Sunday, December 29, 2013

Moving Day and Tim Duffrin has Left the Building!

We're still waiting for our Forester to be fixed. The service department at Miller Hill Subaru originally said we could expect it to be done this past Thursday but the motorhead they received from the parts dealer had a warped valve-something-or-other and they couldn't use it. Christmas week isn't a good week for ordering anything and expecting it to be expedited. And so we wait. Hopefully, sometime this coming week we'll have our car back.

We had our quietest Christmas ever in the more than 14 years we've been married. Tammy was working in her office while Rachel was at her dad's house. I threw my bike in the back of my truck and headed down to the river for a few hours of fun on the trails. I fell so many times trying to establish new tracks in the 3 inches of snow we'd gotten Christmas Eve. They were easy falls that mostly happened because I couldn't unclip from my pedals fast enough to get a foot down to keep from falling. After trading notes with another fat-tire rider (at the 1:45 mark of the video link) I decided to adopt his strategy and go with platform pedals and a snowboot rather than a cycling shoe/boot. This way I can get my foot down much more quickly. I visited a forum and found where a lot of other riders have adopted the same strategy.

Rachel is in her senior year of college and it appears the chances that she'll be doing any more extended stays with us is pretty remote. So, with that understanding, we loaded up most of her belongings from her room and transported them to Rochester and her new digs where she just made her 7th move in a little more than 3 years.

It was a smooth move on both ends because of the help of her friends pitching in to on-load and off-load her belongings from the 14 foot U-Haul truck we rented. I didn't sense any melancholiness from either Rachel or Tammy as this anticipated day seemed to pass without much reflection. I suppose she's been physically absent from our lives long enough that it takes the sting out of it.

Tammy would like to make Rachel's room into some kind of craft room with a futon to open up for overnight guests.

Rachel hosted a party for several high school friends on Friday night. I enjoyed answering the door and seeing their faces again and catching up with each of them as they stepped inside.

I was their designated driver as the party was to move to Babe's in downtown Lakeville later in the night. Kevin and Justin were happy to ride in the bed of my truck in the freezing cold so we used it rather than the loaner Forester we're sheltering in our garage. They're college kids and this is totally normal behavior, no?

I worked the all-night shift with Tim Duffrin last Tuesday night. It was his last shift before taking a week off and then retiring after a little more than 25 years as a controller. Tim was instrumental in getting us internet access at work in our geek room and maintaining it; something I think most of us take for granted but something that was no easy accomplishment. He was also the guy who made the most effort to follow through on safety issues that many of the rest of us didn't have enough passion to pursue.

I always enjoyed working with him. He was a very competent controller who quietly went about his business. I'd take a facility full of Tims any day.

Tim has a hobby-farm and an endless list of stuff to keep him plenty busy and happy in the years to come. I don't suspect he'll allow too much grass to grow under his feet.

I was back on the trails Friday afternoon for a ride that was immensely fun! I come back on such a high sometimes from being down there and this was one of those times. The temp was above freezing for what seemed like the first time in months and many other fat-tire bikes had been out there packing the trail nicely which made for excellent riding conditions. The best snow riding I've done yet!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Okay Google Now, Find the Nearest Subaru Dealer"

I've stumbled onto a fun design I've been playing with in the glassblowing studio. They're simple tealight candle holders with a thick clear bottom done in various colors. There's nothing particularly difficult about them unless I'm trying to make a few the same size, then it takes a little more skill. I've posted a couple photos of them on my Facebook page and received some nice comments leading me to think about doing a bunch more before changing my focus.

Tammy has been working on perfecting her smaller bud-vases. She's been having fun with them. I encourage her to work a little larger but this is what she enjoys.

Our Christmas cards won't be going out until Monday and for a few of you, that means they'll be a little late. In keeping with our tradition of doing something original in our cards most years, Rachel came up with a New York theme based on our trip to move her out there last August for a semester of school. Rachel did the drawing and Tammy added the color and got them ready to mail. I didn't do a thing but I promise to step it up next year.

Rachel shipped her belongings home via UPS over the last couple weeks. We decided early on that we didn't want to chance a trip by car this time of year to bring her home. She arrived late Wednesday night on a flight and Tony picked her up at the airport.

I think she may have gotten a few hours of sleep before waking up for a mid-morning departure with us up to Babbitt. She's a college kid and is used to operating on little sleep. What's my excuse? Oh yeah, I'm still an air traffic controller in the trenches doing shift-work beyond my 'sell-by' date.

We got away around 10:30 with coffees in hand and with both vehicles because I had plans to leave back for home on Friday for a date with a repairman to fix our dryer that went on the blink a few days earlier.

Two vehicles turned out to be a smart move.

I got a call from Rachel when we were just north of Cloquet saying that their car was making some sputtering noises when she accelerated and that it was running rough. I eased off the gas and asked her to drive alongside so I could see if there was anything obviously wrong. Nothing. She led the way at a reduced speed.

Not one to take too many chances in near-zero temperatures in the frozen tundra miles from help, I got out my Droid and spoke into it: "Okay Google now, find the nearest Subaru dealer". The "Okay Google now" part is what activates the voice command feature. Within a few seconds, my Droid Maxx was directing me to a dealership in Hermantown, 27 minutes away. I phoned Rachel to let them know we were charting a course for Miller Hill Subaru in Hermantown. I phoned ahead to see if they could fit us in and they assured us they could.

Once you own a smart-phone there's no going back.

We killed time in the waiting area playing on our phones and kicking the tires on some of the showroom vehicles while waiting for the news of our car's status. We didn't have to wait long. Casey from the service department led us over to a table where he sat us down, and much like a doctor delivering bad news to a patient, he in so many words told us that our 2006 Subaru Forester was quite ill. He showed us one of the spark-plugs. It was covered in oil and had what looked like a crack running the length of it where he said the plug had been arcing. He said we had a bad valve-cover gasket but that the extent of our problems could be much worse and he wouldn't know until they got deeper inside the engine to have a look around. He encouraged us to consider having the timing belt replaced as well as some other belts that were looking worn. It would save us money in the long run, considering those belts would be easy to access while the other work was being done. The car has 100,000 miles on it and it's recommended that the timing belt is replaced at 105,000. A no-brainer.

He offered us a loaner car to get us back on our way and said they'd hopefully have whatever work needed to be done completed when we passed back through on our way home.

We made it up to Babbitt for a nice visit with Tammy's mom and her sister Cindy but my time there was too short because I had to leave the next morning for home.

I loaded the pups in the truck with me and headed out around 8:30, needing to be home by 2:00 for the repairman. I typically enjoy the 4-hour drive but I was feeling a little anxious about the cost of getting our car back.

I got a call from Casey later in the day with some not-so-good news. The abbreviated version of this is that our Forester is much sicker than we'd imagined. The passenger-side cylinder head is cracked and will need to be replaced. It's Christmas week and trying to get the part expeditiously won't be so easy. It may not be until Thursday before we get our car back and at a considerable cost to us. Casey told us to keep the 2014 Forester he loaned us and to drive it back to Lakeville. When the work is done he'll phone us and make arrangements to meet us halfway for the exchange.

After speaking with him and mulling over the situation I called him back to see if he could give us an idea of what our car was worth as a trade-in for something new, possibly the car he loaned us. Tammy loves it!

