Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Beauty Goes Dark and Welcoming 2015

The sun finally made an appearance a few days ago for what seemed like the first time in weeks. It was so welcome even if it did usher in some much cooler temps. It was worth the tradeoff for me.

I took advantage of the brightness to capture a few photos of the laundry room work we just completed. We're happy with it. The ceiling didn't quite go as planned because of the color. The harvest yellow we'd chosen seemed too close to natural once it was all in place. Tammy had been hinting all along that she'd like to see more of a whitewashed color and that's what we opted for in the end. It was the right choice all along. See the photo to the left.

Karen found a distressed wood bench seat with a mirror at Hom Furniture that we liked and had to have to complete our laundry room's look.

Photos of the completed project here and here.

The Glowing Tree in Bloomington has gone dark. I began this Facebook page for it 4 years ago when I noticed that it had none and was so deserving of one. This was the year that the page finally seemed to take off with over 1000 likes in the last month alone but it looks like the owners have decided to stop investing both their time and money to keep it lit.

Their home is for sale and I'd heard they were having trouble with the damp weather shorting out strings of lights on the tree. One neighbor also commented in a recent thread on the Facebook page that Bob Little (the tree's owner) was concerned about all of the vehicle traffic the tree was generating and the imposition it was creating for the neighborhood. The tree going dark came as sort of an abrupt but understandable end.

If you've driven Cedar Ave near the Minnesota River and experienced this sight between Thanksgiving and New Years the past many years you'll understand why it will surely be missed.

Rachel went with some friends to a Canvas and Chardonnay painting class this past week. She did really well! It's something Tammy and I have talked about doing as well. It's on our to-do list.

There are things about my job that I will absolutely miss when I finally decide to pack it in. I was at work last night on the overnight shift contemplating the blessing this career has been for me and my family. I can't say enough good things about it. I just can't. Any of the small complaints I could come up with are overshadowed by the freedom it's allowed me over the years. I'm continually ribbed by those I work with for being the old man in the building and I'm okay with that. I'm actually a little proud of it.

We had some ridiculous upper winds last night—winds that were abruptly changing direction in radical ways. Traffic was busier than usual and on odd routes as pilots tried to take advantage of or avoid altogether the fast-moving river of upper air known as the jet-stream.

UAL1590 was struggling into the teeth of a 130-knot jet-stream at FL280 (28,000 feet) on a route that was going to be slow going. I inquired if he'd talked to his dispatch about a more favorable, less windy northerly route. He hadn't. I suggested he may want to do that or if he didn't mind, I could suggest something better. He didn't hesitate to take me up on my offer. I proceeded to establish him on a route 40 miles north of the one he'd been flight planned for and over the course of the next 30 minutes while he was in my airspace, I watched his ground-speed increase from around 350 knots to 477 knots by the time I'd handed him off to Denver Center. And he hadn't even picked up the tailwind yet that I'd promised him was not far off!

I love providing that kind of service. The job isn't just about keeping them separated and advising pilots of where the smooth air is. It's an art in a lot of ways. Most controllers I work with will only concern themselves with the upper wind data for their sector which makes no sense at all to me. I prefer a long-range view that both helps prevent me from penalizing them and allows me to offer suggestions such as the one I described above. It's satisfying and yeah, I'll miss that.

It's New Year's Eve, 2014 as I assemble my thoughts for this post. How quickly another year has gone by. Rachel turned me on to an app she uses called Time Hop and I've been enjoying it because it plays so well into my love of reminiscing. It searches several of my social media sites each day and sends me photos from that day's date, one, two, three or however many years ago. I'm hoping they connect with Flickr at some point.

Colorful kites will be flying tomorrow afternoon at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis to celebrate the new year. I hope to be there with my new camera in hand to watch and photograph them.

Here's wishing you all a healthy, happy and peaceful 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas, 2014 Style

There's a new app to tell you which of your friends are racist: it's called Facebook—or so the joke goes.

I've been avoiding Facebook lately, partly because I've been too busy with home improvement projects but also because of how vitriolic and heavy it's become of late with all of the discussion centering around what many feel (including me) is the heavy-handed approach by some in law enforcement toward minorities and the pass they're being given by grand juries for those actions. I sometimes feel a strong need to push back on some of what I'm reading but more often than not I don't. I quietly sigh and move on.

Our home improvement projects are nearly done. All that's left for me to do is to hang a couple of doors in the laundry room. I've got them drying in the garage and intend to install them tomorrow.

We're very happy with how both the laundry room and Tammy's sewing room (Rachel's former bedroom) turned out. We hadn't planned to do anything to either of these rooms until we're retired but for whatever reason, we decided to move them up on our to-do list. It's nice to have them done, especially Tammy's sewing/craft room. I'll post some photos in my next update. It's been so gloomy here and I'd really like some sunshine before I bother trying to get some pics.

I've mentioned here before how pleased we've been with Charter Cable. When we've had them out to our house for any issues they've always taken their time and gotten us back up and running. I was having trouble getting the TV in Tammy's sewing room connected so they sent techs out on two successive days to resolve the problem which turned out to be a cut cable in the attic from our sun-porch addition project of 18 months ago. I hear lots of people complain about Charter but unless you've had them out to your home in the last few years you probably can't appreciate how much they've stepped up their game. They're all about making sure any connectivity issues you have are resolved so you remain a customer which makes total sense.

Christmas 2014 will not be white or even brown. We've got a Kansas City winter going on here and it's more green than anything.

Rachel came into town yesterday and will be with us until Saturday. We went to Mom's last night for a couple hours while Jackie and Jerry were there. It was a nice time. Mom got lots of gifts for her comfort while she's in her chair where she spends nearly all of her awake time: a back massager from Keith and Tracee, an electric blanket from Jerry and Jackie, and an OttLite with a magnifying glass from us. I enjoyed spending time talking with Jerry. It's been too long. The funniest line of the night goes to Rachel. Mom was mentioning how Dish Network dropped her favorite channel, Fox News. Rachel made the comment, "those angry Republicans with pitchforks demanding we want our Fox back!" Haha...I'm not sure if she knew she was among Republicans in the room but she said it in such a way that I had to laugh.

We came home and revived an old tradition we used to do when Rachel was younger, reading the story of the birth of Jesus before opening gifts. Yes, I know, it makes no sense, celebrating the birth of someone who asked us to give up our material possessions by lavishing material possessions upon each other.

Tammy got me a Panasonic Lumix to replace my 4-year-old Lumix. I'm liking it although I have a lot to learn about using it. I took this photo this morning using the zoom feature which is considerably better than my other Lumix.

