mittens she's made for Christmas.

I've mentioned before in my writings how selfless Tammy is, always giving of her time to others while expecting nothing in return. Not even a thank you. I admire her so much. I know she won't be one to sit back and put her feet up when she finally steps into retirement life. She's got a good jump on it already.

Over the weekend we were looking through a publication of adult courses being offered through the city of Lakeville. There's a painting class and a pottery class that we'd both like to take but unfortunately, our work schedules are competing for our time. The pottery class interests me most but I wouldn't mind trying my hand at watercolors too. Mostly, I'd love for Tammy to get back into it because she's already shown a natural talent for it through a class in college years ago. How nice it will be when we no longer have our work schedules to consider.

We had to cancel out of our glassblowing slot this week because Tammy needed to fit in an opportunity to make Lefse with her aunt Joyce. It's something they get together each year to do. Here's the two of them from a few years ago demonstrating how to make Lefse for me to upload to YouTube.

While Tammy was away I headed up to Foci to gather up our work from the previous week. I'd normally wait until the next time we'd be in the studio to get them but there was a vase I needed to pick up. It's a housewarming gift for Keith and Tracee along with some matching tumblers.

Instead of turning around and coming straight home, I took some time to sit down at Steve's bench and watch him work his magic. He's been so gracious with his time helping Tammy and me as we learn this most challenging art form. Steve was working on some pet memorials—smaller, paperweight size pieces of art that contain a small amount of ashes from a cremated pet. Here's a link to his site, specifically the page about his pet memorials. It's such a neat idea. He also makes urns for both pet and human cremated remains.

I'm editing this post one month after I originally published it. I wanted this bit of information to be a part of my blog but for personal reasons, I didn't necessarily want our family or friends to read it as they follow my weekly updates. We paid off our mortgage this past week! Yay! That's a big piece of the puzzle for us to have fallen into place as we both prepare to retire. I've been aggressive in paying it off over the last 7 years or so and now it's done. Between taxes and insurance, I figure it will still cost a little more than $600 per month to be in our home. Much better than the $3400 we had been paying monthly. I was always the one to write out our mortgage payment each month but I let Tammy do the honors with the last one. I like her style!

I'd pretty much convinced myself that I wasn't going to do Christmas lights this year. Tammy was very insistent that I not get up on the roof considering I'm still on Coumadin (blood-thinner) for another couple months. A fall resulting in any internal bleeding could be a big problem for me. I was sort of feeling ho-hum about the whole idea anyway, even to the point of asking Tammy if we could just take a pass on all of the Christmas decorations entirely this year, inside and out. We both work Christmas Eve and I also work Christmas day and I'm not sure when we'll get together with Rachel. Simply forgoing the entire celebration crossed my mind.

Anyway, I got up Saturday morning to a beautiful day outside; a day perfect for hanging Christmas lights if a guy had that on his to-do list, which I didn't. But then I started thinking about it and thinking some more. I had no plans for the day. Before too long I was backing out the Forester to get access to the loft in the garage where I keep our strings of lights and warming up to the idea of welcoming Christmas. I made a list of what I'd need in the way of lights to do the works and headed off to Fleet Farm. I'll typically get a few seasons out of LED lights until they begin to fail but with regular lights, I often toss them out after one season because the color coating erodes away in the elements and they lose their brilliance. $89 later and I was in business!

Getting up on the roof doesn't really bother me at all. It's climbing my extension ladder to a point beyond where I can grab onto it while reaching out to try and work the string of lights into a small plastic hook about 3 feet away that can be especially unnerving. I've said more than a few prayers from that same spot over the years. I need look no further than the guys I work with to hear about more than a couple of really bad falls associated with hanging Christmas lights. I'm careful but I'm sure they were too.

Between some quick diversions into the house to play a fast round or two of SongPop (my latest online game fascination) with friends and a couple of trips to the store I had the job completed after 8 hours. Tammy wasn't too keen on me being out there on the roof and actually pleaded with me early on to not bother with the job but in the end she was happy to see the lights doing their thing. Or maybe she was simply happy that I'd survived the ordeal for another year.

A preview below. They don't officially go on until Thanksgiving night.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Water Worries

Some thoughts for me to look back on years from now.

Barack Obama was just re-elected to a 2nd term as President last Tuesday. I can't recall a president that I've ever identified with as much as I do him. I simply agree with so much of what he stands for, especially his sense of fairness. I get that many will cringe at what I just wrote but then I cringe at the thought of where I think many of you get the information you use to reach your conclusions about him.

