Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trickle-Down, Glass Work, Zwifting and Visualize This!

I've been avoiding politics here for awhile because there's already so much talk of it out there but every now and then I feel the need to go on the record with my thoughts about what's happening in our world.

A dozen years ago I was a firm believer in trickle-down economics. It just made good sense. Give corporations a tax break and they'll surely turn around and reinvest those extra dollars in their people. I never factored greed into the equation. But now that we've got a 30-year history of failed trickle-down schemes it stuns me that any reasonable person could possibly think it deserves another shot. But that's what Republicans have done, signing into law a huge tax cut for corporations that will no doubt leave their upper ranks flush with cash. Oh sure, they gave us peasants a sugar-high of a tax cut as well but it's written with vanishing ink and will disappear after a few years. Meanwhile, our national debt will continue to grow unchecked as this latest scam is estimated to add an additional $1.4 trillion of debt over the next 10 years.

I'm not entirely opposed to creating tax incentives for businesses to prosper but I think any tax breaks should be tied to a requirement that any corporation receiving them needs to provide a living wage with benefits to their employees. To not require some sort of commitment on the part of corporations (and the tax bill does not) and to expect that they will do the right thing out of some newfound goodness in their hearts is pure folly. Greed will be the driving force that will once again scuttle this fantasy that's now become law.

But as I said after the last election: maybe it's a good thing that Republicans won it all -- the presidency, and retained control of both houses of Congress. Yes, they're doing a lot of damage to the country (fiscal irresponsibility, a zealousness to roll back as much regulation as possible no matter how necessary, and preparing to deport DACA immigrants to name just a few) with their power but perhaps that's what it's going to take to open the eyes of so many people who are blindly following the voices of right-wing media and a president who is incapable of telling the truth about anything.

Switching gears.

I continue to spend a fair amount of time each week down in our glass shop producing pieces for my Etsy store (shameless plug). It's relaxing work and I'm enjoying engaging the creative side of me again. I'm using a program called DeltaCad to do the design work.

The dashboard to an Etsy account has a fair amount of information but the one thing it provides that's most important to me are the key search words that bring people to my page. I learned today while doing some research about enhancing my site's exposure that it's important to list as much information about each piece in the title and not just the tags portion of the listing. I was under the impression that it was the tags that generated the traffic. I went through and changed all of my titles to make them more descriptive and it seems to have helped. If someone is searching for "frank lloyd wright stained glass" or "frank lloyd wright suncatcher" I'm indexed on the first page. If they just search "stained glass" they'll likely give up before they find my work because there's so much stained glass out there and apparently the algorithms don't know enough about me yet to give me the nod.

I had a fun workout on Zwift tonight using my indoor bike trainer. Zwift is a program where I can ride on a virtual course where other riders are also out there pedaling hard; riders from all around the globe. It's quite cool. I rode with a guy tonight from Brazil. No words were texted between us but we both knew we were pushing each other as we shadowed one another for most of the 26 mile (42 km) route. I would surge and he'd match my effort and then he'd try and shake me while I pedaled hard to stay with him.

What's cool about Zwift is that you can see how hard of an effort people around you are putting out. We were both hovering around 3.5 w/kg (3.5 watts per kilogram of weight) with surges sustained around 4.8 w/kg. It was fun. I did what in the ATC world would be called a "quick look" and looked closer at his data to see how about hard he was working. I could see his heart rate, cadence, and his age. It's mostly interesting info to know but I was curious how hard he was working because I was going deep. At one point on Leith Hill my heart rate spiked at 178 bpm! I hadn't seen that number for awhile. But mostly I would see how well he could keep up when I'd apply more watts. I beat him on both big climbs and I was happy about that considering he was 23 years my junior. After the race, er, workout I received a message informing me that he was now following me on Zwift. I returned the gesture and followed him as well. I can't say enough good things about indoor training on Zwift!

I received an email from my niece Emily a few weeks ago and in it was a video that her husband produced as part of a competition called Visualize This! Challenge. Emily does the voiceover for the video. I found it both informative and impressive. Her husband Jarno won first place in the competition out of 80 submissions. Theirs is the first video of the three. Have a look.

Visualize This! Challenge

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goals, Then and Now

Excuse me while I reminisce a little.

