Sunday, January 26, 2014

Shifting Our Focus and More Tremors for Toby

I made a deposit into Rachel's bank account Friday afternoon to cover her spring semester and the final installment of 4 years of college tuition. We're feeling very grateful to have been able to help her as we have. So many of her friends haven't been so fortunate and will graduate with a sizeable amount of debt to overcome. Up until now, she's been our priority but I think she's in a position where we can begin to pull back and shift our focus toward shoring up our savings accounts before we exit the working world. Plus, I get a sense that she's ready to take over. I was telling her a few weeks ago that once we get our arms around our finances in our retirement, we'll see what we can do to continue to help her. She said she'd rather we didn't, that she wants to take it from here. I get that.

She's off to a good start. Her plans are to take the next year off from school after graduation and continue working to add to her total of hours in the medical field to enhance her application to whatever PA school she decides on. She'll try and bank as much as she can toward a car because I know that's high on her list of wants and needs. Public transportation is okay but there are times when its drawbacks get in the way; such as getting on the southbound bus out of Rochester for Minneapolis. There's no such thing. She needed the northbound bus. It cost her an hour and a little embarrassment but I doubt she'll make that mistake again.

I think this final semester before graduation will be one of her easier ones although I could be wrong, I hope I'm not because in addition to working at the retirement home where she's a Certified Nursing Assistant, she's also working 3 days a week in Minneapolis as a coordinator for STLF. She's a busy young woman!

I'm looking forward to the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi but the threats of terrorism are more than a little concerning. Ski jumping/flying, downhill skiing, ski and snowboard aerials, and mogul skiing are some of my favorites.

We finally found some end-tables and a sofa table for our sunporch. We still have one smaller end-table to find for the chair and ottoman but for the most part, the room is complete. We're spending so much time out there. At this time last year, we had the addition on our radar but we didn't really intend to do it until this spring. I'm glad we moved it up on our to-do list. It's a big sigh for us knowing it's done and that we're so pleased with how it turned out. It's said that good things in life take a long time. I'd say that applies here.

If you know of anyone in the Minneapolis metro area who's looking to have some work done around their home, please consider suggesting they give Joe a shot at bidding the project. I can't say enough good things about him and the sub-contractors he works with. For those who may have missed it, here's a link to the blog I kept for our project. Joe's number is 612-597-3606.

We had a good day at Foci on Wednesday. Tammy continues to have fun working on her bud-vases. She's perfecting them and has many to give away, complete with flowers! I've been enjoying working on tealight candle-holders but last week I changed it up and did a few vases instead. It's nice to do different forms. We've got so much to learn and we're slowly getting better but what we really need is more time in the studio without any extended breaks of 2 to 3 weeks or more. We've experienced too many of those. But hey, it's all about keeping it fun and we're managing to do that.

Tammy took Toby in to be seen last Tuesday as a precaution after seeing him experience some sort of seizure the previous Friday. The doctor said his heart and lungs appear fine and that his overall health is good. She did some blood-work as well and nearly all of the values came back in the normal range with the exception of a couple that were marginal but of no real concern. She said to keep an eye on him and watch for any more signs of trouble.

He's been fine all week, very much his normal self but I think he may have had another seizure or some sort of tremor this morning after coming in from outside. Both episodes have occurred after being out in the cold air. I noticed him standing in an awkward position looking at me. It wasn't a normal look and he appeared stressed. I went over to him and picked him up and he was trembling just as he was the last time this happened. I sat with him for nearly an hour and comforted him.

Tammy did some research online and came up with "Old Dog" Vestibular Disease. He has some of the symptoms but not all. She plans to call our veterinarian tomorrow and talk about a follow-up test that she thought we may want to consider. I don't like my little guy not being able to be himself.

I've had this song running through my head for most of yesterday and today...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Little Guy, Catching Up and Considering the Virb

My special little guy Toby had a seizure Friday afternoon. He was slow to get up when I went to let him out and I thought that maybe he had pulled a muscle in his leg or had a cramp. He made his way outside but was struggling. After coming back inside a few minutes later it was obvious that something wasn't right. I called Tammy over and she said he was having a seizure. He was trembling and his eyes were fixed straight ahead. I held him and whispered softly to him telling him how much he's loved. This has never happened to him that we're aware of. He wasn't himself the rest of the day and night but he was content to sit in my lap or by my side. It's ridiculous how much I love that little guy!

He looked to be his normal self Saturday morning, jumping up on me and giving me kisses, excited to eat. The only lasting effects from the day before being a little hesitancy coming down the stairs. He did fine but was just a little slower than usual.