Yeah, I was very relieved to see Obama prevail last Tuesday night, rising above the constant drumbeat of negative comments about him that's been nonstop from right-wing radio and TV over the last four years. I went to bed at 10:30 just after he was declared the winner, intent on getting to sleep as soon as I could for a 4:00 AM start the next day. I laid there thinking about the election, wondering how Fox News and right-wing radio would handle the defeat. Smiling. I tossed and turned, occasionally reaching for my Droid to check some websites hoping sleep would settle in but it wasn't happening. It was 3:05 when I last looked at the clock. Needless to say, I never made it to work the next day.

Moving on...

It's been a ridiculously dry past 5 months here in Minnesota but prior to that, we'd experienced a very wet spring. After the rains had stopped I noticed a few small blisters in our 3-year-old garage floor epoxy finish. I tried to see if there was any 'give' to them but they appeared as hard as the surrounding floor. I didn't think much of them until stumbling upon a YouTube video that talked about failures of epoxy floor finishes due to hydrostatic pressure. I'm sure that's what's at play. There's really not much I can think of to do other than to make sure I minimize the amount of water that's allowed to work its way toward and under the garage floor so that was my project this past weekend.

There's a small 3 x 3-foot section near a flower garden next to the garage floor that often gets a lot of runoff during heavy rains. The runoff is fed by a sloping grade away from the house toward the street and I'm quite sure that a lot of this water is what I'm having to contend with. Anyway, I made a simple drainage to catch most of the runoff and direct it away from the area it's been allowed to collect in up until now. Lastly, I covered the soil with a square of poly to keep water from coming in contact with the soil. Water can be so destructive and I figure that every little bit of prevention helps.

We got together with some friends Saturday night to take in a play at the Lakeville Community Center called ReGifters, a comedy about a few couples who exchange gifts each year at Christmas. These friends too often exchange less than ideal gifts or even retaliatory gifts to get even for a previous year and they almost always give re-gifted items. All is well until it's learned that a gift one of the couples re-gifted to another is actually a priceless gift and they will stop at nothing to get it back. It was a fun time and had us laughing a lot.

Afterward, Tammy and I stopped at a wine bar across the street before going home. The bar was standing room only but fortunately for us, I met a friend there with his wife who offered to share their table with us. It was nice to catch up with Michel as we only ever really communicate on Facebook. We met riding out on the road a few years ago.

It was a nice finish to a busy weekend.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Leaving Home and Celebrating 84 Years

Following up on my previous post.

I exchanged a couple more emails with Bill Bohline (lead pastor at Hosanna) about Hosanna's stance toward same-sex marriage. The tone in each of his replies became progressively dismissive. Realizing that emails were a poor vehicle for voicing my concerns I emailed him asking if I could have 30 minutes of his time to discuss the matter. What I wanted was to sit down with him and together watch Greg Boyd's video.

My email to him:

Pastor Bill,

I would like 30 minutes of your time, please. I'm available Tuesday after 2:00 or anytime Friday.

Thank you,

Kevin Gilmore

His response to me:

Kevin, you have had more than 30 minutes of my time in this last week.

And that was that. Not even a "sincerely, Pastor Bill" ...just his curt response.

I was left with the overriding feeling that he has little time for anybody who dares to challenge him and I sensed absolutely none of Christ's love in his words in either his last email or those previous—just lip-service in that regard. Very disappointing to me.

One thing I never really touched on in all of this talk about Hosanna's embracing of the Marriage Amendment is that this really isn't Hosanna's place to stick their nose. Church doctrine shouldn't be influencing our public positions. I can only imagine the outcry we'd hear if Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists suddenly wanted their beliefs written into our constitution.

That's how I see it.

And with that, my time at Hosanna, more than 15 years, comes to a close. I never envisioned this playing out as it did but now that it has I really can't see myself going back there. I've been drifting further and further from feeling that I belong there for some time. So much for my dreams of being the main go-to guy for keeping the grounds mowed in my retirement but that's okay because maybe there's a more important calling for me.

I took Tuesday off from work to meet with a doctor near St Cloud to discuss stem-cell treatment for my knees. Before he can make any recommendation about the procedure and what benefits I might expect, my doctor wants me to work hard on getting my hamstrings loosened. Tight hamstrings are a very common problem for cyclists and until I get mine back to something more normal, there's really no point in considering any other fix for the pain in my knees. My tight hamstrings will only reverse whatever improvements the stem-cell therapy provides because as the doctor explained to me, the patella of both knees is having a difficult time tracking correctly so long as I've got a combination of strong quadriceps with weak/tight hamstrings. He said it's entirely possible that much of my knee pain will go away once I achieve the flexibility I need throughout my legs. I'm meeting with a therapist on Wednesday morning who specializes in cycling-related injuries.