Our 2014 Christmas card photo was one I spliced together with Photoshop from photos taken during this past year. I think it was Rachel's idea. In fact, I think most of our Christmas card photo ideas are hers!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting a Big Jump

I walked in to work this morning with no jacket on. All of our snow is gone and the temp is in the mid-40s. This reprieve from what began as a cold harsh winter is welcome but it's not a friend to the trails and my fat-bike. I've been too busy working on an indoor project to have any time at all for riding so it really doesn't matter to me.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit how many hours I've been spending on our laundry room renovation. What started out as a simple paint the walls and redo the curtains project has morphed into quite a bit more. Karen suggested we consider painting the oak cabinets and trim throughout the room and adding a slatted wood ceiling. Both very nice ideas. Plus, anything to slowly chip away at the honey-oak look of our home's interior is a good thing.

I spent all of Friday night in our garage staining the boards for the slatted wood ceiling that Joe is going to do for us. Tammy isn't totally sold on the color we're going with but I am. I trust Karen's judgment. It's yellow but not at all bright; more of a muted yellow but I think it'll look nice trimmed with white crown molding. The wood for the ceiling in the photo to the left has already been stained.

Keith was a big help in offering to spray-paint our cabinet doors at his shop. I only needed to sand them for him.

Here's where I left it as I headed out the door this morning. My work is pretty much done with the exception of a few touch-up spots that I'll knock out tomorrow. Joe is planning to come by on Wednesday to do the ceiling. He figures he'll need a day and a half.

Between the painting I did in the basement a couple months ago and the work in the laundry room, I'm getting a big jump on my retirement to-do list.

I have yet to begin my Christmas shopping! How crowded would the malls be if there was no online shopping? My plan is to take off from work early tomorrow and head over to Mall of America and see if I can take a sizable bite out of the task.

I recently read Jennifer Knapp's book Facing the Music. Jennifer is a former Contemporary Christian Music artist who fell from grace within the church when it was learned that she's gay. It was such an interesting read as it's so much more than just about her experience with CCM. She doesn't come off as bitter, just disappointed for the way she and others are marginalized and silenced by those in the church.

This is my favorite song of hers from a few years ago...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That Gentle Nudge of God's Hand

35 years ago today I was discharged from the Navy after my four-year enlistment. Usually, this day comes and goes each year with little notice from me but today I remembered. Four years can seem like a long time to someone who's in their early 20s so it was a big deal to me then.

From my journal, 12-10-1979: The sensation of being out caught up with me this afternoon as I was driving the freeway to Chula Vista. I took full advantage and let out a scream of joy, happiness, and freedom. How fitting, Supertramp's Take the Long Way Home was playing. 

I had seriously thought about staying in San Diego when I got out but opted to head for home to maybe show my family that I'd grown up and wasn't the troubled kid I was when I'd left. It was a good decision.

I'm about to reminisce in a rambling sort of way...

I'd spent years leading up to my enlistment just barely getting by in high school. I learned years later when I requested my records that I'd finished in the bottom 10% of my class. My parents never once inquired about how I was doing in school that I can recall and I never felt any want to do more than I had to if that. I was in the middle of six siblings so it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. Honestly, I learned how to type at Thomas Jefferson but not much more. What a waste!

I was working the drive-up at Penny's Grocery at Lohman's Plaza in Bloomington one afternoon in my junior year when one of my coworkers (and classmate) offered me some Whitecross, aka speed. I don't recall that I hesitated much. I liked what they did for me. Over the next few months, John would introduce me to several other drugs that I was only too willing to try; heavy stuff that I'd never consider doing again but that was where I was at. Adrift.

Low self-esteem and no direction can be a bad combination but I remember through all of it that I always felt God's hand on my life. I don't know how else to explain it. There was a plan for me even if I had no clue as to what that plan was.

It would take a bad LSD trip to convince me that I needed to stop my reckless ways. And I did, except for the alcohol. By the time my senior year was over, I'd put the drugs behind me but I still had no idea what to do after graduation.

The summer of '75 was a blur and when those I'd graduated with went off to college, I looked around and saw that I needed something more than my job fueling cars at the Holiday station on highway 55 in Golden Valley. I enrolled in a drafting course at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park but my heart wasn't in it and I left after a couple months.

Some of the best advice I'd ever receive was about to come my way from my sister Jackie when she suggested I go and talk to a Navy recruiter. My dad, my brother Bryan, and Jackie's husband Jerry had all served in the Navy so I didn't really give the other branches of military service any consideration.

And so it was. The hand of God in the form of Jackie's suggestion was prodding me forward and off into the world. I never really resisted or looked back (except to reminisce as I'm doing now). It was without question the best decision I could've made. I matured a lot over the next few years and developed some confidence along the way; something that was nonexistent before.

And I fell in love!

So when my enlistment was up 35 years ago today, I knew I needed to go home and reconnect with family again. I had no real idea where my life would take me next but I was open to that gentle nudge of God's hand in whatever direction it would lead me and that's pretty much how I still live my life, watching for clues and currently waiting on that prompting (or perhaps I'll need a shove!) into retirement and what awaits me beyond that.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2014

I was telling Tammy that I can't recall a better Thanksgiving weekend that we've enjoyed together than this past one. It was so nice. Rachel came into town on Wednesday afternoon and didn't leave for her dad's until late in the day on Friday which gave us more time than we usually get with her. She got busy right away in the kitchen baking an apple pie for the next day's feast. She's become quite the chef over the last couple of years.

Rachel was up early Thursday to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade while working on a jigsaw puzzle that she and Tammy had started the night before. It wasn't quite the same as last Thanksgiving when she was in NYC and at the parade.

In the last several years we've celebrated Thanksgiving with either Jackie or Keith's family. It's rare that Tammy actually prepares a full dinner like that and I know she's a little intimidated by it but she shouldn't be. She did great! Everything was perfect! Well, almost everything. Just as we were sitting down and giving thanks, our smoke alarms went nuts! "BEEP! BEEP!! WARNING! BEEP! BEEP! CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED! BEEP! BEEP! WARNING! BEEP! BEEP! CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED! BEEP! BEEP!" It was so annoying and couldn't have come at a worse time. We opened some windows and doors to try and clear the air (which seemed totally fine already) but it wasn't helping. I ran to the garage and got a ladder to try and fan some fresh air into the detector near the kitchen but that wasn't helping either. This went on for at least 10 minutes which seemed so much longer at the time. Tammy took it all in stride but I felt bad that her perfect timing was being ruined. She passed it off as a memory we can look back and laugh about many Thanksgivings from now. I like that.

We recovered from our turkey dinner tiredness then ventured out to Paragon Odyssey 15 in Burnsville to see Mockingjay, part of The Hunger Games series. Good show! It's only been a couple of years since I read the books but I'd pretty much forgotten much of the plotline for this part of the story which was just as well. Surprise me.

