Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States. The weather created an unexpected travel challenge into many people’s plans. I-90 from Albert Lea to Fairmont had either ice or snow pack on the roadway.  Thursday also saw below zero readings along most of my route. Snow and ice do not melt at -13°F, and road salt quits working at around +25°F. At temperatures colder than -4°F, ice and snow begins sublimating, going from solid to vapor without becoming a liquid, but the process is quite slow. A 3½ hour trip thus became a five-hour trip. Freezing drizzle Friday afternoon meant adding a day to my stay. Today’s warm temperatures, sunshine, and slight breeze melted off the offending ice and snow and ensured an easy drive back home this afternoon.

Thanksgiving was not intended to serve as a springboard to the most frenzied shopping time of the year, but to give us a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks. We tend to lose sight of what we have in our life that gives us hope and strength because of fast-paced lifestyles, unsettling news reports, too much caffeine, retail stores opening on Thanksgiving rather than waiting a few extra hours, and too much stress. Each of us has at least one reason or one person for which we are grateful.

Several months ago, a “tag, you’re it” style Facebook posting circulated asking the tagged person to list three to five things they were thankful for each day for three to five days, and to tag three to five other people for participation each day (I saw four distinct variations). I disagree with the principle of putting someone on the spot and asking that person to inconvenience between nine and twenty-five of their friends. For some people, the reason or reasons are very personal. The amount of sharing on Facebook can cause someone’s list to get lost in all the chatter and cross talk. A blog is a better forum for a gratitude list, because not everyone has a Facebook presence.

My gratitude list consists of people, either groups or individuals. If you have a list to share, please use the “Leave a comment” feature at the end of the posting; you can remain anonymous. Happy Thanksgiving!

10. Authors

Three former co-workers are authors published on major imprints, and I look to them for inspiration.

Jade Taylor  (her nom de plume) wrote a story that Harlequin Romance published. Harlequin is a very difficult imprint for first-time authors because of the amount of unsolicited manuscripts. Lucy enjoyed reading “Wildcat and the Marine”. Those of us lucky to work with “Jade” enjoyed her sense of humor. She was very fun to work with.

Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino wrote two children’s books before writing “Percolate: Let Your Best Self Filter Through” with Dr. Katie Eastman. I worked with Elizabeth at two different companies. “Percolate” was a fun and though-provoking read.

Greg Schulz now has three books published focusing on storage networks. Greg worked with Lucy and me over twenty-five years ago. His grasp of extremely complex technical matters and his ability to help others make sense of them makes him a highly sought subject matter expert. Greg is also very personable with a great sense of humor.

Each of these authors has distinct writing styles in different genres. Their successes result from connecting with the reader and having the reader feel that the time spent was worth it and enjoyable. It is something I strive for in each blog posting.

9. Entrepreneurs

It takes a lot of courage, planning, and preparation to be one’s own boss. People working a full-time job usually work 40-45 hours per week. Entrepreneurs work at least that many hours, and then work extra hours managing the books, developing the next advertising campaign, negotiating with vendors, doing interviews, handling shipping and receiving, and many other essential tasks. It is not for the faint of heart or for someone wanting to ease into a new career, especially in a still fickle economy.

Carver Flowers is a great example of pursuing a dream and dedicating the time for the dream to become a reality. Annette and Al have done an outstanding job building their business on trust and quality along with showcasing Annette’s talent and creativity.

MBF_MSC Virtual Administrative Services is an example of seeing a need and developing a business fulfilling that need. Mary does quality work, is very enthusiastic, and works tirelessly at growing her business and giving back.

It is so gratifying seeing these businesses succeeding. They admirably represent the American Dream.

8. Those who keep us safe

Public safety does not take time off. Firefighters, police, snowplow drivers, first responders, and dispatchers routinely work weekends and holidays. The Highway Patrol busily cleared accidents Thursday. Some of those accidents required dispatching an ambulance or fire truck. Snowplows did what they could to keep the roadways passable, though there were areas where the ice and snow accumulated too quickly.

Public safety workers sometimes deal with the worst in humanity, or get dispatched to a tragedy. Yet many of them stay with their jobs for many years because they know they are helping others.

7. Healthcare and hospice professionals

Lucy’s cancer battle required dedication and compassion from several dozen healthcare professionals. Lucy and I have nurses in our extended families. I also have friends who are doctors. It takes thousands of hours of training, followed by passing board exams and licensure to begin either career. One difficult part of the job is knowing not everyone receiving care has a positive outcome. Nurses in particular tend to dying patients, diligently focused on making that person as comfortable as possible, while being compassionate to that person’s loved ones. Lucy always thanked her doctors and nurses because she was grateful that they were doing their best while caring for her, including the emergency room doctor who told her that her battle was ending and there was nothing more that could be done for her.