We had such a nice time in the studio at Foci last Thursday. The furnace serving our bench was late getting turned on so while it was getting up to temperature we had some time to hang out and watch some of the other artists. We chatted with Peter Zelle and watched him work his magic with some tumblers. He has a different style than we're used to seeing so it was nice to watch and learn. Like many of the artists there, he was so helpful in answering our questions. Tammy spent most of her time working on Christmas ornaments after getting a quick demo from Liz. She's another favorite artist of ours at Foci.

I drove by Mom's last Friday afternoon to drop off some flowers and wine but she wasn't home. She turned 84 yesterday. On the way back home I stopped at KwikTrip to gas up my truck and I found her there filling her Escort. She really is the Energizer Bunny. Tammy and I were able to make it over to her house last night and spend a couple hours with her. It was a nice time and we had her laughing, ribbing her about her love of Fox News. Rachel called while we were there to wish her a happy birthday so in a sense we were all there with her.

It looks like our warm temps are done for the year. In my previous life when I was a runner, I'd run outdoors no matter how cold it got without any concerns for staying warm enough. It seemed I was always more worried about overheating on a run than anything. My walks will be a different animal entirely considering my heart-rate never gets elevated enough to generate the warmth I'll need to remain out there for very long when the real cold stuff arrives. But by that time I hope to be answering the call of my Mukluk. I can't wait!

I enjoyed a nice walk late Friday afternoon in western Lakeville on my Murphy Hanrehan loop. There wasn't much of a breeze and with a temp in the mid to upper 30's it made for nice conditions to be out there. My new battery in my Droid Bionic showed little signs of wear during the 3 hours I was out walking putting it through its paces listening to podcasts the entire time.

I'm officially declaring the War on Leaves, 2012 to be over. Now you see them, now you don't!

Craig Natvig pulled the plug last Wednesday and retired after 30+ years in the trenches as a controller. Always easy going and as competent as anybody to ever don a headset. He went out in style wearing a sport coat to work on Monday, a suit on Tuesday and a Tux on Wednesday. I went out to his place for a retirement party last Friday night. It was a nice time and it gave me a chance to chat with some other recently retired controllers and get a feel from them for what retirement life is like. I'm actually trying not to think too much about it but sometimes I just can't help it. 423 dtg!

Scenes from Friday's walk in and near Murphy Hanrehan Park Reserve...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Losing My Religion, part 2

This is a continuation of a blog post I made yesterday.

Tammy came downstairs yesterday morning and out of nowhere, she asked me what I thought about attending a church that openly welcomes gays and lesbians. We must've been doing a mind-meld because I'd just finished reading a blog post from a pastor whose point of view I admire very much. He was discussing this very thing—openly accepting members of the GLBT community among their congregation. It would be such a departure from the disappointment I'm feeling concerning Hosanna's approach to this issue; an approach that looks at the issue through a funhouse mirror lens where a disproportionate amount of emphasis is placed on certain scripture/sins over others in a way that makes no sense to me.

Philip is one of Rachel's roommates in Rochester. He's gay and he's working diligently to reach people in the city who will soon be casting a yes or no vote on the Marriage Amendment. He grew up in a Catholic family in Texas and hoped that his move to Minnesota last year would be one where he would feel more accepted for who he is rather than what had been his experience in the life he'd left behind. The marriage amendment has done so much to unravel any of the warmth and acceptance he'd been enjoying here.

He was volunteering at ARTWalk in Rochester recently, approaching people, inquiring if they knew about the marriage amendment on the November ballot and to encourage them to help in his effort to defeat the proposed change to the state's constitution. At one point he was talking with a couple who were enthusiastic about becoming volunteers themselves and helping out. There was a father and his young son nearby listening in on the conversation. When he finished talking with the couple, he turned to speak with the father. He asked him if he was familiar with the amendment, to which the little boy responded: "Me and my family are fighting you." Philip struggled to understand how someone so young even had an understanding of what was being discussed, say nothing of the anger being expressed by him.

It wasn't until later that night while at home reflecting on what had happened in that moment that he broke down and cried about it, consumed by both sadness and anger, struggling to understand how anyone could encourage their children in such a way.

We're taught to hate.