I spent some time over the weekend getting Tammy's Etsy storefront stocked and functioning. She's been steadily working on making her Sami bracelets for the last month or more and now they're available to the masses for purchase, just in time for your holiday shopping! Check them out. I need to do a better job with the photos but this is a start.

I was out Friday morning for a few hours on the mountain bike trails at Lebanon park in Eagan with Hynek. What a fun time! I hadn't ridden them in the snow and was actually pretty much avoiding them thinking they'd be more technical than I'd want. I was so wrong. They're perfect for the snow with my fat bike. I'll be a regular there. Video from my ride.

Our Christmas spirit has been at low tide the last few years and it's shown in the lack of Christmas decor inside our home. Rachel lit a fire under us yesterday afternoon and together we spent a few hours decking out the house. We didn't go all-in the way we used to but it looks nice.

I was putting up our 'forever' tree in the living room and Charlie soon remembered how much he loves to walk underneath it and let it scratch his back. Nut!

Rachel left for her dad's and Tammy and I left for Mall of America and Black Friday crowds. There were lots of people but the mall absorbs them well. We walked around aimlessly for a while taking in all the sights then had some pizza before leaving for home to catch up on some episodes of Survivor. It was a nice end to a full and enjoyable weekend.

Did I mention that I have much to be thankful for? I try to never lose sight of that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Color Blind!

I woke up to an outside temperature of 50º F (10º C) this morning. How nice! It wiped out what remained of our snow which is both good and bad. I like the snow for riding the trails but that's about all. Not to worry, there's more snow in the forecast along with some cold temps so my fat-bike will be happy.

The Glowing Tree in Bloomington Facebook page I started a couple years ago (only because nobody else had and it needed its own page) is once again seeing its share of activity as we come into the holiday season. I saw a news article from yesterday about the tree and the potential for this to be its final year bathed in lights. Here's the link. It won't seem the same at all anymore driving along that stretch of Cedar Ave at night just south of the Mall of America if the tree does go dark.

I / We will never again attempt to choose wall colors for our home without first consulting Karen who has been there for us throughout so many projects in the last couple of years. We attempted to do that this past weekend when I took on the job of painting the laundry room. How hard can that be? Really hard! I did a great job of painting it but the colors are all wrong. We thought a nice sunny yellow would be bright and cheery in there but as Karen told us, yellow is a difficult color to get right based on the sample chips you have to look at. What I did just doesn't work at all. I sort of knew that when I first started applying the paint but I didn't want to judge it too quickly, wanting instead to see how it looked with the entire room done. I should've gone with my gut instinct. But that's not the really bad part. We got ridiculously creative with the service door to the garage and found a nice retro green that we thought would look fun. The color chips looked nice next to one another but it's much more funny than fun. Go ahead...laugh! I mean, can it get any worse? I did that? I almost wasn't going to mention it here but hey.

Karen came by yesterday to have a look and a laugh. She's going to work with us to make it right. She had lots of ideas as well that we're going to incorporate into the room's new look. More on that in the weeks to come.

Friends of ours are vacationing in Florida for the next week and asked us if we could watch their Sugar Gliders for them while they're away. They're an interesting animal, native to Australia and, where I understand, they're not kept as pets. They're nocturnal so we have no interaction with them during the day but they come alive at night. Charlie and Allie (especially Allie) are fascinated by them while Toby couldn't care less. It was funny the first day we had them because Allie and Charlie were glued to the cage waiting for them to make an appearance. They were so patient. Here's a video of them from last night that I took in 'night vision' mode. Tammy uses a glove to hold them because they'll sometimes nip a little. Other than the occasional nip they're pretty sweet little guys.

I typically have one game on my Droid that I'll occasionally play and for now, that game is Daddy Long Legs. I'm not so good at it yet but I'm working on it. The idea is to tap the legs to cause the spider to put one foot in front of the other. Here's a 21-meter walk mine did. It's a lot more difficult than it looks and usually results in a drunk looking spider. I've kept him upright for just shy of 27 meters.

I had a blast out on my fat-bike on Friday afternoon. I was intending to do a loop from home to the trailhead at Mendota then work my way west to Burnsville and Country Rd 5 to home but because I couldn't say no to an overtime call from work I had to cut it short and have Tammy meet me. It's all good though because there were only two hours of daylight left but those would've been two fun hours!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I've Changed and Picking Up Where We Left Off

I came into work last Tuesday night and Leslee asked me why I hadn't posted a photo of myself from my Navy days to my Facebook page for Veteran's Day the way I usually do. I told her that "I just wasn't feeling it this year". My military service doesn't make me as proud as it once did. It was only a few years ago that you'd usually find a US flag flying out in front of our home for such holidays but I no longer do that either. I've changed.

I remember how the pastor where I used to attend church would honor all of the veterans in attendance one Sunday morning each year by having us stand and be acknowledged. It was always a proud moment for me. So what happened? What changed?

I've never seen my time in the Navy as something I did out of patriotism for our country. Patriotism had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to join and while I can't speak for those I served with, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that many (if any) of them were serving out of some sense of love-of-country. For the most part, we were young kids just out of high school, not sure of what else to do with our lives. Some of us were losers in society; not focused enough or ambitious enough to have plotted out anything beyond our senior year but we knew we needed to do something with our lives. To me, the Navy seemed as good a port in the storm as any.

I wrote a several part piece about my time in the military and what led up to it a few years ago. I doubt you'll find anything to do with patriotism anywhere in what I wrote.

What changed? For me, it was watching how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were waged and mismanaged. Also, realizing how our military has been and is being used by those who stand to profit from it. Did you know that there are literally tens of billions of dollars unaccounted for on the balance sheets of our defense department for our two ongoing wars? It's disturbing. People are getting rich from sending our sons and daughters to fight these trumped-up wars. I suppose it's been this way for much longer than I want to believe but I'm just now noticing it. Our defense department has become so obscenely bloated that I no longer feel proud to be associated with it the way I once was. That's what's changed. Perhaps there will come a day when I see things differently but likely not in this lifetime.

The military was a good jumping-off point for me into adulthood and it still can be for others. It's the motives behind the missions that leave me feeling disillusioned about it today. But still, I'm grateful for my time in the Navy and the growth I experienced in those years.

I received a subpoena to appear in court to testify about what I witnessed back in June when there was an altercation between a couple of tree trimmers in our neighborhood. I'm hoping a plea-bargain is reached so I can avoid the disruption in my schedule but I'm not counting on it.

Winter arrived this past week in the form of a "polar vortex", picking up right where it left off last spring. I'm not looking forward to another repeat of last winter but if we must, at least I've got my fat-bike to help me cheat this winter a few hours at a time just like last year. I made it down to the river a couple of times last week for several hours of trail riding. Here's Friday's adventure in map form.