And that's sort of where we left it. I'm not opposed to getting something new for Tammy but we're also considering just having the work done and using her car as-is for the next couple of years. It's been extremely trustworthy with the exception of this incident.

Oh, and our toaster broke this morning.

I'm certain that a country-western singer could take this sad story and make a nice song out of it. I'm not sure Jason Isbell is necessarily country-western but his music does have a little of that feel to it and I like his style. He'll do.

Phil from work recently turned me on to his music and I'm really liking it. A lot.

(please wait for the 10 seconds of blank video at the beginning)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Farewell to the Sky

I've had my Droid Maxx for 4 months and it continues to impress me, especially its battery life. I'm on my phone a fair amount in a typical day, playing games, surfing and editing photos. In the 4 months I've had the phone, I've yet to need to recharge it during the day. I typically put it in its dock at night with more than 50% power still remaining. It's impressive how much better this phone is than my previous Droid. With my last Droid, after a system update, the phone would be noticeably more sluggish. I've had one upgrade so far with my Maxx and I haven't noticed anything diminished about its performance. Also, I'd gotten in the habit of rebooting my Droid Bionic every day to help it run smoother. I find that I'm going weeks without restarting my Maxx. Like I said, impressive!

Speaking of editing photos with my phone: I've installed and uninstalled several free photo editing apps in the last couple of weeks and kept a few. They do an okay job but none of them can really make my photos pop. I took a $5 chance on HDR FX Pro from Lyrebird Studio and was pleasantly surprised. For a phone app, this has so much ability and control. It's great for enhancing uploads to Facebook, Instagram or just about any other place you upload a photo to. If you've got an Android platform I highly recommend it. I can't find a companion app on Apple. There's one with a similar name but a friend downloaded it and it was clear that it's not the same.

Here are some examples:

Example 1: before and after
Example 2: before and after
Example 3: before and after
Example 4: before and after

True, the HDR renderings are sometimes a little overcooked but I wanted the result I got. The amount of enhancement is all up to the person doing the editing. I'm mostly trying to show how much the photos can pop off the monitor after a few manipulations that take just seconds to apply.

We had our annual neighborhood house-hop last weekend. Our numbers were down a little from previous years but we all still had a fun time. Karen did a nice job of organizing everything and we're thankful that she took the lead. This is the time of year where we have so little contact with our neighbors so it's nice to have this chance to get together. We have some awesome neighbors!

My 2001 Nissan Frontier truck has 130,000 miles (or 209,200 kilometers) on it. Its transmission started making a disturbing noise last week when in 4WD so I brought it into L&M Auto in Burnsville and had Scott take a look at it. He heard the clunk I was hearing but couldn't find anything wrong with it. It all checked out. I'm taking it 4 hours north later this week up to Babbitt and I was concerned about it leaving me stranded. Scott doesn't think I have anything to worry about. Good.

The amount of miles it has isn't all that many by today's standards and I'd like to get a couple more years of use out of it as long as I'm not continually making expensive repairs. I was telling Tammy that when I sell it I'd like to get something more economical to drive; maybe a car, but as I was leaving work last night it dawned on me that it's so handy to have a truck for throwing my Mukluk in the back of and heading down to the river for some fun. Hmmm.

And that's how I'll end this blog piece; with a little footage from a recent ride down along the Minnesota River in southern Bloomington. Enjoy the ride and thanks to my friend Eugene for providing the soundtrack!

The fall you'll see was nothing :-)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Traffic-Jam Trivia, Peter Zelle and Winter Riding

My fascination with Candy Crush Saga has come to a close after I would guess 5+ months of off-and-on play. I hadn't been playing the game much over the last month and when I did open it up recently I realized that it no longer held my interest at all. My avatar will forever remain positioned at level 257 on the Candy Crush highway.

Winter weather settled in over much the country this last week. We're coping with double-digit below zero temps at night and temperatures that struggle to get much above zero during the day. Having this cold air descend on us after a wet snowfall didn't help because so many of the roads were left quite slick and unaffected by deicers. Not good for biking but of course I wasn't going to let that keep me down.

We had a fun 3 hours in the studio on Friday morning. Traffic was backed up on our way there because of a multi-car collision. In our conversation to kill time the name Herman Munster from The Munsters oddly enough came up. Tammy did a search on her iPhone and started digging up trivia on the actor who played him as well as trivia on some of the other cast members from the show. Our curiosity eventually led us to The Addams Family and some of the actors in that series. "What about Lurch," I asked. Lurch was played by Ted Cassidy and he died at the young age of 46 after complications from open-heart surgery in 1979. Uncle Fester, played by Jackie Coogan began acting as a child and was discovered by Charlie Chaplin at a vaudeville house. The California Child Actor's Bill, often referred to as the Coogan Law requires that 15% of earnings of child actors be set aside in a trust. Coogan had earned an estimated $3 to $4 million as a child star but saw virtually none of it. His mother and stepfather spent it on an extravagant lifestyle and claimed that "No promises were ever made to give Jackie anything. Every dollar a kid earns before he is 21 belongs to his parents. Jackie will not get a cent of his earnings" and claimed that "Jackie was a bad boy." He would later sue them but only recover $126,000 of the remaining $250,000 of what was left of his earnings. He died in 1984 at the age of 69.

Traffic-jam trivia makes a nice pastime.

After we finished in the studio we walked through the catacomb of hallways that lead to Peter Zelle's studio and spent some time with him while admiring his work. Peter does a wide variety of glass artwork but what intrigued us most were his larger pieces that he's been working on lately. He casts them in clay first and then makes plaster molds from the clay molds which he uses to fire glass into. The pieces are so large that he needs to allow for a two-week step-down cooling cycle in his kiln to prevent the pieces from cracking. The sunlight streaming into his studio lit them up beautifully!

Tammy found a smaller piece that we both like a lot and it now sits on a shelf in our sunporch.

Here's a link to Peter's website.

Tammy's birthday was this past Thursday. We spent the day together kicking around at the mall before attending a wine tasting later in the evening with Karen. We'd wait until Friday night to go out to dinner together at our favorite place, Outback Steakhouse. It's a casual place and we like that, plus, we've never been disappointed with the service or food there.

I got out in below zero temps Saturday afternoon for a ride down by the river. I put my bike in the bed of my truck and drove to a parking lot along the trail off 35W. Wearing the right clothes is so important to be comfortable especially in those conditions and typically the mistake people make is in overdressing. You can easily overheat and become too sweaty in those temps isn't a good thing. I felt great out there but after an hour my toes began to chill and by the time I returned to my truck a little over 90 minutes later they were biting cold. I use Lake boots which are some of the best but even they struggle with those temps.

Monday afternoon's ride was an adventure. It began on dry roads but by the time I returned home I was cycling inside a snow-globe. The most difficult part was keeping snow off the lenses of my glasses with huge wet flakes falling at such a heavy rate. My Mukluk was rock-steady allowing me to have a blast out there!

My route.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2013

We had a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend. Tammy had to work until 7:30 Thanksgiving night but she still managed to put together a delicious meal for the two of us. I'm not much of a cook but I hope to change that in retirement.

Speaking of retirement. We were talking this past week about things we'd both like to do together when we reach that point. Tammy mentioned loaning out our services to elderly people to help them with cleaning and yard work. I think that's a really good idea and something I would enjoy doing. We've also talked about working with at-risk inner-city kids in whatever ways we could be used. We'll begin to narrow our focus once we get closer to actually making the leap.

