Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Week, 2016

I'm sitting by the fire on a rainy Christmas Day afternoon with Toby and Charlie to keep me company. Tammy and Cindy are visiting their mom at Trinity Care Center in Farmington. We're so pleased with the level of care she's receiving there. I remember how we were hesitant to have her placed in a nursing home environment but it's turned out to be an excellent decision.

We had a nice Christmas Eve service last night at Family of Christ—our new church home. We like everything about FoC but we especially like its down-to-earth feel. It's not the megachurch we're accustomed to and that's a good thing. As an aside—we attended a Hymn Tap sing-along last Monday night at The Dubliner Pub in St Paul where some of the local faithful gathers once each month to sing hymns of praise and enjoy a drink or two with dinner. We even bumped into the pastor from FoC and chatted for a while. Like I said—down-to-earth.

Rachel left for her dad's a few hours ago but not before making some nice progress on a puzzle we started last night. I think it's far enough along that Tammy and I can put the finishing touches on it.

I spent several hours this week getting my new MacBook Pro up to speed. Rather than create a partition with VMware as I did with my last laptop for some Windows programs I still use, I decided to simply use the Boot Camp option on my Mac. The only drawback is that I can only run one operating system at a time. VMware allowed both to be running simultaneously but it was a strain on the computer's resources and it's not necessary for my purposes.

The biggest challenge for me was in resurrecting our website on my laptop. It's a large site that I built with Microsoft's Expression Web 2 and I don't keep a copy of the actual site, opting instead to allow GoDaddy to keep it backed up for me. For whatever reason, I wasn't able to simply drag and drop folders of photos where they belonged as I rebuilt the site. Instead, I had to take chunks of photos and drop them into the proper folders. It was very labor-intensive but it's done for now until the next hard-drive crash.

I sent my failing MacBook Pro to my brother Bryan in Oregon and he was able to resuscitate it with a new hard-drive. I considered that option too but I'm happy for him to have it, knowing it's in good hands and has a nice new home.

We visited Rachel at her new digs in Rochester. She and RaeNelle moved from the outskirts of the city into a home nearer to downtown—her 10th move since leaving our nest. They're happy. It was nice to spend the afternoon with her. We drove to Winona, an hour away for lunch then kicked around the city checking out the various shops.

I found the perfect shirt in a local bike shop!

I've been getting in lots of miles at Mall of America as I work to win this week's Garmin step challenge. I dug a hole for myself early on in the week but I came back strong, walking 14.5 miles on Thursday, 12 miles on Friday and 8 miles yesterday. And I did that among the crush of Christmas shoppers! I know I'm not supposed to say this (as a guy) but I love the mall. I just do.

I'm retired so what else do I have to do with my time, right? I probably shouldn't say this either (because then you'll certainly know I'm not right) but I preceded each of those walks with 2 hours on the elliptical.

With 6 hours left in the challenge, I think I can add this one to the "win" column.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

InFIT Sim and It's Been a Good Run

I loaded my clubs into the back of my Subaru Forester Tuesday afternoon for a round of golf at Pebble Beach—one of the more distinguished courses in the country (except I really didn't know I'd be playing Pebble Beach). I had an hour of golf simulator time scheduled at InFIT in Albertville, about a 50 minute drive northwest of Lakeville. InFIT was looking for people willing to play a round of golf on their simulator in exchange for writing an online review to help get the word out about their facility. I was only too happy to help.

Here's my review:

This was my first time playing on a golf simulator with the exception of when I was fitted for my clubs last spring.

Colton spent 15 minutes with me to make certain I knew how to get the most out of the simulator experience — how to aim my shot, read the green and understand the graphics on the HD display as well as some basic computer inputs to the software. He then left me on my own to enjoy a round of golf in a comfortable 70º environment while it was only 8º outside.

Playing a round of golf on the InFIT simulator is fairly straightforward. There were at least 20 actual courses to choose from. I chose Pebble Beach.

The experience gives you very real feedback. It shows the flight of the ball; ball speed; distance and some other data related to each swing and shot. Every time I felt I’d hit a bad shot the simulator was right there to confirm it. You know the feeling you have when you’ve pulled a shot, hit a ball pure or pushed it — the simulator confirmed all that my club head was telling me at impact. I could look at the HD display and watch as my ball went just where it felt like I’d hit it. I was very impressed.

The greens are fast and once you get used to their speed they’re quite realistic. They run between 10.5 and 11.5 on the stimpmeter. The display will show you the contour of the green as well as your ball’s height above or below the hole and distance to the hole. You line up your putt toward the hole on the screen after factoring in the breaks and let the overhead optical sensors show your result on the HD display. It’s actually quite cool and works much better than I imagined it would.

After holing out, you’re advanced to the next tee.

A feature I found helpful was the “mulligan” button on the computer. I was able to play a shot more than once in a variety of ways.

The only drawback I could find with the simulation was that there didn’t appear to be a way to factor wind into the simulation. I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before you can do that. Possibly it’s already there but I didn’t see it and played my round with no wind.

I played just fine using running shoes. You can wear your regular golf shoes but I don't feel it's necessary.

I found the experience very fun and beneficial and although it’s a bit of a hike for me to play there — I’ll be back. It was that good.

I think I'd like to try and get there once each month during the winter. That's my plan.

I fired up my 6.5-year-old MacBook Pro yesterday morning to make a quick lap around the patch before stepping onto the treadmill for a two-hour walk—but there was a problem. My trusty laptop was so painfully slow. It was unusable. I rebooted it twice more without any improvement. I tried running an antivirus program but closed out of it when I realized it would take all day to run. I decided the best thing I could do would be to take it to the Apple Store at Mall of America and let the folks behind the Genius Bar run some diagnostics on it.

And they did.

It took less than 5 minutes for the technician to find that my laptop had suffered a hard drive failure. He said the hard drive could be replaced but I would either have to do it myself or have someone other than the Apple Store do it because my laptop was deemed "vintage" and they no longer provide parts or service for something of its age. I could probably have it resuscitated for a around $100 but I figured we'd had a good run together and maybe it was time to move on.

And so I did.

I'm now blogging and tapping through the net with a 15" MacBook Pro with a retina LED backlit display, 16 GB of SDRAM, 512 GB SSD with Touch Bar Technology. Funny thing though—there are no USB ports on it but it does come with 4 USB-C ports. I had to go back and get an adaptor so I can plug in my devices.

So far, so good. The Touch Bar Technology is kinda cool stuff and I think I'll enjoy using it. Maybe I'll expand on what it's about in another entry here.

Time to go and write out some Christmas cards! We considered taking a pass on them this year but we've relented and will have them in the mail soon to some of you.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Missing My Little Girl and Winter Arrives

I'm missing my little girl. Our home doesn't seem the same since she left. I went to let Toby and Charlie out the morning after she died and I found myself waiting for Allie to bring up the rear the way she always would as the pups filed out the front door. It took me just a moment to realize she was no longer with us. There have been many more similarly small instances of our changed routine that remind me she's gone and each one leaves me with a wave of sadness that washes over me and settles in my heart. This all happened so quickly. I just didn't imagine her leaving us so soon.

