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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Change is good

The first change is the location of the blog. I am switching from Blogger to WordPress. The blog itself is now at http://www.tealowljourney.com and I'm still making minor tweaks to the imported posts. Some of the formatting got mangled during the conversion. I am about 40% of the way through the old posts. I like the extra functionality such as email registration and social network integration. Have a look around! Hosting is at First Degree Systems. The website will be down for a couple of hours on Tuesday, February 26th so please be aware of that.

Our weather is in flux now. This February is one of the snowiest on record already. Today's snowfall didn't have a lot of moisture in it, but it caused problems on the roads. I hope everyone have safe travels today. I have already used the snow blower more this month that I did all last winter.

The Amaryllis bulbs were a flop. The large one failed set a flower stalk and the small one has signs of wet rot when I bought it. The large one will go dormant in a few weeks and I will try reviving it again. I have a forsythia cutting in water now. It should bloom within four weeks. A splash of color is always a welcome change even if it takes some time.

The back-and-forth weather shows we are getting close to spring. Change happens and it isn't always easy or smooth. Our days are getting longer at this latitude. We have gained almost three hours of daylight since December 20th and are picking up nearly three minutes per day of daylight. The cold snaps are shorter, which I welcome. The seasonal tug-of-war is causing some strong winds at times. Solar angle is more favorable as evidenced by melting snow on an asphalt driveway when the temperature rises above 10°F. Soon the white shroud covering the ground and coating the trees will give way to green and life.

Babies are another change in some people's lives. My cousin Diane will be a first-time grandmother July 25th. I have mentioned Lucy's cousin Chris eagerly waiting on her grandson's birth. Those are wonderful changes.

New jobs and new careers are other changes. The economy has caused a number of changes with some people branching in new directions. I applaud your courage and vision, Mary, and I am proud to help any way I can!

My changes have not been as exciting. Enough time has passed to determine the new normal and I'm still making adjustments. Life is a series of changes and adjustments are part of the process. Lucy never quit and she inspires me to keep trudging forward. Joy and happiness are gone, but hope remains.

Mark Twain said "To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with" and his words are still true over a century later. Dr. Suess said "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened". It is not easy, but it worth remembering. Hope allows us to smile when surrounded by despair and gives us a reason to keep plugging away.

Spend some time with your special someone and get that full value of joy. One can never have too much joy.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today can be hard for people who have lost a loved one or suffered a divorce. It may seem that Love has fled and will never return. Draw on the love of your family and friends. It helps ease the loneliness and helps fill the emptiness. Lucy passed away ten months ago yesterday, and yes, it seems like ten centuries. I am so thankful for everyone's love and support!

Others may have a loved one afar because of business or military service. Call them or set up a video chat with them. Technology has done much to bridge distances. Hearing a special voice or seeing a special smile makes a day so much better.

As for the rest of you, spend some time on Valentine's Day with someone you care for or love. Be thankful you have that person or persons. Take advantage of some of the Buy One Get One free offers. An extra hug or kiss is always a welcomed gift.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Happy birthday, Lucy!

Lucy would have been 55 years old today. I realize that blabbing a woman's age is considered uncouth, but Lucy always joked about being eager to turn 55 and take advantage of some senior's discounts. She loved a bargain and she hardly aged until chemotherapy.

Groundhog's Day was three days ago. In the Northern Hemisphere, Groundhog's Day is the mid-point of winter and the mid-point of any season can have unpredictable weather. One year we went to Twins Fest for her birthday and we had a flat tire on the way home. It was about -25°F with a wind chill close to -40°F. A few years ago it was close to 50°F with a light rain in the morning and a sunny afternoon. Lucy's birthday usually was cold but rarely stormy.

This year started out overcast and blustery with about an inch of new snow on the ground. As today progressed, the wind died down, the sun came out and the temperature is valiantly trying, albeit failing, to reach 30°F. She would have enjoyed the cardinals serenading the surrounding area today. It is surprising at how loudly they can sing for their size and how far the song can carry. The robins that overwintered are out and about as are the goldfinches and black capped chickadees. Goldfinches molt to a dull tan plumage in late fall but their song and flight pattern doesn't change.

Birthdays were special to Lucy. She made it a point to acknowledge birthdays of family and friends. She spoiled me through the years (and I spoiled her in return), but my birthday was a Very Big Deal to her. She would go to Dairy Queen or Culver's and pick up an ice cream cake for me. Believe it or not, we could get one of those to last a week. She knew what Buy One Get One Free offers I had for my birthday, so she would figure out how to optimize them to the fullest. That was a nice win-win: she got to spoil me and she didn't have to cook for about two weeks. The best part of the day was when we were waking up and she would have a huge smile on her face and wish me a happy birthday. I couldn't ask for a better birthday present, and I treated her the same way on her birthday.

I think the reason birthdays were so special to her was we shared holidays with our families but our birthdays were for us to celebrate. When she celebrated a birthday with her siblings, I usually was not along. It was her time to celebrate with her family. Perhaps that's why getting older never bothered me. It meant I would get another birthday celebration with Lucy.

This year is going to be very different. She won't be with me for her birthday or Valentine's Day. Qdoba Mexican Grill has an offer every year on Valentine's Day for a buy one get one free burrito. The catch is you have to kiss someone to get the offer. Last year we spent most of the day at Suburban Imaging waiting on her CT/PET scan. From previous scans, we discovered that Lucy would have mild nausea from drinking the imaging solution and from nerves, so having a burrito afterwards was out of the question. This year is unlikely because (a) it requires having someone to kiss and (b) I don't want to use a straw to eat a burrito after irritating someone too much.

Please keep Lucy in your thoughts today and help make her day special. Remember the love and joy she brought into your lives. Spread that love and joy to your someone special and maybe spoil that person a little today.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Slip slidin' away"

Paul Simon's song of remorse and longing could apply to tonight's weather. My location dodged the freezing rain, but sleet covered the roadways with a few billion icy ball bearings. Braking on nearly frictionless spheres is not conducive to optimal stopping distances. There are a few drivers in large four wheel drive vehicles who seem impaired in logic and feel that blasting down the roads at 10+ mph over the posted speed limit will not affect their vehicle's braking power. The tow truck companies will have a profitable day today.

The weather put a damper on my plans today. I had planned on going to the orchid show at the Como Conservatory today. I couldn't find anyone to go with me and did not want to attend it alone. By the time Annette told me about the brunch at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the weather was starting to become a factor here in Bloomington.

Lucy really enjoyed attending the orchid show the years we attended. She was fascinated by the beauty of the flowers coming from exotic and tropical locations, and I was happy tagging along and spending quality time with her. Our next orchid viewing would come in June at the Arboretum when the lady's slippers would bloom. Believe it or not the Minnesota state flower, the showy lady's slipper, is an orchid and several types of lady's slippers are native flora. Lucy's parents had lady's slippers growing in the bog. Embarrass, MN gets extremely cold during the winter. Their home was close to a peat bog near a river, so the cold air stayed concentrated. I could count on Bob letting us know several times during the winter that it was colder than -50°F before wind chill. Summers were short and muggy and yet orchids survived in those conditions. Orchids in the northeast corner of the state and prickly pear cactus in the southwestern corner always cause disbelief in people from outside the area. Beauty is not always frail. Lucy's battle taught us all that lesson.

The electrical work Lucy and I wanted done is completed. I could not have it done during her battle because of the dust. Her immune system was working hard enough the way it was without introducing particulates. Midwest Electric and Generator did a great job despite working in sub-zero temperatures for part of the work. I think she would be happy with the ceiling fan in the living room.

It has been fun getting caught up with some of my friends. Mary and I had breakfast a couple days ago and I got to hear about her new business venture and what she wants done for her website. It was a fun couple hours and I enjoyed her witty banter. It knocked some of the rust out of my brain. Patty was kind enough to make a fabulous meal for my help with her iPhone. My cousin Julie and I worked ona craft project together (OK, she did the majority of the work). Suzy and I had lunch about a week ago, so I am getting out occasionally.

Ken and I will be getting together after the weather warms up and I hope to meet up with Gerry sometime soon. We may not get above zero from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon. Monday and Tuesday potentially can drop more sleet and ice on the area. Groundhog's Day is about a week away and it marks the halfway point of winter. Getting a later start on snowfall has help make the winter more bearable and seem a little shorter.

One of the nice things about blogging is not being constrained to a subject or a deadline. Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" has a verse that could describe blogging despite being written in 1872:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."


OK, the oysters did not fare well after the walrus uttered his soliloquy, and I hope that reading this does not make you long for boiling water. I do thank you for reading sticking though the blog's transition and I hope I've provided a modicum of entertainment along with my ramblings and philosophical pontificating.