Philip's story really touched me. When Rachel first told me about it I remember laying in bed later that night trying to imagine how he must have felt. Unless we're in Philip's shoes I don't think any of us can truly appreciate how that must feel. But what about when it's not some 9-year-old boy throwing it back in your face that you're different. That you don't measure up. That you're not worthy. That you're the enemy. What about when it's your church that is trying to marginalize you? How terrible must that feel? I can't imagine.

Greg Boyd is the senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church in North St. Paul. I first heard of him when he came to speak at a men's breakfast at Hosanna a few years ago. His words touched me then and continue to today. I was cruising Facebook late last night when I came across a link to Greg's blog on a friend's wall where he was blogging about Homosexuality and the Church: Finding a "Third Way".

In his writing and in his sermon from last week, he hits on all of my concerns that have been so troubling to me about the way Hosanna and other churches are dealing with this group of people we've done so well at making appear to be sinners on a whole other level than the rest of us. People who only want acceptance and the ability to worship without a constant concern and fear for what disruption their presence may cause. People who simply want the ability to someday marry the one they love. Is that really such a terrible thing? Don't we owe them that much?

I thank God for people like Greg who truly get it when talking about 'what would Jesus do?' And I thank God for people who are different than me. So should we all.

A short follow-up...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Losing My Religion, part 1

The first church I was a member of as an adult was Family of Christ in Lakeville. We started out as not much more than a dozen families meeting at what is now Kenwood Trail Middle School off highway 50. That would've been in the spring of 1988. The church grew over the next few years and we eventually built on a piece of land in an undeveloped area south of 185th street just east of the freeway where it remains today.

As part of any new church, there were formalities we needed to follow in the organizational process and one of those formalities was in officially calling our pastor to the position of Pastor of Family of Christ. Dell had been serving in that capacity for around four years so I assumed this was a no-brainer of a decision. But it wasn't. To my surprise, one woman stood up and voiced dissension with the nomination. I couldn't believe it. What was Kathleen thinking?

I was totally oblivious to what had been happening there behind the scenes. It would take a couple more years to fully play out but in the end, Dell would be forced to step down in disgrace. My desire for organized religion suffered a hit and I would walk away with much disappointment.

Churches are like that though. Ask anybody who works on the inside and sees firsthand the turmoil that too often plays out behind the scenes away from the image that the general public is treated to. We all come with our faults, even those who stand before us Sunday morning and minister.

It would take several years but I would eventually make my way back to church but not to Family of Christ. (An interesting blog post if you have the time.)

Hosanna, where I still attend is what you would consider a mega-church. Their approach appeals to the masses but I'm not sure that that's always a good thing. Hosanna used to be a part of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) until we broke from them 3 years ago after the ELCA took the stance that they would allow gay clergy to serve in the church.

I was troubled by this move, not so much that we'd no longer be under the umbrella of the ELCA because that to me didn't really matter. I was troubled by what prompted us to leave. We took a vote as a congregation which left no doubt about how people felt. The congregation voted 97% in favor of leaving the ELCA. To me, that vote was as much a vote about church members' repudiation of the gay/lesbian lifestyle than anything else. I wondered then how welcomed any gay couples among us at Hosanna must've felt. Not very.

Two Sundays ago our lead pastor, Bill Bohline, stood before us to speak about the same-sex marriage amendment we'd be voting on in a few weeks and to remind us that by not voting on the amendment, for whatever reason, it would count as a 'no' vote. The implication was clear. He was encouraging us to vote in favor of the amendment which would ensure that there could be no same-sex marriages in our state should current law (which makes them illegal) ever be overturned. My heart sank as I listened. Why, why, why?

I waited a week before emailing Pastor Bill about my thoughts...

Greetings Pastor Bill,

This is a letter I'd meant to write two or three years ago when we broke away from the ELCA. Your message from last week sort of brought back some of those same feelings again. I appreciated very much your delivery in talking about such a difficult topic but still, your words left me wondering if your approach toward the GLBT community isn't maybe lacking.

Why did you feel it necessary to speak out in favor of the Marriage Amendment? It was clear to me through your words that you will be supporting the amendment, going so far as to remind us that not voting on the measure counts as a 'no' vote. Isn't it enough that same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota? Was it really necessary to add your voice to those who are piling on? Do you realize that the person who brought this amendment to our state is himself divorced? Does that not seem just a little hypocritical to you?

In your sermon last week you were very careful to assure those in the GLBT community that they're welcome at Hosanna but how many do you really feel you were speaking to? I can only imagine that the vast majority of them left a few years ago when we voted as a congregation, (I believe) 97% in favor of breaking from the ELCA. That vote to me was much more a vote on the repudiation of the GLBT lifestyle than it was about leaving the ELCA. I say that considering what prompted us to leave the ELCA.