I'm reminded of the way she was always content to be the last in line to get her treat of a dog biscuit or baby carrot. She would take it and scamper off to the front room where she would eat it in peace, away from Charlie's attempts to steal it from her. I'd sometimes go out of my way to give her her treat first and make the boys wait. Or the way she would lay in front of their water bowl waiting for me to change the water. She became finicky in the last few years about drinking from the dregs of a dish.

I got to thinking about how she was such a trooper in these past few months to do some of the walks we all did together considering how ill she had to have been. How I wish she could've told me she wasn't up to it. There were several walks where I did leave her home, sensing she was fine with not going. I wasn't totally ignorant of her needs.

Tammy had gone out and bought new Christmas stockings for all of us and decorated them just two days before she died. Allie's is appropriately white. She's our little angel now. Waiting.

I went out to get the mail yesterday and found a card from the Farmington Veterinary Clinic. I opened it when I got back inside and a wave of emotion overcame me. The card was signed by all of the staff. Someone had taken paw prints from her lifeless body and included them. It was so touching and my tears flowed freely as I stood there in our laundry room with Toby and Allie watching me. I'm missing her so much.

Charlie seems to sense that she's gone. He's not been himself the past day or so. Toby is a mellow fellow as it is so it's difficult to tell if he's troubled by her absence.

This is going to take some time.

I made it out to Murphy Hanrehan this afternoon for the first time in months. The temp was in single digits but the winds had calmed from what they'd been the past several days so it was actually quite nice. I've swapped out my 3" Maxxis tires for my 4" 45NRTH Dillingers and I've got my pogies on my bar ends to keep my hands warm. I'm ready for snow. And it's snowing. We're expecting 4 to 6 inches by the time it stops tomorrow. I hope to make it to either the river bottoms or back to Murphy tomorrow afternoon.

Winter has finally arrived and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Goodbye Sweet Girl

This is a very sad post for me to write and one I feared I was going to be making sooner than I wanted. Allie died this morning at 8:58. Tammy and I are grieving her loss with lots of tears interrupted by memories of her as we recall those special things about her that made her who she was.

She was a fierce protector of us and our home and she was as loyal as a dog could be. She never had pups of her own but we always felt she would've been the best mom—always nurturing and so quick to see what was the matter if ever she sensed distress. And she loved to lick! We've been tempted more than once to buy one of those signs that say "Our dogs can't hold their licker"—mostly because of Allie.

I had hoped that the health issues she'd been experiencing lately were going to be something she could overcome but sadly, they weren't. She continued to have very little appetite and was becoming noticeably unsteady when standing.

In the middle of the night last night she let out a loud and long wail as she arched her back in pain. I thought she was leaving us then. Her breathing was labored and she was shaking. We tried to comfort her as best we could. I prayed that she would pass in the comfort of our bed but that wasn't to be.

She wasn't whimpering so I was hopeful that she wasn't in continued pain. There was no question between Tammy and me that we needed to end her suffering. I took the photo to the left as I held her in our home just before leaving. I just needed one last memory of her even though it saddens me to see it now.

We made a tearful drive into Farmington this morning to the vet we've been seeing since Allie and Toby were pups. We had no appointment. She wailed again as we made our way into the vet's office and the woman behind the counter quickly took her from us and brought her back to the doctor. The doctor came out and could see that we knew the seriousness of Allie's condition. She offered to do blood tests to try and determine what was the matter but we felt it was time to let her go. She agreed and assured us we were making the right decision based on what she could see.

This is so sad and so hard. I loved that little girl so much. I promised her we'd be together again someday because I believe in heaven and the only heaven I can imagine is one where our pets are waiting there for us.

Goodbye, sweet girl. Thank you for your unconditional love and for all of the joy you've given us. You are so very loved and we will all miss you forever.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Allie, Christmas Decor, Protests and a Virtual Stroll

We had a bit of a scare with Allie last week. She wasn't eating and she was restless at night and whimpering a little. We've also noticed that she's been losing weight. I took her in to the vet and found that her weight is down from 12.1 lbs in August to 11.2 lbs. That's no small amount for a pup he size.

The doctor noticed a slight heart murmur which she said is not at all uncommon for a dog her age. More importantly, though, she felt around and determined she had a backed up digestive tract. She suggested fish oil caplets or something similar added daily to her diet to aid in moving things along. It seems to be working. At 13 years old we were both worried that something more serious was the matter. She's still not quite her normal self but we're hopeful that she'll continue to improve.

I've been leaving Allie at home when I take Toby and Charlie out walking. Toby loves these cooler temps in the 30s and 40s. He wants to run between all of their stops which is really impressive for an older guy. Toby is fully extended on his leash ahead of us as I'm running to keep up while Charlie is fully extended on his leash and lagging behind. We did a 2.3-mile walk a few days ago and he had us all running nearly the entire way.

We've saved ourselves a lot of work this year with our minimalist approach to Christmas. This is the extent of our outdoor decor which is quite a departure from our usual display. Typically we've got a large tree in front of our living room window but the past two years we've been content to use our smaller tree to the right. Tammy set out Rachel's nutcrackers we've collected for her over the years and that's about it. This works for me!

Tammy was in the uptown area of downtown Minneapolis yesterday morning protesting Wells Fargo Bank for their investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline. She's convinced me that we need to close out our accounts with Wells Fargo and move our money over to the credit union where we already have accounts. She's right and I actually should've done this a while back when we learned that our accounts were among those that had been tampered with by bank employees looking to generate additional fees for the bank. The only real hassle is in setting up electronic transfers for paying bills and a couple of other automatic withdrawals. If you're also considering breaking up with your bank, check out this link.

I was looking through some boxes of my mom's photos yesterday when a manila envelop spilled its contents out. Inside was my dad's naturalization certificate. I noticed an address on it from when our young family lived on Turner St. in Detroit before I was born. I believe we were actually there for the first few weeks of my life. I don't recall ever seeing any photos of the house so I entered the address from my dad's certificate into Google Maps and took a look around the neighborhood. There are still some well-kept homes but lots of very rundown homes as well. Here's a street view of the home. I wish I had my mom here to tell me stories about their time spent there. I suppose I was too busy to hear them when she was still with us.

Edit: My brother just informed me that I was actually born in a different home at 18676 Lennane St. in Detroit and that the home on Turner appears to have been razed. Our home would've been in the empty lot to the right in the link above for Turner. I'll leave both links in my blog.

I was on a walk last week and heard a large flock of geese overhead coming up from behind me (video below). I turned to look and saw the largest flock I'd ever seen heading east. It was quite a sight.

It's time to go and see what my next walk has to offer but first I need to go and "run" with Toby and Charlie.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What Ifs

I was recently contemplating the twists and turns of my life and the what if questions that accompany those sorts of thoughts. Of all of the 'what ifs' I contemplated, probably none seemed more inconsequential to me as the time when my dad turned down my request for a 10-speed bike.