Spend some time with someone special to you and give that person a hug. For those of you in a cold clime, cuddle if you have someone. It will keep your life from slip slidin' away.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The warmth of a hug

Minnesota in the winter can get cold. Cold weather can induce a variety of creaks, pops, groans and other unusual noises which will rouse me from a deep slumber. Those are usually from my knees, shoulders, back and neck. The house will also have some peculiar noises from the uneven contraction of building materials. With the wind shifting to predominately northwest, the airport is using their alternate runways which occasionally cause an international flight or cargo flight more laden with fuel than other planes (called "heavies" by air traffic controllers) to fly lower over Interstate 35W a mile east of me. Cold air is more dense so the planes have more resistance to overcome. That density also causes the sound to be louder and carry farther.

Today was the first day in just shy of four years where a midnight to midnight maximum temperature did not exceed 0°F (-18°C for my metric friends) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the official National Weather Service readings are acquired. There were several days during that span where the temperature was one or two degrees above zero at midnight, but slipped below zero by the 1:00 am reading. For those who heard it is the coldest weather in the past four years, the talking head on TV is wrong unless it drops down colder than -33°F tonight. The forecast low is -12°F.

The wind was steady today with some surprising gusts. Cold weather can be lethal. One increases survival chances by preparing. Utility workers are often times called out to do an emergency repair in weather most foul or frigid. When I went out today, I knew the battery in my car is good, I keep it maintained, the heater works, and the OnStar, heated seats and remote starter are nice.  I also dressed in layers in case I needed to wait in the car if something unexpected happened, like a flat tire or getting run off the road by a drunk driver.

I had not planned on venturing out today. The original plan was to help a friend with iPhone ringtones sync issues, but that was done yesterday and everyone had a great meal and a lot of fun (thanks, Patty!). Today I got to spend time with my cousin Julie. Her work schedule is really crazy so we don't get much time together anymore. I had two days in a row where I got to laugh a lot and enjoy good meals. I am so happy my schedule was flexible enough for me to enjoy those opportunities.

Tomorrow could get interesting. I have Midwest Electric coming over to replace my breaker panel and do a couple other wiring jobs. That means no electricity and no furnace for at least four hours. It could get a bit nippy during that time. I'm not worried about the pipes freezing because the house temperature will not get that low. I think the cold will motivate the poor person doing the outdoor wiring and attic wiring to work quickly. These are tasks Lucy and I wanted to get done. Now I have the time.

Today was also National Hug Day. I hope all of you participated at some point. Give your loved ones a meaningful hug tonight, cuddle if you have someone, and thank you for your time!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Melancholy Man"

The bad part about having a music player on shuffle while getting housework done is sometimes a song hits one right between the eyes. Today's song was "Melancholy Man" by the Moody Blues from 1970. Today marks nine months since Lucy left this life. I had not heard the some in quite some time, so it added to an already emotional day.

A few days ago I was at the VA hospital in Minneapolis saying goodbye to an old acquaintance. I met Marty in 1979 when we worked together. He flew helicopters during the Viet Nam war and sometimes I could pry a story out of him. He didn't like talking about the war; I found out later that is typical of combat veterans that saw too many of their unit come home in flag covered coffins. He was also a bit of a loner, an only child who never married. Through the years we would occasionally bump into each other on a contract job or at a restaurant. Marty's had ALS and severe dementia. I think he just turned 70 in September. I had heard from a mutual colleague that it was time to say goodbye to him. I'm quite certain Marty didn't recognize me and he seemed to be mostly unaware of his surroundings. I don't know if that was a blessing or curse for him. Afterwards, I went to Minnehaha Falls which is really close to the hospital. It was nice getting some fresh air and seeing how wonderful the falls look even though they are completely frozen right now. He died Friday afternoon.

I did squeeze in a quick trip to visit Mom and Dad. By quick, I mean getting there Thursday afternoon and leaving early Friday afternoon due to impending freezing rain. There were a couple things I wanted to do for them while I still had time. I hadn't counted on a trip into Sioux Falls to pick up some stuff at Home Depot that the local Ace Hardware didn't carry.

Julie, Suzy and Brady came over to visit today. I was very happy having visitors, especially people I love deeply and those who aren't soliciting donations for a charity. We had lunch at the new (in the past six months) El Loro's restaurant on 84th and Lyndale. I was surprised at how many different items were on the menu. Lucy wanted to take me to the El Loro's in Savage, but we never quite got to it. It was very emotional for me when they left, and Julie saw me starting to break down. Poor Julie, I feel bad for doing that to her.

I was lucky that in the past couple days I got to spend time with loved ones. It helped get the new year on the right track and it was very good for the soul.

Let your loved ones know you care. That has helped brighten many a sad day for me, including today. Enjoy some time with someone you want to spend time with, and give that person a meaningful hug if your relationship permits. In the meantime, I have to start separating my songs into playlists so I don't get hit hard while driving.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

So what will the New Year bring?

The Mayan calendar began a new epoch without incident. Some people are now trying to figure out how to reset their credit cards after maxing them out because the world was going to end. They would have bought my oceanfront property in Nebraska sight unseen had I been devious, er, foresiteful enough to advertise it. You can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

While the Lunar New Year won't occur until February 10th, the Julian calendar year 2013 A.D. began a few days ago. We have transitioned from the holiday season. I've disconnected the outdoor Christmas lights and taken the ornaments and garland off the tree; the tree will be put away tomorrow. Christmas decorations are finding their way back to boxes and storage bins. It's beginning to look a lot like an ordinary time of the year.

We have not had any fresh snow in several days and have had some days near freezing. Our snow has a grayish patina of dust and sand and nearly all the cars are the same drab gray color from road salt. There are some bursts of color. Some people wash their cars almost daily, and the two-tone winter beaters, rust and some other color, are commonplace. There are several pair of cardinals riding out the winter, their colors muted by their winter plumage with an occasional blue jay making a noisy appearance. Discarded Christmas trees are showing up curbside throughout the neighborhood.

This week is supposed to harken above average temperatures and a chance of rain. After next weekend the temperature begins a slide to a few sub-zero evenings and below average days. It all averages out in the end, assuming the forecasts are correct. We are about four weeks from Groundhog's Day which is the halfway point of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring is coming. Hope springs eternal.

People have tried to foretell the future accurately for centuries. The Oracle at Delphi, seers, soothsayers, magicians, wizards, Nostradamus, mathematicians, meteorologists, bookies, pollsters: all have had varing degrees of prognostication success. Here are a few predictions I recall reading though the years:
  • The Vikings this year would have a 5 - 11 season and Adrian Peterson would have an off year recovering from ACL surgery.
  • The Twins would finish in third place and have a winning season.
  • The period after 1973 was supposed to usher in a new ice age with rampant global cooling.
  • Romney was going to be elected by a three percentage points margin according to polls in August.
  • We were to be a paperless society in the 1990's and the United States would be using the metric system exclusively by 1976.
  • A manned mission to Mars would occur by 1999.
  • Jesse Ventura had no chance getting elected governor of Minnesota.
  • The world's population in 2010 was to exceed 11 billion people.
  • Dow Jones 30,000.
It is not for wont of trying that these predictions were wrong. In ancient times, the tea leaves, animal entrails or natural signs would provide guidance. In modern times, we perform exhaustive analysis on empirical data. Sometimes a crucial piece of data is missing or goes unnoticed. Sometimes randomness completely changes everything. Sometimes we change the event by taking action and thus introducing unpredicted consequences. Sometimes we bias the data by seeing what we want to see rather than what is happening. Try as we might to predict the future, we are not perfect. Rock, paper, scissors. Flip a coin.

Humans like order and control. The universe is multidimensional chaos and disorder (entropy). Going with the flow is not easy. We all will experience times when everything is out of kilter and nothing seems to make sense anymore. That is when we are fortunate to have our friends and loved ones helping us. Rebuilding the shattered ruins of a life after a tragedy is damned tough. Having people take the time to help while they, too, are rebuilding is priceless. Not only are you helping rebuild someone's life, you are rebuilding that person's hope. Since we can't accurately predict the future, we rely on hope to get us through our day-to-day lives. Tomorrow will be a better day. It only gets better from here. We hope things get better and that hope give us the strength and incentive to try again tomorrow.

For those of you who endured a suboptimal (OK, lousy) 2012, I hope you are finding solace and hope in the new year. If 2012 was a good year for you, I hope 2013 is an even better year for you. Let your loved ones know you care and give them a meaningful hug!

Monday, December 31, 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Many of you will recognize the title of tonight's post as a snippet of the first sentence (and paragraph) of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. That one sentence in its entirety, 119 words, 169 syllables with a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease of -34.1 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 47.6. The two metrics, courtesy of Readability-score.com, would at a passing glance indicate that sentence would be impossible for most people to read much less comprehend. Yet the juxtaposition of the best of times enjoyed by England and the worst of times endured by France in 1775 is easily understood along with the subtle mockery by Dickens of "its noisiest authorities". "Giving him/her the dickens" was a phrase meaning giving someone the devil back in Shakespeare's time, a couple centuries before Charles Dickens took pen in hand, though Mr. Dickens made a literary career out of bedeviling the unjust.

