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 60ยบ 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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

From 3D to VR, Redeye Memorial and Other Mentions

I used to love my GAF Viewmaster as a kid. I got one as a gift when I was a boy and I would sit and look through it for what seemed like hours on the couch in our front room getting lost in the 3D images inside it. One of the photo reels I especially liked was of the Grand Canyon. It was so breathtakingly real to me. Tammy actually bought me a newer version Viewmaster several Christmases ago but (not surprisingly) it no longer held my imagination the way my original one had.

I suppose I'm guilty of being a sucker for anything that's 3D. I used to play around with making my own 3D photos. Here are two examples I did of stained glass lamps I made: Dragonfly lamp and Laburnum lamp. And here's a link to a set on my Flickr account where I have several more.

So I thought it was kinda cool when I went to the mailbox a few days ago and found a package from Google and inside was an un-asked for Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer; sorta like today's version of a Viewmaster. This thing is actually quite cool when paired with your smartphone as it opens up a poor man's version of virtual reality which works quite well. I have no idea why they sent me one—perhaps yours is on its way.

Edit: I just got a call from Rachel after she read this blog post. "You knucklehead—that was your birthday gift from me!" Oops. Looks like all y'all will have to order your own. Thanks, Kiddo! It's perfect!!

Tammy has officially retired once again after being fired from her job as a nurse at the group home where her mother is staying (hopefully for not much longer). We were happy to have Elaine move there last spring but since Tammy has been more intimately involved with the inner workings of the home, she sees where they're coming up woefully short in the needs of their residents and not only at that home but at the 3 other homes they operate. Tammy has been trying to make the changes necessary for them to meet at least minimum standards but the owners have been reluctant to want to work with her. Some of the deficiencies are serious and she'll be following up with Dakota County to express her concerns. The other two nurses she worked alongside have submitted their resignation notices in support of Tammy.

She had hoped that this last adventure into the world of nursing before fully retiring would be a rewarding one but it hasn't turned out that way. She's content to feel that God had her there for a reason and that some amount of goodwill ultimately come from it.

Speaking of being retired—I've successfully completed 1 year of retired life as of a few days ago. That was an amazingly fast year! I also took part in my first Redeye Memorial Golf Tournament at Fountain Valley Golf Course in Farmington and saw some faces I hadn't seen in quite a while; one of those being Pat Guider (wearing the orange shirt in the photo to the left). Pat and I began our careers together in Oklahoma City in March of 1982 but he retired 13 years before me. Several faces didn't make the group shot, including mine. We scored poorly but it was a nice time. I pocketed $5 and a sleeve of balls for closest to the pin on #12. Woohoo! I'll be back next year.

We've hit nearly all of the happenings on our must-do list this summer after having spent the day at the Renaissance Festival on Sunday. We missed out on everything last year so we were intent on making up for lost time.

It had only been a couple of years since we'd been to the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee so we weren't expecting the changes we saw as we walked the nearly half-mile from our car to the entrance. We would learn later that the people who run the festival have always leased the land and that the land sits on "the prime source" for the kind of limestone dirt that's used in baseball diamonds around the country. Their lease expires in 2019 and they hope to have in place their new digs down the road in either Jordan or Belle Plaine in 2020. Until then, they'll continue to host the event on land that looks about to be overrun by heavy-duty excavating equipment chomping at the bit for the go-ahead signal.

Reid and I met up early Saturday morning before the sun rose and drove 2.5 hours east to Neillsville, Wisconsin to ride the trails at Levis Mound. Reid had heard some good things about the trails there and we had to find out for ourselves if they were true.

They were awesome! Maybe a little too awesome for us.

The trails were easily the most technical either of us have ever ridden and at times it showed. The scenes where we had to push our bikes up some climbs didn't make the highlight reel in the video below but yeah, that happened and we gave it all we had. I even had the chance to check out the crash detection feature of my Garmin 820 that I spoke briefly of in a previous post. My front wheel got caught in a dip between some planks and my momentum took my rear wheel and me up over the bars and planted me flat on my back somewhat faster than I could comprehend it happening. I shook it off and we continued our ride while I imagined how I might try and explain to Tammy the several places on my legs and arms where I was bleeding from.

And explain I had to. I was actually hoping to sneak into the shower before Tammy saw me when I got home but she busted me as I came through the door. With eyes wide open and with several questions about what happened, she was insistent that that would be the last time I'd ride Levis Mound. Ha! Tell that to the irrepressible boy in me!

And the idea that a shower was going to erase my wounds was folly. They're gonna be awhile in the healing phase.