42 years ago tonight I was in my first few days of boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago. I remember sitting in my barracks on New Years Eve 1975 and thinking how a mere three weeks earlier enlisting in the Navy was in no way one of the options I was considering. I had watched nearly all of my friends leave for or enroll in college that fall while I remained behind working factory jobs with no real future plans.

I acted on my sister's suggestion and went to speak with a Navy recruiter in Brooklyn Park. Chuck Wilson would shepherd me through the process. Everything happened so quickly after our initial meeting where I took an exam to see if I qualified for any schooling after boot camp. Chuck then scheduled me for a physical examination at a facility in Minneapolis. I remember asking him about how late in the recruiting process could I still back out. He replied that once a person has had their physical he likes to think they've made a commitment. And so it was at that point that I accepted this new road I was on and vanquished any remaining doubts.

It was a pivotal point in my life but not one that I recall seeking advice from either of my parents about. They had left for Pottstown, Pennsylvania one year earlier with my two younger brothers while I was in my senior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Bloomington. My dad supported me while I was still in school but probably not much after that. I can't recall for certain. It was mostly my brother and brother-in-law who encouraged me to sign up.

I've always been goal oriented in my adult life but not so much yet at the age of 18. I do think though that I realized I had to do something with my life other than what I had been doing and that was motivation enough for me to enlist. Honestly, as I look back I can't think of any goals I set for myself other than maybe trying to move up from bagboy to stockboy at Penny's Grocery in Lohman's Plaza a mile from home. My world was still quite small then as were my ambitions.

The first real goals I recall setting for myself were ones I made that involved my bike, such as riding from San Diego to Campo and back or up to Oceanside and back. Those early days on my bike were some of my first experiences where I challenged myself and pushed myself to find my limits on roads like this. The endurance athlete in me took root and gave me a confidence and belief in myself that hadn't existed before. I wasn't out there to prove anything to anyone but myself. My bike became my focus as did my fitness. In a lot of ways, I'm still the same person I was all those years ago.

I wasn't getting the book-smarts my friends were getting in college but I was progressing in my own way, and I had to be content in that. My goals would expand to saving enough money to buy a new frame and parts to go with it in addition to finishing my enlistment and finding my way to college while supporting myself. There was a lot on my horizon and I was chomping-at-the-bit to begin my next phase of life.

But that's enough of my past for this blog entry.

I enjoy reminiscing like this but it's also kinda sad when I see how fast my life is moving. I would give anything to relive the previous 42 years or at least slow time down. I love the zest and curiosity for life that I've been given and I'm thankful for it but lately, I can see where my time here is finite and that's not something I'm ready to think too much about just yet. And so I keep moving and keep challenging myself.

I'm not much for making life-altering resolutions to begin the new year, instead, I'll just put some milestones out there to try and work toward and see how I do. I'd like to bike 6000 miles (9600 km) and walk 2000 miles (3200 km) in the coming year. I think both are very doable. I'd also like to achieve a golf handicap of 8 by this time next year. And I'd like to see if I can establish my niche and gain a following at my Etsy store by steadily building my inventory and occasionally promoting my work. I've been enjoying dabbling with stained glass again and I find a lot of satisfaction in producing my art. Also, rather than volunteering time working on mountain bike trails I think I'd like to find a more meaningful volunteer opportunity. I have a friend who drives elderly people to appointments. That appeals to me.

Here's wishing you all the best in 2018.

I'll leave you with a video from this past week. We've been invaded by Star Wars characters!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I Just Need To Be Me

I'm 22,029 days old; or said another way, I'm 60. When my father was this same age it was February 18th 1986. My mother was my same age on February 25th 1988. (You can make your own calculations with this calculator.) I sometimes find it interesting to see myself from a different perspective -- a perspective where my dad and I are on equal footing with respect to age. It's something that causes me to squint my eyes a little and think really hard to recall thoughts of my father from back in the day.

My dad and I were alike in a lot of ways but in many more ways we were complete opposites. It wasn't until I was in the Navy and working as a radarman that I learned my dad had held the same position when he was in the Canadian Navy. You would think I would've already known that. 

I can count on one hand the number of times we sat down and just chatted about life in a meaningful way. I don't think I was the exception among my siblings in this regard but perhaps I was. It wasn't that he was a quiet man because he wasn't. He and my mother used to talk for at least an hour each evening in our front room after he got home from work. She'd fix them both a drink and he'd tell her about his day while she would occasionally get up and tend to what she was making us for dinner. At least that's how I remember it.