What troubles me is your focus on persons in same-sex relationships within our congregation and how you tend to single them out...that their sins are somehow greater than the sins of the rest of us. I've been coming to Hosanna since '97. I was here when you dismissed Missy and her partner from serving at Hosanna. I have to wonder if their sin is somehow so much greater than the sins of others among us that you felt you needed to purge them from our ranks? Gluttony is a sin is it not? Do you have any overweight people serving on your staff? It would seem to me that their sin is at least a choice unlike those in the GLBT community. Correct?

You lifted up a tidy verse in Genesis to make your case for one-man-one-woman marriage. Moses also wrote in Numbers 31:15-18, defining marriage as between a conqueror and his plunder. The Bible also gives plenty of examples of marriage being defined as a relationship between a man and many women in addition to his concubines. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 22:28 where he defines marriage as between a rapist and his victim. Easily the most difficult verse in the Bible for me to come to any sort of understanding of and one which leads me to conclude that some of Moses's writings were his own interpretation of how things should be and not necessarily from God. The God I worship I'm quite sure would've instructed the people of the community to rally around the victim in this case and provide for her, not allowing her to become an outcast to be shunned. My God would not banish her to a life of torment at the hands of her abuser.

I think we would better serve the GLBT community if we would simply welcome them with open arms and allow God's word to move them if that is what he truly wants for them. We don't reach them by singling them out as you've done and making their sins to seem somehow more than the sins of the rest of us because none of us are being singled out in such a way. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm missing something really important here which has left me ignorant of your understanding. Please feel free to correct me because I'm really struggling with some of this and have been for some time to the point where I feel as though my desire to be involved in Hosanna is suffering more than ever.

I'm torn about whether or not to send this to you because I would guess you've heard enough push-back from those like me.

I'll leave you with a video. Please watch this through to the very end.

Thank you very much for your time, Pastor Bill.


Kevin Gilmore

This is getting lengthy and I have more to write so I'll finish it tomorrow.

Losing My Religion, part 2

Monday, October 22, 2012

Makeovers and a Twist

Rachel is beginning to worry me. I'm not sure this college thing is such a good idea.

About a year ago a friend at work had a new procedure done on his knees in an attempt to restore lost cartilage. The procedure involves harvesting stem cells from your bone marrow and injecting them at the site of the injury. Stem cells have the unique ability to become the cells needed to repair an injury. The science is still new and will undoubtedly improve in time but even now it appears to be beneficial. Barry was treated by the people at Regenexx and says that one of his knees feels 100% while the other is improved but without as good a result. One other guy at work also had one of his knees treated recently. Jeff used to run ultra-marathons and hoped to begin training for them again but his procedure didn't yield the results he'd hoped for. There are no guarantees but the procedure has piqued my interest and I'm considering having it done.

For the longest time, my knees have been my Achilles-heel so to speak. I first injured my right knee in high-school and within a few weeks of having my leg's full-length cast removed, I re-injured it in a fall that had my leg back in another full-length cast. My left leg has had to carry more than its share of the load in the years since and all that extra emphasis placed on it during my long-distance efforts both running and cycling has caused it to begin to rebel. I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee 20 years ago to clean out some debris from years as a distance runner which actually seemed to help it quite a bit but I decided then that my running days were over. The pain I feel in both knees keeps me from pushing as hard as I'd like on my rides but I've been able to work on my pedal stroke over the last couple years so I'm not putting as much pressure on my knees without sacrificing power. It's helped a lot.

I made an appointment last Monday with my regular doctor to see if he could schedule me for MRIs of both knees and to see what he thought about what the folks at Regenexx were doing. I sort of expected him to poo-poo the idea but he didn't. He was familiar with the main doctor heading the procedure as they used to work in the same network together. I was able to get the images taken later that day and was surprised at how long the scans took; roughly 25 minutes per knee. I left Suburban Imaging with a couple of discs of the scans then made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor to see what he felt about the overall health of my knees and to get his opinion of stem-cell therapy.