Pope Francis has my attention. I've never in my life been interested in anything the Popes have had to say over the years but this guy is different. I very much appreciate his mindset and his approach to life. But can his words change the strong convictions of those who disagree with him? I'm far from perfect and am reluctant to cast stones at others but can we agree that if Jesus was here in the flesh among us he would be very disappointed in the unashamed-corporate-greed-winner-take-all-no-need-for-a-living-wage-I've-got-my-health-care-get-you-own-and-oh-yes-guns-guns-guns mantra coming from those on the right—the ones who most loudly claim to be followers of Christ?

I see things so much differently now than I did not so many years ago.

Our outdoor Christmas/holiday/Festivus (take your pick) lights are shining brightly for all the neighborhood to see!

Rachel was able to experience the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with some friends from school. She was back in the City yesterday by herself doing some sightseeing and taking advantage of what little time she has left out there. It reminded me of this photo I took of her when we were there last August. Our little girl is no longer a little girl.

I've had a couple of fun rides this week with my mukluk on the trails down along the Minnesota River east and west of Cedar Ave. Thursday's ride took me up to Mendota where I entered the trails, working my way back along them toward Cedar Ave. I was whipped by the time I got home. It's a bit of work riding out of the river bottoms on my mukluk toward the higher elevations of home. Here's a video from that ride.

Saturday's ride before my afternoon shift was a blast! I can't remember a time when I've come back from a ride so ridiculously high. I went back to the scene of the crime where I told Tammy I wouldn't venture anymore because it's where I banged myself up and landed in the hospital for a few nights a couple years ago but it was all good! The trails are actually much tamer than I remember them but I also approach my trail riding differently than I did when I first began riding there. I'm simply more cautious than I was when I first got my mukluk but I'm not enjoying it any less.

I'm not sure a guy my age is supposed to be out there having this much fun!

Best viewed in HD with the music cranked because the music accompanying this one is some of my favorite to ride to! Buckle up!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Small World and a Shawn Mullins Evening

I received a Facebook friend request Sunday night along with a short message:

"Last night, my niece and I were going to try making lefse for the first time. (I inherited my moms lefse making equipment, but had never made lefse with her). Since we didn't really know what we were doing, I sent Ashley to the computer to find us a YouTube video to watch. She found one and we watched it. When we were finished, I checked to see who made it. Low and behold, it was your lefse making video. There are scores of lefse making videos out there, and we watched the one made by the guy across the street. How funny is that!


It sure can be a small world at times! Here's the video Jenny was referring to.

I've been battling a sinus infection for weeks. I finally broke down yesterday and went in to be seen and walked away with a prescription for Amoxicillin. I'm happy to finally be on the mend. This thing has been kicking my butt the past week.

I'm sitting here on a Saturday night tapping out some words for my blog while paying minimal attention to the TV with its nonstop 50th-anniversary programming of the JFK assassination. I was in the 1st grade and have some distinct memories of the tragedy but nothing deep. There was no profound sadness on my part because as a 6-year old I don't think I really understood death. I recall being on the bus on the way home from school and listening to one of the other kids talk about how President Kennedy was going to get a 21-gun salute. I don't know that I understood what that meant but it sounded cool. I remember sitting in front of the TV and watching coverage presented by a black news reporter. Keith, being only 3 commented, "that man has a dirty face." Why I remember that I have no idea. It's strange the things that remain with us over the years. Of all of the thoughts I come away with after watching the coverage I'm left thinking of his wife, Jackie, and the strength she showed that day and afterward. Just amazing.

I've spent many hours over the last few afternoons stringing outdoor Christmas lights—or "winter lights" as I refer to them to a friend who frowns on our obsession with Christmas. I really do think Jesus would not be happy to have his arbitrary birthday celebrated in such a materialistic way with our frenzied shopping for and giving of gits.

Our neighbors behind us moved away today to a larger home in Lakeville. When John and Melissa moved here some 7 years or more ago it was just the two of them, but now they've become so much more with Grayson, Haley, Ila, and Kariss (sp). I was outside yesterday when Haley came running up to me..."Mr. Kevin...Mr. Kevin!! ...we're moving tomorrow!!" They're all so adorable! I'll miss their "Mr. Kevin" greetings. They're such good kids.

Tammy and I went to see Shawn Mullins at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. What a fun time we had! Patty Larkin was the opening act and although I was unfamiliar with her music, a couple of her songs I liked right away.

Patty played for an hour before giving way to Shawn.

I have to say that had Shawn walked up to me to bum a smoke I'd have not recognized him at all. He looks like the most unlikely recording artist—at least at that moment when he first took the stage. After watching him, though, for just a few minutes, you can't help but become a big believer! His voice is so rich and his words draw you in and paint an image that takes you on a journey for the length of the song. Tammy was so happy to be there, too. She's the one that turned me on to his music when we first met.

Our seats were just off to the left of the stage and a little too close for sneaking a video or two. I spied an empty seat at a table in the balcony and gave Tammy a wink as I left to go capture a few songs with my camera. She understands this thing I do.

We couldn't have been happier with the show and the night! I wanna go again!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Going Back on a Promise, Riding and Road Trips

My Candy Crush fixation has begun to wane after a few months of diligent play. I'm on level 257 and finding that the game doesn't intrigue me the way it once did. It's been a good run but perhaps it's time to find another distraction. Hmmm. I'm considering reinstalling Wordfeud on my phone.

I was quite sure I wouldn't be putting up Christmas lights this holiday season, in fact, I promised myself that last year would be the end of the tradition. I'm a softy. Over the last week or so my resolve to go into these holidays in a less than festive mood is weakening and the idea of involving our new addition in our outdoor light display has been gaining momentum; so much so that I went out to Fleet Farm yesterday and bought a bunch more LED light sets. I've sort of wanted to lay some off-white lights over the top of our pergola so this will be the motivation I need to get out there and do it.

I took yesterday off from work so I could get a head-start on the outdoor lights but rains moved in and washed out most of the afternoon. I didn't mind though because what I probably needed more than anything was a day for laying low. I did manage to get out for a couple hours after sunset last night to begin work on the job with hopes of having all of the lights strung by this time next week.

Tammy had her last watercolor class on Wednesday and came home with a poinsettia she painted. She wasn't totally pleased with it because her instructor insists on her students doing more outlining in black of parts of the painting, making it look somewhat cartoonish. Rather than outlining, Tammy was anticipating shading areas instead where it was necessary. She just goes with the flow and does her best to take in all of the advice whether she agrees or not.

She's looking to sign up for another class when one becomes available. I'm really happy to see her painting again because she's so artistic and I think she needs this outlet. She mentioned possibly using her poinsettia painting as the cover of our Christmas cards this year. She won't need to convince me.

I made it back out to the trails at Murphy-Hanrehan this past Wednesday after sleeping a few hours in the morning following my all-night shift. I'm learning a lot about trail riding but I have such a long way to go. Not having suspension on my Mukluk forces me to find the cleanest line I can through the trails because bouncing off rocks and roots can throw me offline so quickly and send me veering off the trail if I'm carrying too much speed. I not only prefer to keep my bike upright but I have to. I've had no falls my last two times at Murphy which I'm pleased about.

Some video from Wednesday's ride.