It takes a special person to become a doctor or nurse. Hospice workers are very special. They tend to a person transitioning from this life, and they help the remaining loved ones begin adjusting to losing that person. Lucy’s hospice workers were professional and compassionate. Her hospice nurses were incredibly supportive of me while I helped tend to Lucy in her last days. The hospice team gave Lucy the chance to be at home, surrounded by her loved ones, in the house she loved. It was an incredible gift.

6. Blog readers

Your comments and criticisms help me be a better writer, and your continued readership gives me confidence to continue. All of you help me be a better person. I hope you get something enjoyable and entertaining out of my musings.

5. My brothers and extended family

I have a small immediate family which unfortunately became one smaller nearly eighteen years ago. My two surviving brothers live over 250 miles away from me, in opposite directions. They remain a big part of my life.

I am fortunate to have a large and loving extended family. My cousins are supportive, wacky, intelligent, compassionate, and a very fun part of my life. Most of them live fifteen hundred miles away or farther from me, but each of them holds a special place in my heart.

4. Good health

Like many of you, I have endured a number of physical challenges. I won’t even try to estimate the number of hours I spent in general anesthesia, much less physical therapy or lying in a hospital bed. I have a dear friend who easily eclipses my numbers, so I know how lucky I am. It took a lot of work to put Humpty Dumpty back together. My career in IT was three decades of high stress work with constant career reinventions because the technology changed rapidly. Yet I am in surprisingly good health and fitness, though I could improve on the fitness part.

3. My parents

Love and sacrifice. My parents gave up so much while I was spending a chunk of my early years in the hospital. Dad worked a full-time job and ran a farm so Mom could raise my brothers and care for me. Most of my surgeries and recoveries happened in Rochester, about eighty miles from home. They made a lot of trips for me. I was a huge challenge for them. It took a number of years before it sank in what they sacrificed for me, but I am lucky it did sink in, and I am still awestruck. They are still both alive and recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary. I love them dearly!

2. Close friends

Everyone needs a support system and my close friends have helped get me through the past thirty-one months since Lucy passed away. Friends are best measured by quality rather than quantity, and I hit the jackpot with mine. These are people I trust, with whom I enjoy spending time, who generously listen, and offer advice when I need it.

Lucy’s passing is a difficult adjustment. I am extremely fortunate to have one close friend who has invested (and still invests) a lot of time with me, who gets me out into the world, who challenges me to think, gets me to laugh, helps inspire me, shows genuine interest in how my day is going, and is a lot of fun being around. That is the sort of person who can brighten a day with a simple text message or a long phone call, and I do my best to reciprocate, though I think I have the better end of the deal.

1. Lucy

Most of the nearly 90,000 words written in this blog are reasons I am thankful for her, yet I would need a few million more to adequately describe my gratitude. I still miss her and I will for the rest of my life. She was my best friend, my rock, my confidante, my inspiration, my sounding board, my passion, my joy, and my universe. She was my once in a lifetime windfall of good luck.

Even though she is no longer physically here among us, she remains a part of me. My life is better because she was part of it and she still keeps me working on becoming a better person.

In closing, I have many blessings for which I am grateful. You probably have many blessings, too. As a reminder, if you wish to share some of the things you are grateful for, please feel free to leave a comment on the blog site.

If you are lucky enough to have a special someone in your life, give that person a long and meaningful hug to let him or her know how much you love them for making your life better. Give your loved ones a hug when you get a chance and I hope you enjoyed your holiday!

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Leaving our lumps

All of us have taken our lumps at some time in our lives: making a mistake at work, having an unfortunate slip of the tongue, or in extreme cases, being on the wrong end of a moving fist. With luck, the damage is fleeting and temporary. Snow covered roads create a different phenomenon: leaving our lumps.

Parking lots look like the aftermath of a minor avalanche. Packed ice and slush chunks ranging from fist sized to some that are just smaller than the iceberg that sank the Titanic occupy parking spaces, hidden by behemoth four-wheel drive trucks crookedly parked in every other spot. Of course, if there isn’t a small glacier in the spot, there is a shopping cart instead…or sometimes both. It adds to an increasing stressful shopping experience, which becomes worse between Thanksgiving and mid-January.

These lumps add a level of suspense to freeway driving, too. Even if the road is free from ice, an ice boulder dislodging from the vehicle in front of you results either in an explosion of slush and ice chunks or a rock-like object bouncing and skidding on the roadway. Leaving a lump can cause someone to take some lumps.