The orthopedic doctor had x-rays taken of both legs and put my knees through some motions to assess them. He felt that their overall condition was good. The joints were stable and my condition isn't bone-on-bone but I do have a loss of cartilage and a condition called chondromalacia. I knew that but I was very relieved to hear him say that that's all it was. My concern going in was that I'd wasted away much of my cartilage from years of running and cycling and that I would continue to damage them if I kept doing what I've been. He actually encouraged me to keep riding. I mentioned that it seems the pain gets worse when I ride infrequently and I've never understood that. He said that through a process called diffusion, exercise (working the joint) helps bring a new supply of nutrients to the joint to keep it lubricated and healthy. He felt the stem cell therapy was worth looking into but offered that there's still a long way to go with that method of treatment before it's more accepted. He also talked with me about Synvisc injections into my knee as well as cortisone shots to relieve pain. Synvisc, yes—cortisone, no. I have no interest in cortisone injections because I think there are just too many long-term side effects from them to contend with.

I left the orthopedic doctor's office feeling so happy about his evaluation of my knees. I haven't ruined them and I'm not looking at any sort of radical surgery anytime soon to repair them. I have an appointment with the people at Regenexx next week and will hear their analysis of where I'm at and if their treatment can get me off the anti-inflammatory drugs I depend on so much these days to minimize my knee pain.

I'm quite sure that this is easily the most boring post I've made in a while but this is important for me to write about for years from now.

Our geek-room at work got a nice makeover last week and is reopen for business.  The new configuration has a few fewer slots but I think it's worth the trade-off.  It's where we geeks spend our breaktime, giving our eyes a rest from the stress of staring at the radar. Oh, trust me, it really works.

Speaking of a makeover: Tammy and I went shopping for new eye-glasses a few nights ago. It's been a few years and while our prescriptions didn't change much, we felt it was time to update our look. The doctor did notice a small cataract developing in my right eye. He said that what I'm experiencing is a normal part of the aging process but that I'm a few years ahead of schedule. He told me that eventually, they'll replace the lens of my eye with an artificial lens, one with my new prescription built into it. That part appeals to me very much. Cataracts can be caused by several things; long-term exposure to ultraviolet light (which I get plenty of during the summer out on my bike) and Corticosteroids (which I get plenty of in the form of Prednisone when I'm in a cluster-headache phase). I would guess it's the latter that is responsible for my condition. There's also another possible cause, that being the glassblowing we do. I'll often stare straight into the gloryhole without eye protection while working on a piece and I'm guessing that's not so good.

A Marriage Amendment is on the ballot here in Minnesota defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I'm opposed to it for multiple reasons. We heterosexuals have sort of made a mockery of marriage with our high divorce rate plus I simply feel that the amendment is forcing religious views on others who may not share those same beliefs and that's not right.

Watch the video below to the end for an interesting twist. Actually, watch it twice!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One Man's Great Leap and Another Man's Great Fall

I'm sitting here in awe after having just watched Felix Baumgartner make his leap from 128,000 feet then free-fall at speeds exceeding the speed of sound (at one point 833.9 mph) back to earth. Just wow! What incredible bravery! Tammy and I watched it together, both spellbound as he stepped out onto the capsule's platform just before his leap.


His jump is easily one of the most incredible things I've ever seen! But what is equally as impressive if not more so was the jump of Joe Kittinger from 102,000 feet in 1960 considering the technology of the day. I didn't realize while watching the coverage that he was the guy in communication with Felix, going through the checklist with him as he prepared to jump.

I had to laugh just a little because while they got all of the highly technical stuff down just right, they really struggled to accurately get Felix the current surface winds for his touchdown. Clearly, one of the more no-brainer things on their to-do list.

It could be said that Lance Armstrong's fall has been even further.

If there were any doubters about Lance Armstrong's suspected blood doping during his professional (and post-professional) career, there's little left for them to doubt since the release of court documents from the depositions of several people who raced with him in addition to other witnesses. I haven't been through all of the testimony yet but I read enough in depositions from some of the more notable riders who were part of his inner circle to get a clear picture of the extent of the blood-doping program that US Postal and Team Discovery were involved in. From the link above go to the Appendices and Supporting Materials tab then read testimony from the likes of Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, and George Hincapie. I found it to be incredible reading.

As believable as Lance was in his profession of innocence, it's been several years since I stopped believing his lies. Sad, really. I and so many others wanted to believe he was the real deal.

Paul and Kate (who we made the stained-glass panels for) came into town this past week so we got or small group from church together at Chianti Grill for a few hours of catching up. It was a nice time and so good to see Paul and Kate again as well as everybody else. They moved out to Montana and built a home with the most beautiful view of the mountains behind them. They went from 28 years of shoulder to shoulder apartment living to as much wide open space as you can imagine. That's quite a change.

Our neighbor's Halloween display appeared overnight. I took the pups out for a walk this morning and Charlie wasn't very pleased to see it.

