Monday, May 12, 2008

Improving lapses between posting

Look, it's not been six months (or more) since the last post! As usual, I'm demonstrating my passion and devotion for keeping the blog current with the most up-to-date information about my life. La la la.

Quick update: The snowbank, a.k.a. the Merrimac Range, finally melted. It was nearly a couple of months ago, actually - but not before it got a reinforcing shot of snow on Easter Sunday. The weather finally turned more agreeable to spring, in dribs and drabs, but even yesterday morning it was only 30 degrees outside the front door.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for snow melt updates stemmed from the snail's pace progress of the whole affair for what seemed like weeks on end. And even after the snow finally did yield to extinction, it didn't feel like spring. "Below average temperatures" have started to become, well, rather average. It still doesn't feel like spring, except that my old friends Burning Eyes and Running Nose have returned to help me ring in the pollination of every tree from here to Canada.

Speaking of which, I had an allergy test last week. Terribly exciting, sitting bare-backed in the doctor's office, feeling the nurse scratch my back with a whole variety of histamine cocktail solutions. "You'll feel an itch on some of these in a few minutes," she said, "but don't scratch them." Easier said than done; after eight minutes, I was sitting on my hands, squirming, trying not to concentrate on the intense itching radiating across my back. The rule of trying to ignore it is that it gets more intense, and the more you try to fight it off, the worse you feel. When the nurse came back in she said, "My goodness, you're lit up like a Christmas tree!" When I looked at my back in the mirror I saw bright red welts the size of a fist. It was such a classic case of being very allergic, in fact, that the nurse called other nurses in to have a gander at me. Nothing like being a lab rat.

(Just writing about it now is causing my back to itch again.)

The results: I'm allergic to tree pollen (this I knew). Specifically, birch, oak, maple, elm, cottonwood. And grass pollen (news to me). And ragweed, especially so, judging by the 100-millimeter welt that spread across my skin. (Again, news, since I seem to have my most severe allergy problems in the spring.) Also, somewhat allergic to cats. But not dust or mold, nor dogs or birds, so the parakeets that moved in with my wife will have to stay.

After all this excitement - and with Running Nose and Burning Eyes now being a nearly constant presence - I've been holed up inside spending too much time at the computer. But I'm in the process of creating a website about the canoe trip that Jenni and I are planning for September. It's no epic paddle-to-the-Arctic, but it's along a route that is still interesting, notable, and adventurous. And I promise it will be updated more than once in a blue moon.

I'll post a link as soon as the site is completed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Merrimac Meltdown, Part 2

Listen to the news today, and you probably heard something about spring arriving at 12-something a.m. The TV newspeople I watched and heard seemed to delight in mentioning not only that spring had arrived, but that it had done so during the first hour of the day. Hark! The sun has finally crossed the equator and is headed back to our hemisphere...which, if you think about it, would be a whole lot more meaningful if the sun was actually in the sky when it happened. Then we could have stepped outside and said, "Wait for it, wait for it, wait...there! It's crossed the equator! Spring, here we come!" On cue, birds would sing and flowers would burst forth from the ground.

Right: Instead, we are under a winter storm watch.

Let's look back a few days. Here's how our crusty, unsightly, unwelcome snow pile was faring last Tuesday, after a day of burning sun and temperatures in the high 40s:

Here's a view of the ugly glacier along the street. Still significant snow, but the banks are waning:

By now, the poor damaged shrub - the calling card of the Plow Man - had emerged. You can see various shurb-parts scattered across the snow.

Alas, poor wounded shurb...will he survive the landscaper's scrutiny?

I felt lousy on Tuesday, and spent the following day in bed. Since then, practically everyone I've called throughout the last few work days is either sick, getting sick, or getting over being sick. Stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, flu, you name it. A week later, I'm still working on blowing my sinuses clear.

Thursday was even warmer than Tuesday. It was 50 degrees out when I snapped this:

Look - grass! And our first artifact of emergent trash, on the boulevard along the sidewalk:

Then our melting documentation experiment goes awry. My wife decided my dad's suggestion of using snow to clean the garage floor was a brilliant idea. On Saturday, she scooped a bunch out of the pile, dumped it on the concrete, and used it to drag the accumulated road filth from the garage floor. Now, it's all over the driveway, where we'll undoubtedly track it back in. I will concede the floor is clean.

At any rate, because of this disturbation, we'll never now just how fast the Merrimac Range would have melted. Then on Monday, as one person remarked, winter called in reinforcements:

The snow was the kind that's almost more water than white, the kind that does goes splish, splosh, slip, slop when you walk through and makes a mess of your pants. By the next day, it had melted, and the sunny weather returned.
Tonight, we're under a winter storm watch again, with a couple more inches of white slush expected by morning. And the forecast for Easter is a pathetic high of 37 degrees with flurries. Fortunately for those of us who live in these uncooperative northern climes, Easter won't come this early again for some 200-plus years.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The sound of melting

Enter daylight savings time; the sun is still high in the sky now that I'm home from work. That's welcome...another sign that spring is on its way. The sunlight is a hot white hue these days, not the warm yellow of mid-winter.