Tammy and I drove up to Stillwater Thursday afternoon in search of some end-tables for our sun-porch. Karen cautioned us that we'd likely only find lots of antiques and she was right. Still, it was a nice time. We always enjoy doing that trip together. I think we'll pencil in an afternoon in Excelsior in the next few weeks as well because that's another city where we enjoy visiting the various shops.

I'm not sure where to go next for the end-tables we're in search of. We've been to the more obvious places so now it's time to check out those lesser-known names.

I took advantage of some beautiful fall weather on Friday afternoon to spend some time on my road bike. It was nice to be on it, hammering out a nice cadence and speed. I haven't done nearly as much riding this year as in years past but I've made the most of my time out there and I'm riding faster than I have in a long while thanks to the Quarq power meter on my Serotta. It's made all the difference.

Video from Friday's ride. Hang on tight!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tony Campolo, Lefse Party and Indulging My Inner Child

I was driving home from work recently, flipping through stations on the radio until stopping on a Christian station that at one time in my life not all that long ago I would occasionally listen to. The person hosting the show was laying into Jehovah's Witnesses and how they're all going to hell because they're not interpreting the Bible the way he thinks they should. When he finished bashing them, he turned his attention to the practice of judging other people while encouraging his listeners to be more judgmental of one another and to not follow the trend in some circles of society where being judgmental is frowned on. He said the Bible calls on us to judge one another and that we should be doing this constantly throughout the day. Great. Let's all do that. I'd like to begin by judging him but really, I've got better things to do.

I reached toward the radio and said something I shouldn't have before turning to NPR, upset with the thought that this guy has people out there following his lead.

It's been a year since my divorce from Hosanna that resulted from my failed attempt to come to an understanding with their senior pastor Bill Bohline over his leadership about an issue that was troubling me. My heart has only hardened more toward organized religion in the year since and that disappoints me. I can't pretend it's something other than what it is.

But there is hope. There are actually people out there who in my eyes exemplify Christ's love through their words. I was watching a video last night from a theologian named Tony Campolo. He very much speaks to me and for me as I find myself reassessing where I'm at in my own faith/spiritual journey. Here's a link to the video.

There's a quote that's often wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill that says: "If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative by 40, you have no brain." My life seems to be working in the reverse order of that.

But enough of all of that.

Tammy hosted a lefse-making party at our home last Wednesday morning and it was a hit! Jackie, Erin, and Mom came over with Anja and friend Lena. I mean, what would a lefse party be without a Lena in the mix? Betsi and Tracey also came over and took their turn with the rolling pin. There's definitely a knack to the whole process. I of course shot some video for the archives. We plan to do it again next month except the focus won't be on lefse; it'll be Sunbuckles and Krumkake.

Typically this time of year I'm trying to take advantage of dry roads and mostly reasonable temperatures to squeeze in as many miles on my road bike as I can before the snow flies. But not so much this year. I've been giving the nod to my Mukluk for the past month while my skinny tire bike sits idle. Between the trails at Murphy, the Minnesota River bottoms, and local gravel roads, I've been having so much fun out there.

My inner child is alive and well and loves coming out to play!

Here's a link to my ride on Strava and some video from last Friday afternoon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Full Weekend and a Full Life...(but she's aiming for 90!...she told me)

When Tammy was in college she took a watercolor painting class as an elective study. She put together a nice portfolio of work during the class but in the 18 or so years since then, she hasn't taken the time to dabble in the art. I've tried over the years to encourage her to get back into it but I'm not one to nag.

But she's finally going to!

She signed up for a watercolor class taught by a local artist and will work with her over the next month. She's excited about it and so am I. I told her that I can totally see her setting up out in the sun-porch with her materials; it will be a perfect spot. She has a birthday coming up next month and I think I'd like to get her an easel.

Rachel is in Maryland this weekend for another ballroom dance competition. I got a text from her Friday afternoon as they passed near New York on their way: "NYC doesn't scare me anymore" "you know how it can be a bit intimidating at first? I can handle it now". Both Tammy and I couldn't be happier for her as she ventures out into our big beautiful world. Like I always say about Rachel's life: I just love being along for the ride!

The competition is going well for her and her partner. Out of 100 couples for Rhythm, they took 2nd place in both Cha-cha and Rumba and 1st place in Swing during Saturday's competition. They took three 1st places and one 2nd place today. She sent us a link where we could watch a live video feed of the competition and even go back and review video from earlier in the day. Tammy's been glued to her laptop, watching.

Kevin Kirsch, a controller at work, is moving on. Because he's now 56 years young he can no longer work as a controller but he was able to score an instructor's slot down at the academy in Oklahoma City where he plans to continue his FAA career for at least another couple years. There was a going-away party for him a few days ago and I stopped in to wish him well. I gave him the latest fruits of my glassblowing labors as a gift; a couple of simple candle holders. He'll be missed by us all for both his talents in the sector and his storytelling...haha—well, maybe not the stories so much but some.

Tammy and I were both home to pass out Halloween candy to the little monsters and assorted characters. It's been a few years since I've had our air-powered Dracula set up but I got it down from the loft in our garage and had it greet the trick-or-treaters as they made their way up our front walk. One little guy didn't notice it as he walked past it on his way to our front door but when he turned around to head back to his mother waiting for him at the end of our driveway he saw Dracula rising up out of the casket. He shook his head 'no'. "I'm not going" he kept quietly repeating but his mother couldn't hear. I yelled down to her that she may want to come up and walk with him. Poor guy.

I had such a fun ride on my Mukluk yesterday morning before work. I thought seriously about getting on my road bike and taking advantage of the dry roads but my Mukluk is just way too much fun and its call can be so irresistible sometimes. I love exploring gravel roads and routes on it that never get any consideration when I've got skinny tires under me. I only biked 30 miles but I worked it hard out there for the most part. I came home out of breath and on such a ridiculous high. I love that!

There's a bit of a treat in this video for my siblings.

Mom turned 85 today! Tammy and I took her out to Perkins this morning for breakfast. She looked so pretty. It's been a difficult six month stretch for her with all of the eye surgeries (I think 5) she's had for a detached and torn retina in her right eye. She had a followup appointment on Friday and her doctor gave her the go-ahead to drive again. It's encouraging to her but I don't really like the idea very much because she's gotten so weak in the last few months. It will be difficult for her to get in and out of her low sitting Ford Escort without some assistance. We'll see.

Jackie, Aleah, Erin, Kelsey, Cassidy, and Anja picked her up tonight and took her out to the Old Piper for Pizza. She had a great time. When I talked to her on my way home from work tonight she was too excited from all the activity to sleep.

It sounds like she had a really great day!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Note to Self: Do Not Screw This Up!

"I got a text from Rachel a few days ago: "Soooo the amazing race...are we gonna make it happen?"

The Amazing Race is a program on CBS that we've been following since it first aired in 2001. It's a 'reality tv' show where contestants complete challenges as they race around the world. We've been talking about trying out for the show for at least the last six years. They're taking applications now for the cast/participants of the next race which is planned for this coming spring and summer. It would work for Rachel's schedule but not mine...unless I retire. Hmmm.

The show is as much about relationships as it is about a race and they've never had a stepfather/stepdaughter combination. We've always thought that could work to our advantage. Rachel said she'd compile a storyboard of our lives together for a video submission from us. We'll see.