Speaking of displays—I'm not sure if I'll be putting up our outdoor Christmas lights this year. I began doing it 13 years ago for Tammy and Rachel when Tammy and I were first married. I enjoyed doing it and the look it gave our home but it can be a lot of work. There's always the one section at the highest peak that unsettles me enough to where each time I get the lights strung there I'm very relieved. Hmmm...could this be the year I end the tradition?

I woke up a few mornings ago and looked out the window to see two white squirrels foraging for food beneath our bird feeders. One of them looks quite young yet. I've got a soft spot in my heart for the mischievous guys and will no doubt make plenty of food available for them this winter as I usually do. I wondered if maybe they hang out together considering they've got so much in common.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

No, I Don't Need to Pee

It's been a busy weekend. I went into overdrive on the stained-glass panel project we're making for Paul and Kate. They'll be returning to town this week from their new home in Montana for a visit and I wanted to have it completed for them to take home. I'm happy to say that it's done and securely packed away.

I found myself really enjoying being down in the shop working on it even though it was often beautiful outside. That's always been the sole reason for me only ever doing stained glass in the winter—it just can't compete with a beautiful fall or summer day. But I'm happy to have made this exception and envision I'll not be so averse to doing it again in the future, especially once I'm retired and every day is Saturday. 451 days to go.

I've been contemplating what I'd like to do for my next stained glass project and I'm kicking around ideas for some sort of landscape scene—one done on a very small scale with lots of tiny pieces. Possibly something like these windows we did a few years ago except even smaller; more intricate than anything I've ever done.

This has been the year I've discovered walking as an alternative form of exercise since my health issues back in January sidelined me from outdoor riding. I'm getting out 2-3 times each week for a lengthy walk of anywhere between 10-15 miles. It's some of the more enjoyable time of my week as I walk along listening to podcasts, music or just nothing at all. Just me and my thoughts. Lately, my favorite route (15 miles) takes me out west along some nature trails where the softer ground makes it ideal for me to run some as well. It's not the heart-pounding workout I'm used to but I often come home feeling pretty spent.

In addition to walking, there has been one other unexpected silver lining that came out of my health-scare that I'm grateful for. That being the purchase of my CompuTrainer. It's so completely changed my approach to my riding. I'm stronger on the bike than I've been in years and there's no other reason for that than the focused rides I've been doing down in the basement. This past week I've begun using ERG Videos. There's nothing I'm aware of out there that is more high-tech or motivational than these videos. I don't know many people who look forward to hammering out miles on their trainers indoors but I love it! I was going to write more about the ERG videos here but I'll save that for another more geek-oriented blog post.

I spent all of yesterday afternoon out in the yard doing the first round of major leaf clean-up. Before and after. I collected 22 bags worth and will easily do more than that this next week I'm sure. My obsessive-compulsive side took over as I arranged our leaf bags. Nobody has a neater stack than I do!

I stumbled onto a video the other night of a father leading his 4-year-old son down a mountain bike trail. I don't think the smile ever left my face as I sat spellbound watching it. The little guy was so excited at what he was experiencing, calling out to his dad as he overcame challenges along the way. The father coolly encouraging him. I got to thinking about how there's nothing else in my life that brings me back to my youth anywhere near the way my bike does. The excitement of the little boy mirrored many of my own sentiments as I negotiated trails down by the river last winter. Sadly, I'm not sure I'll ever make it back to the trails again but there's still the thrill of so much else for me on two wheels. I'll manage.

Oh, the title of the blog? Watch the video...

Monday, October 1, 2012

That's the Pros for You

I walked out in the yard this morning when I let the dogs out and noticed that fall had arrived overnight. Several of our trees have begun to shed their leaves in earnest. And so it begins, The Battle of the Leaves, 2012.

Rachel is probably busier now than she's ever been in her life. I texted her Saturday morning around 9:30 and was surprised to get a response. She was up early studying. In addition to college, she's taken on a part-time job working as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) with a local retirement facility in the city of Rochester. She'll be working three six-hour shifts per week (a .6 in medical jargon). She was trying to get some studying done before her shift later in the day.

Once again this year finds her filling roles as co-captain of UMR's Ballroom Dance team; student ambassador; student liaison representative for UMR (where she sits in on staff meetings among other duties) as well as serving as one of the coordinators for STLF (Students Today Leaders Forever). STLF is the group she's involved with that puts together spring-break trips across the country where they organize volunteer opportunities. They'll spend a week on a bus clocking thousands of miles as they complete their tasks. There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. Like I said, she's a busy person.