But in reality, it was likely anything but inconsequential.

I was 14 and still a couple years away from getting my driver's license. A few years earlier my dad had found an abandoned gold-colored Schwinn 10-speed bike in the field of what is now Hubert Olson Jr High. He brought it home and spent an entire Saturday fixing it up and making it ridable -- I was maybe 10 or 11. I remember being out in the garage watching him work on it, figuring it was for him to ride.

When he completed the job he called me out into the garage to have a look. Before I could comment he turned to me and said: "it's yours."

I didn't know what to say.

Sure, he'd given it new life, the best he could, but it was still somebody's throw away and I thought it was ugly. I didn't like it and there was no hiding that from my dad. He sensed my ungratefulness and slammed his socket wrench hard to the concrete floor then proceeded to berate me. I felt terrible. I'd heard the stories about how he'd grown up with so little, and here I was turning my nose up at something he'd love to have had when he was my age. But surely he must have known that what I really wanted was an Orange Krate similar to what Miles Harvey had?

The unwanted bike remained in the garage until it was given to one of my siblings' friends. I don't believe I ever rode it. My dad would sometime later bring home a couple of new, purple stingray style bikes he'd picked up at Sears or some such place and give one each to Keith and me. It was no Orange Krate but it was new and shiny with a banana seat and dual brakes on the rear wheel. I never quite understood the brake arrangement. It mostly served me well.

At 14 when I'd outgrown my purple stingray and began desiring something that would take me further, I reluctantly approached my dad (sitting with my mom at the picnic table in our backyard) about getting a 10-speed bike similar to the one he'd fixed up for me. He turned me down without hesitation or an explanation. I wasn't surprised. There was apparently no forgiveness for my actions of a few years earlier so I offered no rebuttal.

Then how is it that I see his denying me a new bike a 'what if' moment in my life?

Because what if I had been given the bike I desired and then discovered at the age of 14 the benefits of being in shape and taking care of my body? I'm quite certain I never would've started smoking just a year later. What if I had embraced a much healthier lifestyle than the one I fell into—and the drugs? What if I actually did something with my time to instill a sense of confidence in me rather than stumbling through the next four years, eventually flunking out of life and ending up in the Navy? Where would my life have taken me had I not opted to enlist?

I ponder all of this because of the significant role my bikes have played in my life going back more than 40 years. They're nearly always present. They're a friend, waiting for me to take them out and talk about whatever's on my mind or just spending time together. They keep me accountable for not allowing myself to fall back to a lazy alternative to my life. I can't put it any simpler than that.

I have no idea what would've become of me had I gotten the bike of my dreams at 14. It seems a small and inconsequential consideration but it's not. I can only surmise and rest in the belief that I was meant to follow the path I've taken with its many hills, valleys, twists and turns that have led me to where I'm at today. I have some lingering second-guesses in my life but no regrets.

It would take several more years but I'd eventually get the bike of my dreams, and so much more. It was very much worth the wait.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Follow-up, a Small Goal Achieved and Counting Steps

I received a response a few days ago from the police officer who did the follow-up on the close call I had with an aggressive driver two weeks ago. He wrote:

"We do take reports like yours seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little while for a follow up. I was able to contact the driver tonight and had a lengthy conversation with the person. Hopefully that was the last time that driver has done it. Seemed to be understanding. And I stressed the fact that while I cannot give a citation for this incident, it has been documented and will be on the driver’s record.

Please let us know if anything else happens on the road.

Thank you,

Vadim Romanets"

That's really all I was hoping for—that he'd have a talk with the driver and put a note in his file so if something like this happens again it may result in more serious consequences.

I got some pretty cool fat-bike decals in the mail for the back of my car. You should get some too. Here's a link to 719 Designs where you can order them.

I don't have a lot of goals these days but I do make up a few as I go. One of my goals (going back months) was to be the last guy to walk off the course at Crystal Lake Golf Course this year on the last day of play. And I was. I had sorta given up on that goal last week when my road bike became my focus. I thought I was done golfing for the year and had even put my clubs away but as our warm weather persisted and the last day of play arrived, I cut my ride short, tossed my golf gear in the car and off I went.

I caught up with Mark and Andrew (I'd met them earlier in the season on the course) on the 6th tee and we finished out the front 9 together. They left for home and I pressed on in the dimming afternoon light, certain there was no way I was going to finish the full 18 holes but I was fine with that.

It had only been a week since I'd played but already there were noticeable changes on the course. Several trees which guard the approach to the 13th green had been taken out and I was disappointed to see that. They gave the hole character and often came into play. The 13th hole used to be the 2nd most difficult hole on the course but not anymore.

By the time I got to the 16th tee the sun was down and the overcast sky rendered any lingering light useless. I was able to see my ball leave the clubhead but that was all. I never found it. I made my way to my car and as I walked off the course I looked back to take this photo, and yes, I was the last one out there. Goal accomplished.

I won't have a membership to only Crystal Lake next year. Instead, I'll have a membership with Public Country Club which will give me unlimited play at more than 16 different courses with Crystal Lake and Southern Hills being part of the plan. More courses will be added for 2017. I'm going to enjoy having a little more variety, plus, it's cheaper than a membership exclusive to Crystal Lake. I've already signed up. I was told they limit memberships and I didn't want to be left out. The only restriction to play with PCC is between the hours of 7 and 11 on Saturday and Sunday mornings—that's not a problem for me.

Since purchasing my Garmin Forerunner 235 last spring, I've been enjoying the weekly step challenges they offer online with other Garmin users. They place me in a group with 9 others who walk or run a similar amount of steps as I walk each week and we compete against each other to see who steps the most. I went from worst to first this past week. I finished strong with 33,000 steps on Saturday and a record (for me) 40,487 steps on Sunday. All of my step data is tracked and I'm notified of milestones along the way. I'm closing in on 2.5 million steps since I've been tracking my progress.

We'll be going to Trinity Care Center in Farmington to have Thanksgiving dinner with Tammy's mother on Thursday and then we'll have our own Thanksgiving dinner at our home on Friday. Claudia and Dublin will be here as will Tammy's sister, Cindy and possibly one other person we've invited.

Wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving to you all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Silver Lining Where I Least Expected It

I've wrapped all of my yardwork for the year and I have my mowers washed and put away. I even took some time to sharpen their blades so I'm good to go in the spring. It's nice to have it all done.

Normally about this time each year, I'd spend nearly an entire day stringing Christmas lights, but not anymore. I started the tradition 17 years ago in my first Christmas together with Tammy and Rachel. I got a lot of enjoyment from it but Tammy has the final say and she would prefer I no longer put myself at risk up on a ladder for such a frivolous thing. It's been a good run but she's right. I suppose I could string some lights where using a ladder isn't necessary but I'm an all or nothing sort of guy when it comes to this.