The past year was a study in juxtapositions. For some of you, it was the best of times. There were births, graduations, engagements, promotions, weddings, new homes, favorite teams making the playoffs, and other celebratory achievements. For others, including me, 2012 was the worst of times. There were deaths (and far too many of them), divorces, lost jobs, lost homes, player lockouts, misfortune, and dashed hopes. And for the remainder of you, 2012 was a just year, not good nor bad,  indistinguishable and immemorable from other years.

Humans are optimistic by nature. For thousands of years we have looked to the New Year as an absolution of  the shortcomings and misfortunes of the old year and look forward with optimism that the new year will be better. It is more than huddling with people outside to see a ball or some other object drop, cuddling up with someone special while watching television coverage of new year's celebrations worldwide, or hoping for a kiss from someone special at the stroke of midnight, though all are enjoyable endeavors.

New Year's symbolism echos our optimism. The melancholy and decrepit old year is ushered out and the joyous and innocent baby new year is pressed into service. Our old year is weary from our tribulations, melancholy from our sorrows, and decrepit from the burdens we bore while our new year is energetic, happy and fit. We have weathered millennia of tragedy and strife and no doubt will face other challenges in the upcoming year, but for this brief instant in time, all is happy and well. "Out with the old and in with the new" indeed.

For those of you on the roads tonight, please be careful and lay off the joy juice before driving. If you're outside watching something drop (besides the temperature), stay warm and enjoy yourself! And for those of you spending time with loved ones (or just a loved one), make the hugs meaningful and enjoy your first kiss of the new year. Happy New Year and may 2013 be better than 2012 for all of you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'Twas the night after Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone. The presents have been opened, the meals have been enjoyed, the dishes are done (or mostly done), and for many of us, our travels are completed...until the stores open for after Christmas bargain shopping, returns, and preparing for the New Year's party. I tip my hat to those of you in retail who made it through the day today. I also hope that everyone had a happy and safe Christmas.

I spent Christmas Eve at my brother's place in Goodhue. My parents also made the trip from southwestern Minnesota. John and Nina hosted a very nice gathering. There were new foods to enjoy and a lot of laughter to share.

My nephew Jake was there and introduced us to his girlfriend. It's hard to believe he's old enough to be dating much less having a driver's license. I also found out my friend Kellen's daughter Amanda got engaged. In both cases the Romans would have shaken their heads and muttered "tempis fugit" which roughly translates to "time flees". Albert Einstein once explained the theory of relativity by saying "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." The happy times seem to fly by so quickly while the unhappy times drag on for an eternity.

Christmas Day was my day of solitude. It wasn't a long, sad day and I got through it. I visited Lucy at the cemetery and saw there were very few human tracks besides mine in the whole cemetery. Dawn Valley is only about 30 acres so I can see just about the whole area from the roads through the cemetery. There were deer tracks at nearly every grave that had a wreath or flowers placed. It was also one of the few times I have been there when there as no breeze. That was a blessing since the temperature was only about 10°F at 4:00 in the afternoon. Suzy called last night to chat which was appreciated. It was so different without Lucy actually being with me.

I met my cousin Julie for breakfast today. We went to Jensen's Cafe in Burnsville. It was my first time there, and I was surprised at how huge the servings are and how steady the business was (parking sucks). I haven't had a chance to see her since Lucy's funeral so it was nice getting mostly caught up. I have a couple friends I hope to catch up with next month.

Technology has allowed us to stay connected to loved ones, at least when the technology works. There was quote an uproar over Netflix having a several hour outage on Christmas Eve. Working technology has allowed us to reconnect with friends and family living thousands of miles away. I am quite grateful for those advances. Email is nice, but seeing a live smile is better. Phone calls are more personal, but a face-to-face conversation is still so much better. Skype and other video communication services come close, but can't transmit a handshake, a hug or a kiss. There is something intangible about contact that technology will never match.

Take a few minutes to set aside the shiny new Christmas present device (or the not-so-new device) and hug a loved one. In my area of the world it is cold enough where a hug warms a person on the outside, too. That's why the pause button was invented!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ordinary World (8 months today)

I've mentioned before that Lucy enjoyed music. Two of her favorite songs were by Duran Duran, "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World". "Ordinary World" was written in memory of a friend of Simon LeBon, the lead singer. The lyrics are both wistful and hopeful, what you would expect after losing someone close and trying to rebuild a life without that person.

Even after eight months, the world is still not ordinary but it's a lot less cold and dark. Much of that is attributable to one amazing and several wonderful people. At this point the new ordinary is a world with almost no joy and fleeting happiness but I'm adjusting to it OK. I still miss Lucy, and I always will.

Joy and passion are inexorably intertwined. My career in software development lasted as long as it did because I was passionate about quality development. Development requires a great deal of creativity and creativity blooms from passion which is fueled by joy. As such, I won't be re-entering the software development industry any time soon. It's hard to do a great job when one's heart isn't in it and I refuse to merely put in time or be a burden on a development team.

Perhaps that sounds much more dour than it really is. Lucy spoiled me in the years we were together, and I spoiled her in return. I cannot remember a day I spent with her where I was not happy, and nearly all the days were filled with joy. Looking back over the past 240+ days since her passing, I can count one day of joy and maybe a dozen with happiness. The rest are just days, though thankfully only a few could be counted as bad days and a few could count as good days. I had to adjust expectations for the first time in many years. It's part of the healing process. The landscape has completely changed and I am learning my way around and finding new landmarks. Happiness is a glow on the distant horizon that gets a bit brighter as I plug away at moving forward.

Of course there are positives. I am thrilled for my friend Gerry following the birth of his fourth grandchild earlier this morning. Lucy's cousin Chris is waiting on the birth of her first grandchild in late March and perhaps some of her stories will be in "The Minnesota Farm Woman" blog. I also reconnected with a friend I hadn't seen in a couple years and had quite a bit of fun despite my newly acquired anxiety of crowded places and each of us changing our appearance over the past few years. There have also been an assortment of friends and family starting new jobs, moving to new homes, or becoming newlyweds. It's been a very busy few weeks. I wish all of them well on their new endeavors.


The house is decorated. I'm finishing off a couple Christmas letters to get the last of the Christmas cards in the mail. It's hard to believe, but the kitchen is presentable after the whirlwind of baking. Getting housework done is still a challenge. My hat is off to the single parent maintaining a full time job, a house, and a child or several.

The 10.7" snowfall Saturday night has settled a bit because of some above freezing days and sunshine. We are expecting another round Saturday. This may start as freezing rain with some ice accumulation first. I hope the forecast is wrong as I would rather deal with a foot of snow than a tenth of an inch of ice.

Christmas plans are always fluid because of weather. Lucy would have her Christmas shopping nearly completed by Labor Day. I'm still trying to figure out what people want. Plans and presents should be closer to finalized in another week.

My biggest accomplishment was baking some traditional Christmas goodies that Lucy (primarily) and I would make every year. I managed to do so without burning the house down, having a profanity-laced tirade or creating a hazardous materials incident. I made enough to share with Julie and Suzy. None of us required emergency care after ingesting the piirakkas or red velvet cupcakes. I do have to admit that for the cupcakes I broke down and bought Betty Crocker Buttery Frosting rather than make a creme cheese frosting. I'll chalk it up as a win. Hey, they're still talking to me...I think (just kidding!)

Take some time during the hubbub of the season to rejoice in the ordinary. Be thankful for a routine and navigating a familiar landscape. Life can still be an adventure which does not require exotic surroundings. Give your loved ones a meaningful hug and thank you for your time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Transitions and Traditions

It is the holiday season in the United States. We celebrated our Thanksgiving Day on Thursday. Christmas and New Year's are roughly four and five weeks away, respectively. These holidays are traditionally the most family oriented. Loved ones from far and near gather to celebrate, to once again feel the warmth and love of family.

Those families likely have traditions as part of their celebrations. The smell of familiar foods wafting from the kitchen, a sports event or favorite holiday movie playing on the television, singing, reciting stories or poetry, or perhaps the making of an ethnic recipe handed down from generation to generation are part of the tradition. The familiarity of the traditions are what makes the holidays special.

Loss of a loved one disrupts those traditions. There is one less chair at the holiday table, one less smile in the crowd, one less laugh filling the air, and one less person to hug. Decorating the house is different. There may be one less function to attend. There may be fewer memories and stories from years gone retold by an elder family member. A traditional recipe may go unmade. Each of us has an important role in family traditions.

The first holiday without a loved one is the hardest. Part of the healing process is a transition period where we learn how to move forward without our loved one physically present. Traditions change either subtly or radically as part of that transition. Sometimes a role may be shared amongst several family members. Sometimes the role remains unfilled.