I finally made it out to the mountain bike trails at Murphy Hanrehan Park about 6 miles west of us. What a blast! It's such a departure from the road biking I'm used to but it's so much riskier for me, or is it? At least I'm not contending with distracted drivers in vehicles out on the road but I simply can't be throwing myself around out there and taking falls. Two separate days on the trails this past weekend and two falls. The last one came just after I'd reminded myself to go easier and that it wasn't a race and to simply enjoy the beauty of the trail. I was splayed out in the fallen leaves before I had any idea I was going down. It's so hard to back off though because the kid inside me wants to push-push-push while the older, more mature me is advocating for a reserved approach. You can guess which voice usually wins out.

The park consists of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) of trails carved out through the woods. I'm so in awe of the work that's gone into planning and making this system of trails happen. I'd been in there for 30 minutes when I briefly glanced down at the breadcrumb trail on my Garmin Edge 705 to see the many switchbacks and turns I'd maneuvered through as depicted in the photo to the left. It's just so impressive to me and it's so close to home. I really need to not screw this up and make sure I stay safe because I want this kind of riding to continue to be part of what I do.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Politics Now and Then

Politics. I sometimes enjoy kicking around political topics on forums and Facebook but I'm growing weary of it. Maybe it was all of the venomous political back-and-forth associated with the government shutdown the previous two weeks that sapped my desire for it. I was in one conversation where a woman was ranting about 260 billion Muslims and how 10% of them are terrorists and blah blah blah. I had to ask her several times to please explain what she was referring to because she wasn't making sense and did she have a link? She condescendingly told me that the information is online and that all I had to do was Google it. I replied that there are only just a little over 7 billion people on the planet and her 260 billion number was confusing me to which she replied: "my bad, lol". It's that sort of thing that has me questioning why I bother to try. I doubt I'll throw in the towel but I think I'll be more selective about who I engage with. Politics 'now'.

The pups and I are in a nice routine lately with me taking them for a half-hour to an hour walk nearly every day. I usually let Toby lead the way because he often pulls me in another direction when I turn for home sooner than he'd like; he knows which roads lead back there. He had us all running this afternoon in the cool air.

I was talking with Jackie (my sister) last night and she was telling me how Toby and Allie's father, Tucker, is beginning to show his age. He's got doggie dementia which is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans and it sometimes causes him to roam the house in the middle of the night. Tucker is only two years older than Toby and Allie. The thought of our little guys getting older is a sad one but they're already clearly slowing down.

I was planning on going out for a few hours on my road bike Friday morning but I got a sudden urge to get on my Mukluk instead and head down to the Minnesota River, about 11 miles from home, and ride the trails along the river between Cedar Ave and Mendota. It was west of Cedar where I got into trouble a couple years ago and suffered numerous spills that caused my clotting issues. The terrain is more forgiving east of Cedar and I was careful to keep myself upright. I'd love to be so much more aggressive out there but I simply can't risk it.

I approached the making of the video below a little differently than others I've done in the past. Typically I'll splice together the video scenes and then find some music that fits both the length and the mood I'm looking for. This time I chose the music first and then edited the scenes to fit the music. I think it flows better.

The artist is David Baerwald and his music has been so much a part of the soundtrack to my life the past 25+ years. You'll likely recall his song Welcome to the Boomtown from 1986 when he and David Ricketts recorded as David & David. We used to be on opposing sides of political arguments on a forum I used to frequent years ago when I was staunchly conservative. Politics 'then'. I messaged him last week to see if he was okay with me using his music in one of my videos, to which he responded, "Kevin, I'm honored". He may have been overstating things a little but I still thought it was quite cool.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Changing of the Guard

My life is one that is sometimes conflicted because my actions don't always reflect what's in my heart. I'm an animal lover but yet I eat meat. I confess that I'm a hypocrite in that regard. Maybe you saw the video a few weeks ago of some NRA lobbyist killing an elephant. I was troubled by it as were many others. Elephants are being illegally killed for their ivory at an unsustainable rate yet this is allowed to happen. How does someone justify that? I can only guess that the big-game hunter is seriously lacking in some other area of his life.

With that video fresh in my mind I saw this and it brought the previous video into an even more sobering perspective. It really touched me. To think that their bond had survived all those years is just so moving.

We've had a changing of the guard. The guy who delivered our new mower took one look at the mower I was trading in and said: "we get maybe 1 in 50 that look that nice!" That was nice to hear because I did take good care of it. Am I weird for saying that I actually felt an attachment to my old mower and it was just a little difficult saying goodbye to it? I guess I'm weird.

I was able to get out on my new workhorse twice this past week as I try and keep up with the ever-increasing rate of falling leaves. I'm really liking its tight turning radius which is the main reason I bought it.

Some out-of-town door-to-door tree trimmers came by a few days ago knocking on doors trying to drum up business. These guys have come through our neighborhood regularly for the last several years and I've always taken a pass on their services but now we find ourselves with some trees in serious need of attention so I took them up on their offer. I'm not sure I'll use them again. For what I paid and the amount of time they spent doing the job, I'd say they definitely got the better of me. I suppose I was expecting some climbing and a more thorough job. They trimmed a good amount but they also left a lot too.

I nearly gave up my Candy Crush semi-addiction. Level 197 just about did me in but I finally persevered after more than two weeks of trying.

Rachel and some friends from her ballroom dance team took a ferry across Long Island Sound to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut yesterday for a ballroom dance competition. I think she's probably dancing now more than she ever has in her life with many hours spent practicing each week in preparation for their competitions. I'm happy for her that she has this outlet and that she's really being challenged by it. She'll return to UMR an even more experienced dancer.

I'm finding more time to go for my long walks again which is nice. For most of the outdoor months this year I've been opting for time on my bike over time spent walking which is understandable considering I missed out last year. But now I'm finding more of a balance between the two and I'm happy about that.

Last Friday's ride was crazy windy! It was a struggle at times to keep my bike where I wanted it on the shoulder with semi-trucks buffeting me in the wind. Still, it was nice to be out enjoying some of the last warm weather of the year. I wanted to make it to Kenyon and go west toward Faribault from there but light sprinkles and threatening skies had me heading for home sooner than I wanted. I didn't need wet roads to go along with the winds.

Here's a link to my route and a link to my ride data on Strava.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Was I The One Who Lost My Way?

This was the year of the Cicadas as they emerged above ground as adults from their 17 years of life underground as nymphs where they fed on sap from plant roots. I'd seen them often this summer but wasn't sure what they were until Rachel saw a video I'd posted and clued me in. I found this one crawling across our garage floor looking like it was nearing the end of its life. I found a flower in our garden for it to drift away on.

My MacBook Pro is beginning to show its age at a little over 3 years old. It hesitates now in a way it never used to and the PC side of it that I power with VMware has become painfully slow. I upgraded to the latest OS (Mountain Lion) in hopes that it would help but it doesn't really appear to have. I also updated my VMware from version 3 to version 6 but no change there either. I brought my Mac into the Apple Store at Mall of America and the guy at the Genius Bar ran some diagnostics on it but could find nothing wrong with the hard-drive other than some files that were cluttering it up. So, I'll just make do for a while longer and use it as a way of making me an even more patient guy.