I drove to Freewheel Bikes in Minneapolis on Thursday to talk with them about getting a front suspension fork for my Mukluk. I'd like the suspension for the increased control it will give me on the trails but also to help reduce the amount of vibration making its way into my videos. Win-win.

I spoke with Tyson, one of Freewheel's mechanics and he told me that there's no quick fix for me because of the diameter of my headtube; it's too small. When I bought my bike nearly 3 years ago there were no fat-bikes with suspension and they've only just recently begun to show up. Tyson cautioned me that although it's assumed that fat-bikes will be ridden in the winter, the technology for the suspension being seen on some of the newer models hasn't really been tested to his liking in frigid conditions and the amount of shock absorption they'll provide in colder temps may not be all that great. That wasn't what I wanted to hear but I appreciated his honesty. I'll be back in the spring to see what others who've ridden the newer breed of suspension bikes throughout the coming winter have to say and then maybe I'll upgrade if there's something out there to my liking.

Until then I'll be just fine...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tammy's Samis and Oh No, Snow!

I'm back at the salt mine after having had two weeks off. Wow...that was so nice! It's been years since I've been away from work for two consecutive weeks. Thoughts of retirement kept taunting don't have to go back, you know. But each time I managed to shoo them away. I'm still intent on sticking around at least until next spring, then after that, I'll be month to month.

Tammy made a quick trip up to Babbitt yesterday to see her mom and Cindy but she came back today, one day early. There's so much I'd like to say here about why she came home early but I'll let it go for now. Tammy is such a good person who goes out of her way for others. She's the most giving and compassionate person I know, yet, there are those in her family who have nothing but disdain for her. I don't get it and I have little time for them, especially when they know better.

Speaking of Tammy—she's been busy making Sami bracelets. She's done quite a few of these already and has given many of them away to friends but her plan is to create an Etsy site where she can market them. Everyone in retirement has to have a plan or two—a side hustle. She's never far removed from her creative side and I love that about her. The photo to the right is a close-up view of one of her bracelets.

She took an acrylic painting class a couple nights ago where the lesson was to more or less copy the instructor's work. I'm still hopeful that she'll dust off her watercolors again one of these days. She has so much untapped ability and I'd love to see what she can do if she took some time to develop her style. I mentioned before the watercolor class she took in college. It's been a while since I've pimped her work from that class here.

I've beefed up the RAM on my Macbook Pro from 4gb to 8gb with hopes of reducing the lag time I've been experiencing, mostly on its PC side through Bootcamp. It appears to have solved my problems. No more walking away in frustrating waiting for programs to load. I can now see getting another couple of years of use out of my nearly 4.5-year-old laptop. A hat-tip to Jim Knoll for the suggestion!

Skip the next few paragraphs if you've had your fill of politics. I just need to make mention of this here for years from now when I look back.

I'm disappointed in the midterm election results but mostly I'm disappointed in the pathetic campaigns run by Democrats. Rather than pointing to and embracing the many achievements of the Obama administration, they chose to run from them while at the same time shunning Obama. Why? Typically during an election season, I'll see Airforce 1 (the president's plane) making its way across the country from big city to big city in full campaign mode but I saw none of that this year. I didn't have to mess with one TFR (temporary flight restriction) airspace. Right-wing media with their constant drip-drip-drip of made up or overblown negative narratives about the man and his administration has been a success; such a success that even people who knew better were afraid to stand up and refute the talking points for fear of being tarred and feathered by the propagandists.

To put things in perspective: Bush presided over the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression and had the worst record of job creation since Herbert Hoover; there was a complete collapse of the stock market on his watch and he turned a budget surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit. Since Obama was elected, we've seen 65 straight months of economic growth; unemployment falling from 10.1% to 5.8%; the budget deficit reduced by 2/3 and record stock market growth. Oh, and the ACA (ObamaCare) isn't looking nearly as bad as those on the side of disinformation would want you to think. And I'm to believe we should go back to the policies that caused so much distress to our country?

Yes, I get that neither man nor party deserves full fault or credit for all that happens while they're in office but if you look at the unforced errors committed by Bush (the war in Iraq and costly tax cuts mostly for the wealthy) and compare his abysmal 8 years with the rebuilding undertaken by Obama but dragged down by an obstructionist Republican Congress, there's a huge difference between the men. One was as pathetic a president as I've witnessed in my lifetime and the other is someone I admire very much. It amazes me that people bought into the lie machinery to the extent they did and continue to.

Moving on...

I spent most of yesterday stringing outdoor lights for the fast approaching holiday season and just in time! We've got a winter snowstorm working its way toward us that's expected to dump between 8 and 10 inches (20 to 25 cm for my European friends) of snow on us beginning late Sunday night and into Tuesday. Fortunately for me, I spent a few hours this morning making one last sweep of the yard for leaves. I won't say 'bring it on' but I'm about as ready as I can be.

Time to fuel the snowblower!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Working Vacation and Celebrating 86 Years!

I'm in the middle of a two-week vacation from work but I'm doing very little relaxing. I decided to tackle one of the jobs on my growing inventory of things-around-home-that-are-in-need-of-attention-but-can-wait-until-I'm-retired list: I painted the basement.

It was ten years ago that our Extreme Basement Makeover was in full swing and we've done very little to it since with the exception of some stained-glass work for the cabinetry. We both liked the sage green color we used on the walls down there at the time but I grew tired of it a while ago when I began to notice how there was little warmth to it. So, I put in a text to Karen to see if she could find some time in her schedule to sit down with us to help select some colors that would work well together. And then we (mostly I) got busy!

After the better part of 4 days, we had this to show for our efforts.

It's so nice to have it done. I'm writing this from one of my favorite spots in the house, down in the shop at one of the workstations. I enjoy being down here again! ...and so do the pups!

I was cleaning my bike recently when I noticed a crack developing where the spokes attach to the hub on my rear wheel. That's not good and I knew right away that I wouldn't be riding these wheels again. I put in a call to Adrian at Flanders Bros Cycles in Minneapolis to see if he had something similar he could sell me. He had nothing on hand but could have an even better pair for me in less than a week. They wouldn't come cheaply but hey, I'm still employed.

I was a little disappointed that this would have to happen while I was on break and intending to do lots of riding but this gave me the excuse to do the basement painting project. I'm happy.

The new wheels are the sweetest I've ever ridden! Adrian was telling me all of the selling points of them but most of what he was saying was over my head. I was content to take his word and know that these are more wheel than I'm worthy of and if I can get 33,000 miles from these as I did my last set I'll keep singing their praises.

Junk-mail seldom makes it beyond the trash can in our garage after being retrieved from our mailbox. There was one piece last week though that caught my eye because the name on it looked vaguely familiar. I opened it up to find a check for more than $600. I had to look at it closely to make sure it wasn't some sort of a come-on. It wasn't. It was my payout for a class-action lawsuit I'd entered into several years ago, never expecting to see much more than a few dollars if that. And to think, that piece of mail came so close to ending up in the trash!