We're still enjoying some beautifully mild weather and I'm making the most of it—so much so that I haven't bothered to schedule any time for us to blow glass at Foci. It's just too nice out. The days are getting so short and I'm torn about what activities to do each day to make the most out of every hour of daylight. Yesterday had me walking a little more than 13 miles on one of my favorite routes around Orchard Lake.

Tammy drove into St Paul Tuesday morning to join a thousand other protesters protesting the Dakota Access pipeline that is putting the main water source of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in jeopardy as the company building the pipeline plans to run it under the Oahe Reservoir. Ever since I've known Tammy she's had a curiosity and a place in her heart for the plight of Native Americans so this struggle of theirs gives her a chance to stand with them.

It was encouraging to hear that President-elect Trump is reconsidering his countless promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act but I take nothing of what he says seriously—instead, I look at his actions and so far, he appears bent on surrounding himself with extremists to fill key roles in his administration. I had hoped that he was actually a pragmatist disguised as a republican but I should probably stop dreaming.

With all of the levers of power at his disposal and little that Democrats can do to stop him, it will be tempting for Trump to abuse the trust that's been placed in him as he's encouraged by extreme voices—voices advocating for a Muslim registration or voices insistent on making this a Christian nation or voices ignorant to the obvious signs of climate change or voices advocating for military solutions where none exist or voices insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of social programs for the less fortunate or voices intent on rolling back the progress made toward same-sex couples or voices giddy at the thought of eliminating regulation designed to prevent another economic collapse or environmental disasters, or his own self-serving voice. There's lots to be concerned about.

Ten years ago I found myself in a situation where the checks and balances between labor and management within my workplace, the FAA, were removed by a republican administration intent on breaking our union. It was a divisive time where management could tee off on unsuspecting workers with little regard to consequences. And they did. They acted with impunity. Those were the most difficult days of my more than 33 year career and it was all so unnecessary. People that I'd trusted, when given unbridled power morphed into people I no longer recognized.

It was that experience that ultimately forced me to reconsider these people, this party (I was a devout republican then) I'd been supporting along with the voices on the right I'd blindly placed my trust in. Out of that low period for me emerged an unexpected silver lining that would slap me across the face and force me to be ignorant no more. It was a turning point in my life.

Perhaps there will also be a similar silver lining for many on the right in support of Trump who are blindly following along. For the moment. I see little else to be hopeful about at this point with respect to the election of Trump.

But enough of all of that. I've got some pups and a bike that are all beckoning me and so I must go.

Video from last Saturday's ride with 43 other fat-bikers along the river bottoms. Enjoy. I did!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Guy Can Dream

My little-blog-that-could turned 13 last month and this entry marks my 800th post. I'm not sure what I envisioned when I embarked on this all those many years ago but it's been an enjoyable investment of time and I hope to keep tapping out entries for many years to come.

I'll be honest—Tammy and I were saddened, ashamed, shocked and embarrassed by Trump's election to lead our country. Even when I was an ardent conservative a little more than 10 years ago I can't imagine I would've supported someone of his temperament and repugnant behavior and his total lack of preparedness for the job.

I'm actually not surprised by the election results when you consider the amount of over-the-top hatred directed at Hillary Clinton by a republican smear machine that had been relentlessly pursuing her for decades. The party of God sure knows how to hate. That's one of the takeaways for me from all of this. They had abundant forgiveness for Trump and his endless list of faults but not an ounce of that same forgiveness for Clinton. As an aside: in the wake of this election, evangelicals have forever relinquished their moral high-ground to ever again preach to the rest of us about anyone's moral character. Forever.

Congressional investigations of Clinton and the FBI inserting itself into the election with days remaining in the campaign all worked to help defeat her. And of course, there were the WikiLeaks releases along with Russia's hacking of emails of people from Clinton's inner circle that helped to tarnish her image. Republicans and the press, rather than dismissing the ill-gotten gains, made them all frontpage news instead. Sure, there was Trump's "pussy" tape but hey, we men talk like that and grab women by their pussies all the time so what's the big deal?

And the Affordable Care Act was a huge drag on Clinton's candidacy. With Republicans in congress not allowing any fixes to be made to it since it was signed into law, it was only a matter of time before it would begin to unnecessarily and negatively impact people economically. It was all by Republican design and it worked. People suffered but their guy was elected and that's all that mattered to God's Own Party.

It should concern us all that Russia may well have flipped this election in favor of Trump by their hacking efforts to bring Clinton down. And why? It's beyond my ability to make an educated guess but I can't help but suspect that Trump may have amassed some debt from Russia and perhaps Putin thinks he can trade leniency from a Trump administration (we have sanctions on Russia for their act of aggression toward Crimea) for some loan forgiveness for Trump. No, I don't think it's far-fetched to allow my mind to go there, and no, we'll never, ever see his tax statements he promised us. There has to be a reason for Russia's meddling in our election and their apparent preference for Trump that should be of concern to us all.

Our country remains hopelessly and sharply divided along party lines and it's an especially difficult time to be a Democrat with Republicans having won big on election day. Republicans are talking in terms of having a mandate despite Trump receiving fewer overall votes than Clinton. I'm not sure how that equates to a mandate but with control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, it's going to be difficult for Democrats to stop them.

In another era, we never would've seen a political party holding hostage a U.S Supreme Court vacancy but that's where we're at today. And yet, in the shadow of that, I'm seeing lots of posts on Facebook about the need for unity. Yeah, that would be nice but I have to ask—where was this talk of unity the past 8 years toward Obama by Republicans?

I have an image of Lucy with a football and Linus—fooled again.

No, I don't suspect I'll be traveling down Unity Road anytime soon. I and tens of millions of others will work our way through the 5 stages of grief over this election and be smarter and stronger for it in our resolve to right the wrongs as best we can once a Trump presidency has taken its toll. Our politics is always in a state of flux but this new administration and tea-party Republicans are bent on taking us back 50 years and beyond (socially) and seem to be set to cowboy-up and go kick some Middle Eastern ass as soon as they've got their power fully in place. I'm concerned.

I do have a fix for this divide we're experiencing but it's pie in the sky thinking that came to me on the golf course this afternoon. My wish: Trump goes against those in his party (he really owes them nothing) and gives a nod to Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee for the U. S. Supreme Court who has been languishing in never-never land since March. Yeah, I know it will never happen but just imagine if it did that and what if the Senate actually approved him? People like me would suddenly be more than a little willing to consider a search for common ground because right now there's none and that's no way to run a country.

The Cubs win the World Series. Trump wins the presidency. Anything is possible!

A guy can dream.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Final Goodbye and an Aggressive Driver Encounter

How about those Cubs!? I'm not a baseball fan but I did manage to catch some of the play in the World Series. As my friend, Steve says: "you get to watch the best of the best". I can't imagine more excitement in a baseball game than what game 7 offered. Fun stuff!

We're sitting on the edge of our seats here in the US (and likely some other places as well) as we anxiously await tomorrow's voting results between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in addition to many other races. There's lots at stake for everyone and we've pretty much all settled into our camps to ride it out.

