Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembering Ron and a Wintry Week

Don't lean in too close on this post. I'm coming down with a head-cold and body aches and feeling more and more miserable by the hour. I don't want you to catch it.

We had such a good day at Foci Wednesday afternoon. We came in behind Jan who was just finishing up at the bench we'd reserved. She said she'd like to hang out and see how we're doing. We had no idea that she was about to spend the next 3 hours working with us on our technique. She was so helpful! Jan has a background in pottery but left it behind a couple years ago when she changed her focus to glassblowing. She has advanced so quickly under the tutelage of some of the areas more notable glass artists. We're so grateful for her desire to 'send the elevator back down' and help us raise our abilities. We left Foci feeling so excited about how the afternoon went that we returned the next morning to reinforce what Jan had worked with us on.

Rachel called while we were in the studio to say that she'd read a post from Brent on Facebook saying that his father had died. Ron has had heart troubles for years and I've felt for quite a while that he was living on borrowed time. He epitomized the word "gentleman". I remember when I first met him in the mid-'70s, he wore a Pulsar digital watch. I'd never seen anything like it and thought it was so cool. I regret that over the last several years I haven't seen Ron at all and have had no contact with him outside of Facebook since he and my sister divorced less than two years ago.

I'd felt for the longest time that he viewed me with a bit of skepticism for the conservative views I used to espouse. He was right to and because of that, I've felt for a while that I had some unfinished business with him. I believe he occasionally read my blog and came to understand my evolution so I rest in that, not that it matters anymore.

Ron was a good man and will be missed and remembered in a very kind way.

While we were in the studio on Thursday, Curt Goodrich stopped by to say hello. Curt is one of the country's premier bicycle frame builders and he has his shop just down the hall from where we blow glass. I met him early on in our time at Foci and it's been a desire of mine to someday have him fit me for a frame. I don't think a guy can ever have too many bikes and I have room for exactly one more in my stable. What Curt does is every bit as much a work of art as anything produced in the studio at Foci.

I took mom to her eye doctor appointment this morning. The roads were terrible from last night's storm but I didn't want her to have to reschedule. The news wasn't good. She's had 5 procedures on her right eye to reattach her retina but they've all been unsuccessful. I think she knew the prognosis wasn't going to be good as I didn't sense any great sadness when she told me that the only improvement she was likely to see would have to come from a miracle. Still, it's got to be a blow to hear those words from her doctor. She's rescheduled a follow-up for 12 weeks from now. I'm not sure why but if it gives her the slightest bit of hope, a follow-up is worth it.

It's been a wintry week here in Minnesota. We had a snowstorm early in the week that was followed by some above-average temperatures which had us all breathing a sigh of relief only to be chased away by our biggest snowstorm of the season. The 3rd polar vortex (read: seriously cold air) of the season is poised to sweep across the region in the next few days which will push many to the limit. A couple months ago Tammy was talking about a quick trip to Las Vegas in February or March to break up our winter but I'm not sure those plans ever made it beyond the back-burner. Hmmm.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

De-country-fying and Left a Little Wanting

We're having more fun than ever with our weekly glassblowing sessions at Foci. Now that we're getting there more regularly I can see where we're both beginning to show some steady improvement. We know we've got so much more to learn but we're occasionally getting some nicer pieces to show for our time at the bench and that's rewarding.

I'm still playing around with my tealight candle holders in various colors, trying to make them of similar shape and size. They're fun. I have an idea for a more cylindrically shaped style with thick sides and bottom but I'm not sure I have the skills to pull off the look I have in my mind's eye. I'll play around with the design this coming week.

We took a class at Foci last Wednesday night instructing us in the art of making punties. Punties are what we use to transfer a glass piece from the blowpipe to another metal rod for working the piece from the other end. They serve more functions than that but that's a brief explanation. We learned so much in the 90-minute class. One would think we'd know all we need to know about making and using punties by now but that's simply not so. There were people considerably more advanced than us in attendance. Michael did a nice job of explaining some of the finer points while explaining the science behind the punty. It was a very informative 90 minutes.