Mom turns 86 today! We took her out to brunch at Cracker Barrel then brought her by our home to open some gifts. I think it was a nice start to her birthday. With her frail heart, each year I think it's going to be her last but each year she is happy to celebrate another.

She had already received 6 calls this morning from friends wishing her a happy birthday and she was telling us of more she was expecting to get. I love when she has something to look forward to because it makes her day. With that in mind, we need to take her out more often than we do. She's always so insistent on how she's happy to stay at home but I need to be more insistent that she needs to get out. Simple as that.

The rain has let up and I've got a yard full of leaves that need attention. My practice retirement is going almost too well! I could so easily get used to this! Hmm...let's do Christmas/holiday lights this year or not? Hmm....

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Are You a Finished Product?

I was up late the other night trying in vain to fall asleep for an early morning wake-up. Unable to sleep, I sat up and took out my Droid Maxx and began scrolling through the years of accumulated history on my Facebook wall; something I'd never done. I got to one of my earlier posts from October 2008 where I spoke of seriously considering voting for Obama. I remember that moment well because it was a turning point in how I'd begin to view the players in the political arena. It was also a point in my life where I felt a sense of weight being lifted from me as I finally broke free from a dysfunctional ideology that had its grips on me for much too long.

It's been 6 years and I haven't for one second considered going back.

Reevaluating all that you believe to be true can be a very soul-searching endeavor but one that's a must from time to time. Turning on its head all that you've supported and embraced can get messy but in my case once I began to reassemble the pieces, an entirely new picture came into focus for me. That image was one of a party whose unwavering support was for the most successful among us while they offered nothing short of disdain for those in society who hadn't been so fortunate.

Where there was once support from me for all things Republican, it had been replaced by questions and concerns and a feeling that I'd been hoodwinked.

We were being told that supply-side (or trickle-down) economics was going to lift all boats but it was becoming apparent that that was a sham. The tax cuts for the wealthy pushed through by George W Bush never created a sense of generosity among those who were benefiting from them. They didn't trickle-down. Our financial sector was in ruins thanks to a lack of regulation on Wall Street (something both parties are to blame for but something much more fully a Republican issue today as they attempt to water-down any attempt at regulation through Dodd/Frank legislation). The war in Iraq had also become a fiasco with no easy way out, say nothing of the lives lost or scarred and the trillions of dollars added to our national debt.

And yet, Republicans today are so quick to criticize Obama for not enough fixes to the problems they in large measure foisted upon us as they now sit on the sidelines and offer absolutely nothing but obstructionism. If you're supporting these people I have to wonder why? What is it about their actions that you agree with? Oh, they're Christians you say? Sorry, but you couldn't be more wrong.

If you're one who believes the Fox News propaganda that Obama is to blame for our obscene national debt, do you understand what the drivers of that debt are and who's mostly responsible for them? Here's an article from a year ago that may be of help to you.

Let's say we go all-in and embrace the hard-right agenda that so many are salivating about. Where will that take us? More wars; more tax cuts for the wealthy; less regulation on Wall Street and elsewhere resulting in the increased potential for more calamity; escalating health-care costs if the Affordable Care Act is repealed in addition to all those who would lose coverage due to preexisting conditions. The list goes on. What is it about this agenda that is at all attractive to any thinking person? I don't get it.

I'm hesitant to get too political here or on other social media lately because talking to walls appeals little to me but occasionally I'll slip up. I got a refresher lesson about why I avoid such discussions earlier this week when I engaged one of my tea-party-republican friends in a discussion about politics. Big mistake. I was attempting to open John's eyes to some of the larger ills that ail us rather than his myopic focus on illegal immigrants, food-stamps, welfare and other social programs that are often the go-to red meat for those who tune in to the likes of Fox News and other right-wing outlets. I asked him a few pointed questions designed to cause him to think outside the bubble he's trapped in. I received no response other than a suggestion a few hours later that I go fuck myself before he deleted the thread from his Facebook wall. I tried.

I know I don't have all the answers and that I'm a work in progress but at least I'm a work in progress and not a finished product which is the sense I get from too many with no desire to consider another way of looking at this social experiment we're all immersed in.

How about you, are you a finished product?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Week in Videos and a Few Photos

I had a good week of riding this week. My speed and power are still missing-in-action for the most part but I'm riding pain-free with the exception of my right knee. I've got a couple weeks off from work coming up beginning at the end of this work-week and I hope to get my fill of riding and being outdoors.

I had a fun loop into St Paul on Tuesday. The fall colors were brilliant in spots and it was a gorgeous day! I was feeling like a weight has been lifted off me now that I'm able to get out again; like a junkie must feel when they finally get their fix, they can breathe again.

We had some tree trimming done on Thursday by Caleb and his crew from Vineland Tree Care. This was such a different experience from the one we had last year around this time with the sketchy guys who came through our neighborhood hustling up work for which I paid way too much. Caleb is an arborist and actually knows what he's doing. They'll be back sometime in late November to trim the two Red Oaks on the side of our home. Jim (the owner) was reluctant to do them now for fear that we haven't had a hard enough frost to eliminate the chance for Oak Wilt.

As soon as they were through trimming I headed out on a ride intent on doing the loop I never got to finish the day I crashed. I'd been dreaming of doing this route as soon as I was feeling well enough and Thursday was the day. If this was to be a mentally healing ride of sorts for me it couldn't have played out better. I have over 25 hours of music on my Nano with only a handful of songs that repeat. How coincidental it was that Pink Floyd's Echoes (the song that lulled me to sleep) would be playing in my ears as I approached the crash site. I was determined that there would be no repeat.

The pups are enjoying this weather for their daily walks. I try and get them out for 30 to 45 minutes each day with Toby leading the way. He can be pretty insistent on which roads we take, not typically wanting to do the same route two days in a row. Allie and Charlie aren't so particular. I don't mind indulging them because it's their time. Tammy took them to the dog park twice last week. That's heaven for them.

On the drive into work this morning I had to stop and pick up a prescription for a steroid spray I use for allergies. I went inside to pay and noticed what looked like the same medication for sale over-the-counter and for only half the price of the prescription I was there to pick up. I asked the pharmacist and she said there's really no difference. How nice!

And that's a wrap!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again and Creepy Zombie Daughter

My recovery from my crash has advanced a long way in the last week, so much so that I was able to get out and ride on Friday afternoon and again Saturday morning. I'm just soft-pedaling for the most part but it's good just to be riding. I can't very easily get out of the saddle and pedal yet because of some lingering pain when I push it but I'm okay if I stay seated. It took me at least a couple of years to be totally comfortable on my bike after my last crash (insert shameless Judge Judy appearance video here) but I don't sense that that's going to be a problem this time. I'm feeling quite fine already.

