Dinner and a movie, not in that order.

Yesterday afternoon we went to see The Revenant. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I doubt if you would be surprised to hear that this two and a half hour film builds to a pretty dramatic, tense climax. That’s a lot of footage of Leonardo DiCaprio having a really bad hair day. We went to the newly remodelled Plymouth Theater, which has reclining seats that are like Barcaloungers on steroids. Movies had better be entertaining or the audience will certainly be napping.

Leo’s interminable slog through the wilderness managed to keep me just above the snore zone. I was told by someone that the director claimed that there has never been a movie made like this one. I’m not sure what aspect of it he was referring to, but if that’s true, why did we pretty much know what the outcome was going to be. I’m not necessarily complaining, I enjoy a good survival and revenge flick as much as the next person. And the locations were spectacular.

About a hundred and thirtyfive minutes in, just as the final, final climax was starting, Beck leaned over to whisper in my ear. I know it’s rude, but we try to be fairly quiet. I thought to make some comment about action on the screen.

I leaned toward her and heard, “Weren’t we supposed to be at Becker’s tonight?”

Oh crap. I knew this was somehow my fault, I’m the organizationally challenged one who has a very long record of space outs.

We’d been invited to dinner hosted by the world’s greatest entertainers, along with two other couples that whose company we enjoy. One does not refuse an invitation to the Becker’s.

Although I had put it on the online calendar, I hadn’t put it on the paper calendar taped to the refrigerator.

“When?”

“Now! Should we just duck out now?”

Hell no! I’m not investing this much time in a movie and not see the end!”

We were in weekend at home mode, looking pretty rough. Not as bad as Leo, but for suburbanites, pretty rough. We would need to go home and change. We usually are underdressed by comparison, but this would be taking slovenliness to the extreme.

We bolted from the theater as soon as the credits started to roll, jumped in the car, called our hosts to beg forgiveness and let them know we’d be late. Rushed home, changed clothes and rushed back out the door, we made it to their house, only about a half hour late.

The movie end of the movie was exciting, dramatic and tense. But the real adrenalin shot came from our dash to dinner.

 

 

 

 

Wild Noodle Chase

"Spätzle-02" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sp%C3%A4tzle-02.jpg#/media/File:Sp%C3%A4tzle-02.jpg
Spätzle-02” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.
"Gulasch" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gulasch” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week the StarTribune ran a feature in the taste section on cooking with paprika. This made me nostalgic for the Hungarian goulash at the Black Forest Inn. I was a bartender there from 1974-1978 and the goulash was one of my favorite dishes. The article had a recipe so I made up my mind to make a batch. After our car shopping failure on Friday we made a Costco run and I picked up a package of cubed beef. Main ingredient taken care of, my plan was to make a quick sortie to Hy-Vee for the rest of the ingredients.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream. The Iowa based grocery stores are huge and they have an amazing selection of whatever you can think of. They are just moving into Minnesota and built two new stores in the Twin Cities area, one of which is about 4 blocks straight North of us where the dilapidated K-mart and Big Dollar stores previously blighted the neighborhood. We moved to New Hope in 1991 about the time the last grocery store in town closed. There hasn’t been a supermarket in New Hope since. Now there’s a great one within walking distance of us. Possibly the best thing that’s happened since our children were born.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream.

What does one serve their goulash with? The BFI served it on rice if I remember correctly, but the recipe I had suggested spaetzel. Spaetzel are little dumpling like egg noodles which were also a part of the Black’s fair. I decided to go all in on the nostalgia and serve the goulash on spaetzel.

My level of culinary ambition was not high enough to make my own spaetzel, although it doesn’t seem that hard. I just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I set out to locate the spaetzel. At that point, I wasn’t absolutely clear as to what spaetzel was. I thought that it might be made from potatoes, since it seems similar to gnocci. I looked in the German section of the ethnic foods area, no spaetzel. In fact not much of anything considering there are more folks of German ancestry than Scandinavian in Minnesota. The German section was dwarfed by the Mexican section. I checked the pasta section, just in case they lumped it in with Italian starch bombs. I checked the refrigerated section and the frozen section and the health food section and came up empty.

When in doubt ask someone.

When in doubt ask someone. I stopped a young woman in Hy-Vee uniform and when I asked she got that WTF look on her face. I described spaetzel, incorrectly saying it was like a potato dumpling. I mentioned the fact about the prevalence of Germans, and she replied that she was one-hundred percent German and I shook my head over the assimilation of our culture into the mainstream of tacos, chow mein and salsa.

“I’ll ask the grocery manager.”

She came back a few minutes later, “He didn’t know what it was, but we have potato dumplings in the frozen section.”

Now we were really barking up the wrong dumpling.

We asked the young man stocking frozen foods. He looked at us like we’d asked where the thousand year old eggs were. We spent several minutes combing the huge frozen section and couldn’t even find the potato dumplings, which we shouldn’t be looking for in the first place. I applaud the Hy-Vee training program, these folks are obsessive about helping you and are truly shocked when they realize they might not have something you want. It was not easy to  convince her that not going home with spaetzel was not a disaster. I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel. She earnestly made a note for the grocery manager and said they would try to add it to their stock.