When I was brought home by the police after getting caught drinking underage (I was 16) he made sure I got up for work the next day despite being in no shape to do anything but stay in bed. I finished my 8 hour shift at Penny's Grocery and came home expecting the worst. "Your father wants to talk with you" my mother told me. I went to where he was in the front yard. His head was down as he kneeled on the grass pulling at some weeds. I'm not even sure if we made eye contact. He told me that if I ever wanted a drink I could do it at home. That wasn't really my idea of drinking but I promised him there wouldn't be a next time and that was that. The discussion lasted less than 30 seconds, and I resumed my life without changing a thing.

Still, what I needed from him was a more meaningful relationship; someone who would both challenge and encourage me. It would be years before I'd come to realize that.

He flew into San Diego, CA in April, 1978 while I was there serving out my enlistment. We had a day and half together, swimming in the pool where he was staying at the Sheraton on Harbor Island, playing mini golf and going out to dinner. It was good, quality one on one time and I will always remember it. I brought him aboard the ship I was serving on and showed him around. And I showed him my bike. He had bought me a white radio that clamped to my bike's seat-tube that I could listen to while I was riding. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd never use it.

I stayed with my parents for a few months when I returned home from the Navy while I figured out what my next steps would be. My dad was still as busy as ever, tinkering with whatever project he had in front of him on his workbench or adding to his woodpile. He was a good provider and had he not encouraged me to take the job offer from the FAA there's no telling where I'd be today because I was determined to remain in school. There's much about him that I have to be thankful for. But as I write this I can't help but think that it's entirely possible that I live my life the way I do, engaging the boy in me because on a subconscience level I don't want to be like my father. I don't mean that in a negative way. Maybe I'm over-thinking it. I just need to be me, and that leaves little room for the guy I always imagined I'd be at my age.

Thoughts of my dad came and went this morning while I was on a ride with some guys. I was doing something that I never could've imagined him doing at age 60 but how cool would it have been if that was something we could've done together. We weren't the type to go deep in a conversation with each other but I have no doubt we could've connected on a ride where we're pushing each other, testing each other and respecting each other. Two men meeting as boys and letting the trappings of being adults and the walls we build around ourselves fall away.

A bike can do that.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hello Winter and Happy Birthday, Tammy!

I've been staying busy down in our glass shop working on building an inventory of miniature stained glass panels/sun-catchers for my Etsy account. I had one sale right away last week when I went live with my virtual storefront but nothing since then. I plan to add some lesser expensive panels to my inventory to entice people to take a chance on someone like me with no track record or reviews to recommend my work.

Expand the photo to the left to see a collection of some of my pieces. A few in that mix are copies of designs done by Frank Lloyd Wright; they're not for sale.

I'm enjoying losing myself in the art form again. I let Pandora supply the background music and can easily spend 6 hours or more at a stretch working on a project. It's relaxing.

I'm officially certified to flip Lefse unsupervised! Tammy gets together with her aunt Joyce each year around this time to make several dozen of the Norwegian flatbread. Joyce was here last week but Tammy needed to make even more for a luncheon and I offered to help. It goes better with two people. It was actually a lot of fun. We're planning to make them again in another couple weeks.

Until recently I could take them or leave them but then I discovered how good they are with ham and cheese. I'm now a big fan of them.

The pups and I had a really good week of walks but I'm afraid our walking days are going to be much less now that winter seems to have arrived and settled in. I was out walking in shorts and a t-shirt doing my Orchard Lake loop yesterday afternoon just ahead of a cold front. It pushed through last night and on the backside of it we had lots of wind with rain that eventually turned to snow but not before leaving our roads with a thick coating of ice. Our temperature dropped 20ยบ in just a few hours. I don't mind the cold and the snow; it's the ice I can do without. We had more than our fair share of it last year, so much so that I barely made it out to the trails on my fat-bike because I don't have studded tires.

Tammy and I have had a couple of full days. We finished yesterday at The Angry Inch, a brewery in Lakeville where we gathered with the faithful from 3 other local Lutheran churches to sing Christmas songs, munch on snacks and drink beer. It was a lot of fun.