Minneapolis chose not to declare a snow removal emergency November 10, the metro area’s first snowstorm of the season. The side streets in the Uptown and East Calhoun neighborhoods have ridges of ice and packed snow because the plows had to swerve around street parked cars. Parallel parking a mid-sized sedan in a residential neighborhood with narrow streets is a challenge. The ice berms and basketball sized frozen wheel well detritus add several extra layers of complexity. A three day stretch of above freezing weather is forecast for Friday through Sunday. Perhaps the warmer weather will improve the streets there.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the United States. If the weather holds up, I hope to spend time with my family. If the weather is fickle, I will attempt to make a dinner here, complete with the requisite lumpy gravy and clumpy potatoes. I guess I will have my lumps and eat them, too.

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Sliding into winter

Mother Nature and the calendar are often at odds. The calendar says December 21 is the start of winter, but the landscape and temperatures point to winter starting on Monday. Not only was the temperature sliding into winter, but also were the commuters attempting to get to work. Sunday was the last day of above normal temperatures. Since Monday, the daily high temperature fell below the average low temperature. The long-range forecasts hint that managing a high of even freezing (0°C or 32°F) will not happen for another ten days. That would be the time when our normal daily high drops to freezing.

Monday’s snowstorm surprised many people. The weather forecasters predicted between 8″ – 16″ throughout the metro area, but unusually dry air, a more northerly storm track, and warmer than forecast temperatures conspired against them. There were areas in the northern exurbs getting over a foot of snow. Some of my friends with the option to telecommute did so to stay off the roads. My back yard picked up less than 2″ of snow along with 0.14″ of rain. I mowed the yard on Sunday to grind up the last of the fallen leaves. It was nearly one of the rare years where lawn mowers and snow throwers got workouts within a 24 hour period. My asphalt driveway retained enough heat to melt off the snow on its own.

There are some good things about the snowfall. The thin coating of snow on the ground is ideal for bonfires. Strong northwest winds make it difficult to keep a fire burning. Perhaps the wind will cooperate this weekend. Local ski hills are opening. The ground is not totally frozen so the snow that fell is slowly melting and soaking into the ground. That will help make up for a dry September and October.

Last winter came early, stayed late, and was quite obnoxious with nearly double the average snowfall and with snow piles not melting until July. This year, the snow held off until November rather than mid-October. Here’s hoping spring arrives in March rather than in June. Spending time with family and loved ones is precious. My hope is the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s travelers are not affected by inclement weather, and the only sliding into winter happens to children on sleds.

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A cozy fire

Bonfire season got off to a good start this year. There was just enough rain in September and early October to keep a bonfire from burning down the neighborhood and the wind would become still after dark. Most of the tree leaves fell off in three brief periods which also helped minimize risk of an out of control fire. Warm days, almost summer-like, faded into cool evenings. It was nice to get several evenings of having bonfires and not feel guilty about incomplete yard work.

November is starting out in its usual Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde self. Sharp temperature swings, gloomy skies and strong winds prevailed the first few days of the month. Now, the dreaded “s” word (snow) is creeping into tonight’s forecast, although some areas north of the metro area have enough to turn grassy areas white. Strong winds and a lack of rain the past week or so made having a bonfire impractical and dangerous.

We are the only creatures that have mastered making and, for most part, controlling fire. I have not seen any raccoons with Zippo lighters or squirrels with matches yet. Without fire, modern civilization would never flourish. Wood and stone can only build so much. Building an automobile or a computer requires fire for smelting metal ores or restructuring aromatic hydrocarbons to make polymers. Ancient civilizations thought of fire as one of the essential elements. Cultural mythologies had stories of gaining control of fire by theft from the gods or a gift from an animal. Fire gave humanity the ability to keep wild animals at bay, to harden the sharpened points of wooden spears and arrows, to cook food, and eventually, to make metal. Perhaps that is why people generally are fascinated with fire. Fire also gave humans the ability to make paper, plastic and ink which the glut of candidate signs from this year’s mid-term elections will confirm. Not every advancement is perfect.

And yes, fire can warm up a bitter cold day and light up a dark night. Cooking hot dogs, toasting marshmallows or making S’mores are an added benefit, of course. Fire is also the perfect document destruction method and is much more fun and faster than running a shredder. Gathering friends and family around a fire on a still autumn night is very relaxing and quite fun, even for the fire tender. Watching someone with a lot of camping experience keep a fire pit maintained and smiling ear to ear is one of the many benefits. There is something primal about fire, but not in a fearful way. That separates us from other creatures.

There will be some breaks in the weather and I am certain that a few more fires will burn before it is too cold to stand outside for any length of time, or the snow is too deep to trudge to the woodpile. Until then, enjoy a cozy fire and the company of loved ones.

firepit in use

Fire light, fire bright, first spark I see tonight…

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