Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Blackened Eye and Being Mindful

World Vision is a Christian based organization with outposts in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world. They work to provide children with the basics in life to offer them the best chance to succeed and build a strong community. This past week World Vision announced that they were changing their employee policy to allow for all within their ranks to marry, including same-sex couples. They would no longer discriminate.

World Vision's President Richard Stearns: “It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there. This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate,” Stearns said. “Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.”

While some in the Christian community were happy with this announcement, many more were very vocal in their disapproval going so far as to encourage people to withdraw their support for World Vision, leaving many dependent children in the lurch.

This whole ordeal really saddens me, that professing Christians would actually pull support for a child they committed to helping simply because they disagreed with an employee policy that is designed to work for a large group of diverse believers within a Christian organization. How shallow must their commitment have been to say that they would deny their support if gays were allowed to be a part of the process? What was the motivation in the first place to become involved? A reward in heaven or actually helping a child in desperate need?

In the end, the far-right Evangelical bullies with their threat to abandon desperate and dependent children won and World Vision reversed their decision.

Christianity is sporting a blackened eye today and I continue to slump further and further in my seat in the back of the church, ashamed by the actions of people who claim to follow Jesus.

I recently read 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan is an ABC News correspondent and host of Nightline who suffered an on-air panic attack 10 years ago. A personal evaluation of his life led him to some changes, one of which is the inclusion of meditation into his daily routine.

I was under the impression that pretty much all meditation was spiritual but that's not so. There's secular meditation as well and that's what has piqued my interest. There are so many different types of meditation but the one I'm learning about is mindfulness meditation, which from what I can tell is a sort of loose term that covers an array of attention training practices.

Dan explains in his book how the mind is forever bouncing from one thought to another, never stopping during our waking hours. It's referred to as monkey-mind; a reference to a monkey jumping from limb to limb. It causes us to never truly live in the moment as our minds continually plan out our days and question past decisions all the while careening from one random thought to another, preventing ourselves from ever truly living in the here and now. Meditation encourages you to quiet your monkey-mind by focusing on something (often your breathing) and reigning in your wandering mind over and over again as often as necessary to keep any stray thoughts at bay. It takes practice and I'm only just beginning so I really don't have much more to add at this point; no revelations as yet to share. I intend to give it an honest try to see if I too can realize some benefits of meditation others speak so highly of such as more focused attention in my everyday life. I could use a little of that.

Dan suggests using the app, Insight Timer. It's a nifty app that provides a way to track your time spent meditating as well as some guided meditations where you sit back and allow an instructor to guide you along.

I'll let you know how it goes.

I had my first colonoscopy six years ago when I turned 50, the recommended age when you should first have the procedure done if you have no family history of colon cancer. My family has no history of this sort of cancer but because my doctor keeps finding polyps, I just completed my 4th colonoscopy last Thursday and will need to be seen again next year. Lucky me! No, really, lucky me! I don't mind doing this yearly if necessary.

We met up with Joe and Lisa last night at the Mediterranean Cruise Cafe in Burnsville where we enjoyed some of the most flavorful food I've had in a long while, especially the salad. It's so good! And there was so much food! It was at times a bit of a puzzle to find a way to fit all they served us on the limited space on the table but we managed. They bring you that much!

Ahmet was our server. He stopped by several times to make conversation with us and at one point offered to take our photo for me. A move which always guarantees at least a 20% tip!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Catching Up and Mind-Benders

The Amazing Race and Survivor, our two mainstays of TV viewing may have fallen victim to our Netflix streaming video account. I've been bouncing between House of Cards (season 2), Mad Men (season 4) and Breaking Bad (season 3). Tammy has her own list but is currently fixated on Dexter.

I still find myself vacillating about when to retire with my thoughts about it changing like the weather. Last week if you'd have asked me, I would have said with 90% certainty that I'll be turning in my headset by the end of the year. But then I found myself kicking around some scenarios in my head over the weekend and thinking that I could just as easily continue working well into 2015. I am all over the place on this. Being fully employed makes it much easier to keep paying down our debt and I like that. Not that we have an abundance of debt but our goal is to have none. Continuing to hang out 'working the boards' makes as much sense as ever.

I was able to take the pups out a few days ago for their first walk of the year. They loved it! Toby had the four of us running for the first two blocks. They were filthy by the time we got home but it was so worth it. A quick bath in the laundry tub for each of them was a must.