I am very lucky. I spent Thanksgiving with most of my family and spent a wonderful Saturday with Lucy's cousin and sisters. I missed Lucy, Bob and Betty. But I also had Annette, Julie and Suzy giving me smiles and hugs and we all shared laughter. It was the best day I have had in several months.

Decorating the house for Christmas has been a story in its own right. That was Lucy's domain and she always did a phenomenal job with it. I decorated the outside but she did the inside. I know now she was very creative at finding places to store ornaments and decorations. In the time it took me to get the tree into the basement, she magically managed to put away all the decorations and ornaments despite needing a walker. She continues being extraordinary even after her passing.

It took a lot longer to decorate the tree this year. Lucy would normally put the lights up during the Saturday after Thanksgiving, then put the ornaments and decorations on the next day. I think she wanted to see the tree with just the lights on for inspiration.

I got the tree up on Saturday and lights put on today (Sunday). Part of the delay was because I had to find where the decorations were stored. In the process of discovery, I found she had kept every Christmas card we had received through the years, well over 500 of them. Those holiday cards were a time capsule containing memories. Some of the cards either had lengthy inscriptions or letters detailing the joys and sorrows of the previous year. Others contained photographs showing growing families. I was lucky I had a wonderful Saturday or these finds would have been very emotionally draining.

In keeping with Lucy's tradition, the lights and the tree topper are on the tree. The ornaments and decorations will go on tomorrow after the tree hints how it would like to be decorated. I'm glad I did it because it makes the house feel a little cozier.

Lucy always bought two amaryllis bulbs every year so she would have something in bloom at Christmas. She never wanted to try over-summering the bulbs because it was so easy to buy new plants that were ready to bloom. One was pink and the other red and white. Three weeks after her funeral both plants had wilted leaves. I cut the leaves back and put the plants in the basement near the furnace where the would receive very little light. On Halloween I brought the bulbs upstairs. The pink one planted in rocks was OK, but the red and white one planted in peat showed signs of fungus. I'm not sure if the pink one will bloom, but it does have four leaves on it each over two feet long. I bought a smaller Red Lion bulb with two flower stalks on it just in case, and it is also planted in rocks. Amaryllis bulbs can be rejuvenated for several years so I am anxious to see if I can make this work.

Lucy and her sisters would make piirakkas (Lucy's family recipe is slightly different) sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She and I would make our own small batch just after Christmas. I managed to get pretty good at making the rice porridge filling without destroying the kitchen or scorching the saucepan. The recipe kept the two of us busy for a couple hours. I may take a whack at trying it solo. If you read about an incident in Bloomington requiring the fire department and hazardous waste disposal, you'll know my attempt didn't go so smoothly . Lucy and I would also make a batch of Finnish flatbread using her Aunt Kay's recipe.

Enjoy your family traditions during your holiday season. Remember those who are could not make it or those who have passed away with love and affection. May your hearts be filled with love and happiness this season and in seasons to come!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let us give thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. It is a day set aside to give thanks for the blessing bestowed on us. The tryptophan torpor, sport spectaculars and "Black Friday" shopping planning are fairly modern side effects, though I would love to see the latter relegated to history's trash can.

I have so much for which I am thankful despite how much 2012 has been awful. The most important blessing I am thankful for was my time with Lucy. I was so fortunate to be married to her for almost 24 years and our being together for 28 years. I will treasure that time for the remainder of my existance in this world.

I am very thankful for the love and support everyone has offered me. I am especially thankful for the special people who were there for me during the worst time in my life, who offered compassion and strength when I needed it most, and who helped start my healing process. Marilyn Monroe once said "But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for putting up with me.

I am thankful for the people who are sacrificing a holiday to server others: soldiers, police, firefighters, health care professionals, volunteers. It is gratifying that you are putting others first.

This year I am thankful the weather is cooperating, at least until early afternoon. We set a record high of 60°F very early this morning (the old record was 59°F set in 1998 for the curious; the "pioneer" record high was 60°F set in 1867), but will see a sharp drop in temp with a strong northwest wind later. Those of you on the road today should keep an eye on the weather and stay safe.

It's time for me to get on the road. I'm heading to John's for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad are there and Jacob will be over this morning. Jim can't break away from his business venture.

Enjoy time with your loved ones. Chris and Dave, enjoy your time volunteering. Be thankful for your family, friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lost in Translation

No, this isn't about the Bill Murray movie from several years back. This started with a gleeful Facebook post which resulted in me trying to find a recipe (tater tot hotdish), which resulted in me finding a piece of notepaper Lucy left in the recipe box with a couple Finnish phrases on them. Lucy was extremely proud of her Finnish heritage. She had the two phrases written out with a brief description of what sort of wall hanging each was from and had seen these in one of three places: Finnish Gifts in downtown Minneapolis, Bergquist Imports in Cloquet, MN or Irma's Finland House in Virginia, MN.

The first phrase was "Ota hymy huuleen ja juoksee vastatuuleen". She had written "Smile and run against the wind" as a translation. Google Translate indicated "Take a smile on the lip and runs into the wind".

On the back page was "Siunaa Jeesus ruokamme, ole aina luonamme". Lucy's translation was "Dear Jesus, Thank you for our food and be present with us always." Google Translate came up with something puzzling: "Jesus will bless our food, not always with us". The subtlety of language comes into play. This is why auto-correct features can be unintentionally hilarious or painfully vexing.

Google is a huge corporation. They have many brilliant minds working for them and advanced technology at their disposal. Something as simple as a before meal prayer still proves problematic for computerized translation, but a human translator has an easy time.  Words can have multiple meanings and definitions depending on context. A machine will try to use algorithms which parse words and then assign a weighting factor to determine probable usage. All that sentence diagramming we were subjected to in middle school was not for naught.

The Chinese proverb "A picture is worth ten thousand words" is quite appropriate thousands of years later. Brilliant writers can "paint with words" in ways that I cannot, but even they are hindered by the sterility of purely written words. A human reader can remember passages that were a few words, sentences, paragraphs or chapters back which help convey mood and context. A machine will look at a preceding word, the preceding sentence, and the current one. Even today, how many times has an email or note from someone caused the wrong reaction because even though the grammar and usage was correct, the intention was lost? How many times have passages been "taken out of context" to prove or disprove a thesis?

Take the three word phrase "I love you." The phrase is easily translated into numerous languages.  No problem with meaning, right? C. S. Lewis very artfully demonstrated the difficulties of expressing emotion through language in "The Four Loves". Love, while seemingly a simple concept, is an extremely complex emotion with many different contexts. For example, Marcy is married, has a child, both parents still living, several siblings and many friends. Even though Marcy will say "I love you" to her spouse, child, parents, siblings and friends, there is a different form of love expressed using the same words.

In addition to words, humans will use tonality, inflection and expressions to help convey meaning. We've seen movies where one buddy will slur "I love ya" before the copious quantities of alcoholic libations previously consumed are unceremoniously liberated and/or unconsciousness. "I love you" spoken to a spouse can have different meanings depending on mood. The degree of love between two people can differ. Romantic comedies have used a variation of A loves B madly, B loves A not as much (or at all), hilarity ensues while equilibrium establishes or fails and all the loose ends tidy up in about 105 minutes. Affection, or caring, or adoration, or comradery:  it's still those three words, "I love you".

The visual and audible cues are very important. How do we determine if a person is angry or pretending, sincere or lying, happy or putting on a brave face? We try to "read" a person's clues in their voice, eyes, mouth, nose, neck, posture. People with certain spectral disorders lack the ability to pick up those cues, and some psychopaths have the ability to "fake" these cues on demand. Without those cues we are subject to misinterpretation. Some people were uneasy watching "The Polar Express" because the cutting edge Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) failed to adequately capture facial expressions. Compare those characters to a newer CGI film like "Avatar".

Make it simpler for your loved ones. Find time to ota hymy huuleen ja juoksee vastatuuleen when there is no risk for frostbite. Be genuine with your hugs and tell them you care. Give them as many cues as you can. There is elegance in simplicity especially in a fast-paced and complex world.


Monday, November 12, 2012

The gales of November (7 months tomorrow)

November is notoriously fickle in Minnesota. The National Weather Service lists it as our gloomiest month (sunshine 39% or less than 11 days of 30). We had the Armistice Day blizzard on November 11, 1940 that killed 49 people in Minnesota alone, 145 total in the affected region. That day started out mild with some clouds, some drizzle towards noon, and finally slashing wind, plummeting temperature and close to two feet of snow falling in under 24 hours in some areas. In other areas the snowdrifts topped 30 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald went down on November 10, 1975 during a near-hurricane-force gale and was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot. Very large temperature swings occur. The daily average high and low temperatures drop almost a degree per day. Just this past Sunday, we had two EF-0 tornadoes on the ground about 4 miles south of me. Thankfully no one was hurt although some houses and cars were damaged. All I had here was some 20 - 25 mph wind gusts. Saturday was sunny, warm and 69°F. Today (Monday) was overcast, blustery and a high of 26°F  and a low (so far) of 19°F. The Minnesota Climatology Office has a list of the worst Minnesota storms. Notice how many fall in November.

