Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life's Highs and Lows

It's day 3 of what is shaping up to be a great vacation in upstate New York. While the weather is hot and muggy, John and Jill's pool has been a lifesaver. It's actually made for a very relaxing vacation thus far. The kids are getting along so well that we hardly notice they're around most of the time. They occasionally show up for food or a quick minute of adult conversational stimulation before they run back to their cousins and resume playing with their cousins.

Trips to see the Neufang side of the family is much like our trips to Minnesota where they have cousins on my side of the family. They get along great with all of their cousins and it makes our trips here and there so nice because the adults can sit and talk without having to worry about entertaining the kids like we once did.

A good example of this was yesterday when we were sitting by the pool and Sarah and Halle came up and said they wanted to sing a song they'd written for us. The song was built around the 12 days of Christmas, but substituted in place of nice Christmassy things were disgusting things. (Snot balls, etc.) While it was gross to listen to, it was fun to know that the girls had created it together and written it down, and then were not too shy to sing it in front of me. Good kids being goofy, and, well, kid-like.

The other incident that comes to mind was when we first got here, Sarah sat down with Leah and started to draw a big picture of Captain Jack Sparrow. They both LOVE art and were giving each other tips as they went along. It was cute, innocent and heart-warming to watch. In a few years these times will be ancient history and I'll have nothing but the memories to enjoy.

There have been numerous other fun, cousin moments, Ben hanging with Grace in the pool, Ben and Halle shooting me in the face with high powered water guns, to the point of my eyelids turning inside out, and many others. It's going to be a great week.

At the same time, this morning I read a caring bridge update and learned that the diagnosis for Ben's 12 year old friend's brain cancer has spread to the point that he can't even swallow the clinical trial capsules that he was supposed to start on soon. The doctors have said that there's nothing they can do but keep him comfortable at this point.

Wow.

As someone said this week, I don't know how you wake up after something like that. I certainly don't know how I would do it. I think leaning on friends and family is the only way I've made it through my brother's ordeal, so I guess it would probably be the same if it were one of my kids. God Forbid. I don't even like the thought of it. I see how it affected my father the way it did when my sister died. I think I'd fall into depression and never come out.

So, my goal for the rest of the week is to realize how precious this time, this day, this hour is. To relish it, savor it, wrap my life around it and tuck it away into the deep recesses of my mind where I'll be able to recall it when I need it most.

Life is short. Know God. Love your spouse, family and kids. Get past your petty disagreements and hug your brother/sister/parent/uncle/aunt.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Swelt of July

It seems there's a phenomenon known as a heat dome that is sitting over much of this great nation. It's resting on the country's mid section like a sumo wrestler in no hurry to go.

It could be worse, it could be February. People need to stop complaining about it and deal.

Heard that my brother got in the pool this past weekend. He had help from the family and got to sit on a raft for about an hour and enjoy his pool. Thank God for small miracles. When I saw the pictures, I was almost overwhelmed. I admire his (and his family's) willingness to try and get the most out of this time. He went fishing the day before and caught a couple bass. Another small blessing. Much of the family was there to witness the pool time as they celebrated the engagement of my nephew Nick.There are times I wish I was closer to home, and this was one of them. I guess we'll see him in a few weeks, but still...

Had to listen to the Women's World Cup Finals on ESPN radio on my laptop on Sunday. Felt like I was back in the 70's listening to the Viking home games that were blacked out because they were not sold out, a practice that I think still goes on today. It's interesting that my wife has a hard time visualizing football as described on the radio. For me it is easy, especially when a radio announcer says a team is going from "left to right." While that means nothing to anyone, it does to me. I can picture the field and which sideline the play is called to based on the announcer's description. In some strange ways I like it better than TV because I can be working on other things and still not miss any action.

Hopefully we'll have a full season and pre-season this year. The lockout talks are progressing supposedly, so it should happen. While I hate all the greed associated with the sport and the league, it would be devastating to have the season be shortened or shut-down altogether. It's one of the few things I watch on TV with any regularity. I can't wait!

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

From California to Paris in Three Days


I've been back from California for two days and am still suffering from a bit of jet lag. It doesn't help that it's a feels-like temperature of 105 or so. This kind of weather makes me wilt. I lose all ambition and everything becomes a chore. Luckily today was Sunday, so I didn't feel too bad taking it kind of easy.