Rachel returned a few days ago from a 9-day odyssey to the east coast and back with her STLF (Students Today Leaders Forever) group from school. As they have the last few years, they stopped in cities along the way to perform volunteer projects that they planned well in advance. Those cities were Cincinnati, OH; Morgantown, WV; Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC.

A short video. What enthusiasm!

She spent the night with us last night. It was so nice to come home from work and spend a couple of hours together over a glass of wine catching up. We don't get to do that nearly enough.

We've been getting into Foci weekly it seems for the past couple of months and it's helping us to continue to improve our skills. I'm still having fun playing with different tea-light candle holder shapes and colors. I do need to work with other forms too though to push my abilities and grow. We'll have to take a pass on any studio time this week. Tammy was diagnosed with Trigger Finger in her right thumb and can barely grip some of the tools needed to work the glass. She went in and had a shot of cortisone on Friday. It's helping but she doesn't want to aggravate it and slow her recovery.

I saw this video online yesterday and found it perplexing. It reminds me of the mind-bender below. Count the little men, wait a few seconds until they shift then count them again. Where does the extra guy come from?

I overdid it on my CompuTrainer a couple weeks ago while racing against myself from previous performances. The strain of the workout caused a Baker's cyst behind my right knee and it's had me mostly sidelined from working out for the last 10 days. I'm not happy. I took my Mukluk out for an easy ride on Friday afternoon. It was nice to be out again but so difficult to hold back. I really suck at anything to do with recovery or moderation.

Queue another Netflix show!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A New Look and Questioning More than Ever

Keith and Joe came through with the pieces and labor necessary to assemble the four sections of new railing for our main level. Keith did such a nice job of assembling the posts and building the rail sections. We're happy with it. That's not to say that it didn't take a little getting used to because it's quite a departure from what we used to have. But it looks nice. Here's a before and after view. The posts actually fit over the old posts.

We intend to have the windows in the family room (the room just beyond the railing in the photo to the left) painted white to match the windows in the sunroom and that should help to tie the railing in with its surroundings a little better. The dark posts match the mantel over the fireplace in the sunroom to the right in the photo although they look a little darker than the mantel in this photo because of the lighting.

The 10th birthday of my blog came and went last October but I never realized it until recently. I'm glad I've kept at it. What will I be writing about in the next 10 years I wonder? My retirement; a wedding; grandkids? Hopefully in that order.  :)

I look at my blog as both a time capsule and a therapist. I can record memories of my life here to look back on years from now and reminisce about days gone by; in this case, five years ago this week! It serves as a therapist because writing here causes me to pause and reflect on what's going on in my life. I find I do a lot of this same sort of thinking when I'm on my bike or out walking but it tends to be more focused when I'm at my keyboard.

My blog has helped me navigate the many twists and turns along the way, from being quite conservative in my thinking to totally abandoning those thoughts and allowing myself to see this world from an entirely different perspective. I was commenting to Steve in the studio the other day how I'm not at all the person I was just 5 or 7 years ago. He smiled and said something along the lines of 'that's a beautiful thing', and it is. I'm a seeker at heart but I'm also pretty loyal to my beliefs. Sometimes those two components within me clash and when they do, I come here and try to make sense of them. Lately, it's my seeking side that is pushing forward and leaving some long-held beliefs behind.

Most of those long-held beliefs I'm shedding of late have to do with the church. I've been questioning so much about not only my participation in the church but also some of my most basic fundamental beliefs. Are Jesus and God one and the same or is Jesus a lesser God? Did Emperor Constantine so corrupt Christianity with his influence for political motives early in the 4th century that it hasn't since reflected what Jesus intended for his followers to exemplify?

One example of this new and troubling mindset I'm exploring is the Arian controversy (teachings by Arius) early in Constantine's reign. Arianism taught that Jesus, the Son of God was subordinate to God the Father, that they weren't/aren't one and the same. Jehovah's Witnesses subscribe to this belief today but it's discounted by mainstream Christianity which believes that they are one. It was one of the more important issues for Constantine. So significant was it that in 325 CE, the Council of Nicaea was convened to settle church disputes with this being chief among them. Out of the two-month-long meeting of more than 300 Bishops with Emperor Constantine presiding over them came what Christians today know as the Nicene Creed. So determined was Constantine to squash any Arian beliefs to the contrary that he would eventually decree the following:

"This, therefore, I decree, that if anyone shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius, and shall not instantly bring it forward and burn it, the penalty for this offense shall be death; for immediately after conviction the criminal shall suffer capital punishment. May God preserve you!"