Tomorrow marks seven months since Lucy died and Wednesday would have been my brother Robert's 44th birthday. Going through the grief process is like going through November in Minnesota. For most part it is dull and cold with a clamminess that cuts to one's soul. The storms come quickly, harshly and with no warning leaving one damp, shivering, weakened and miserable. But there are days similar to last Saturday where warmth and light reign for a few precious hours. Those hours are enough to dry off, warm up and gather enough strength to keep moving forward.

Never underestimate the power of even a small kindness. A smile is a ray of sunlight cutting through the gloom. A hug is a break in the clouds with warmth and light. Letting someone know you care lifts that person off the ground. Combine all three and a person can weather an impending storm. Love is very powerful stuff. There will be many stormy days ahead, but eventually the grief calendar will start a new month with the promise of spring on the horizon. It only seems like the calendar is measuring months on Pluto rather than Earth.

If I may, I would like to ask a personal favor. Please keep Steve, Suzy and Julie in your thoughts and prayers this holiday season. This will be the second Thanksgiving without Betty, but the first without Lucy and Bob. They are such wonderful people and I am very blessed to have them in my life. Give them some sunshine and warmth to help them get through their grief November.

I miss so many things about Lucy, but the hugs and cuddling are what I miss the most, and it's been the hardest adjustment to make. If the weather is as cold in your part of the world as it is here, cuddle if you have someone. Aw heck, cuddle even if it isn't cold!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Ride my See-Saw"

I keep thinking of the old Moody Blues song when I look at the weather forecasts in October and March. This week is going to get progressively colder. The only good thing about it is we could pick up some rain.

Today started with the furnace running and ended with the windows open. I managed to tweak my shoulder dealing with the kitchen window so my yard work plans got scrapped. It was nice enough to get a short walk in at Nine Mile Creek and Central Park. However, the shoulder tweak also made hiking a bit bothersome so I ended up in the porch. It should be fine in a couple days.


Halloween is fast approaching, though I have seen several store Christmas displays already. I'm still trying to think of a costume for Gerry's party next Saturday night. Lucy and I couldn't make it last year as her anemia was getting bad and her white counts were dropping. The year before we went dressed in scrubs. Lucy had found a really cute Halloween scrub top which fit her perfectly. I'm open for suggestions.

For those of you who will be seeing much cooler temperatures this week, take advantage of a little cuddling, especially if you have kids. My great-uncle Olai used to say that as you got older, life got mean. Life gets mean at times, but we can stand up to the meanness with the love of our family and friends. Despite how difficult it can be, tell your loved ones that you care and make sure your hugs are meaningful. I know that can be tough with tweens.  Share a smile and a laugh with your friends. Brightening someone's day is a very special gift and you get something special in return.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Six months (100th posting)

Today marks six months since Lucy passed away. The 80% chance of rain as of last night looks more like a 100% chance of wind and overcast so I will be making a trip to the cemetery today. I sill love her and I still miss her. That won't change.

I'm doing better. I went on a leave of absence at work which has now become my resignation. As much as I liked my boss, the stress levels I ordinarily handled with ease became insurmountable. I wasn't ready to go back to work, plain and simple.

At this point if I do go back to work, it most likely won't be in a information technology (IT) related field. Rebuilding a life is tough enough without having to rebuild a career for the sixth time. IT changes a lot. When I started in 1980 there were few video display units, punch cards and magnetic tape reels were portable off line storage, mainframes has kilobytes of memory, and 80 Mb "cake box" removable disk packs were $13,000.00 each in bulk. As the technology evolved, the programming languages evolved. I could count on having to learn some exotic new language about every five years. The only constant language was profanity and it is quite universal among developers. I was trying to learn five new technologies at once under deadlines. Perhaps that is best left for the younger crowd. Yet the part I loved about IT was always learning something new and solving challenges. I'll reassess after New Years Day.

I'm still adjusting to solo life. The insomnia is retreating, I'm eating OK, and I'm trying to walk and hike when possible. The weather changes are really causing my knees to let me know I'm not 15 anymore. I have a number of home improvement projects that will keep me busy for a couple years plus a fairly extensive collection of books to read. Boredom will not be an issue.

One of the stranger adjustments has been the coupon offers. Lucy was a bargain hunter and we would get a number of buy one get one free (BOGO) offers. Today I received one from Caribou Coffee. If I were to drink two small turtle mochas today, I would be bouncing off the walls until Tuesday. The BOGO meals work out well because I get 2 - 3 days of meals from them. They are a reminder of how lucky I was to have someone to share the offers with on a daily basis. At least I haven't gained back huge amounts of weight.

Dropping the stress levels to more manageable levels has helped me to refocus on healing. Part of the healing is counting blessings. I'm blessed that so many people cared about Lucy. I am very blessed to have you reading this blog because it means you have stuck with me through this journey when the going got tough and to know you care. I'm extremely blessed to have special people who make me smile and brighten my day.

All of us have acquaintances, family, friends and close friends that make our lives better. I can count my closest friends on my left hand and still have my inter-vehicle communication finger (or trigger finger in California) free. Quality is always better than quantity. It's nice to know those people choose to be in your life rather than having to be part of your life. C. S. Lewis states this so eloquently as "affection" in "The Four Loves". Read it for something that stimulates thought and helps make sense of the most complex of human emotions.


For those of you fortunate to have someone special close by, take a moment to tell that person (or persons if you have children) that you care. One can never get too much positive reinforcement. And if hugs aren't awkward or uncomfortable, give a meaningful hug or six. Share a smile with the world. You could brighten the day for someone who needs it.

Thank you for making my world better.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Silent No More" walk and hiatus time

I made it through the "Silent No More" walk yesterday. Is was tough. Last year I did it with the love of my life. This year I did it for the love of my life. The turnout was good, well over a thousand people just for the 2K walk and probably that many again for the 5K run. I couldn't get any pictures because I was too emotional. The ironic part was how alone one can feel in a crowd. I lost sight of the fact that just because no one is standing next to you doesn't mean no one cares. Sorry about that.

Thank you for you encouragement and support. I know a few of you wanted to participate but could not. I understand and I'm very thankful you considered participating. If any of you have participated in the past, the survivors wear teal shirts, the rest of us white shirts. With all the advances made in cancer care, it is still sad to realize that some of the people wearing teal shirts this year won't be among us next year, and that some of those wearing white will next year wear teal. Ovarian cancer doesn't get the clever shirts or wristbands that help generate money and it affects a smaller percentage of the population. I hope for a cure for breast cancer so more research dollars can go towards ovarian cancer eradication.

The calendar still says summer but the gardens are saying it's fall. I cut back the woody raspberry canes so the green ones will bear more berries next year (even though the Japanese beetles will destroy most of them). The shrub roses are happier now that they aren't a constant source of bug food. Lucy's Canadian lilac is doing it's unusual second bloom for the tenth year in a row. It is odd seeing lilacs in September. I finally have morning glories after several years of trying, but I lost the majority of my lilies to the damned chipmunks and squirrels.

Of course the days are getting shorter, the nights have a crispness not felt in several months and the highs aren't in the 90's as often. Lucy would be spending every evening in the porch enjoying the quiet. It was her cabin without the four hour drive. More changes in the air.

The blog is going on hiatus for awhile. I don't know how long. It's been extremely hard for me to find anything positive as of late. Thursday will mark five months since Lucy passed away and each month cuts a little deeper. Losing three people I loved deeply in less than a year has not helped. The new job has definitely not helped. There have been a dizzying number of changes, not all of them positive. Relationships have changed, not all for the better. There is a lot to sort through, and the brain is still foggy and slow. The emotional side says everything is doom and gloom even though the rational side says it isn't. I need to get those two to STFU and play nice again.

I have been blessed to have all of you support me through these dark days. I am eternally grateful to those of you who went far above and beyond. I will still be there for people when they need me. That hasn't changed. I know things will turn around, it takes time. All it takes are some positive changes to occur. Those of you who are close to me know I will move heaven and hell to keep my word. I promise I'll be back and I hope you'll wait patiently to read my musings.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug today. You'll brighten that person's day beyond words. Tell them you care about them. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remembering Betty at One Year

To describe the past twelve months as annus horribilis would be an understatement. Today marks one year since my mother-in-law left this life.

Betty made my life better by being part of it. I had the opposite of a stereotypical sitcom mother-in-law. Betty accepted me. She was warm and engaging and enjoyed spending time with her family.


