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!