Speaking of being a patient guy, I'm losing my patience with our government and by government, I'm referring mostly to Republicans. I don't talk politics very often here but I do need to make mention of what's happening today to jog my memory when I revisit this entry years from now.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare is such a divisive issue and Republicans are pulling out all of the stops to try and abolish it, including shutting down much of the government until they get their way (we're in day 3 of the shutdown). They're doing all they can to try and make it more difficult for those who can't afford health care to continue to be unable to afford it. The party of Christian conservatives isn't acting very Christian-like at all with too many outspoken Christian leaders leading the way. What do you suppose Jesus would say? I'm quite sure he wouldn't give your efforts his blessing nor would he approve of your obsession with guns for that matter. Yours was the party I once felt so at home in not all that long ago and yours was the faith I embraced for so long but am falling away from at a disturbing speed because of how it's been hijacked.

Was I the one who lost my way?

President Obama continues to hold firm to his 'no negotiating' away the ACA and I applaud him. The Republican party is in serious jeopardy of losing so much of their credibility and hopefully, some of their base should ObamaCare prove to be just what our country needed to try and reign in health care costs. Maybe that will be what it takes to get at least some of the masses of people in our country who have turned their critical thinking skills over to the fake news people on Fox News and the hate-filled radio hacks who spread their poison over the airwaves to question what it is they've been lapping up for too long. That's my dream. That's my prayer.

Moving on.

With our new addition, I'm finding it much more difficult to get my John Deere LX255 lawn tractor turned around in the yard without a lot of stops and starts because of its not so tight turning radius. It's served me well for 13 years and I have no doubt there are many more years left in it but I've decided to trade it in on a model with all-wheel steering. It'll allow me to much more easily maneuver my way around our yard with its much tighter turning radius. I take delivery tomorrow.

We've been furniture shopping for our sun-porch. Our first pieces arrived last Saturday and now all that's left to find are some end-tables and a medium to larger size ottoman for between the sofa and loveseat. We were out today with our dimension specs in hand trying to find something that appealed to us. We got some good ideas but we need to look more.

As much as we'd like to have the entire project completed, we're still a few months away from that considering the ottoman will likely have to be custom ordered which will take at least a month or two to arrive and we still need to decide on blinds for the room and order them. Karen is advising us to go slowly during this last phase and maybe just do a piece at a time and build off each one to get it right. I like the way she thinks.

I got home from the all-night shift yesterday morning and laid down before getting up and walking the pups. I soon found myself back in bed in search of my mojo. I didn't find it but I was eventually able to stumble my way outside to mow the lawn because there were two days of rain in the forecast. All the while I'm trying to psych myself up to go for a ride once my work was done but I just wasn't feeling motivated. I sat out on the deck in the warm sun playing Candy Crush on my Droid watching the sun get lower in the sky and thinking how there won't be many warm afternoons like this left for riding this year. That's all it took and with that, I was off.

It's odd how so often when I'm feeling tired like that, I'll somehow find it in me to put in a surprisingly decent effort. And that's what I did. Here's some video from the last half of the ride.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Faith Walk and Talk and Some Funny Stuff!

I got a message on my Droid yesterday alerting me to a shipment I'd be receiving from Amazon: Mechanical Bull has shipped and is due to arrive on Tuesday. Say what? What did I or Tammy inadvertently place an order for? I've never ridden a mechanical bull and I'm not about to start now, besides, we don't have room for one! Cruising Facebook a few hours later I see a post from Kings of Leon. Mechanical Bull hits the stores today! That explains it. I'd pre-ordered the CD but didn't remember the title. I'm listening to it now on my Amazon Cloud Player. So far, so very good!

We finally made it back to Foci last Thursday for the first time in more than two months but we only stayed an hour. There's a crack in the crucible we gather from and because of that, the glass level is much lower than usual, meaning, it get's really hot when you try and reach in to gather glass. Tammy, not being very tall is at a real disadvantage. I made a couple of tumblers before we decided to call it quits early and wait a week to give it another go. It was nice to be back on the bench again though. Our glassblowing took a backseat this summer to so many other things going on in our lives, mostly our home addition but now that its complete I think we'll be finding ourselves at Foci much more regularly again.

I'm giving up my coveted Friday/Saturday days off at the salt mine in exchange for Thursday/Friday and expect to ride this schedule into retirement. I'll be working with some younger controllers which will be a nice change. These days off will actually work better for me in many regards, especially riding. It's nuts out there on Saturdays. I'll take a Thursday or Friday morning over a Saturday morning for riding any day.

Speaking of riding, I ventured out for a longish 105 mile ride Saturday afternoon doing my Lakeville to Rogers loop, a loop I haven't done in at least two years. I found a nice rhythm on the way up to Rogers but lost it on the way home in a barrage of stoplights along my route as I made the mistake of coming home by way of Minneapolis. I captured some video but had to delete a good portion of it when I noticed that the memory card in my GoPro was full halfway into the ride. I opted for less resolution to allow me to capture a few more scenes for some video of the ride.

I had hoped going into this Spring that my riding wouldn't get in the way of the long walks I'd grown to love last year when I was forced off my bike but regrettably, those walks have been far too few. I did get out yesterday afternoon, though, for a few hours covering much of western Lakeville. It was so nice to be out walking but it's also nice being on my bike and that's my dilemma. I'm certain the problem will resolve itself once I'm retired.

As I was putting in the last couple miles of my walk I was approached by two Mormons doing mission work, wondering if I knew about Jesus Christ. I assured them I did and they followed up with some more questions about my faith. I invited them to walk along with me and we shared our faith story with each other. I told them that I was church-less and why, which I suppose was like throwing red meat to a dog. They, of course, wanted to get my phone number so they could follow up with me. I told them that I felt no prompting at all to pursue the Mormon faith but gave them my phone number anyway and said it would be fine if they wanted to get in touch with me. We only ever have missionaries of two faiths that will on a very rare occasion send people to knock on our door: Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. We always invite them in to talk.

The updated Google Maps Street View is out for our area. It was a little over a year ago that I spied the Google car photographing our neighborhood but I was too late to get in the photos although I did try. I had seen the car parked down the street and wondered if he'd already passed by. He apparently had because I'm nowhere to be seen in the new photos although in the old photos I could be seen standing in our driveway by my mower.

I came across some really funny stuff online this past week. They're videos put out by a woman who lives in Australia and she has a knack for finding humor in ordinary life experiences. With some nice editing, she's able to play all of the characters in her videos. This humor really works for me. Okay...she's cute too! Not for sensitive ears though.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Let Fall Begin!

It's been a nice, lazy, relaxing day at home. We had plans to spend the afternoon at the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee but I had to cancel so I can give my body a chance to recover from some aches I acquired over the past few days beginning with a fall onto some landscape rocks on the side of our house. A fall that no doubt must've looked hilarious or painful or both had anyone been there to witness it. I had my Husqvarna trimmer in hand as I walked back toward the garage to put it away when suddenly my feet came out from under me and I fell on my right side bruising at least a couple ribs. I think I tripped over some landscape edging but I'm not sure. I got up, a little stunned and noticed that my trimmer fared worse than I did as it's now in need of a new handle.

Tammy was concerned because of my Factor V Leiden condition and the risk of clotting from an impact such as that but what can I do?