Lucy and I made quite a few trips "up north" while we were together. We could count on a four hour drive each way (though it dropped to three-and-a-half hours after Minnesota 33 was redone in Cloquet and the Highway 2 overpass was completed). It meant we would pull in after 10:00 pm on a Friday and we would have to start the return trip by 2:00 pm on Sunday. We would always have a warm greeting waiting for us when we arrived. That made the trip worthwhile. It was also nice to unwind in a setting that was so peaceful and beautiful. Northern Minnesota's natural beauty is second to none.

Along with a warm greeting, there would usually be fresh baked treats. Scents of blueberry pie (when in season), cardamom bread, or home-made bread would waft through the house. Getting out of a car at -35°F and walking into a warm house with bread fresh from the oven is an indescribable treat. I swear I gained three pounds every trip we made back home.

Lucy's love of reading and poetry came from Betty. Betty's taste in fiction was broad. I remember seeing several Rod McKuen poetry books on the bookshelf. Suzy told us at Bob's funeral that Bob and Betty would go the library a lot after Bob retired. She would browse for a couple novels to check out while Bob would read the local papers.

Betty was also an artist. Lucy had saved some sketches Betty had drawn in letters to Lucy. Betty also painted a few watercolors. Barns were a favorite subject. She was also quite the photographer, another talent Lucy inherited. I once had a high school art teacher tell me the only thing I would ever draw well was criticism, so I do appreciate the talent and time Betty put into her creative ventures.

While Lucy was doing her family history research, she received a treasure trove of information from her aunt Kay. Included in the hundreds of pages of information were a couple articles Betty wrote for some local history books. They were very well written, informative and entertaining.

With all of Betty's interests, talents and skills, she made time to be an outstanding mother to four children. The love they were raised with molded them into caring and compassionate adults. That love is now passed on to their children.

She may not have been my biological mother, but she was my second mom. It's been a year, and I still miss Betty. A lot has happened since then, some good, some tragic. It's easy for a family to stick together during good times. She would be proud of how her children have stuck together during the adversities.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Silent No More Walk/Run September 8

I will be participating in the 13th annual Silent No More walk and run for ovarian cancer. Despite losing 70 pounds, my left knee is still not able to handle a 5k run. Now that I'm able to throttle back a bit on the hours at the office, perhaps I can get some bicycling in next season to get the knee strengthened.

Rosland Park is in Edina near Southdale. We were allowed to park at Southdale last year but not this year. Here's a bit more information about the event:
Limited parking is available at Rosland Park primarily for handicap parking and an area for Survivor Drop Off. Additional parking is available at the office buildings at 6600 France Avenue and 6800 France Avenue ONLY - please follow the directions of our parking volunteers! A shuttle bus will provide a ride between the southern most lot at 6800 France Avenue to Rosland Park starting at 7:30am-11:30am. Please allow for additional time to walk or ride the shuttle to the park.
Early Bird Registration Fee of $25 adult and $10 Youth ends at 12 midnight on 8/27/12. Regular registration fees are $30 adult and $12 Youth beginning 8/28/12.1/1/2012 - 8/27/2012
Day of Registration / T-shirt pick up9/8/2012 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Survivor Photo9/8/2012 8:30 am - 8:40 am
Program - Honoring the Women of MOCA9/8/2012 8:45 am - 9:00 am
5K Run9/8/2012 9:15 am - 9:45 am
2K Walk9/8/2012 9:45 am - 10:30 am
Kids Fun Run9/8/2012 10:30 am - 11:00 am
Awards9/8/2012 11:00 am - 11:15 am
Fees:

2K Walk: $25.00
Adult 2K Walk - Early Bird registration of $25 ends 8/27; Regular registration fee of $30 after 8/28
5K Run: $25.00
Adult 5K Run - Early Bird registration of $25 ends 8/27; Regular registration fee of $30 after 8/28
Youth: $10.00
Children 12 and under - Early Bird registration of $10 ends 8/27; Regular registration fee of $12 after 8/28
Sleepwalker: $30.00
If you can't join us on race day or just can't get out of bed, register as a Sleepwalker and you will receive your Silent No More Walk/Run t-shirt in the mail after the event.
Updated information on the Walk/Run can be found at our website at http://2012mocawalkrun.kintera.org/
I'm doing this to in honor of Lucy. We participated last year and she had every intention of participating this year. I formed a team if anyone would care to join me. The team link is at http://2012mocawalkrun.kintera.org/kenhopperstad. I set some low fundraising and recruiting standards (already reached in both cases), so I'm not hitting anyone up for donations.

Thank you!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Come Monday" (it will be four months)

Unlike me, Lucy was not a Jimmy Buffett fan. After we had been dating a year, I took a job that required "10% travel". The problem was 10% was closer to 80%. I spent quite a bit of time in Los Angeles, so I was quite familiar with "I spent four lonely days in the brown L.A. haze, and I just want you back by my side."

Come Monday, it will be four months since Lucy died. I haven't been in the brown L.A. haze in over 25 years, but I still want Lucy back by my side. The grief counselors have said it can take a year for most of the healing to occur. I don't think they have counted on another family death and a very stressful job. If I were to believe Nietzsche, "What does not kill me, makes me stronger", I should be invincible and immortal by now rather than missing her with every beat of my heart. It's an adjustment alright.

I'm still having some problems with staying organized. I found my Houlihan's birthday perk tonight and had to use it because it was expiring tonight. Note to self: jambalaya just before 90 minutes of yard work is not recommended. No one ever recommends a big meal before a workout.

The Japanese beetle infestation is tailing off for the year. My roses are fairing OK. We have been getting slightly more rain, as evidenced by the new crop of mosquitoes. The cooler and less humid weather has been nice, too. On nights like tonight, Lucy and I would be sitting in the porch listening to the tree frogs, crickets and toads. We would watch the fireflies twinkle and enjoy the cool breeze. I haven't seen any fireflies yet, and I'm surprised to hear an occasional cicada.

The reason I'm posting tonight instead of Monday is I expect to be inundated at work come Monday. I was off Monday, Thursday and Friday.

And here's something for the computer geeks: On the plus side, I did have to replace the hard drive on my desktop system (Vista Business) which was relatively painless. And I have figured out how to get the VPN at work to deal with dual monitors at home. The downside, my two monitors are mismatched, so RDP (mstsc) has a hissy fit during certain screen operations. Costco might have some 24" Dell monitors that should work. That should allow me to spend less time in the office because I can work a couple hours from home with almost the same set up as at work. The video card I have is a triple head card, so I could run three monitors. The system at work has a dual head video card. RDP gets confused enough the way it is, so I'll stick to two monitors at home.

As I have been so painfully reminded these past twelve months, life is unpredictable. Lost opportunities can become regrets, so eliminate a huge regret before it happens. Make your hugs meaningful, and never miss an opportunity to tell your spouse, partner or significant other that you love them. Let your loved ones know you care for them, even if they know. Brighten someone's day by smiling. I did that with Lucy every day we were together. I miss her, but it's not the paralyzing sense of loss many people experience. I'm sure it's because we had no regrets with each other.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Requiescant in Pace

I did have to Google the title to be sure of spelling. Latin has some quirks when it comes to plural verb forms. The phrase means "May they rest in peace": Betty, Lucy and Bob. (Requiescat is the singular form).

Bob's funeral was very touching and upbeat. It was nice to see the outpouring of support for Steve, Suzy and Julie today as they bade farewell to their father. Despite the loss, there were still lots of hugs, smiles and laughter. Mourning is part of the healing process. It allows us to move the pain out and allow the good memories to fill in the void. There still will be tears and longing, but celebrating a life well lived helps the healing process take root.

Thank you to everyone who attended today. Thank you to everyone who sent well wishes to the family. Most of all, thank you for caring.

My memorial marker was installed today. I received a call from the cemetery while I was on my way to visit Lucy.
Someday we'll be together again

5, 6, pick up sticks...

(This should have published August 4th but didn't. Technology is cool when it works.)

The thunderstorm did very little damage last night. There were two impressive wind blasts that ripped through. My poor little anemometer showed a peak gust of 22 mph, but according to the Beaufort scale, the winds were closer to 60 mph at times. I did get about ½" of rain. Here's hoping I get a chance to mow the yard this week. I filled my yard waste container just with the clumps of leaves ripped from the silver maples

Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes! It's amazing how many restaurants start giving a senior discount at 55. Lucy was quite the bargain hunter and was looking forward to my birthday this year. I have a pretty good stack of Buy One Get One free offers. The problem is most of them expire between the 11th and the 18th.
Lucy's birthday was February 5th. We would each sign up for these offers. The six month spread meant we could burn off the calories by the time the next wave of offers came through.

Please keep my father-in-law in your thoughts and prayers. He's had a terrible year and is battling some heath issues. Losing my mother-in-law and Lucy eight months apart has not helped. He's one of the nicest people in the world, too.