I'm not sure where she has time in her schedule to fit in the CNA job but she doesn't have much choice. She'll need around 1400 hours of medically related experience before she can apply to whichever Physician's Assistant school she decides on. Her hours spent as a CNA will count toward satisfying that requirement.

Did you purchase a TV, monitor or laptop computer that contained an LCD flat panel screen between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2006? You no doubt answered 'yes'. You may want to check out this link (edit: it's no more) to see if you qualify and then add your name to the list of people who will be sent checks in the amount of at least $25 provided you're in one of the 24 states that participated in the suite. I first heard about this from a local news program. Apparently, there was a class-action suit against some overseas manufacturers who colluded to keep prices higher than they should've been. No receipt is required.

Being the sometimes political junkie that I am, I'm looking forward to watching at least a little of the presidential debates that begin this week. But I don't know why because all any of us will likely hear are just more of the same soundbites we've been hearing all along. What good is that, really? I'd much prefer an in-depth discussion of what led us into the mess we find ourselves today and what steps need to be taken to get us out of it. Will there be any talk of the lack of regulation in the banking industry and on Wall Street that created an environment where sub-prime mortgages flourished beyond the scope of any prying eyes? I seriously doubt it. Will there be any mention of Dodd-Frank and the need for even more regulation, not less? Doubtful.

Unless you're willing to invest a fair amount of time either reading about what happened or watching documentaries about it you'll have to settle for the likely misleading, slight-of-hand talking-points that barely scratch the surface of what happened and you'll remain woefully uninformed. For those interested, here's a four-part series Frontline recently did. It's a good place to begin.

Speaking of slight-of-hand, here's something that I find quite cool. Watch closely but watch it more than once because once just simply isn't enough to see what happens. I'd recommend at least 3 or 4 viewings to fully appreciate it if that's even possible.

Jauregui from Jacky Durand on Vimeo.

The translation is something along the lines of this:

The guy in the white mumbles "perfect" Kinda of like "not bad"
Jackie Durand says "did he just change bikes?'" " I hardly saw that!"
The guy in the glasses says "that's the pros for you"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adding to My List

I came home from work last week to find our newly ordered glassblowing pipes waiting by our front door. Exciting! We were able to try them out Thursday afternoon and I can happily say that we both really like them. These feel so nice in our hands as they're not quite as heavy as what we're used to using with Foci's shop-pipes. We ordered two but I think ideally we'd like to have three to be able to keep the rotation of pipes going smoothly between us while we're working. This will suffice for now though. I can't wait to get back in the studio and use them later this week.

Foci has a new 800 pound crucible furnace that recently went online. It's being referred to as a new heart for the studio because that's exactly what it is. There hasn't been a steady supply of molten glass to draw from for the past several months because of some breakdowns between the studio's two main furnaces but with this new addition, that should no longer be a problem.

Lakeville, where we live, typically seal-coats the city streets every 7 years with a combination of what looks like a sticky sprayed on tar which is covered over with small stone granules. My curiosity was piqued the other morning by the sound of something outside that was gradually getting closer. It was the occasional loud foghorn moaning sound that mostly had me wondering what it could be. I found this. It was making spot repairs to the street.

I finished the first of two panels that I'm doing for friends of ours who moved to Montana last year. I believe they're going to place them in some double doors that lead to their bedroom. They'll be in town in two weeks so I've been pressing to have them done in time for them to take them back with them.

Tammy came up with the overall design and I added a few tweaks. Paul and Kate gave us some suggested colors to work with and I tried to balance them throughout the piece. I think it will look nice when both panels are side by side in their final setting.

The latest phone game we're playing is Ruzzle. It's fun—give it a try. I'm getting a little burned out on Wordfeud and Draw Something so a change is nice.

A friend at work recently did a project with his son where they launched a weather balloon with an attached camera to photograph its journey. He estimates it reached an altitude of around 90,000 feet or more (27,400 meters) before the balloon burst and floated back to earth with a parachute. He got some incredible images. Ben followed the basic outlines of a plan some students from MIT used. There's so much to consider and they've done a good job of taking in all of those considerations and outlining solutions that can reasonably be duplicated.

I happened to think of Ben's project when I came across a video online a few nights ago. It got me thinking how if I had a boy, I'd love to do the same thing with him or even just to do it for my own amusement. Oh, a daughter would be great to experience this with too but I did try the Estes rocket thing with Rachel and her friend Camille years ago. I'm afraid it never quite lived up to expectations for them.

If nothing else, this project sounds like another thing to add to my to-do list for when I'm retired. That list is growing nicely.