My main injury was to my sacroiliac joint on my left side. My chiropractor explained how it's a joint with a lot of nerves from the spinal cord in close relation to it. Most of his adjustments have focused on my lower back in addition to a couple of sessions (so far) of acupuncture targeting the area. I wasn't sure what to think after my first experience with the needles because I didn't notice any relief at all from my pain but after the second session I was a believer. I noticed the relief a couple hours later after going home and laying down. There was an obvious lessening of the pain I'd been feeling when I got up off the couch.

This is the time of year I most dread when it comes to yard work. I've got most of our gardens cleared out and our hostas and other perennials cut back but there's still a ton of leaves yet to come down. I set out 23 bags of compost (in addition to our two 60 gallon compost containers) this past week to be taken away by our trash hauler. I'm sure he hates me.

Other than that, I love fall. Did I mention I'm back on my bike again?

Tammy and I were discussing retirement the other day. I'd like for her to be able to call it quits before I do so she's making plans to be done this coming spring. We sat down on the couch and penciled in some budget numbers the other day. I shouldn't be too far behind her. We're due to lose a good percentage of our controller workforce in the area where I work traffic within the next year with half of us being eligible to retire. It's going to be much more difficult to get time off and yeah, sector time is going to increase substantially. I don't mind working but the lure of being someplace else when I no longer need to be there will eventually win out.

I got a photo text from Rachel yesterday as she was preparing for the Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis. Costuming is one of her strong points! She and friend Maddy went as Viking Zombies. Very convincing I'd say!

I posted this link on my Facebook page a few days ago. I find it fascinating to see how tiny we really are in relation to all that's out there. It's impossible for me to try and comprehend the vastness of the universe and so I really don't ponder it that deeply anymore. I remember as a kid I'd try and imagine how space beyond our atmosphere goes on and on without end as I'd contemplate infinity. It would cause my brain to go into overload so I stopped doing that.

These days I'm much more inclined to think about riding my bike. Did I mention that I'm riding again?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Happy 6th Birthday, Charlie, and Still Paddling

I remember in the '70s when Biorhythms were popular for a time. I never took them seriously but perhaps I should as mine most definitely reflect a downturn for me since the 22nd of September when I crashed my bike and was injured. Couple that with a cluster headache phase and I have reason enough for feeling down but I'm seeing an upturn in my graph so I'll press on.

Charlie turned 6 on Tuesday! It's hard to believe, not just because time has passed so quickly but because he doesn't act his age. He's so much more a pup than a 6-year-old and that's what's so entertaining about him. I have to do my part to keep him young-like so when he brings me a toy to play with I do my best to engage him and not ignore him. He needs and really enjoys that.

I can't believe that it actually took me a little while (many months) to fully warm up to this little guy. My main concern was Toby and how Charlie's presence was upsetting to him. Toby would eventually come around but not for a few years.

Charlie makes his debut!

It's been 11 days since I crashed my bike but it wasn't until just this afternoon that I can finally move around without some debilitating pain in my lower left back contorting my movements and making me look like someone seemingly decades older. I'm thankful for the relief. There's still a sharp pain that continues but nothing near what it was. I'll call Walgreens tomorrow and cancel my refill of Hydrocodone that I had standing by in case I needed it.

I'm seeing a chiropractor in the morning who also specializes in acupuncture and comes highly recommended by a friend. I don't know that he can do anything more for me than what my body will do for itself as it heals but I'm willing to let him try. I've never had acupuncture but have heard only good things about it. If it will aid in my healing, I'm all in.

If nothing else, all of this sitting around the house has reinforced in me that a person has to have a game-plan for when they retire; I'll need to have a reason to get myself out of bed in the morning other than to check Facebook or to be online or just hanging out with my Kindle (which has pretty much been the extent of my activity lately). I can see where this routine would grow tiring very quickly, at least for me. Not being able to workout has put a definite crimp in my style but the pups seem to be content with my new normal.

I got a phone call yesterday morning from a friend who retired from ATC nearly one year ago. Dave is loving his new life as a full-time student learning web design. He talked about how refreshing it is to wake up in the morning excited to take on the day and throw himself into his studies. It's a feeling that was missing for way too long for him.

We spoke at length about our careers and the pressures associated with the work; pressures that I've always been very good at minimizing but lately am more willing to acknowledge. He likened his career to a guy negotiating a raging river of rapids in a canoe, careening from one obstacle to the next while paddling madly to keep his line and stay upright. The raging river eventually opens up into the most serene lake setting where the stresses of what he'd just come through are left behind and he can begin to truly enjoy life at his own pace. What a great description!

I'm still in the rapids of my career but I do sense that quiet lake not too far ahead. I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that this past week off from work has had me considering tossing in the towel now rather than later, but I prefer to not make this decision from a point of weakness.

I'd like to get my biorhythms back up to normal and survey the landscape once more for that serene lake before deciding to stop paddling.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Down Time and If She Could Speak, The Stories She'd Tell

I'm off from work this next week and what a beautiful week of weather it looks to be. I'm also still very much sidelined as I recover from my bike crash last Monday night.

I get a little frustrated thinking about the riding or outside yard work I'm missing out on but rather than focus on those two wants, I'm choosing to count my blessings instead.

I'm sitting out on the deck with the pups at my feet and feeling no pressure from my to-do list. It's kinda nice.

I tried to come off my pain meds after two days but soon realized they prescribe them for a reason and went back on them. I'm getting around much better now and being mobile is as important as any other part of my healing process because I really don't need another DVT (blood clot) developing in one of my legs from all of this sitting around. My exercise consists of a daily 1.5-mile loop with the pups. This is as sedentary as I get!

I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor on Friday. He went through my ER report with me then asked me for my explanation of what happened. "I fell asleep on my bike and crashed" I replied. I could tell from his sideways look that he wasn't buying it. "You fell asleep while out riding your bike? does that happen?" I went on to explain that had it not happened to me I'd be skeptical as well but I can think of no other explanation. I told him how I don't have any memory of the moments leading up to the crash but that I was very much awake just before the crash and for all points afterward. Had I passed out while riding, I can't imagine I'd come to just prior to hitting the deck. He nodded in agreement. He said he was concerned about some kind of seizure but after hearing how conversant I was right away after the crash he ruled that out. Had I experienced a seizure it likely would've taken much longer for me to be as communicative as I was. He would eventually come to agree that falling asleep is the most likely cause, as odd as it sounds.

He had his nurse perform an EKG on me and said that when I heal up he'd like to have me follow-up with a treadmill stress-test.