It's still insane at work. I went in for several hours today and will get use the VPN tonight to try getting a bit more stuff done. The yard work is slipping a bit and the kitchen is getting cluttered. Lucy wouldn't be happy with that.

The rain perked up the tamarisk, and the blue flax are reblooming. The white flax might bloom again. The rudbeckia plants are blooming or close, and the bee balm and echineciaare having a banner year. Even the clematis plants which got pummeled in a previous wind storm are blooming like crazy.

I'm still trapping Japanese beetles, but it looks like they are winding down. I'm finding cicada skins all over the place and even got to see the final minutes of one emerging from the beetle skin and becoming a green he dragonflies are plentiful, and I saw a few iridescent damselflies this year despite the drought.

I did have to see Lucy today. Even when I was doing the heavy business traveling, we always managed to be with each other for our birthdays. The string is still intact, though I will miss her birthday kiss. That's one of the large number of adjustments one makes after losing a spouse. There are so many little things that go into a marriage, yet when all those little things are gone, it leaves a gaping hole. It's also part of the healing process. You learn to adjust and keep trying to move forward.

Thank you again for the birthday wishes!

Lucy's bouquet from the cemetery

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bob's funeral

Bob's funeral will be 10:00 am Thursday, August 9 at the Joseph Klecatsky & Sons Funeral Home - Eagan Chapel. Burial will be at a later date.

Please keep Steve, Suzy and Julie in your prayers. They have endured so much sorrow this past year. These are three of the best people in the world, very kind and loving, and I love them very dearly.

Thank you for caring.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting ready to say goodbye again

Losing a loved one is difficult. Losing three within a short period of time is horrendous. We were still healing from my mother-in-law's passing when Lucy died. Now we're dealing with the loss of my father-in-law less that four months later.

Bob was a great man. That was evident in how well his children were raised and how tightly they group together during adversity. He accepted his daughter-in-law and sons-in-law into the family and was quick to help with repairs if any of us needed assistance. His grandchildren were showered with love and he loved them very much. Even though he was on the quiet side, he had a great sense of humor and a very engaging personality.

He worked extremely hard to provide for his family. Bob repaired tires on mining equipment. He had a number of times being outside making repairs at -55°F or colder, or 90°F or hotter because the equipment could not always make it back to the shop. Bob work on on tires for wheelbarrows and the ten foot diameter tires on the giant earthmovers. I loved hearing him talk about his job, especially after he retired.

Losing Betty was hard for him. They were married 58 years and were blessed with four wonderful children. When Betty's health started to turn for the worse, he devoted himself to taking care of her until the end. Even though her passing was expected, it stall came as a blow to all of us. After her passing, his life was full of rapid changes and adjustments. None of us really had time to full heal when Lucy's time with us ended.

No parent should ever have to lose a child. Lucy's battle started out very promising but became more challenging as time went on. The last five moths of her fight were the toughest on all of us. Lucy's strength, determination and dignity displayed during her battle were a direct result of the love, strength and devotion she saw growing up. Lucy's loss was extremely hard on him. His health deteriorated quickly.

Now Bob is no longer with us. He'll remain part of us until each of our times on earth ends. The big paradox of life is it has to end with death, at least in the corporal or physical sense. Many, if not all, religions and spiritualites mention an afterlife where a soul (or lifeforce or energy) transcends after leaving the body. The afterlife is timeless and the person's soul can watch over those of us remaining behind in this existence. Bob has made that transition and is with Lucy and Betty. It's not the same as him physically being with us, but it helps provides a measure of comfort that he's at peace and can still guide us through our lives.

Steve, Liz and Micaela; Suzy, Derek and Kristin; Julie and Brady: thank you for keeping me as part of your family and loving me as one of your own, especially in these trying times. It shows just how great a man Bob was. You've honored his legacy well.

My father-in-law died tonight

Lucy's family suffered another devastating loss tonight. My father-in-law, Bob, died tonight at 10:45 pm. The irony is Lucy also died at 10:45 pm. His health has been in decline the past couple months. He was surrounded by his surviving children, his daughter-in-law, Liz, and me.

Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Non sibi, sed toti

I'm fortunate I rarely hear from the grammar police, but maybe I'll hear from the Latin purists. The title translates to "Not for self, but for others." (If the last word were "omnibus" it could be considered "everyone".)

I have yet to find a religion that preaches putting oneself above others. Most philosophers from Socrates onward opined that we exist to serve the greater good and the greater good is to serve others. There must be something to it; history is filled with accounts of great societies like the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire and the city/states of ancient Greece crumbling and collapsing because the populous went the "Not for others, but for self" avenue. Life is precious and the self preservation instinct has been imprinted in our genetic make up for about four billion years. Because of that we revere war heroes who sacrificed their lives to save fellow soldiers and firefighters and police officers who died in the line of duty. A parent's death while saving his or her child usually makes the national news. Altruism is noble indeed.

Putting others first is not easy. Many times it is thankless and emotionally draining all the while requiring huge sacrifices of time and energy. Some of these people become grief counselors, others become ministers, still others firefighters, peace officers, medical professionals, teachers, and first responders. It takes a special kind of person to devote her or his life to helping others, especially when the other person is in dire need.

Most of us will face situations in out lives where we will have to make sacrifices for the sake of others. Parents do this routinely for their children. I was never fortunate enough to be a parent, but I have been around some incredible people raising children in difficult circumstances yet the children are happy, well loved and well adjusted. Time spent shuttling children to activities could have been spent in badly needed "me" time. Money spent on activity fees and supplies could have been spent on entertainment. The great parents are the ones who make the sacrifices without the child knowing it is a sacrifice. The really great ones manage that along with helping others in need.

Aging parents are another challenge most of us will face. The difficulty is the sudden role reversal that occurs: the parent is the child and the child becomes the parent. Adding to the difficulty is the fact the parent realizes his or her independence is slipping away, certainly temporarily but possibly permanently. There is an old saying that goes to the effect of "After a taste of freedom, captivity is never the same". Captivity can be caused by lack of mobility, or needing to move to a care facility because living independently is no longer safe. In some cases, an aging parent may experience mental decline. That is the hardest of the changes because that person is becoming someone else. All this is happening while trying to balance a home life and work demands. Strained relationships and hurt feelings are not uncommon. Someone may snap a pithy comment out of frustration, or leave in a huff, or withdraw into a deep shell because of the pressures, and the others feel some pain. It becomes hard to remember that these sacrifices are made for love and of love, and that there is a greater good everyone is trying to achieve.

I went through caring for a terminally ill loved one, and I know others of you have, too. The only reason I made it through was because people were willing to sacrifice their free time for us. Hospice workers and volunteers, friends and family, all were there at the time of our greatest need. I had to focus on ensuring Lucy was well loved and well cared for in her time of need. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and I pray I never have to do that again, but I did it for her. The love and support from all of you helped in ways I will never be able to describe and can never adequately repay.

Unfortunately we lose some of these great people along the way. Some are lost because they got hurt one too many times helping an ungrateful person, others because the stress and strain of the sacrifices wear them down, and still others because they have nothing left to give. Each time that happens a bit of our society crumbles. We all feel the loss. I hope that the ones one the cusp of quitting reconsider. There will always be someone in need.

Thank you to all of you who put others first! You are the unsung heroes in our society. If you know anyone like that, give them some support. After all, they would do it for you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Warm 'nuff for ya? Cripes!"

When I heard someone utter that quote this morning in the checkout line at Cub Foods, I looked around to see if the Coen Brothers were shooting a sequel to "Fargo". While the past several weeks have been in the mid to upper 90's with a couple 100+ days thrown in, today wasn't too bad. These are air temperatures, not heat index readings, by the way. I'm sure in a few months I'll hear someone (probably me) complaining about the cold and wind chill.

For those of you in the south metro area, the Genesee condos at American Boulevard and Penn Ave. S. are nearing completion. There are a couple of interesting food places that will also open soon. One is Moe's Southwestern Grill and the other is Which Wich. I believe these are the first in Minnesota for either chain.The El Loro's at 84th and Lyndale opened two months ago, and there is a rib place in Eagan called Rack Shack that I want to try sometime. Lucy would have enjoyed any of the places.

The video card in my desktop conked out in a blaze of glory this morning. Apparently two of the wires to the power connector got too close to the CPU fan. Over the course of a few days, the insulation wore away. Even at 5 volts, having a hot and a return short against each other is not a good thing. The video card went from an old GeForce GT 8800 to a dual head GeForce GTX560ti. I have to find a VGA to DVI converter to hook up a second monitor. Of course, the drivers are taking forever to load, and with Vista, I'm sure there will be the requisite and ubiquitous reboots.