Today was Tammy's 60th (can I say that?) birthday. We spent the day bumming around together. We strolled Mall of America and made a few purchases. We were going to go out for dinner later but decided to stay put and open a special bottle of wine that I'd had hidden away -- a bottle of 2013, Conundrum, a California red blend. It's so smooth and a bit more expensive than we're accustomed to. She's worth it!

Global Fat Bike Day was last Saturday. There were nearly 50 of us in the group I was riding with. I would've preferred to have had snow to ride on but I wasn't about to complain about the mild day we were blessed with.

Until next time!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Francis Jennings and the Seisable Johnsons with RaeNelle Ostberg, and a Side Hustle

Tammy is deep into the series Game of Thrones. Season 5 is sitting on the bench in the laundry room waiting to be returned to the library. She's often up in her craft room watching it while working on projects. Every once in a while I'll hear her yell out, "Oh noooooooo!!" I know enough about the series to know that many of the favorite characters are killed off when you least expect it. I think I'll pass. Cindy (Tammy's sister) was in town this past weekend and they went to see Daddy's Home 2. Tammy said it was "hilarious!" I think that's more my speed.

We went to Tammy's nephew's home for Thanksgiving and enjoyed ourselves a lot. Brady and Kaylee's 2 little ones provided most of the entertainment. It was nice visiting with everyone (John, Stacy, Rick, Karen, and Eric were also there) while watching the Vikings try and lose a fairly large lead. Kaylee used to be the lead cheerleader for the Vikings until recently and can only cheer them on in spirit now. It must've worked because they held on to win. And what a delicious Thanksgiving meal they put together!

Rachel's boyfriend Drew and his bandmates were playing a gig at a bar in Rochester Friday night so we went down earlier in the afternoon to spend some time with them and Drew's mother before the show. Jenny is so nice and we enjoyed our time getting to know her more. We went out for dinner before arriving at the bar an hour before the show. We thought we were plenty early but we had to scramble to find seats. It was a full house!

Francis Jennings and the Seisable Johnsons with RaeNelle Ostberg didn't disappoint! Here's a playlist of most of the songs from the evening. What a fun time! My favorite song of the night is embedded below. Halfway through recording it, I'm thinking to myself, this is really good!

I was watching WCCO, Channel 4 news a couple weeks ago and they featured a segment about people supplementing their income with what they referred to as "side hustles". And it just so happens that I'm one of those people they were talking about. I recently reactivated an Etsy account I'd set up a while back to feature some of my glass work. I uploaded some photos of what I'm selling a couple nights ago and already this morning I received an email from Etsy informing me that one of my pieces had sold. How cool is that?! I carefully and hurriedly packaged it and got it off in today's mail with a personalized note of thanks to the buyer for their support.

Here's a link to my Etsy account. I only have 3 pieces there now but I hope to add a few more this week of the lesser expensive variety.

The panel that sold was one I'd made last week and put up on my Facebook page. Here's a link to a photo of it.

I first got the idea for jumping in the Etsy waters when I noticed a woman on my Instagram feed gaining quite a following with her stained glass work. It intrigued me because she's relatively new at the art but this "side hustle" for her has her struggling to keep up with demand for her work. Here's a link to her Instagram account. She has a unique following in that her work is mostly of bats, dragons, spiders, skulls and the like. Not really my thing but she's found her niche. Perhaps there's a niche for people looking for small, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired sun-catchers!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Le Pup Walks, Le Ride and Le Riding

I've been getting in some nice walks with Toby and Charlie in the cooler weather. I use various Garmin devices to track my activities throughout the week and I recently decided to track my walks with the pups separately rather than mix them in with my solo walks or golfing; mostly so I could more easily see how far we're walking together each week. The results are in -- here's a typical week for us. That's 13.45 miles (21.65 km). Or viewed another way. I mentioned in a previous blog post how Toby loves to run. He's not at all an alpha-male but when he's leading us in a run and Charlie tries to take the lead, Toby runs even harder to stay in front, sometimes leaning his body into Charlie to keep him from passing him. I think that's so cute!

Tammy and I went to see Le Ride a few nights ago. It played across the country for one night only in select theaters. I was prepared to go alone but Tammy was also interested in seeing it. There was a time when we both used to love to watch coverage of Le Tour de France but that was when Lance Armstrong was winning it. It's not quite the attraction for me now that it once was although I still maintain a passing interest in it.