The hatred being directed toward Hillary Clinton is unlike anything I've ever witnessed and it's concerning to watch. A relentless and all-out orchestrated effort by republicans to destroy Clinton along with the most unpresidential and divisive candidate in Donald Trump is, in my opinion, to blame for the great divide we're experiencing where family members won't speak to one another and friends have put aside friendships in the wake of it all. Conservative media isn't helping. It's pitiful. We have to find a way to come together once this is over but I'm afraid it's going to take awhile.

We're hosting a small election night gathering at our home for Paula Overby who is running for the Congressional seat being vacated by John Kline who is retiring. She's up against some much better-funded opponents in Jason Lewis and Angie Craig but I believe her main goal was simply to add another voice to the process and I respect her for that, but I don't support her.

We've had the best autumn weather I can recall in years and I've been taking full advantage of it with lots of riding, golfing, and walking. Short pants and short-sleeved shirts are still the uniform of the day here in the Twin Cities, at least for me. 

I was on a walk around Orchard Lake yesterday morning when I got a text from Keith telling me he was on his way back from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He made a trip up there the previous day to bury Mom and Tim's ashes in a plot next to our father. I received his text just as I was coming up on Claudia and Ron's former home on the lake. I paused to look at the retaining wall Tim had built for them years ago. It's one of the few tangible memories of Tim that remains for me. It was a sobering moment as I felt the pains of losing him all over again. I never imagined 6 short months ago that he would be gone from our lives now. Tim and I weren't close but I always held out hope that someday we would be.

Keith made some wooden boxes to hold their ashes and dug a few feet into the sandy soil to bury them.

I had an aggressive driver try and brush me back on Eagle Creek Ave just west of Texas Ave between Prior Lake and Lakeville this afternoon. It's a 4 lane stretch of road that has no shoulder for about a mile but I've never had an issue with anyone being unwilling to share the road there until today. I don't mind drivers getting a little close to me but this driver was nothing short of reckless. Fortunately, I noticed him coming up behind me in a small mirror I have on the inside of my glasses and I rode the white line as he got up alongside me and honked his horn. Had I not done that, there's a good chance his mirror would've hit me. I put a video together and contacted the Scott County Sheriff's office and gave them the link. We've exchanged a few emails and they'll be pursuing the matter. I'm not sure there's much they can do but I'll leave that up to them.

An aggressive driver encounter like that is actually very rare for me. Of the hundreds of thousands of motorists who pass me each year while I'm riding, it only ever comes down to just a few at the end of the year who got stupid and put my life in jeopardy to make their point. Also, I ride with a very bright LED tail light that can be seen from 3 miles away.

Here's some video from last Thursday morning's ride.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Lotsa Leaves and Lotsa Golf!

I still have a vivid memory from my late morning run on October 31st, 1991—25 years ago today. I was on Nicols Rd in Eagan when the snow began to fall and in very little time, it was snowing heavily. My running journal states that we received nearly 30" (76cm) of snow before the storm ended. It's now referred to as the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991 or some such name. The roads would remain a rutted, icy mess for what seemed like weeks afterward and it would make outdoor running extremely hazardous. Thankfully, we have no hint of that sort of weather in the offing for the foreseeable future here in the Twin Cities.

I'm happy to say that my battle with fallen leaves is mostly over for the season. Here's a before and after snapshot of what that looks like. It only lasts a day or two before more leaves find their way into our yard but they'll be easily vacuumed up by my John Deere rider and won't overflow my blue Dick's Sanitation compost bins. I put out 29 compost bags last Tuesday morning with our trash and that's a record for me.

I spent most of yesterday getting the rest of my outdoor projects taken care of: blowing out the underground sprinklers; cutting back some of our shrubbery; clearing out our front garden and setting out our Dracula in preparation for tonight's trick-or-treaters! It's nice to have it all done so I'm not stuck doing it either in colder weather than I'd like or on a day where I'd rather be riding or golfing.

And speaking of golfing—I played more golf during the month of October than in any month ever in my life. It was nice to be able to play without injuries holding me back. I'm still not scoring the way I know I can—I'm middle to upper 80s mostly. I hope to routinely be in the 70s and lower 80s by this time next year. I think that's a realistic goal for me. More than once in the past couple of weeks I've been the only player on the course in the late afternoon when the weather was cool and drizzly. As long as I can keep my grips dry and my hands warm I really enjoy my time out there.

Tammy has taken nicely to retirement and this time I'm pretty sure she's going to remain retired. She had a job offer for a healthcare company but decided not to pursue it. I can sense a more carefreeness about her now that she has her mother situated in a good nursing home and she no longer has any work stressors. I'm happy for her.

It's just past 8:00 and it looks like that's a wrap for Halloween, 2016. In years past, we've had upwards of 120 little tricksters ringing our doorbell but that number gets a little less each year. We've only had 45 so far tonight and I think the next little Builder Bob or Incredible Hulk may get what's left in our candy bowl.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Favorite Route and Catching Up on 33 Years!

I just dodged a bullet. A few days ago I upgraded my 6-year-old MacBook Pro's operating system to MacOS Sierra and found that I was no longer able to access the PC side of my Mac through my VMware Fusion. I didn't appreciate how much I use and depend on that side of my laptop for some of my computing until it was gone. I searched the net for solutions but wasn't able to find anything helpful. Fortunately for me, I had recently used the Time Machine backup feature on my Mac and was able to revert to where my laptop was as of very recently. Whew! I was somewhat doubtful that I'd be able to retrieve the PC side of my Mac. It was a 3-hour process for the revision to take place and I was sweating it a little but it's all intact.

Last Sunday I rode my bike down to the Minnesota River crossing at Cedar Avenue in Burnsville to check out the new pedestrian/cycling bridge that was recently completed and opened to the public. It's in the place of the old bridge that was used up until the early '80s and was closed to even foot traffic about 15 years ago.

I'll be able to make use of the bridge whenever I'm crossing the river into Bloomington and points beyond. There's also a crossing along the south side of I-494 and that's what I've been using up until now.

It was nice to see the bridge but I found a change down there that was of much more cause for excitement for me. First, a big thank you to Excel Energy and the city of Burnsville! The paved trail and the improvements spoken of in the linked article have now been completed and I can once again ride from Cedar Ave on what used to be Black Dog road (and still is but to a lesser degree) to the bike path that runs along the east side of I-35W. This is huge for me!

There was a route I used to take on my bike that I enjoyed more than just about any other—I even had a name for it: it was my Monday Morning Loop. I named it that because for years it was my preferred route on Monday mornings before working the 2 - 10 shift. I had some variations of the loop but they all involved taking Silver Bell road to the river bottoms and Black Dog Road west to I-35W and back toward home. It's been since the spring of 2010 that I've been able to do my Monday Morning Loop.