I spoke with the vet's office and they told me it wasn't urgent for him to be seen but to make note of the day of the seizure on a calendar and any other episodes. One thing Tammy noticed was that his collar was very tight and may have been part of the problem. He's put on weight over the winter but I didn't think it was enough to cause a problem with his collar. I wish I'd have paid more attention to that. We made an appointment for him to be seen on Tuesday but considering how well he's doing today we may cancel instead.

We went out with Job on Friday night. He and Tammy worked together for several years at Masonic Home in Bloomington and he was always one of her favorite people to work with.

Job is from Kenya and has lived in the US since the late '90s. We always enjoy discussing a little about politics both in the US and his homeland. But most interesting this visit was learning of a new business he's getting off the ground: Edith's Mobility. A transportation service named after a dear resident of his who died several years ago. He transports residents to and from doctor appointments as well as persons needing rides from hospitals to temporary care units and such. He's busier than I think he ever imagined he would be so early on. It was nice to see him again and catch up.

There will be no ice dams for us this winter. I was watching the news last night and they were talking about how they're the worst they've been in years in this area due to our freezing and thawing cycles coupled with the amount of snow we've had. I was a little surprised to hear that. Anyway, all I know is I've been diligent about keeping the snow raked off the one problem area we have. This time last year and this year. My efforts appear to be working.

I ordered a chest mount for my GoPro camera thinking it would be a more stable platform than my handlebars, meaning it would be less susceptible to road vibration and the turning of the bars. I was wrong. I had a chance to use it a couple of times this past week and I can't say I'm all that happy with the results. It's very difficult to get the camera angle just right and the angle easily changes as you adjust your position. Not good. It also gives way too much arms and hands in the view. That may work for a video or two but not anything more than that. I'll be returning it.

A friend turned me on to a new camera put out by Garmin that's piqued my interest. It's called Virb. It's a little bigger than my GoPro but that also means it can handle a larger battery for extended use. What I most like about it is its ability to take my heart rate, speed, cadence and elevation data from my Garmin Edge and superimpose it onto the video. It also has the ability to include power-meter watts data by importing the ride file data. I'll likely wait a year or two before jumping onto one of these.  Here's the most detailed review to be found on it.

I'm officially the oldest controller working at Minneapolis Center. I'm not sure if that's something to be proud of or not. But, I do think I've likely bid my last schedule, a schedule that will take us to April of 2015. I can reasonably say that the end of the line for me as a controller will come sometime during this schedule period.

Monday, January 13, 2014

We've Got Some Telepathic Voodoo Witchcraft Skills!

I was on a cycling forum last week and the title of one of the threads was "42 degrees, went for a ride, how do you guys do it?" Hah! I think we were down as low -23º f (-31º c) in Lakeville at one point during last week's bout with frigid temps. I'd loved to have taken Ralph from Florida out for a ride with me so he could see that his 42º was easily very doable.

I had some use-or-lose vacation time I needed to burn up so I took last Monday off and headed for the river to spend a couple hours on the trails in the coldest air I've ever ridden in: -15º f (-26º c). It isn't often we get temps that cold during daylight hours and I wanted to take advantage of the conditions to improve on my personal all-time low riding temp, substantially improving on my old record of -4º f. I had to smile a little watching a guy on the news later that day with his dire warning to not go out unless absolutely necessary because of the dangerously cold temperature. If he'd only known how much fun I had out there and how comfortable I was but yeah, I get that those temps aren't for everyone. It's no wonder that I had the trails all to myself.

I'm getting much more comfortable on my fat-tire bike but it's taken me lots of miles to get to this point. It's so unlike any riding I've ever done. Subtle weight shifts and turning the bars just enough when needed are key skills to negotiate the bends of the trail without giving up too much speed. It sounds simple enough but it's not. Also, figuring out what tire pressure to use depending on trail conditions is also as important as anything. 8 psi seems to be working well for me lately.

I finally climbed aboard my CompuTrainer on Wednesday and suffered the punishment of an indoor workout. I needed that. There's nothing better for pushing me but lately, being outside and on my Mukluk is where it's at.

Rachel submitted our Amazing Race application form and accompanying video a couple months ago but we never heard back from the show's producers. I suppose we're not surprised given the number of applications they receive each season, I believe in excess of 12,000 on average. She did a great job putting it together, focusing on the fact that the show has never featured a stepfather/stepdaughter combination in any previous season. The producers stress that the show is as much about relationships as the race itself and that's why we felt we had an 'in' with our relationship being what it is. But we erred in our video submission so maybe it was all for naught. We didn't realize until it was too late that our video needed to show us interacting with one another, which it doesn't. She'll be taking a break from school next year so we'll maybe have another chance or two to make another submission. It's such a long-shot but who knows?