The movie/documentary chronicled Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race host) and his riding partner's attempt to circumnavigate France along the same route that was ridden in the 1928 Tour de France, and they did it on bikes from that period with very few upgrades! Intertwined in the video shot by Phil's crew were historical accounts and footage from the 1928 tour, focusing on a 4 man team made up of 1 rider from New Zealand and 3 Aussies -- a team that wasn't expected to survive the 1st stage. The word "epic" is too often used to describe long distance cycling efforts but this one is truly worthy of that descriptor. The only thing lacking for me in the film was any discussion about forms of "doping" that were likely employed by riders back in the day to get them from one stage to the next -- but it was legal then so maybe that's why there was no mention of it. I would guess that the movie will be available to download or purchase at some point. We both highly recommend it.

I've dusted off my indoor trainer and fired up my Zwift program once again to enable me to ride throughout the winter in the comfort our basement. I've been riding indoors for more than 37 years and never in those early days (or even 10 years ago for that matter) could I have imagined indoor training being what it is for me today. It's incredibly motivational. My nephew Brent picked up on my enthusiasm (at least I think he did) and recently purchased a smart-trainer and signed up with Zwift. Brent lives in Texas but we were able to ride together for an hour early Saturday morning on the roads of Watopia. It's quite cool! I kept him working hard for the 3 laps we rode together but he beat me in the sprints. Too fun! I can't say enough good things about this setup for indoor riding.

After my rendezvous with Brent I had to hurry to get refueled and out the door to meet up with a group ride on some gravel roads south of Lakeville. I'm typically a loner out there but it's nice to occasionally have some company to ride with. I think I see more of this in my future.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

There's No Sweeter Guy In My World

I was hoping to get in at least a few more rounds of golf this year but my golf season has come to an abrupt end. Our temps have cooled considerably to where we're hovering around freezing with no relief in the long-range forecast. But even if the weather were to cooperate I still can't play. I crashed my fat-bike at Murphy last week and landed hard on my chest, injuring my ribs on my right side. I think I may have caught my right pedal on something causing me to crash on a part of the trail that's not at all technical. I was down before I had a chance to react. My left leg was cut up as well as my face just to the right of my right eye. I hurried home and cleaned up before Tammy could see me but there was no hiding from her that I'd crashed.

Crashing goes with the territory, especially on the trails.

And if I'm honest with myself I have to admit that I've avoided trail riding for much of the summer because I know there are risks on the trails and I didn't want to be sidelined and have to sit out much of the golfing season. I tried to hit some balls yesterday at an indoor golf simulator as part of a group lesson but I had to quit early. I could tell I was doing more damage to my injured ribs. Between golfing and riding I seem to injure my ribs quite a lot, and it's always around a 6-week recovery. I rode indoors today but I really need to get back on the trails and sharpen my skills there.

Toby turned 14 last August and he's showing his age. He struggles to see, mostly in dim light, and his hearing is all but gone but when we're out walking he's happy to run and run and run. I have to give an occasional tug on his leash to keep him out of storm drains and to make sure he safely negotiates curbs but for the most part, he does well without my help. He'll sometimes be looking for me in the house and he'll walk right by where I'm sitting and not see me. I'll wave my arms to get his attention and that usually works. There is no sweeter guy in my world. Charlie is a close 2nd but he's such a taunter and a dickens -- Charlie Dickens as we sometimes call him. He's a precious guy as well.

Steve came by a couple weeks ago and we were able to get the wisteria stained glass lamp hung above the table in the front room. I find it a nice place to plunk down with my laptop, and Charlie enjoys being able to watch the world go by from his new perch. I made the windows in 1994 and they've been displayed there ever since but they were always somewhat hidden away. Now that we've mostly removed the wall separating the kitchen from the front room they're much more noticeable and I like that. The wisteria lamp used to be above the kitchen table. This is a new and improved place for it. We're really happy with the new look and the function of the space.

Rachel and Drew went to a Halloween party last weekend dressed as John and Yoko. I told her I had to have a photo for my blog. I think they nailed it! We're looking forward to seeing them in a few weeks. Drew will be playing with his band at a gig in Rochester and they've invited us down to watch them and shoot some video.