I didn't let my sore ribs deter me from my main project this weekend although I probably should have. It's a project I've been wanting to tackle for at least the last few weeks but one I easily procrastinate about. It seems simple enough; putting a screen mesh around the perimeter of our sun-porch and deck to serve as a leaf barrier so leaves don't get caught underneath the structures and decay. Antonio, who did the brickwork around our sun-porch told me that decaying leaves become awful smelly and to be sure to do something before the fall season. So I did. The job was a lot tougher than it looked.

What the video doesn't show is how tight it became for me under there. My stomach is full of bruises from crawling over rocks with little to no room to maneuver. I'm not claustrophobic but I had a couple of tense moments under there. More than once I thought about Rachel's boyfriend, Tony, and how I'd have loved to have paid him to do the crawling for me because I think he may be even a little skinnier than me. My bruised ribs made the job a lot more difficult than it otherwise would've been but it's done now and I'm pleased that it is. Let fall begin!

I called Mom a couple days ago to see how her eye doctor appointment went. It was a good-news-bad-news conversation she had with him. The good news is that her eye is healing nicely but the bad news is that because of the four surgeries the eye has endured, the likelihood that she'll recover her sight in it is not so good. Understandably she was very dejected realizing that with the loss of her sight in one eye along with orders by her doctor not to drive, she was facing a permanent loss of independence. The thought of having to depend on others (mostly my brother Tim who lives with her) is distressing. I'll need to do more to be there for her as are others.

Surprisingly, her outlook had changed quite a lot when I spoke with her yesterday. She'd talked with a neighbor who has a friend who is also in her 80s and blind in one eye but still drives herself around. Hearing that has given her hope that she too will be able to resume driving before too long.

Tammy and I looked online to find that nearly all states allow for one-eyed drivers. Interestingly, the website states "that outside of about 20 feet, everybody sees the world as if they only had one eye." But it's her peripheral vision that concerns me most. I did a little test with myself out on the road and found that I'm definitely at a disadvantage with only one eye while driving but not nearly as disadvantaged as someone behind the wheel with their head down in their cellphone. Tammy suggested I take Mom out for a drive when she's ready and see how she does. I think that's a good place to start when she's ready.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Tune-ups, Adrift and a Pool Solution

There's a ballroom dance team at Stony Brook University and Rachel couldn't be happier. She met with them Thursday night for the first time and called us afterward, all pumped that there are so many talented people in the group. She was most excited about an offer she accepted from one of their dancers to be his partner in an upcoming competition. He's really good too she said so that kind of tells me that she must've made an impression on him at least. This is such an important part of her life and who she is. I love that she will always be a dancer. I just don't see her ever not being involved in dance.

She's still without a set of wheels other than her bike(s). She's frustrated that the only convenient place to park her bike near her dorm at SBU is within range of a lawn sprinkler that routinely sprays all of the bikes in the rack causing them to prematurely rust. My guess is that some of the bikes in the rack have been abandoned but still, it's not right. She's talked with the staff there but they say there's nothing they can do.

She manages to get around really well in Rochester on her bike and is even able to bring home bags of groceries now that it's been outfitted with fold-out baskets on the back. I know she'd like to have a car but it's just not in our budget nor is it in hers. She asked me if I could give her bike a tune-up while she's out in NYC so I had her bring it home. I got around to it today, setting up shop out in the garage and driveway. There was so much sludge built up on the pulleys of the rear derailleur but they're all clean now as is the rest of her bike.

It's around this time of year that we begin organizing our small group meetings for church at our home but I was telling Tammy the other day that I'm just not feeling like doing it anymore. I don't think that came as a surprise to her as this is just an extension of me pulling back entirely from any sort of organized religion. I haven't even ventured back into my Bible since late last year after finishing my 7th reading of it. I still have my faith but I'm feeling so adrift in my relationship with the church. I want no part of it anymore after my email exchange with the business-man-posing-as-pastor, Bill Bohline last fall.

I got out yesterday for 82 miles in some hot and humid conditions. With all of the construction that's accompanied our home improvement project this spring and summer, my mileage is only about half of what it typically is but that's okay; there's always next year. Video from my ride and a link to it on Strava.

The news lately is all about Syria and the use of chemical weapons on the country's people by its dictator and what should the US do about it if anything? I don't pretend to know. In my view, there's no good answer because whatever side we support will eventually turn on us. Who can't help but feel for the innocent people, especially the children caught up in the atrocities occurring there? I came across the video below a few days ago and my thoughts turned to the children of Syria and how they should know this sort of life, this sort of peaceful happiness.

I recalled a friend at work telling me about a vacation he took to Mexico with his family years ago. There was such a diverse mix of vacationers at the resort where they were staying and he found himself in a game of water volleyball surrounded by people unlike him and how they were all having so much fun together.

Is it too simplistic to think that many of our planet's problems could maybe be solved if we'd put our leaders together in a pool with a net and throw them a ball? No keeping score; just enjoy each other's company.

Yeah, I know, I'm dreaming. It's just that the way we're going about fixing our collective problems isn't working so well and we all need to do better.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

This Was to be the Day

Today was to have been my last day as an air traffic controller. I was to come in this morning, turn in my headset, sign my retirement papers and be on my way because I'd turned 56 the previous month (mandatory retirement age for controllers). But because of some time spent in Flight Service early on in my career (Flight Service was then one of three control options within the FAA) I have a waiver to work as long as I want. The exception makes no sense to me but I'm not questioning it. I think I'll hang around a little longer with no apologies to the few that are troubled by this.

When we were out in NYC last week we stopped at a Verizon store where Rachel and I upgraded our phones to the Droid Maxx which was just released. I haven't yet taken the time to sit down with mine and become totally familiar with it but so far I like what I've seen. It moves between applications and web pages very fast which had become a real problem with my two-year-old Droid Bionic. The battery life of the Maxx is the best I've seen. We were out at the State Fair on Thursday and in the eight hours we were there I was on my phone a good amount sharing texts and photos with Rachel. I got on the bus to come home and I still had 84% of battery life left! Super!

The State Fair was fun as usual but wow was it hot and humid. We did our best to avoid the hot sun and we were happy to see it go down. That's when it really got nice!

And with the closing of the fair, the end of summer is surely in sight. I'm actually looking forward to autumn with its cooler temps and hopefully a little rain—but not the falling leaves.

Our sun-porch and deck project is now complete and all that remains to be done is for us to furnish it. We're working on that. We've picked out a 10 x 13 rug to cover most of the beautiful tile work Brian did for us. Having the rug down should go a long way toward eliminating the echos we're getting from the space. We've picked out a sofa and loveseat but we're not all that keen on the fabric colors we've chosen. Karen, who has walked every step of the design process on this project with us offered to accompany us this afternoon when we go back to the furniture store to consider some other colors. We're so grateful for her help!

Rachel has started her own blog titled PersonalPostcard. It's something she's been considering doing for a while so I'm glad she finally got around to putting it together and penning her first post. I'll be curious to see what direction she takes it and how it evolves over time. I'm sure I'd love to comment on all of her posts but I'll try and show some restraint.

I came across something online yesterday that has me intrigued; it's called an ElliptiGO. I was a runner for years but I had to abandon that activity I loved so much because of the damage it was doing to my knees. I also really enjoy working out on our elliptical machine. Combine my love of running, our elliptical machine and my love of riding and it would seem that the ElliptiGO would be the perfect fit. I see one in my future but I think I'll wait until I actually do retire because I'm not sure where I'd find the time to use it.