When I had our home built in 1992, I never thought twice about the country style railing and balusters that separate our dining area from the family room. They seemed to work just fine. But lately both Tammy's and my tastes are migrating toward a more transitional to a contemporary look and it's time to bid adieu to this little bit of country that is becoming more and more out of place in our home. Keith and Karen are going to meet me here on Monday afternoon to go over our plans for a choice of a more contemporary handrail, posts, and balusters. We're looking forward to having this project done as well as finally tackling the job of painting out most of the main level. As you can see in the photo to the right, we never quite got around to transitioning the color from the sun-porch into the rest of the main level when we wrapped up the project last summer.

We went to see Jason Isbell at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul on Friday. The concert wasn't quite what we expected. The show was billed as Wits: Marc Maron with Jason Isbell-Amanda Shires. What we didn't realize is that the Fitzgerald Theater is home to Minnesota Public Radio and the show we would be attending was actually part of a Wits podcast. Rather than have an opening act before bringing out Jason and Amanda for what we figured would be a full concert set, there was a running skit throughout the show that included Jason and Amanda while they would only occasionally break from the humor to sing a song or two. It was funny and we enjoyed ourselves but at times we felt a little like outsiders in a seemingly esoteric crowd that appeared more interested in the podcast than the musical talent.

We were only treated to two of Jason's songs but they were so good. Traveling Alone and Cover Me Up. But we gained a new-found appreciation for his wife Amanda's music so that was nice. We were just left a little wanting when the show was over. Still, it was a good night out.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"...Because This is Poetry of Terrible Beauty"

I got a little too ambitious on the elliptical machine Tuesday night while going for a PR (personal record) and seriously aggravated my right knee, so much so that I had to abort a ride on my indoor trainer a couple days later. Saturday was the first day that I could push it on my CompuTrainer but still, I had to hold back some because I didn't want to risk developing any sort of recurring injury. Moderation has never been something I've been very good at. The metal men still got the best of me on my ride Saturday but I'll be back!

Tammy took her paints out last week and got busy making cards for my mom for a Valentine's Day gift. They're smallish 3" x 5" cards that she can use to send "thank you" notes to friends. She made at least 15 of them, each unique. I think she did a great job. I cropped a few and stitched them together to show an example of her work (photo to the right) on my blog. It's clickable for a more detailed look.

I had a dream a few nights ago that Tammy and I were talking about our faith and I was expressing concern that I was feeling so adrift in mine. I don't cry often but in my dream, I was sobbing as I tried to explain to her that I don't see how I can get back to where I was. I remember feeling profoundly sad.

But in reality, it's really not my faith so much that's adrift although there is a part of it that seems forever changed, it's my faith in the church that has taken the biggest hit. It's the realization for me that I'd bought into something that I thought was so much more than it really was; something I would later come to find was fundamentally flawed and woefully discriminatory at its core. How did I not see that for so long?

Of one thing I'm certain: I don't anticipate warming up to the idea of organized religion for a very long time if ever again.

Sunday morning, with my dream still fresh in my mind, I received an email from a friend I hadn't heard from in a while. He'd sent me a link to a video and was wondering if I'd watch it and give him my thoughts on it. Tom was part of our small group from church that we dissolved this past fall. The video proved to be very timely for me considering what I've been going through with respect to my faith. I needed this shot in the arm.

It's about a guy who uses Biblical scriptures that point to specific events and then with the use of a computer program he's able to dial back the movement of the stars to the dates referenced in the scripture to see what the night sky reveals. The program doesn't just approximate the position of the planets. It's actually very accurate and can precisely pinpoint their relative positions all those hundreds of years ago.

What he finds is nothing short of amazing and at times very moving. Considering the title of the video I was expecting his research to focus on the Star of Bethlehem and not much more but he goes considerably deeper, tying in prophecy from Joel and Revelations which I found to be awe-inspiring when you watch how he unfolds it in front of you.