San Diego was wonderful as usual. Lots of sun, 70's, and ocean breezes. It is the closest place to heaven that I can picture. I haven't been to Hawaii, but am guessing it would be even better.

Conferencing is exhausting. You're either on your feet, walking, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, eating rich unhealthy food, or networking day and night. I love/hate it for a number of reasons. I ALWAYS learn a ton at these things, way more than even a 3 day ESRI training class. At the same time, I am usually shot by Wednesday morning and want nothing more than to sleep for 14 hours. I wouldn't trade San Diego for anything though.

I went to Bastille Days with the kids today. Donna didn't want to fight the heat and crowds, so stayed home. It was nice to have some Q time with both of them alone. I missed them greatly in San Diego and had a good time eating crepes, begneits, and cheese curds with them. They are little adults now and get along so well at these kinds of festivals, which makes it better for everyone. Sarah had her little stash of money, so she shopped for jewelry and clothes while Ben and I people watched and tried to stay cool. The festival was bigger than I remember it, but still a lot of fun. My favorite festival for sure.

I taught Ben how to mow the yard yesterday. I figured he's 12 and it's time to show him the ropes. I figure I'll give him some money each time he mows and it'll allow him to earn a bit of cash. It was a rite of passage for him and me. I remember distinctly my brother Tom showing me how to use the Montgomery Wards mower in the back yard of Portland Ave. He showed me how to prevent cutting my toes off by keeping a safe distance from the blade. It was successful, as I still have all 10. I also remember hitting the top to a tin can that had been laying in the yard and it zinged off like a Frisbee and stuck in the neighbor's wood garage. It was like a Kung Fu star with no points, though just as harmful, I'm certain.

So with a little luck, I'll be spending more time doing other things and less cutting grass in the near future. And that's a good thing, so I'll be Blogging Off...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Conference Blast-Off


Day 3 of my stay in San Diego for the 2011 ESRI Users Conference. All day yesterday was the Plenary session and at night was the map gallery social. It was a full day of rah-rah, all of it good albeit 6-9 months away from being released (ArcGIS v. 10.1). There were several impressive demos given of product enhancements that are groundbreaking.

A few things about these kinds of conferences are:

1. Many of the changes are head knockers in that what they sometimes show is stuff that should have been in the product two releases ago. You get so frustrated waiting for it, then it comes out and you naturally applaud, because you're so befuddled with how it was never there in the first place. That's the nature of software I'm afraid. but it's funny to see how grateful people are to have something so boldly apparent for so long.

2. So often the promise of new releases is refreshing, until you get the product unwrapped, installed and it's buggy. 80% of the stuff works, but you still get the application crash every two weeks or so, usually in the middle of working on something you hadn't saved in the last 30 min. Again, the nature of software, no doubt, but the more you come to these and "drink the Kool-Aid," the more cynical and cautiously optimistic you get about anything that purports to "shave 30 minutes off you're workday." Sometimes that 30 minutes is negated by the 45 minute work-around to do what you used to do in 25.

3. I imagine it's the same thing at the Apple new product roll outs introducing the latest cool app, tablet, phone or laptop. The iPhone (v. 4) is a good example. It came out and it was "ooh, ahh" and then the whole antenna problem surfaced and people were shocked. Well, the rule in any technology is wait a month or two, or better yet a full Service Pack cycle before you adopt a new technology. It'll save you grief every time.

4. The afternoon plenary session yesterday was captivating in that there were three recognitions that were amazingly positive and uplifting. In one a magnet school in Los Angeles did work with middle schoolers on mapping pollutant travels through drainage channels using GIS. It is so cool to see kids using this with enthusiasm, in the interest of changing the world.

Second was a couple who were working in Rwanda with the 500,000 coffee farmers in the area to grow "specialty coffee" for places like Starbucks, etc. This took place after the genocide in 1994 and has grown these farmers income from $500/mo to $3000/mo over a 10 year period. GIS was used to analyze soil, temperature, and other factors. A perfect application for GIS technology.

Finally was a woman talking about global warming and outlining her work with the European Environment Institute to curb it using international monitoring and accountability. GIS was at the core of their research. Again, great change potential, showing both promise and the urgency that we need to take action on things re: carbon footprints, etc.