I first learned of the road when I lived less than 2 miles from it in 1985 after moving back from Huron, SD. I was an avid runner then and I logged thousands of miles down along the river there. I once did a ride-along (more than 20 years ago) with Burnsville police officer, Eric Gieseke, (he's the Burnsville chief of police now) and one of the places we patrolled that night was Black Dog road. He mentioned how it was probably the most dangerous place for police to patrol because backup help could be as much as 8 minutes away due to how remote the area is.

Anyway, I'm happy about being able to ride my Monday Morning Loop again and felt it deserved a big mention here in my blog. Here's a photo I took on a ride in October 2009. You can contrast it with the photo from this week to the left.

I had a visit last Sunday from a friend from decades ago. I first met Steve early in our FAA careers. Steve retired from Columbus, Ohio tower 5 years ago. We've been connected on Facebook for more years than that but it had been more than 33 years since we'd seen one another. Steve and his wife Penny were in Madison, Wisconsin last Saturday to watch their Ohio Buckeye football team score an overtime win against the Wisconsin Badgers to remain undefeated. Steve and Penny have season tickets to Buckeye games and are ardent supporters. They decided to do a road trip to see their team play in Wisconsin and figured that since they were kinda-sorta (4 hours away) in the area, they'd stop in to say hi. It was so nice to see Steve again and to meet Penny. We enjoyed our time with them and hope to be able to return the favor and visit them out east at some point. I only regret not having a photo of us to post here.

Here's some video from last Sunday's ride and yes, the guy in the truck at 2:37 was being a dick!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall has Arrived as has Dublin

I'm listening to Kings of Leon's new release, Walls, as I write this. I have no doubt that Tim would've been all over this if he was still with us. Perhaps he had his own pre-screen listening from wherever he's at.

I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I love the cooler weather, fewer mosquitos and the changing colors but I hate to see the sun going down so soon when there's still so much I'd like to be doing outdoors. I cut back all of our hostas and some other perennials over the past few days and I pulled the flowers from the backyard garden today. I'll be out in the yard for much of tomorrow as I do battle with fallen leaves. I'm up to 20 bags of compost so far on my way to between 55 to 60 bags before I'm done for the season. Yes, I actually keep track.

The pups also love the cooler weather. We were out a few nights ago and Toby kept wanting to run nearly the entire 2.25-mile walk. He was so happy, passing up many of his usual pee-mail spots to keep running instead. Poor Allie, she had no choice but to run along with him as they share the same leash.

Speaking of pups—we've been caring for my sister's little Yorkie named Dublin while she's been away on vacation to (of all places) Dublin, Ireland. He's the most adorable and shy little guy with his cute little head tilt and ears that seem to sit on his head in a cockeyed way. About twice each day he'll get wound up playing with one of his toys otherwise he's content to follow Tammy wherever she goes. He's sort of imprinted on her. We're definitely going to miss him and his antics (see the video below) when Claudia returns to take him home in a few days.

Yes! We finally made it back to Foci. It had been 18 months since we were last there. We had hoped to be back sooner after we found a new home for Tammy's mother but then summer came along and too many other interests got in the way.

But we're back!

It's going to take a few sessions for us to get up to speed but we're happy to be in the studio and doing it once again—and nothing crashed on the floor! Which probably means we weren't trying hard enough. I was content to do a few tumblers as was Tammy. I've got us on the schedule again for next week.

I woke up this morning to a rafter of turkeys (did you too just learn something new?) making their way through our backyard—ten of them in all. I got a closer look a few minutes later when I had to leave for an oil change appointment. They've been hanging out in the neighborhood for at least a month. Pretty gutsy on their part with Thanksgiving just around the corner!

I'm on my 2nd time through Walls as I finish this. Tim would've approved. He's the one who first turned me on to their music although I confess it took me a while to realize the beauty of their sound. It usually takes me a few listenings of a song or an album before I warm up to it but this one is working for me right out of the gate. Thanks, Tim!

Say hello to Dublin. He wants to play!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I'm a Work in Progress

There! I did it! I finally scheduled us for some bench time at Foci next week. It's been nearly a year and a half since we stood in front of a 2300º F furnace with a dollop of molten glass on the end of a pipe working it into a form. Hopefully, our limited skills will come back before too long. I'm excited to feel the heat again.

I've been getting out to the golf course more than I ever have and I'm pleased that my ribs aren't protesting. I golfed 18 holes each of the last 4 days without any issues. I played with Steve yesterday at Southern Hills in Rosemount and really enjoyed our time together. It had been more than 20 years since I'd last played the course and part of the enjoyment for me as we walked along was the nostalgic aspect of it. I remembered some of the layout but not all.

I mentioned to Steve how much my life has changed in the time since I was last there. I think it's safe to say that the last time I played Southern Hills I had no idea my marriage to Noy would soon end or that I'd entirely quit the game of golf both because I could no longer afford to play and because I wasn't enjoying it anymore. It was a sudden stop and one with little time spent looking back. I even gave up watching golf on TV—something I used to love to do. Instead, I found much needed solace on my bike. But there were some big changes ahead for me as Tammy and Rachel would soon enter my world and give me the best years of my life. I didn't see that coming.

Our lives are full of unforeseen life-changing events that can set us on an entirely different path and while those changes at the time may seem like they're for the worse, I try to look for a silver lining or a lesson of some sort that I can grow from. It may be difficult to see in the moment and for some, it's clearly not there but often, if we're patient, it comes into view.

I've mentioned here before that I was a terrible student in high school, finishing in the bottom 10% of my class while doing just enough to get by. Rather than attending college after my senior year as most of my friends would do, I worked a line-job in a factory in St Louis Park making bundt pans. I knew right away that it wasn't the future I wanted and with my sister's encouragement, I enlisted in the Navy. It was never my plan to serve my country and to be honest, there was nothing patriotic on my part in making that decision. I was on the verge of flunking out on life and this was my last good option.

It would end up being one of the best decisions of my life. I've told the story here if you're interested.

The Navy didn't really prepare me all that well for life without a uniform and I struggled a little to find my way after I was discharged. I entered Inver Hills Community College in the fall of '81 to work on the general studies I'd need before settling on a major. I had dreams of becoming an architect and although my high school grades would cast a good amount of doubt on my ability to realize those dreams, I was acing everything that was put before me in college, mostly because I was actually trying for the first time in my life.

But my life was about to take another turn.

The autumn of '81 was the same time when over 13,000 air traffic controllers were fired for striking and the FAA was scrambling to find replacements. I took the aptitude test along with tens of thousands of others across the country and did well but I nearly took a pass on the offer of a seat at the academy in Oklahoma City because I was enjoying being a student at my little community college. I have my dad to thank for helping me to see the opportunity that was being put before me. I packed my bags and left for Oklahoma City with Keith accompanying me for the all-night drive in my silver Pinto station wagon.

It was a decision I'd come to question but still, I trusted in God that all things happen for a reason and I'd put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

My 14-year marriage to Noy would fall apart in 1997 in what really amounted to a blindside for me. I thought we were doing well but apparently, we weren't. My life's course was about to change direction in a most unanticipated but welcomed way when Tammy and Rachel came into my world.