Today was momentous because the temperature finally climbed above freezing - the first time since, what, six months ago? It's 35 outside as I write! Strangely, it doesn't feel as warm as it ought to. There's a brisk west wind, so the air still has a bite. Supposedly, it's blowing in warmer air for midweek, but I'm skeptical.

There's been a bit of melting of our front yard range of snow. Not enough to document, but the damaged shrubbery - what's left of it - is starting to poke through the softening drifts. When I went out to get the mail, I heard the faint-yet-distinct sound of melting. Bend down to the snowbanks, and you hear what sounds like a rag being rung out. Squelch, squelch.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Merrimac Range Meltdown

Here at the homestead, I have decided to keep tabs on the arrival of spring, or lack thereof, by monitoring the melting of the Merrimac Range. Today, the TV news reported that we have had at least an inch of snow on the ground - a bit relative, since it's been blown around lately and there's almost none on the lawn but a 2-foot drift on the patio - for something like 90 days.

After it snows at least an inch, the Plow Man and his Crew show up early in the morning and dig the place out. The Plow Man knows how to clear our driveway and the neighbor's in five minutes flat. It's a few quick runs with the plow pickup, and he's on to the next driveway. Most of that snow ends up in my front yard, where it has been piling up for three months. The result is the Merrimac Range, a Teton-esque ridge of ice and snow. The range rises sharply from the edge of the driveway in a tumbled mass of icy crags and snow boulders that make up the south face, while the north slope falls away more gradually to the snowy plains of the front yard.

It was at its most spectacular Christmas Eve:

Weekly, the range is reshaped by the unforgiving, often violent forces of Mother Nature, neighborhood kids, and the Plow Man. In the last couple of weeks, the blazing sun has beaten it down a bit. Here is an aerial shot from late this afternoon:

As it is wont to do, March has arrived with a schizophrenic personality. First warm sun, blue skies, and soft snow under ski. A day later, freezing rain and flakes. Then cold. Then snow again (just in time to muck up this morning's commute). Now, frigid air from Canada has settled over Minnesota for the umpteenth time this winter.

Despite the discouraging weather, we at BlogOLink remain hopeful for the coming of a spring. For the benefit of our readers, and friends in California who don't have seasons other than "sunny and 70 degrees," we will monitor the demise of the Merrimac Range. How long will it take the sun to flatten these mountains? What treasures - or trash - will be revealed? And when will we get a clear picture of just how badly the Plow Man pulverized the shrubs? Stay tuned for regular updates.

Wednesday, March 5, 5:45 p.m. - 16 degrees at sunset. The Merrimac Range is as solid as a rock. At this rate, it's going to be around until July.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's a beautiful day...don't let it get away

So here it is: Jenni has been gone for six days. It's chilly in the house, and it's freaking freezing outside. It's supposed to snow overnight. Below zero by Friday morning.

The house is dark. The silence is so heavy I've taken to talking to myself out loud to fend it off.

Work's been a pain in the ass...long, mentally grueling days for weeks on end.

Sometimes, when your wife is away on a dark winter night, you have snap yourself out of the mood. You sit down at the computer, you pull up You Tube. You find a couple of music videos and crank the volume until the floor vibrates. You close your eyes and let the music carry you to a brighter, warmer place, where the beat's in your brain and the melody is rushing through your veins like a river of bubbly.

When you open your eyes the house is still dark, it's still cold outside, and your wife's still away. But she's only away for a couple more days. The weather will improve. Your job will be easier. And you smile, because it's a Beautiful Day in the City of Blinding Lights.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Epilogue: Republicans are dumb

Before any of you label me a partisan hack, I'd like to offer this follow-up to last week's post about our tax-happy DFL friends at the Minnesota State Capitol.

As you'll recall, the transportation bill that legislators enacted - overriding Gov. Pawlenty's veto in the process - was mostly split along party lines, but not quite. In this instance, it was six House Republicans who broke ranks to go along with the DFL to override the veto. These representatives said they refused to go along with the party line because they felt that passing the bill was the right thing to do.

As I made pretty clear last week, I disagree with them. Vehemently. The transportation bill's tax increases are too many to dump on Minnesotans all at once. But I respect these men and women who made a personal stand and said, "I believe the right thing to do is pass this bill and I am going to vote with my conscience." Assuming we have elected honorable and decent folks to represent us and act in the best interest of our state and its people, we can only hope that all legislators would do the same on this and every vote. (For the record: I'm sure the vast majority of them do.)