So, I'm jazzed about GIS and all it can do to make the world a better place. Like every year, the important thing is to carry this enthusiasm back and put it to work on my little niche of the world. I guess that's all you can do. Think global, act local.

Gotta run to my first session. What a great conference, in a great City!

Blogging off...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Eight is Enough


We're dog-sitting for some friends of ours over the weekend. They usually take our dog when we go on vacation , so we wanted to reciprocate.

I want you meet Bentley.

He's quite possibly the happiest, most energetic dog alive. I've never seen him slow down. It's not a bad thing, just very different from Toby, our Cairn Terrier. Toby tires after a walk and needs to lay down for a couple hours. He can wrestle with Bentley for 5 minutes, and hold his own, but then he'll lose patience with it and need a 30 minute rest. Bentley is the Energizer Bunny Dog. His heart beats at 200 bpm and his motor just revs at red line. He's like a dog on meth.

Dogs are a lot like humans that way. Some of us are wired to work hard, play hard and think about the consequences later. And then some of us are more like the get to work when we get around to it, work at our own pace and take the afternoon off type. Sad, but true. We can learn a lot from our dogs if we just watch them interact.

Right now, as I write this, Bentley is sitting next to me on the love seat, because he loves me, panting in my face. It's a little uncomfortable to be loved and needed this much by a dog. It makes me uneasy. Toby sometimes needs some love, but he can just plop and lay. Bentley needs to be told he's loved and petted, and reassured in 5 minutes that he's still loved.

I think part of it is that I can see Bentley's eyes. Toby's are hidden behind his eyebrows that twitch when he looks around. I can see Bentley's needs because I can see his eyes. He has beautiful brown eyes, so they kind of slay me in a way. He's hard to resist.

He's a mix of a Jack Russel and a dachshund I think. He can jump like a Jack and he actually reminds me of a baby deer. He's fast as all get-out at the dog park and few if any dogs can keep up with him; certainly not Toby who's built for comfort, not speed.

Anyway there's going to be a new energy around the house this weekend. We now have two adults, two kids, two cats and two dogs. At any given time, one of these eight will need something from one of us. It's a new dynamic and it's going to require a bit of patience and probably a nap or two.

Blogging off...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Through This Door Walked

I have spent my last couple of weekends refinishing our back door, which was in dire need of a face lift. It was nicked and scratched in many places and in some areas the shellac or finish was completely gone. Its condition never much bothered my wife, as she just saw it as an entry way to our home, where friends and family are always welcome. I have been meaning to get to refinishing it for about the last 5 years, but never quite found the time and energy. To me it is the first thing people see when they come in our house. While the paint and exterior of the house is in pretty good shape, our door was beat. It needed some TLC.

Understand that most people (at least our friends and family) enter our house not through our front door, but through our back. I've never quite understood why this is, but think it might be the result of where our driveway sits. It's just easier to park and walk to the back door. For this reason, I thought the door needed to be shaped up. It's a reflection of the way we care for the rest of our house, so I want it to look nice, or, at least better.

Last weekend was spent doing the rough sanding. It is a very hard wood, likely oak or maple, so I used the palm sander for most of it. The panels required using sandpaper and elbow grease. While the sanding got most of the finish off, it still didn't look right. My friends recommended that I strip it using a chemical stripping agent. That was yesterday's project. I applied it, scraped it, and reapplied a second coat and scraped it again.

Today was stain day. I took it off the hinges again, (I had to put it back on last night) and applied the stain evenly over the entire door.

As I was doing this I began to reflect on the history of the door.

I thought about all the people who have come through it over it's 90 year history (if it is the original door). The  fathers and mothers. I thought about the newborn babies that were brought through the door in car seats, baby carriers and in parent's arms and the calls of "Here honey, let me get the door for you."

I thought of all the emergency exits and entrances that have come through the door. Health emergencies, doctor visits, kid owies and boo boos, and the like. I wondered if paramedics had ever come through the door, or will they in the future? (Let's hope not.) The emergencies got me to thinking about all the bad news that has walked through the door. The news that someone was just let go at work, or that Uncle Phil has leukemia, or the dog has to be put down.

And with the bad news, the good news that has passed through it. The engagement announcements, the excitement of a new pregnancy or a high school sports championship.