My MacBook Pro is over 4 years old and showing signs of its age. I spent yesterday going through it and removing some dead weight that's been slowing it down. More importantly, though, I got the PC side of it humming! That alone was worth all the time I spent putzing with it.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about the recent sinking (in a training exercise) of the ship I served on while in the Navy. I came across a video of its sinking this past week; a video that I sort of didn't want to see but at the same time, had to see. She withstood a lot for not putting up a fight before going under.

I would've so much preferred if she'd been turned into a memorial or attraction as is sometimes done with retired ships. They could've used it as a recruiting tool in some port city that could accommodate a ship its size. I would've loved the opportunity to make a trip and go visit it, no matter where, and walk its decks again and tap into so many memories that I'm afraid may now be out of reach.

As I watch the video below I can't help but visualize the stark contrast between the vibrant ship I once called home with the one being pummeled. I think back to the barbecues we'd have on the fantail to break up the routine of being out at sea for weeks on end or the rare Shellback initiations that played out on her decks over the decades. I think of all of the ports she visited and the many sailors' memories she's a part of and I think to myself, if she could speak, the stories she'd tell.

But retiring her in a setting where she could speak of an era gone by wasn't to be and I'm saddened by that. This wasn't the ending that either I or any of the tens of thousands of men who served on her ever hoped for.

Valiant Shield 2014 SINKEX from on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Did I Ever Mention That I Have An Incredibly Understanding Wife?

I can't honestly say if I'm a type A or type B personality. The question was asked of me the other night in the ER at Ridges Hospital and Tammy answered that I'm a nice type A (I suppose rather than an obnoxious one). I can't disagree with her assessment but there are things about a type B personality that I very much identify with (see the image to the left) such as being reflective and creative. That's a huge part of who I am but I also see some type-A traits in me as well, like being goal-oriented and driven to achieve. It's good to have goals in life but I suppose it's in how one goes about achieving them that matters.

I'm kind of type A when I'm on my bike. I want to be as strong a rider as I can be and not just someone who leisurely devotes a few hours here or there to the activity. I was the same way when I was a runner and it's pretty much why I had to stop running in 1992 after years of pounding the pavement to be as fast as I could be. I enjoyed those years and my accomplishments on the road in addition to my fitness but was it worth it? If my knees could talk, they would say no.

I don't race my bike because I know I'll push myself harder than I should in training and on race day and that my riding will soon go the way of my running and be no more. My knees are happy with this decision.

But just because I'm not racing doesn't mean I'm not still being competitive on my bike. Strava is a site where people can upload data from tracking devices used in cycling and running plus some other activities. Once your data is uploaded, you can analyze it and see how it compares with others who are training over the same routes. It's not ideal because too often you're comparing activities done in varying weather conditions but still, it gives you somewhat of an idea about how you measure up against those in your age group or overall. The easiest way to see this is through what are called 'segments'. A segment is where someone will identify a stretch of road (oftentimes a hill but not always) on the Strava site and if you know where that segment begins and ends, you can give it your all and see how close to the top of the leaderboard for that section you can get. Do you have what it takes to capture the KOM (King of the Mountain) for a segment? Strava tracks it all. It's fun and adds some motivation to a ride when I'm feeling up to it.

I went out last Friday, intent on placing my name toward the top of one of the segments I often ride. It's a two-mile section of road not far from where I work out in the cornfields of Farmington. It didn't help that I had over 350 miles of riding in my legs from the previous week but it helped that I had a nice breeze to aid me.

Video of my KOM attempt.

How quickly things can change. I couldn't do that ride again tomorrow to save my life because it appears I let the type A part of my personality get the better of me.

I went out Monday after work intent on trying to get in 70 miles before the sun went down. All was going well until 47 miles into my ride when I fell asleep. I actually fell asleep out on the road on my bike and I crashed hard!

I couldn't believe it!

There was a man and his son who witnessed my fall from the oncoming lane and came to my aid. Jeff said it appeared to him that I passed out just before I went down. I thought about what he said while we waited for help to arrive and no, I couldn't recall the moments before my crash although I could distinctly recall sensing that I'd lost my line on the road and I was very much conscious in the moment where I tried unsuccessfully to make a correction just before going down. I think I must've felt my center of gravity shift from possibly slumping from my position and that's when I awoke and realized too late what was happening.

It's easy to get into a rhythm out there, in fact, that's what you strive for. Couple that with Pink Floyd's Echoes which was playing in my ears, it appears it was too much for my sleep-deprived body having only had 4 hours the previous night.

What's really odd for me is that the data collected by my Garmin Edge 705 shows that right up until about 4 seconds before I nodded off I had a good cadence and was generating no small amount of power. The graph on the left shows my speed, power (measured in watts), heart rate and cadence for the mile before the crash. I would've thought that there would've been a gradual decline in output leading up to the crash but there wasn't; just maybe 4 seconds where I simply stopped pedaling.

Jeff asked if I needed him to call someone. I felt that was a good idea as I sat dazed and hurting on the shoulder of the highway. Deputy Sheriff Duane arrived a few minutes later and asked me some simple questions to determine how best to proceed: what's today's date and who is the president? I passed but he still felt it best to have an ambulance crew look at me. They would eventually arrive from Shakopee 15 or more minutes later. After checking my vital signs and answering some questions for them, they gave me the all-clear to proceed home with the recommendation that I go in for X-rays.

I was so grateful for Officer Duane's offer to take me the 25 miles to home. Tammy was working in her office and the last thing I wanted was for her to get a phone call telling her that I'd crashed my bike. One of those calls is enough and I wanted to be there when she found out.

After several hours in the ER at Ridges Monday night, they determined that I didn't sustain any fractures, just contusions and soft tissue damage to my tailbone, hip, and ribs. Painful stuff though that makes some of the simplest movements nearly impossible. I'm thankful for pain meds! It was all I could do to shuffle my way upstairs and into bed after finally getting home.

But I'm on the mend.

Did I ever mention that I have an incredibly understanding wife?

(The video below begins 60 seconds before my crash)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

I came across some sad news earlier in the week. Last Monday morning just after midnight CST, the ship I was stationed on in the Navy, the USS Fresno, LST 1182 was used in a training exercise and sunk in 18,000 feet of water about 250 miles northeast of Guam, in waters I'd sailed across many times with her. I never envisioned this being the demise of the old girl.

The last I'd heard the ship had been sold to the Peruvian Navy but apparently that deal was never finalized.

She was home to me for more than 3 years in the mid to late '70s and whether I realized it or not then, that gray lady had a place in my heart. How could she not? Together with the other crew members, we'd spend countless hours tending to the ship's needs; painting, mopping, waxing, and preventive maintenance. It was never-ending. She returned the favor by keeping us safe in some difficult seas and carrying us around the globe. So yeah, it's a little sad for me to think that she's now laying at the bottom of the ocean after having been blown apart and sunk. She deserved much better.