The Minnesota Republican Party, however, has made it clear what it thinks about legislators who vote with an independent conscience: They ought to be scolded and embarrassed with a public demotion. This was the response last week. Days later, it's still making headlines.

Clearly, we have state politicians - or political leaders, in any case - who have willingly fallen into two divided, utterly partisan categories. We already know that politics in our country is headed down this road. To see it with increasing boldness in our state government - once known for its civil discourse and progressive approach to civic matters - makes me sick. In terms of the legislature, it seems there's not much to look forward to between now and the end of the session in May.

Then again, who needs the legislature? There are much more exciting things happening in May. In fact, in 79 days, we're going to be in for the treat of the decade: A familiar face is making a return...fedora, whip, and all. Fasten your seat belts, because on May 22 Indiana Jones returns! (Turn up your speakers and watch the trailer here. Nifty countdown clock also.)

Let's hope all of our legislators hit the theaters after the session to take in Indy's latest adventure. Maybe they'll learn a thing or two: Dr. Jones is a role model we can all look up to.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tax, tax, tax - the mantra of the Damn DFL

I've just finished watching the news and I'm hopping mad - so incensed that I've been pacing around the house and shouting obscenities at the TV.

Why? Because my taxes are going up, at the hands of the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature.

Today, the state House of Representatives voted to overturn Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion transportation bill (Star Tribune story is here). Why did Pawlenty veto the bill, you ask? Because the DFL got greedy.

The collapse of the I-35W bridge last August brought the state's "crumbling infrastructure," as some have called it, into sharp focus. Lawmakers, political leaders, government officials, and media pundits all began jabbering about our chronically under-funded infrastructure. They had valid points - most of us Minnesotans would probably agree that our roads, generally, aren't in the shape they used to be. (Of course, later the NTSB said that, preliminarily, its investigation was pointing toward a construction flaw that would ultimately doom the I-35W bridge, not some negligence of the Minnesota Department of Transportation and lack of funding...but never mind that.)

Even the governor seemed open to the idea of a gas tax increase, and a lot of Minnesotans along with him. A couple of cents seemed reasonable - a compromise between no taxes and the sky's-the-limit attitude of the DFL. But DFL legislators drafted a transportation bill that would raise it a whopping 8.5 cents per gallon by next year (3.5 cents of that is "temporary," for bonds authorized under the plan, but you can bet they'll find some excuse to keep it permanent). In addition, the bill hikes up the license fees on new cars, and - this one really riles me - enact a new quarter-cent sales tax on the seven-county metro area without a referendum.

Translation: In a year, I'll spend an average of an extra 85 cents every time I fill up my car to satisfy the state's appetite for spending. And I'll be paying an extra 25 cents on every $100 I spend here in the metro area - where I live and do 95 percent of my shopping - even though no one offered to let me vote on it.

That's only a few cents out of anyone's pocket, you may argue. On any given day, that's true. But over time, that money adds up. It especially adds up for the Minnesotans who are struggling to make ends meet, who are facing foreclosure with an adjustable rate mortgage that is about to send their monthly payments skyrocketing, who may have just lost a job as the state's economy teeters on the brink of a recession, and who are paying more and more for food, fuel, energy, and just about every basic necessity.

DFLers probably weren't thinking about those folks when they were congratulating themselves today and celebrating "making history" with the first override of a Pawlenty veto. That might be because your average state legislator won't feel the pinch nearly as much as your average Minnesotan. Many of the legislators who represent us are successful lawyers and businesspeople. Many own their own businesses. Many have incomes that can afford these tax increases. Perhaps, as Gov. Pawlenty suggested, they are a bit out of touch with their party's base.

The veto override passed with 91 votes; 90 were needed. It wasn't exactly along party lines, but close. The few Republicans who supported this bill are taking a lot of heat, and defending themselves by saying they voted on conscience, believing that passing the bill was the right thing to do. I don't take issue with that, providing their vote reflects the majority of the people they represent. But I do take umbrage with the DFL as a whole, crafting such a greedy, bloated bill and then foisting its tax increases onto Minnesotans all at once, at a time when milk is $4.30 a gallon.

The DFL bills itself as the party of farmers, unions, and blue collar workers. But its transportation bill will disproportionately hurt those Minnesotans who are most economically vulnerable.

Since Daddy DFL knows best how to take care of Minnesota, there are a couple of logical next steps: (1) It ought to craft a bill regulating the price of milk and dairy products. And, (2) it ought to immediately suspend all government subsidies for the energy boondoggle otherwise known as ethanol. That would free up even more money for transportation, and in the process, decrease the demand for corn, which is driving up the price of all sorts of goods.

I suppose that's too much to ask - unless, perhaps, it involves a new tax.