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!