This is really disturbing to me. The marrying of church and government in the name of Jesus with death being the penalty for those subscribing to a different belief. And this was the guy who helped chart a course that the church has pretty much been on ever since? So much for the passive movement of Jesus. Prior to Constantine, Christians were being persecuted and dying for their faith. Yes, the fine Emperor stopped all that but then he turned the tables and Christians became the ones doing the killing.

I'm sort of feeling the way I did when I came to the realization that I'd been accepting of a lot of propaganda over the years from right-wing media and that I'd been hoodwinked. I promised myself then that I'd be more astute in the future with whom I placed my trust in. My eyes are wide open as I press on.

My quest for truth will continue. Where it leads me I can't say.

On a lighter note, it's St Urho's Day today. I stopped off at Mom's on the way to work this afternoon and dropped off a small gift-bag Tammy put together for her in honor of the day. She was so surprised and lit up as she looked at the gifts Tammy bought for her. Sometimes those little things in life can mean so much.

I've been in a Ray LaMontagne kind of mood today.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Let the Big Melt Begin!

We're about to leave the coldest winter in 36 years behind us. I was in San Diego for the winter of 1977-78 so I think it's safe to say this has been the coldest winter of my lifetime. I'm ready to move on.

We worked with Steve on Wednesday afternoon at Foci. His normal partner, Craig, was out of town so he asked us if we'd be interested in working with him. We jumped at his offer. If it wasn't for Steve's interest in us early on during our time at Foci, we can say without much hesitation that we probably wouldn't still be there today. He came alongside us at a critical time and got us over the hump of working on our own and feeling comfortable in the studio. He spent much of his time on Wednesday showing us a technique called a color drop for adding color to a piece. This method will allow us to control the color better as the piece blows out. Additionally, he also worked with us on lip-wraps and using an optic mold which has the effect of creating interesting symmetrical lines in a finished piece. I only completed 2 pieces in our time together but I'm excited to see how they turned out.

Steve has been blowing glass for maybe a little more than 9 years and has a keen understanding of the science behind the heating and movement of the hot glass. Like all of the others around the studio who have been doing it for a while, he makes it look so easy. He works hotter than just about anyone there with his pieces seemingly often on the edge of total collapse but he's able to expertly maneuver and shape the glass so efficiently and precisely. He does some beautiful work. Here's a link to Steve's website. On his site, you'll see where part of his focus is on pet memorials. Steve will use a small amount of ashes from your pet's remains and encapsulate them within a beautiful piece of blown glass art. I think it's such a nice idea.

I was pleased with my work from the previous week. These two tealight candle-holders being what I was most excited about. Tammy continues to assemble quite a collection of bud vases which I found the perfect spot for on a shelf in our sunporch.

We had most of the main level of our home painted on Thursday to tie the sun-room in with the other spaces. All that remains to be done is some wood trim along the base of the railing which will be replaced in the next week or two. The walls of the kitchen have been white for the 22 years I've been here so this is a nice change, but gone is the stencil I'd painted above the cabinets in the first year I was here. Tammy says she'll miss it, as will I. I also found a new home for our cuckoo clock after thinking that maybe we wouldn't be able to make it fit with our new motif. It now resides above the couch in the family room. I was telling Tammy that keeping the cuckoo clock is a must because someday we're going to have grandkids and they're going to love to watch for the little bird to come out and we'll watch with them because we'll be retired and we'll have all the time in the world!

I'll need to get a bike carrier for my car now that I can no longer throw my fat-bike in the bed of my pickup and head down to the river to ride the trails. My focus has been my CompuTrainer for the past month or more so I'm content until I'm back out on the roads on my Serotta. I did 40 miles of scenic country roads while riding the Wisconsin Ironman route near Madison yesterday, all in the comfort of my basement.

But I'm ready to be back outside again.