I've also been toying with the idea of getting a kayak and a new set of golf clubs. I'm not sure that even retirement will provide me with enough hours in the day to do all that I'm dreaming of but I look forward to finding out. Until then, I'm content to keep doing what I'm doing and trying to cram it all into what limited time I have.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It Was a Friday to Remember!

We got back from NYC on Sunday morning. What a fun trip that was! I only had one full day in the city but with Tammy's planning skills we were able to make the most of it. She and Rachel arrived there earlier in the week having taken a little over two days to drive there. I've mentioned in a previous post that Rachel will be spending the first semester of her senior year out there at Stony Brook College on Long Island.

Tammy arranged for us to take a 5-hour bus tour of the borough of Manhattan (it's not a city). It was a great idea. We got to see so much of Manhattan while at the same time not spending the entire day on our feet. The tour guide was so good. She knew all sorts of interesting trivia that she sprinkled throughout her talk as she guided us along.

While walking the streets of Manhattan it dawned on me that the rude and obnoxious people of NYC that I fully expected to be surrounded by were avoiding me. Even behind the wheel in traffic, they were keeping their distance. I really didn't expect that. I've never experienced a more densely populated city/borough with such a friendly and well-mannered collection of people.

We had several hours to kill after our tour before taking our seats to see the Broadway production of Wicked. Oh, that reminds me...I now know the difference between on-Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. Do you? Let me help you. A Broadway play is one that plays before more than 500 people. Off-Broadway productions seat 100-500 people and off-off-Broadway shows play to less than 100 people.

Wicked is a Broadway production that kept us entertained the entire time. Tammy pulled a fast one on me. She told me that she'd gotten cheap seats in the very back row and I told her I was fine with that. When we walked into the theater to take our seats I noticed as I followed Tammy that we were walking nowhere near the back row. She'd upgraded us without telling me. She heard no complaints from either Rachel or me.

After the show, we made one last run through Times Square for some photos and people-watching on our way to catch the Long Island Train back to Ronkonkoma where we'd left our rental car some 14 hours earlier. I had to laugh because we were all so tired and it reminded me of our trip to Disney World in 2004. Tammy had every minute of that vacation planned with stuff for us to do. We were all so exhausted by the time our vacation was over that we needed a vacation from our vacation. This was feeling a lot like that!

It was a Friday to remember!

Standing in the depot of the Long Island Train station waiting for our track information to appear, the clock turned 12:00 and Rachel yelled out for everyone to hear "It's my birthday!!" Several people standing around us congratulated her. I smiled. That's my spontaneous daughter and I couldn't be more pleased with the woman she's become.

We left for home late the following morning expecting to take two days to get there. I had to be careful not to spend too much time seated for fear of another blood clot in my legs so I was careful to do some stretches in the car along the way and to run in place while refueling the car. Whatever it takes.

I enjoy watching the world pass by from behind a windshield so I was looking forward to the drive home. Tammy and I both programmed the GPS in our phones to Harrisburg, PA on the way out and compared the prompts. My Droid Maxx kept trying to route us away from Manhattan but Tammy's iPhone headed us straight for the heart of the borough. Against my better judgment, I allowed her iPhone to lead the way if only to prove once and for all the superiority of the Android platform. Sure enough, before long we were stuck in traffic in downtown Manhattan with Tammy apologizing with one breath then gleefully telling me with the next breath that I was driving in Manhattan and hey "look out the window...isn't that the Empire State Building?" "Yup!"

Aside from some slow-moving traffic in Pennsylvania where we were completely stopped for a time, we made up for it once we left the hilly roads and struggling semis of that beautiful state behind.

My Droid was telling me we'd make Chicago at around 2:30 in the morning so we did our best to make that so. And we did. I don't think I used my brakes once going through that nearly always congested part of the country. My brakes did get a workout though at the too many tolls we encountered.

We drove straight through with the exception of a much needed 90-minute rest stop a little more than 4 hours from home in Wisconsin. We'd left Stony Brook at 10:15 the previous morning and arrived home at 11:00. I'd say we made good time while having a good time.

The pups were happy to see us and we were so thankful to my brother Tim for stopping by several times each day to care for them. Thanks, Tim!

You know how you sometimes experience a day or a weekend that you'd love to live over again? This trip was that for me. We're definitely considering plans to make it back to the Big Apple once again to see if we can expand on the fun we had but plans with much more time to spend out there.

Here's a link to some photos from our trip.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Big Monkey in the Big Apple

I flew out mid-Thursday morning to rendezvous with Tammy and Rachel for a late afternoon arrival in Islip, NY, the closest airport to Stony Brook. The only hitch in the whole trip was a new can of gel shaving lotion that became the property of some TSA worker. I suppose I was figuring a gel product would be safe from their feasting eyes but apparently, I don't travel often enough to know what terrorists are using these days to bring down planes.

I made a connection at Reagan International where I traded my Embraer 145 for a CRJ2, a dog of an airplane that all too often struggles to reach altitude. We maxed out at a wimpy 29,000 feet on this final leg of the journey.

I'd intended to read my Kindle (Don Felder's Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles) but I scrapped that plan pretty much as soon as a guy in a look-at-me big cowboy hat sat down next to me. He was chatting on his cellphone while he took his seat. "This is Big you're sure my passport is in order?" (a reassuring voice on the other end speaks) "And so-and-so will be there to meet me?" I couldn't help but glance away from my Kindle as this discussion took place while at the same time my seat-buddy was rearranging a bunch of bills in his wallet, the likes of which I'd never seen. Strange money.

I pretended to read my Kindle while he got situated and before he directed his attention toward me. I can't remember what he said but the small-talk began. "So, are you from New York?" "No, I'm just meeting my wife and daughter here (insert brief explanation)" I returned the pleasantry by inquiring about his plans. He replied that although he was from New York, he was on assignment, employed by the federal government with 35 years of service but that he couldn't tell me what exactly it was that he did.

Oh, my.

I told him that I too was employed by the federal government as an air traffic controller and that I was pretty much just waiting to pick my day to retire. He seemed interested but he brought the conversation back to his line of work. "I can't tell you what I do exactly but I can tell you this: I've been to every state in the country and I've been to every country in the world...I know how to go in and cause people to revolt; to rise up against their government".

What do you say to that? Syria came to mind.

I so wanted to dismiss the guy as some nut-job from New York like so many others I'd likely meet along the way but all too often he'd say something that made sense and so I was reluctant to do so.

He spoke of police in this country and how their tactics are oftentimes born out of haste rather than trying to achieve a result that reduces the chance for confrontation. He talked about how when they wanted to apprehend someone they would often use some form of gas to render everybody in the home unconscious before quietly going in and getting their man. It made sense to me.

The more we talked, the more I liked Big Monkey and it really didn't matter to me if he was merely bullshitting me or not. I enjoyed his company.

As I got off the plane and headed toward the terminal I turned to take a photo of the plane. Big Monkey is the guy in the lime-green shirt with the cowboy hat.

I texted Rachel to let her know I'd arrived, half expecting them to meet me as I got off the plane but they were busy getting her situated in her dorm. They'd be there to pick me up in less than 15 minutes. I read my Kindle while I waited, content that I'd arrived in one piece and had left nothing behind with the exception of one can of gel shaving lotion.

More to follow...