To quote the man behind the video upon discovering what he reveals in his findings: "I remember the night when I found the eclipse at Christ's crucifixion. I remember it because of what was happening to me when I found that the moon was back at the foot of the Virgin and when I further found that the moon went into eclipse at the moment my savior expired on the cross and I remember exactly what I said, I don't think I could ever forget it. I looked up at the sky and I said, my God, what did you do because this is poetry of terrible beauty that showed me a side of God that I had not seen. It showed me a God that would write poetry to record both the coming and the passing of my Messiah and then he let me find it."

Profound for sure.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Week Closer to Spring!

Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose a few days ago. I must be one of the few people on the planet who had absolutely zero name or face recognition of this actor. Movies obviously aren't my thing.

Toby is doing much better and appears to be back to his normal self, chillin' on the ottoman in the sunporch or curled up by my feet when he's not nestled in my lap. It's nice to have my friend back to his normal self again. Charlie and Toby don't play together but neither do they fight as they once did. Toby has accepted the little mischief-maker who can often be found pulling up a spot next to his big brother. Allie and Charlie will play together but that's usually a result of me giving Allie the high-sign to go after Charlie and "give him a beating he won't soon forget!" She loves that and so does he. He can't get enough of being chased through the house. That little guy brings a lot of fun to our home.

Tammy spent much of the last few weeks working on a shawl or maybe it's a 'throw' for one of our couches. She's not sure how she'll use it but it's really nice. I'm glad she's finally finished it though because now she's dabbling with watercolors again and that's something I've wanted to see for a while. She's got lots of natural talent for painting and drawing.

I've finally got our surround-sound synced up with Netflix. It had me stumped for a while until I took the time to figure out the proper connections. I noticed that while I could stream video reasonably well on my laptop at home, streaming on our TV in the sunporch was another matter. It was continually hesitating and buffering the feed. A speed test of our connection showed that we were downloading at between less than .5mps to upwards of 25mps. A new wireless router fixed all that and has us humming along with more than enough speed. Plus, it's nice to be actually watching a crisp HD picture rather than the lower resolution one we figured was normal.

Rachel and Tony came by Sunday afternoon to spend a few hours with Tammy while I was at work. Tony had a hockey tournament in Hutchinson about 70 miles west of us and they stopped by on their way back to Rochester. They all enjoyed dinner at Mediterranean Cruise Cafe and came back with probably as much food as they ate while they were there. I got home from work in time to spend an hour chatting with them with the TV tuned to the Super Bowl blowout between the Seahawks and Broncos that had much earlier become a bore.

It dawned on me about 20 minutes after they left that I didn't get a photo of them for my blog. Rachel was kind enough to help me out once they got home.

I'm in no way done riding my fat-bike this winter but I'm beginning to shift my focus to my CompuTrainer and the punishing indoor workouts it provides me. I love that thing! I sometimes dread the thought of riding it because I know it's going to work me harder than anything else I do but once I get into a ride I'm fully committed and indulging my otherwise quiet masochistic tendencies. The Real Course Videos are nice for the scenery and the change in resistance that goes along with the terrain in the video but what I like best are the computer-generated graphics workouts where I can set other riders out on the course at varying speeds/efforts and compete against them.

We're working our way through what is so far the coldest winter in 32 years in the Minneapolis metro area. We've seen very little letup in harshness since this cold descended on us a couple months ago. Any temperature above single-digit has become a welcome relief. While we haven't had an enormous amount of snow, it's been enough that the snowbanks are becoming sizable at the bottom of our driveway. Spring can't rescue us from this winter too soon at this point.

Pondering the extreme weather we've had gives me a renewed appreciation for those who came before us and how tough they had to have been. Rather than complain about the weather, I'd rather focus on how good we actually have it with heat for our homes generated at the touch of a fingertip while outside it's a whole other world!