Pssst...hey, Spring...if you're's okay to come back. I know you rained on us a lot last year but all is forgiven. Let the big melt begin!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Wheels, A Gathering for Ron and a Chance Encounter

Consumer Reports was in the news this past week for their annual top picks for automobiles. I briefly heard a nice mention of Subaru Forester and that piqued my interest. I went online and paid for a one-month subscription to their website so I could access their findings. The Forester scored an 88 which seemed quite good when compared to the competition. Hmmm. I had put thoughts of looking at a new vehicle on the back-burner but this had me reconsidering.

The plan was to get another couple of years out of my 2001 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. Its mileage wasn't all that high at 132k but its transmission began making some disturbing noises a couple weeks ago when going between 4WD and 2WD, so much so that it seemed a big repair bill was in our future if we decided to hang on to it. Between the worries of possibly needing to put more money into my truck than it was maybe worth and the Consumer Reports reviews, I decided to take a trip back to the Subaru dealer just off 35W in Burnsville Wednesday around noon.

The one thing that was apparent is that they can't keep this model in stock. 4 of 5 Foresters on the lot were sold including one that I took a liking to. There was a light sage-green model that sort of interested me but I really wanted something other than green this time around. I checked with the salesman to see what they were expecting in the next few weeks and he mentioned a bronze one just like the one in the showroom which would arrive the next day. I put some money down to hold it and was on my way. I got a call from Josh not more than 10 minutes later asking if there was any way I'd consider changing my mind and opting for the sage-green model instead. I assured him there wasn't. I would come to find out that I beat one other guy in the showroom that day by not more than 90 seconds in getting my money down on the car.

I spent some time yesterday morning giving my old friend one last bath and removing all of my things from inside while feeling a little melancholy about trading it in. I drove to the dealer and thanked my friend along the way for 13 years of faithful service. It's been a great truck for me.

I was a little worried about what my Nissan would bring me but they actually offered me $1000 more than I figured they would. I probably should've haggled over the price just because but I didn't. I know it's going to need work but fortunately for me it ran fine on the way to the dealership and during the test-drive. The only fault they could find with it was the rusting rear bumper.

Two hours later with all of the paperwork filled out and a heavy snow coming down, I was on my way trying not to be too distracted by all of the gee-whiz stuff that makes up the dash panel. I've always been secretly envious of people with thermometers in their vehicles and now I've got one. And a compass!

We took our new Forester on its maiden voyage yesterday afternoon up to St. Joseph, about 90 minutes northwest via a slight detour into Minneapolis to pick up Rachel at her office. Ron's family was having a memorial get-together at the funeral home for him. It was less formal than a wake, it seemed, but maybe that's still the appropriate term for it. It was a casual gathering of people who knew and loved Ron. It was nice.

I talked with his daughter Sherri and she told me that the defibrillator on his pacemaker had been going off at an increased frequency and it was causing concern. He died on the operating table while the doctors were performing angioplasty surgery to see if there was anything they could do to improve his heart's function.

It was nice to spend time visiting with Ron's family; it's been so long since I've seen them. I commented that it would've been fun if as a tribute to Ron, a bunch of us showed up in flannel shirts, the kind he used to like to wear.

I made a detour to a Holiday gas station this morning that I'd never been to on my way over to the Subaru dealer to drop off the title for the truck. I came around an aisle toward the back of the store in search of where they kept their pens when a guy stopped me and asked if I was Kevin Gilmore. He wasn't familiar to me and I no sooner confirmed it was me when he said he reads my blog and recognized me from photos I'd posted. He went on to tell me that he too was once a controller but he got caught up in the PATCO strike of 1981 and that he sells cars for a living now. Brian said he stumbled onto my blog while doing an online search of some sort and has been following along since. He mentioned that he too is a "Hosanna refugee" no longer feeling at home within the church after being a member for 21 years, singing in the choir for 7 and leading a small group. The somewhat parallel paths of our lives were interesting to us both as was our chance meeting. It was an unexpected surprise to have him approach me like that.

Shameless plug to follow...

My encounter with Brian reminded me of the time a woman came up to me in a store and asked if it was me she saw on an episode of Judge Judy the previous day. I was so surprised that anybody would make a connection like that but I suppose I shouldn't have been considering how many people watch the show. I was much less surprised when the phone rang right after our appearance aired and some anonymous person on the other end congratulated us on our win.

Oops...I just gave it away...

jj video from Kevin Gilmore on Vimeo.