I thought of the pets that have scratched at the door wanting in or out. In because they missed their family, were hungry or just finished doing their business on the lawn. It is the door that four times a day we let our dog out to pee and bark at the rabbit that may or may not be in the back yard. It doesn't matter if it's not there, he'll bark anyway. I wonder if there were ever pets that bolted through the opened crack of the door only to send the owner on a wild chase. I recalled the two times I had taken pet cats through the door in pet carriers to their ultimate ending at the pet clinic because of failing health.

I thought of the mighty winter storms that this door kept out over the years. The twenty inch blizzards of January's past, the sub-zero February nights, the blistering 100 degree July days and the cold, damp March days. The door when opened reminds us of the nasty elements we leave behind, and the warmth we walk into. It acts as a barrier to the wrenching heat, and stifling cold of Wisconsin and sometimes of life itself. The elements and the people put this door in the bad condition it was in, and it is up to me to try and make it right again.

The window of the door reminds me of how we look through it to see who's coming, to watch the dog rolling in something in the grass, or a rabbit or stray cat that has wandered into our back yard. I wonder if the window has ever been broken by a ball or slammed too hard in a fit or rage that necessitated it being replaced.

While it's become blindingly apparent through the process that I am not a woodworker (as the refinished door is testament), it's also become clear that like all the previous owners, I value my house and want it to be a haven for friends and family. A place where we can feel safe, live life's joys and sorrows, and slowly learn how important it is to be together.

The door is where it all starts.

Blogging off...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Joy of Urban Fishing


One year ago, I was catching abundant large fish in Canada with a couple of friends. The fish were plentiful and we spent 8 hours at a crack catching them. I loved every minute of it, even in the bad weather. The thrill of thinking that your next fish could be a monster fish or a record breaker, well, you just can't put a price on that. Paired with the good company of a couple of friends, and it's just a great, great memory for me.

Now, because I don't own a boat, fishing locally is a bit less rewarding. I hardly ever get out around town here, so those trips to Canada were where I'd try and get it all out of my system in a single trip. I've found you can't do that with fishing because the minute you stop, you start wondering where and when you'll fish next.

Well, I had a jones to wet my line the other night and had seen a potential spot on the way to dropping Ben off at camp. The spot is on the Fox River down in Big Bend, so I drove there and parked in the gravel at the approach to the bridge.

Not knowing much about the spot, I started fishing with a Rapala Shad-Rap, a fat minnow-looking thing. The river was flowing pretty good, but it's good and deep, so I wasn't worried too much about snags. The shad-rap wasn't the answer, so I switched lures a couple more times. It was with my blue Rattlin' Rap that I got my first action. I felt a tug and the adrenaline kicked in. I reeled furiously for a few seconds, trying to tire the little guy out.

As I reeled it in, I began to sense that it wasn't a fish after all. There was no left-to-right movement or much pull at all. When I got it to shore, it turned out the joke was on me. It was an old Capri Sun package (Photo at top).  I have to say, it is my FIRST catch of a drink bag, so there is that. Also, I think those bags are always in season, and there is no limit. Besides, I like to chalk it up to doing my part for the environment.

Suffice it to say, fishing in Waukesha isn't quite the same as fishing in Canada.

Not content with having bagged just a bag, I crossed the road to the other side of the bridge in the hopes that it would be a bit more productive. I changed lures a couple of times and still had no luck.

Out of desperation, I put on a spoon; a shiny gold and silver daredevil looking thing. While I wasn't catching much of anything, it sure was nice to be out there trying. I just love being on the water, outdoors, killing time.

I was literally two casts from calling it in when, wham, I got a strike. It pulled pretty good, so I set the hook with an attitude and started my retrieval. The thing gave up a pretty decent fight. It felt nice to have anything on, so my goal was just to get a good look at it, if not a picture.

After a minute or two, I got it to shore. It looked like it had thrown the hook, as it was in his gill on the outside. I got lazy and tried to heft him onto shore, and the hook came out. It looked to be about a 16" largemouth bass. It sat there for a minute and then swam happily away.

This of course meant I had to stay and exercise my futility for another 30 minutes, because that's what fishermen do.

In any case, it reminded me that if there's no one to share the excitement and the joy (or the proof) of catching, it's just not the same. This is not to say that it wasn't the high point of my day, because it was. I hope to do more fishing from my new spot and will blog if I have any luck.

Blogging off...