There has not been a lot of rain lately. The weather folks are mentioning drought again despite our year to date rain total running 6 inches over normal. Unfortunately the Japanese beetle harvest goes on. I think I am approaching 10 pints of beetles. As much as I hate using lawn chemicals, I'll be dumping Grub-X on the yard this fall and next spring.

Work will be insane this week. I'm trying to enjoy a little downtime today. I do hope the pace throttles back a little. I know those of you still in the work force by and large have had to do more with less. Those of you in retail or the service industry have noticed people are not has happy as they should be, either.

Since it's hot and people aren't very cuddly right now, make your hugs meaningful!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

At the Zoo (28 years)

No, Lucy was not a Simon & Garfunkel fan, so Suzy, you don't have to dig around for a song that was released a few months before Julie was born.

As I mentioned Friday, Lucy and I went to the Minnesota Zoo on our first date. It was also a hot and muggy day back in 1984. It was very sunny that day with no breeze with a high in the low 90's. Today was overcast and breezy with a high in the low 90's.

As I turned on the radio when I got in the car, "Second Chance" was playing right at the verse I used in Lucy's eulogy. The odds of it happening once is pretty remote; twice has to be close to astronomical.

The zoo has changed through the years, of course. It took me three hours to walk through everything. That's about the same amount of time Lucy and I spent on our first date. I stopped in the bird show just after it started. One of the new birds on exhibit is an eagle owl. Lucy would have been in awe of how big it is. Unlike other owls, it does not have yellow eyes. (And no, the owl's name was not Lucy).

One advantage about going to the zoo on a very warm day is the predominate species on display, Homo Sapiens, is reduced in numbers. However, there also is marked reduction in patience, manners, hygiene and intelligence. The younger members of the species tend to be crankier and gravitate towards the water features. Of the numerous couples there, some with offspring in tow, it was obvious a few were on their first or second date. I wonder how many would be lucky enough to have found the person he or she want to spend the rest of their life with?

There was a serious run on the $4.00 frozen lemonade. When the guy at the booth said "Lemme guess, frozen lemonade?" I asked him if he had a turtle mocha with two shots of espresso. At least he got a chuckle out of it. I didn't get a discount of the lemonade, either.

The Dinosaurs exhibit is supposed to run until September 3rd. I didn't go to see it. The nerd in me wanted to go, but I think it would be more fun to go with someone. Anyway, I'd probably need adult supervision because I would be trying to take the animatronic critters apart to see how they tick.

I didn't make it to Don Pablo's. It was more of a Dairy Queen day. Trying to move forward doesn't always happen in leaps and bounds. Sometimes it's more of a nudge and a scoot.

Eagle owl

Add caption

Eagle owl

Notice the eyes are reddish brown on the eagle owl, not yellow like other owls.

One slightly agitated bald eagle

Just before getting very vocal

Friday, July 13, 2012

Three months

At times I can't believe it's been three months since Lucy passed away, and yet it seems like an eternity. I know I've aged 20 years in the past eight months. Like April 13th, today was also a Friday the 13th. I thank God for the love and support all of you have given me. I pray that you all are healing.

Sunday marks the 28th anniversary of my first date with Lucy. We had a lot of fun during our time together through the years. We tried every year to get to the Minnesota Zoo in mid-July and then go to Don Pablo's afterwards (only because Chi-Chi's went toes up). I'll try to do both yet this month. It won't be the same without her at my side.

Life goes on. The building that housed the Richfield Chi-Chi's is being leveled so the replacement Richfield Menard's can get built. Some of the movie theaters we went to are razed and some of the restaurants are either out of business or are completely different. For better or for worse, things change and life goes on.

Thank you for your time and for sticking with me.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

"There Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues"

Eddie Cochran had a hit with this song in the late 1950's. Eddie was born in Albert Lea, MN, about 12 miles north of my hometown of Emmons, MN. Tonight is Borderfest in Emmons, and for my readers attending tonight, have fun and I'll try to make it next year. I didn't find out about Borderfest until 6:00 pm tonight.

Anyway, Eddie was wrong. Spending time with my sisters-in-law today was a cure for the blues. Thank you, Suzy and Julie, for sharing your scarce free time with me today. I wish you knew how much it brightened my day, and I hope I brightened your days a bit, too. It was the first Saturday I did not go into the office since Memorial Day. I'm sure I'll pay for it come Monday.

We got to visit Carver Country Flowers and Gifts this morning. If you're in the area, stop in! And kindly support Annette and Al in the Mission: Small Business grant initiative. Afterwards, we got to visit my father-in-law for an hour. Their shop is also on Facebook (Julie, you were asking about this earlier).

I set out the Japanese beetle traps and am getting some of the vile creatures contained. Instead of using the rather expensive disposable bags, I modified mine to use the top portion of the bag, a sprinkler system hose coupler, and some one liter Powerade bottles. The top of the bag is attached to the top half of the coupler with a couple zip ties, and the bottom half of the coupler is set through a hole I drilled in the Powerade bottle cap. The bottle contains a few drops of Apple Fresh Dawn dish soap in 8 oz. of water. One the critters slide through the bag into the bottle, there is no escape. I dump the water every other day.

Despite the mosquitoes, I managed to pick a little over a pint of berries tonight. The dry spell is slowing down the berry production. There are a couple chances for rain this week, so I'm going to let nature do the watering for me.

I hope everyone is having good weather. Enjoy some quality time with your spouse, significant other, or kids tonight.

Today's berry harvest.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Blackberries, raspberries and flowers

I'm trying to figure out where the past nine days have gone. I know work has consumed a goodly portion of it. The one nice thing about gardening is seeing all the changes that occur on different timelines. I'm already picking blackberries and raspberries and my green beans are flowering. The Japanese beetles are dining on the roses, but their numbers are down considerably from this time last year. I didn't get a chance to lay down Grub-X this year, but maybe the drought last summer thinned the herd. This is the only time of the year I tolerate crows. They love eating Japanese beetles and their larvae. I wish the squirrels and chipmunks would acquire the same taste.

I picked up lures for my Japanese beetles traps and will get the traps set out tomorrow. I think there are about two pints of raspberries to pick. The false sunflowers, blanket flowers, bachelor's buttons and catmint around the mailbox are all in bloom now. On the south side of the garage, the various yarrow are in bloom, including a couple colors I know we didn't plant. All the clematis are blooming, but it looks like I lost a hardy hibiscus after eight years, and the Russian sage looks like it is on its last legs after almost 13 years. There has been just enough rain lately to keep the tamarisk loaded with its tiny pink flowers, but not enough to sustain the mosquito population. I think that's a pretty good balance.

It's been warm, but the humidity has not been as beastly oppressive as a couple weeks ago. It appears we're in for a stretch of upper 80's to mid-90's for the next week with only a couple chances of rain. Of course that will be the day I decide to get the car washed.

Tomorrow will be the first Saturday since Memorial Day weekend I have not had to go into the office. I'm hoping to have a couple more weekends like that before the next crunch kicks in.

Try to brighten someone else's day when you can! Thank you for your time, and have a wonderful evening.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First day of summer, 2012

It's 2012, not 2013. Sorry, Dana, you're not 20 yet!

Today saw a little rain this afternoon and evening. I saw a weak double rainbow tonight. The inner rainbow was nice and strong, the outer one fairly weak. The last double rainbow I saw was when Lucy and I were returning from her mother's funeral last August. Lucy liked rainbows.

The rainy weather here is hatching two unfortunate crops: mosquitoes and Japanese beetles. I'll have to find time this weekend to set out the Japanese beetle traps. I know I'll be putting in some time Saturday at work.

So there was no pot of gold at the end of tonight's rainbow, but it did bring back some nice memories of Lucy and me looking out the window at rainbows. She would smile when seeing one. I hope you had a chance to smile tonight, too.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I've been battling some sort of stomach bug for the past four days and I'm still putting in a bit of overtime at work. So to my father and father-in-law, your Father's Day cards will be a day or two late. To the both of you, thank you for all your support and patience. It has made me a better person.

I'm starting to figure out some of the concepts of the various technologies, but it's been a slow process. It's frustrating because I usually pick up programming languages and other technologies very quickly. I'm looking at the process as "short term pain for long term gain". The questionable part is defining "short term".

We're out of the monsoon season, but we are still getting enough rain so that I have not had to water anything but the pansy bowl in front and the impatiens in back. The mini glads have shot out of the ground, the daliahs and cannas are over a foot tall, and the mystery delphinium I moved earlier in the season is a deep purple. Lucy only bought true blue delphiniums so this one is courtesy of  a bird. All the shrub roses are in full bloom and the climbing rose is loaded. Lucy's lilies are looking better than ever. I'll be picking about a pint of blackberries in a couple weeks and five or six quarts of raspberries in early July. Lucy loved this time of year when everything was blooming and green. I'm sure she is happy her gardens are doing so well.

For those of you who can, give your father (or father figure) a big hug today. Trust me, they earned it!