It's our life experiences that hopefully result in some self-reflection along the way—reflection that molds us into who we are but not only that, it's also how we choose to respond to those unexpected obstacles which cause us to lose our footing or change direction that most defines us. There are lessons everywhere if we look for them.

The next significant turn in my life played out in the workplace in 2006 when controllers were forced to accept a contract from management that was unnecessarily heavy-handed and caused more strife than I ever imagined could exist in my workplace. It was this period of time where I finally did some serious reflection about a Republican party I had been too willing and too trusting in my support of throughout all of my adult life yet it was this same Republican party that was directly behind the unnecessary turmoil we were all experiencing.

I was an avid listener of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Fox News among other insidious voices I was subjecting myself to. I had no idea the extent to how deep-in-the-weeds I was with this hardcore, right-wing ideology I'd cozied up to but once I began to push back against it and truly question it for the first time for myself, it all came crumbling down. Every last brick. It was one of the more freeing things I've ever done. And that for me was the silver lining I'd take away from the "white book" days at work with the FAA—that my eyes were opened. Fully.

None of us are born with an innate understanding of the complexities of the world and if you find that you're never changing, always on the same path, never veering from what you've always believed or had instilled in you or felt in your core—perhaps you're not trying hard enough to see the world from another perspective and maybe you owe that to yourself.

Personally, for me, there was no shame in realizing I'd been hoodwinked. There would've been shame in not being honest with myself and holding steadfast to my faulty beliefs as I saw them.

There's an important election coming up in the US. Vote with your head and not your heart. Take some time to reflect and understand why it is you feel the way you do about the choices we have. It's important that we get this right as best we can. It's also important that we move forward and not backward. Together.

I'm grateful for the challenges in my life and for the understanding that I'm a work in progress.

And that includes my golf game!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Rachel's Adventures, One Last Move and Taking a Knee

Rachel made it safely home after a full week of camping. Their trip took them (if you're directionally challenged at all you're going to hate me for what follows) west through South Dakota and into southwestern Montana then south through Idaho and into southwestern Utah before returning home through Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa. She snuck in unnoticed early Monday morning and crashed on a couch after driving through the night.

After recuperating from her drive, she spent an hour filling us in about the details of her trip. Much of the planning they'd done had to be entirely reworked on the fly because of heightened bear activity warnings in West Yellowstone where they'd planned to camp. They made the most of it and had some very memorable experiences. She also took some beautiful photos along the way. They all pushed themselves to their limits at Upheaval Dome with not enough water or food for the 8 hours the hike required. Oh, and they stayed at a campground for swingers! Fun memories! I'm looking forward to seeing what she puts together from her GoPro video.

We're very happy with Trinity Care Center, the facility in Farmington where Tammy's mother, Elaine, is now staying. We have nothing good to say at all about 2 Caring Hands where she'd been residing since leaving our home in May. There were many red flags along the way while she was there but Tammy had been hoping she'd be able to change the way they operated, to bring them up to speed but it wasn't to be. She's going to sit down over the next few days and write out her concerns and forward them along to whatever county agency follows up on these matters. Anything short of closing their group homes down won't be enough. Their website description of how they market themselves and how their homes actually run are entirely different. The final straw for Tammy came when she observed the residents being fed their evening meal at 2:30 in the afternoon and then put to bed for the night after they'd finished eating while the aid taking care of them was working a 60-hour shift with no relief. There must be more regulation of these sorts of facilities because right now, there are some that are flying under the radar while falling woefully short of the mark for their residents with no repercussions whatsoever.

There's an ugly sort of patriotism that's infected our country. Maybe it's always been this way and I just never noticed. Colin Kaepernick began the dialog by taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at a preseason NFL game recently. He explained why:

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

I can't disagree with him and he gets much respect from me for his peaceful protest.

There was a time not all that many years ago when I'd have been one of those booing Colin. I used to be a proud, flag-waving patriotic guy but I've been steadily moving away from the old me. Maybe it's the way I find myself cringing whenever I'm perusing Facebook or online sites and I see a comment by someone with a flag and an eagle depicted together in their profile photo. The comments associated with those who love to flaunt their patriotism this way are too often the source of some very bigoted and ugly right-wing drivel. Anyone who spends even a small amount of time in online forums knows what I'm speaking of.

And now I see how so many on the right are beside themselves with disgust and anger at those who would dare not stand for the playing of the anthem (as if they stand in the privacy of their homes when the song is played before a game). I'm seriously considering staying seated the next time I find myself in this situation. It has nothing to do with disrespecting people who have sacrificed for our country but everything to do with stopping this ugly, nationalistic faux thing that passes for patriotism with so many today and doing my part to stand up to it—or sitting down to it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

To Be a Conservative Christian Today...

You know, sometimes I seriously question my religion. But then I think about it and I decide that it's more so conservative Christians that I question, until I ponder it all a little more and find myself at a place where I'm not only suspect of conservative Christians but I'm back to questioning my religion as well because of the influence a conservative agenda has had on Christianity. And today, conservatives are enjoying tremendous influence on the church.

My faith is strong, in that, I believe in a higher power but the tenants of my religion are very much in doubt.

I was in a Facebook discussion a couple nights ago with a friend I used to work with. He was talking about Obama and how before his term is up "He is going to declare martial law, because of an economic crisis that he orchestrated." He then went on to talk about a CNN report about a financial meltdown that was going to happen on 9/27/2016. (It was actually a bogus CNN report that's since been taken down but those on the right seem to eat this stuff up.) He was throwing out a bunch of biblical scripture related to being prepared against the enemy and blah blah blah. His assertions were some of the more ridiculous I'd read in a while but they were coming from a normal, rational guy who used to control planes alongside me and someone who is no doubt a conservative Christian.

I asked him what he thought about President Obama to which he replied "snip...He is the worst President in history, and his record will prove it out, wait and see."

I see this sort of talk a lot from those who identify as conservative Christians and who quite likely lap up an unhealthy amount of right-wing radio and Fox News. They're able to somehow wipe away the past of 8 years ago when our country was on the brink of economic ruin, involved in an incredibly expensive and ill-conceived war in Iraq and led there based on lies foisted on us by the Bush/Cheney administration. Yet the man who presided over the collapse of our economy and the destabilization of the Middle East (George W. Bush) is a good and honorable man to them while they have nothing but scorn for Obama, the one who was handed this bag of shit and expected to fix it while republicans sat on the sidelines and obstructed him in ways not seen since the days of Harry Truman and the do-nothing Congress of the late 1940s. I will never for the life of me understand how people can be so divorced from reality.

So what does this have to do with my religion? I'm getting there—stay with me, please.

To be a conservative Christian today, you have to believe that the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) must be repealed and have no concern whatsoever for those with preexisting conditions who were previously uninsurable.

To be a conservative Christian today you have to stand against LGBTQ people and deny them any role in serving God in your church. It matters nothing at all that others in the church are allowed to blatantly flaunt their lavish lifestyles of excess and idolatry—they just can't be gay.