Here's a link to some photo pages I assembled years ago from my time in the Navy: page 1page 2, page 3, page 4, and here's a link to a series of blog posts I wrote reminiscing about those days.

During my last Western Pacific deployment, I noted each day in my journal our latitude and longitude. My plan was to someday have a large wall map where I could plot out those coordinates to easily look back on where I'd been. Never did I imagine then such a thing as Google Earth (you'll need to download Google Earth to view the kmz file that follows) and the ability to merge those coordinates with my journal entries as well as photos from those days into one package as I've done with this file. The video below is a tutorial I put together to show you how to work with the file and view the data. It's quite cool actually.

The Flexible Frez is no more but she continues to live on in the hearts of those who served on her. Goodbye old friend.

Edit: I just came across this video of the actual sinking of her. She stood strong!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Delaying Gratification and Not So Sorry

The Marshmallow Experiment was a series of studies conducted in the late '60s and early '70s that delved into delayed gratification. Children age 4 to 6 were placed in a room with no distractions except for an inviting treat placed on a table in front of them. They were told that they could have the treat now or they could wait (about 15 minutes) and receive two treats. On average only a third of the children were able to hold out for the extra treat.

What was interesting about the experiment was a follow-up study done years later which suggested that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were significantly less likely to have behavioral problems or issues with obesity and drug addiction later in life when compared to those children who showed less willpower during the test. Those who successfully passed the marshmallow test also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT.

I'm not sure how I would've done had I been given the test. I'd like to think I'd have passed but I really don't know. All I do know is that I'm sort of immersed in my own version of the marshmallow test as I try and delay the gratification of retiring now for the easy life and instead, continue the trek into the salt mine each week with hopes that our delaying retirement gratification will be worth the wait. Time will tell.

I think the Synvisc injection I received in my right knee back in the spring is beginning to wear off. I'm noticing that familiar pain out on the road once again but I'm not complaining. The benefits of the shot were amazing to me and I hope to have another next spring before road-riding season spools up.

We've both been struggling with our eyeglass prescriptions lately. I was trying to read the fine print on the back of my insurance card and couldn't discern a 6 from an 8. I knew it was time to get a stronger prescription. We found a place close by (Lakeville Family Eye Care) that did a much more thorough exam on us than what we typically receive at the more common eyeglass shops in the mall. I was a little shocked at the $185 price for the exam but our AARP membership brought it down to $45 and also qualified us for a 30% discount on frames and lenses.

Rachel is back from her camping trip to the Boundary Waters. She and Tony and their friends came out of the woods a few days early which didn't surprise me. Ten days is a lot to bite off for the first time I would think. Still, they made it one week and did well together. They stopped by the house on Friday on their way back into the cities and spent the night with us. We had such a nice time catching up and hearing about their trip. Tony mentioned how his dad always said that you never really get to know your partner until you've spent some time in a canoe with them. Haha—they had a few trying moments out there but nothing more than just that; moments.

I stopped by Mom's yesterday on the way into work. She met me out in the driveway with her walker. I was a little surprised by how fast she gets around with it. She took a while to warm up to the idea that she should be using one but once she accepted it there's been no looking back for her. She was as happy as I'd seen her in a while and that was nice. She showed me all of her walker's functions which included a storage area under the seat, perfect for storing her mail. She's come a long way in the last year considering the loss of vision in her right eye and the loss of her ability to drive. Having Tim living with her has been such a blessing as he's been able to cushion the blow of these losses for her.

Thanks, Tim!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Hurdle Too High

This first section is a little heavy. Sorry, but I need to fit this in somewhere because it's been on my mind and that's partly why I have a blog; to occasionally write about such things.

Ours can be such a gruesome world.

The Sunni jihadist group ISIL have beheaded two western journalists in recent weeks and have threatened to do the same to others in their captivity if the U.S. doesn't stop airstrikes against them. Apparently, the videos are online but I'm not one that has any desire to see them. It's disturbing to think that any human being could be so ruthless.

But here's what's been troubling me just as much.

As I read and listen to what people say about the horrific nature of what ISIL is doing, about how Islam is such a violent religion, I can't help but think back to the origins of my religion and see some events that make ISIL's barbarism pale in comparison. In the Old Testament where God commanded the Israelites to do exactly what ISIL is doing to those who didn't believe as they did. Except in the OT, God didn't give them a chance to convert or be killed as ISIL has.

Samuel 15: 2-3: God commanded Saul and the Israelites, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys'"

Deuteronomy 20: 16-18: However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites--as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

I'm not excusing ISIL in any way. I'm just feeling a sense of lostness and confusion because if I'm honest with myself, I see that at its core the origins of my religion very closely mirror what I'm seeing in the actions of ISIL. I'm left wondering how I can possibly be expected to accept and embrace that which was described in the scripture above? That was supposedly my God talking!

Reconciling what happened in the OT with the instruction of Jesus in the New Testament to love our enemies has become a hurdle too tall for me and I simply can't get over it. I have yet to hear anybody put forth any sort of explanation that doesn't require me to set aside my common-sense and just accept that what God did back then was just. I can't do that.

Moving on.

Rachel is in the Boundary Waters with Tony and two other friends for a ten-day camping experience. She was a little stressed about it before they left, concerned that she'd covered all the necessary angles to ensure a successful trip. I hope it's going well for them. So far the weather has been great with moderate temps and no rain. I don't think they could ask for better weather this time of year.

I would imagine they're mostly in the throes of cellphone withdrawal now but they should be through that phase before too much longer. Haha!

We've taken a little hiatus from glassblowing as the summer is winding down. I feel a need to be on my bike and just doing outdoorsy stuff as much as I can. There'll be plenty of time for Foci once the weather turns cooler.

Speaking of Foci: they won the People's Choice Award for "Best Attraction" at the Minnesota State Fair! Very cool! They're set up in the newly revamped West End Market area. We spent some time there during our time at the fair; it was buzzing with fairgoers. That was nice to see.

I've been putting out a hummingbird feeder for several years but I never seem to be able to attract any visitors to it other than bees. I moved it to a new location this year from the side of our house to a place on the deck but I still wasn't having any luck. I decided that maybe the problem was with the bottled concoction from Fleet Farm that I'd been using to fill it. I instead decided to try a recipe my mom has been using for years with great success. Hers is a common recipe of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, and it works!

We've now got a pair of 'hummers' frequenting our feeder and I'm really happy about that! I don't think they'll be around much longer before flying south for the winter so I set up my Sony video camera and my GoPro over the weekend to get a better look at them while I still can.

I can totally see myself in retirement being that guy who creates a hummingbird haven so busy with the little guys that I have to refill my feeders every morning or at least every other day. We'll see.