I can totally see people pulling for us ...I can hear them now...

"I really like that Rachel and Kevin team!" and "yeah, I wanna see them win!"

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bear With Me and Extreme Temperature Fun

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." That quote by Mahatma Gandhi sums up so succinctly where I'm at today in my relationship with the church.

Franklin Graham (Billy Graham's son) weighed in on the Duck Dynasty controversy recently with this. After reading his words, all I can say is that I'm disappointed at the continued myopic focus on gays by Christians. It's disheartening to read the words that Robertson said and to see all of the support he received from Christians on forums and such in the wake of the interview. There is no war on Christians, just like there is no war on Christmas and from my perspective, the primary people undermining the message of Jesus are those who claim to be his followers. I considered going deep here but I'm not feeling up to it; perhaps another day. I do want to say just this: Jesus instructed his followers to love their enemies, not kill them. Jesus never spoke of homosexual relationships. Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion. Jesus was all about helping the poor and the needy. Jesus spoke against the love of money and material things. And Jesus didn't carry a weapon. If you don't identify with this Jesus, then perhaps you really shouldn't refer to yourself as a Christian.

I'm as big a sinner as anybody so please don't think I'm holding myself out to be something I'm not. What I'm struggling with within the church right now is the way those of us in the church conveniently overlook our own sin while continuing to put a distorted focus on same-sex couples and the belief that 'their sins' are somehow in a whole other category, a category that allows us to treat them as a people who don't measure up and are falling much shorter of the mark than the rest of us straight folks. We self-righteously spurn their attempts at service within the church and that is so wrong. How welcoming is that?

I went to bed a few nights ago with the above letter from Franklin Graham on my mind and a thought occurred to me as I lay there waiting for sleep to come: what about self-esteem? How does someone who's gay/homosexual/queer/different/an abomination ever reach a level of self-esteem necessary to overcome the stigma being placed on them by the church and those it influences? If we straight folks have a tough enough time with issues of self-worth and such, how do you think it would feel to be told in no uncertain terms again and again by the church and its followers that you're not worthy and therefore you're fair game to be discriminated against? Seriously, just think about that for a moment.

Okay, maybe I went a little deeper than I'd intended to. Moving on.

Our home alarm went off at 2:30 in the morning on Thursday. I shook the sleep out of my brain as best I could and made my way over to one of the wall panels and tried to silence it but couldn't. Typically the panel will show me which door or window sensor tripped but I wasn't getting any detail about why it was alarming. The outside speaker was blaring and no doubt waking up our neighbors while the inside alarms were screaming as well causing the pups to whine from the high-pitched noises they make. I tried desperately to silence it. I ran down to the utility room and unplugged the panel from the wall and the battery backup but it was still alarming. How can that be I wondered. I ran out to the circuit-breaker panel in the garage and was able to finally shut it down there.

I phoned my brother Bryan to see if he had any ideas about what may be the problem. He was my go-to guy having installed the alarm for me when I had our home built. He diagnosed the problem as a bad smoke/fire detector on the same circuit as the alarm. He suggested I replace all 4 smoke/fire detectors that were wired into the alarm. They apparently only have a life expectancy of 10 years or so and ours were well beyond that age.

Problem solved.

I got the call from Miller Hill Subaru a little after noon on Thursday to let me know that our Subaru Forester was ready to be picked up. I had to cancel my plans to attend Tim Duffrin's retirement party because I really wanted to get our car back. I enjoyed the drive, finishing the 360-mile round-trip in a little less than 6 hours. It gave me a chance to spend some time behind the wheel of the new Forester they'd loaned us. It's definitely in the running for when we do decide to upgrade.

Nearly the entire country is in a deep-freeze and our temps are still on the way down with an expected high tomorrow of -17 f or -27 c. Let me reiterate that, -17 f is our expected high for tomorrow!

I've been extra diligent about keeping our feeders filled for the birds, squirrels, and rabbits that frequent them. I know it's not necessary for their survival but I enjoy doing it and Tammy loves to be able to look out her office window and see all the action as they feed.

I hope to get out tomorrow for a ride just to say I've biked in those temps. I can only boast of riding in -4 f and I need to improve on that.

It's been a long winter here so far in Minnesota and it's actually just getting started. I find it's best to somehow embrace the at times ridiculously snowy or cold weather however you can for your own emotional well-being. Have some fun with it! It's what I do.