To be a conservative Christian today you're probably an ardent supporter of our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms—something I just don't see Jesus being in support of.

To be a conservative Christian today you need to believe that Christmas is under attack because others would rather take Jesus out of this celebration and make it the pagan holiday it started out as. Never mind that Jesus most surely is abhorred by the way we celebrate him in an obscenely materialistic way.

To be a conservative Christian today you likely have a vitriolic hatred in the core of your being for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton. You just do. There's no rational reason for this hatred other than the fact that conservative media has most likely instilled it in you. Just know that you're among good company feeling this way as you congregate on Sunday mornings to talk about loving one another in a display of full-on cognitive dissonance.

To be a conservative Christian today you had to have been totally aghast at President Clinton for straying outside his marriage while championing those who had him impeached yet you're fine with supporting Trump who has at least as bad a track record as Bill when it comes to infidelity.

To be a conservative Christian today you have to strongly oppose allowing some of the most desperate and innocent people in our world safe refuge within our land as they wash up on distant shores having fled war with nothing to their names in search of safety and a new life. You don't care that Jesus would never, ever act in this cruelest way as you turn your backs on them and return to your life of countless blessings.

To be a conservative Christian today you have to believe in war. You have to be able to sit in church on Sunday and learn about the lessons Jesus taught us about loving our enemies but abandon his most basic fundamental teaching and rush headlong into war with little or no thought given as to why.

To be a conservative Christian today you most likely have a very distorted view of Muslims. Terrorists parading as Muslims no more represent Islam than do members of the KKK represent Christianity. It makes no sense in my view that you're accepting of 33,000 lives lost each year due to gun violence but your real fear lies with terrorism that takes on average less than a half dozen lives in the US each year.

This list could be longer but I've made my point. To be a mainstream Christian today you need to act in a way that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and makes a mockery of who he was and what he stood for.

And this is why I'm struggling with all I've been taught by the church. What can I truly believe after seeing how the message of Jesus has been so thoroughly corrupted by those who identify as mainstream Christians today? This course the church is on was not the one charted by Jesus. We are so lost at sea and the boat is full of people who are furiously paddling in a totally wrong direction, myself included.

Is it possible that the men who wrote and assembled the bible were men with an agenda much like the men today who guide the church while cozying up to corrupt politicians to further their agenda? Did God really think it was right for a rape victim to be required to marry her rapist or was that just the way Moses felt life should be? Did God really think it was okay to wipe out scores of people because they didn't believe in the writings of Moses but I'm to believe that God and Jesus are one and the same and that Jesus now wants us to love our enemies? The Trinity: there's no mention of it in the bible but try and refute it in a mainstream Christian church and you'd likely be given a sideways glance and possibly labeled a heretic.

The early church was one where believers would sooner die for Jesus than to fight in his name but then along came Emperor Constantine in 323 AD who changed the church's thinking, and people were now killing in the name of Jesus. Are we any better today?

This religion of mine really is a mess when you start questioning it and I'm growing weary of trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the actions of his followers—especially those who proudly claim the mantel of conservative Christian—those who make up the vast majority of believers in the US.

So when I see the stuff my friend was putting out there on Facebook the other night and knowing that his sentiments are those of too many others in the church along with so much other lunacy being embraced by conservatives today, I just want to throw my hands up and say fuck it! What's the point? If this is what it means to be a Christian you can count me out. I've got my belief in a higher power—maybe it's Jesus—maybe it's not. I really don't know what to believe anymore thanks in large measure to those who have distorted beyond recognition this thing we call Christianity.

All I know is that I don't have all the answers and looking at those who have attained positions of leadership in the church and their followers who march lockstep behind them while they collectively rebuke our current president and those of us who disagree with them, I can see that neither do they.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cool Campers and Big and Little Flyers

Rachel is on a camping trip out west with friends. She takes her camping seriously as do the others she's with, and it shows in their preparation. But for all of the planning they've done, they've had to "go rogue", as they're referring to it, because of high bear activity warnings along their intended route in addition to more snow and cold than they anticipated this early in the fall season. So, they're making it up as they go.

Tammy and I were never ones to want to camp. My parents used to own 40 acres of land in Webster, Wisconsin when I was in my teens and they would routinely make the 2-hour trip up there on Friday afternoons with my younger brothers Keith and Tim when the weather allowed.

They would pull a trailer home behind my dad's 1971 lime green/yellow Ford F150 pickup truck and park it up on top of a hill in the middle of the forest of land they owned. I would occasionally accompany them but for the most part, I would remain behind at our home in Bloomington and try to not get in trouble. I was mostly successful. I do recall one spring melt when several Tall Boy beer cans made their presence known, scattered throughout the backyard, and my dad questioning me about how they got there or the cigarette butts in the fish tank (left there by friends after a night of partying) that I'd failed to notice before they did. Like I said—I was mostly successful. Why they would leave me behind is a mystery to me. I must've been a real PIA for them to be around is all I can figure.

Rachel recently talked to me about a trip to the Boundary Waters with her next summer. I'd like to think I'd do okay roughing it but I suppose I won't know for sure how it appeals to me until I try.

Rachel just posted an update on Facebook as I write this. They're in Moab, Utah today.

I got a text on Sunday morning from my neighbor, Bob.
Bob: "What u doing. Wanna fly at 11:00?"
Me: "Of course. Where to?"
Bob: "Maybe mason city for lunch"

And so we did. Bob has been a pilot for 50 years and has all sorts of ratings and experience.

There was some low-level turbulence but otherwise, the flight went well. I have to admit that while I very much trust Bob and his piloting skills, the thought did cross my mind while we were up there: what if Bob suffers some sort of stroke or heart attack? What then? He offered to let me fly the plane and after hesitating at first I jumped at the chance the second time he asked. I needed to have at least a fighting chance at getting us down safely should it be necessary. It wasn't necessary.

And getting us on the ground was most definitely tricky. We had a 60º crosswind with gusts to 25 mph. Bob commented once we got on the ground that he couldn't recall a more difficult landing in his last 20 years of flying and that he had the rudder deflected fully trying to keep the Piper Archer lined up with the runway. It's a much more exciting experience than, say, Power Tower at Valley Fair. You know you're going to safely come off that ride so there's really no danger involved. You can never say that about a flight in a single-engine plane. It adds to the excitement! At least that's how I see it.

This blog post continues after the video below.

Our hummingbird feeders are busier than they've been all year as the little guys bulk up to soon make the long journey south. I change out the nectar solution every other day in our feeders and had to laugh yesterday as I was trying to hang the bottle because there was one brave, thirsty little guy who was drinking from the feeder while it was still in my hand.

I'm sitting on our deck as I write this and they're buzzing past me chasing one another like miniature fighter jets. One hit a window the other day and lay unconscious on our deck for a few seconds before getting up and flying away. I'd have felt terrible if it had died.

And of course, I've got some video of them from my GoPro mounted just above them as they fed. I'll miss these little guys when they're gone and hope that my prayers bring them back safely next spring.