I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel

I finished up my shopping and got in the checkout line. They asked the inevitable question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Oh oh, here we go again, “As a matter of fact, no.”

It happened that the woman who I assumed was the head cashier was helping in that lane. So once again the gauntlet was thrown and she was off in search of the elusive noodle.

Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

I checked out, paid up and was headed out the door when she intercepted me with… a bag of spaetzel. It had been in the Italian section (another insult to my heritage), I’d looked right at it. The problem was that it didn’t look like the spaetzel I was familiar with. I’m used to homemade spaetzel that looks like little bumpy white grubs. This spaetzel was the commercially made, longer, more slender and uniform extrusions which look more like short linguine than spaetzel. I was skeptical. Was this part of some plot to co-opt Tuetonic  culture? Creeping Italianization? Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit to my doubts. I had reached my tolerance point for being helped. I’d spent way too much time at the grocery store, Becky was texting me wondering if I’d gotten lost. So I paid for this bag of imposters and got out to there quickly before someone else tried to help me with something.

I must say that the spaetzel cooked up into the rich, fluffy little dumplings that I loved, even though they looked very odd to my Northern European eye. And the goulash was exceptional!

Progress Report: Day Five

 

typewriter vintage

I’ve been able to maintain my string of 300 words a day. This will be day five. I’m not that excited about what I’ve written, but I have written.

One of the interesting things about this experiment is that writing begets writing. Flexing one’s creative muscles makes them stronger. What do you know? After being blocked for months, if not years, now that I’m forcing myself to write daily, I’m finding it easier to write. While I was blocked, I had no ideas of what to write about. If an idea came to me, I would dismiss it as something no one would want to read about. I was worrying about writing for an audience instead of writing for myself.

That’s kind of crazy, because I don’t have much of an audience anyway and who am I to judge what anyone would find interesting.

I’ve found that the act of writing itself leads to more ideas. In the last five days I’ve had more ideas for things to write about than I have in the last year.

There are, of course, writing mentors that have been preaching this forever. It’s not like this is a big revelation. There’s even a hashtag, #300words. But there’s a difference between getting advice and taking advice. It’s like organization, I know how to organize things, I just never seem to get around to it. Thus the mess that is my desk.

One of the tricks I’ve read is to block out a time and sit down at the keyboard, say fifteen minutes. During this time, you don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. This won’t be easy, especially if you are like me and are easily distracted by shiny objects.

The biggest thing, whatever your creative discipline, is to do it. Don’t judge yourself or your work. There is plenty of time to go back and make improvements, to learn from your mistakes and hone your skills. Over time the quality will come.

Car Shopping

mazda-3_0
This is not a driverless car. It’s the Brit model, which we aren’t looking for.

I made the claim that I would be banging out 300 words between my second and third cup of coffee in the morning. That didn’t happen today, but here I am at the keyboard to keep my streak alive as twilight approaches.

The reason I didn’t write this morning was that Beck took the day off so we could go look at a car. We’ve been a one car family for years, but now that I have a job in South Minneapolis we’ve been running into some “who gets the car” conflicts. So the morning was spent not buying a car.

We’re not looking for just any car, we’re looking for a car that meets B’s specifications, a 2012-2013 Mazda3 hatchback that has Skyactiv Technology, heated seats, a moonroof, and is a cool color. Very specific. And hard to find. The reason for the tight date range is that Becky likes the body style of the previous version, which was last produced in 2013. We also want the Skyactiv thingy because the 3s equipped with that, whatever it is, get 10 more miles to the gallon than those without. We were operating under the impression that 2013 was the first year it was available. Today we learned that it is available on some 2012s.

Beck found one online Wednesday that almost fit the bill, color was silver, not a cool color. But it did have heated seat and a moonroof and we were beginning to think we weren’t going to find that absolute perfect car. We go up this morning and headed to Morrie’s Brookdale Mazda to check it out. Do you ever wonder why car dealerships cluster together? The stretch of Brooklyn Boulevard that Morrie’s is on is almost all dealerships, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a car salesman. Sorry salesperson.

Crap, the car we had in mind was already sold. We should have called ahead. All was not lost, because Roger, the 22 year old car salesperson was determined to not let us off the property without selling us a car. Which meant we got to ask him all kinds of questions and he even explained to us the virtues of leasing over buying. And leasing would be a good deal if you wanted to have a newer model car and always have a car payment. But that’s not the way we roll. We get a car and drive it into the ground. But he pulled out all of his tricks and when I asked how much we would need to put down on a new car in order to have a $250 monthly payment, he figured he ad us. That’s not the way to figure out if you can afford. But I was just curious and we were going to say no anyway. But that question got a manager out there and almost got us a second explanation of why leasing is the only way to buy a car.

Now I know I could make this more interesting (that’s a low bar, I’d be surprised if anyone has even read this far) by ranting about or parodying the high pressure salespersons. But that wouldn’t really be fair, because they were actually very polite and helpful while trying to, to use sales lingo,  overcome our objections. But when we said no, they didn’t do the “won’t take no for an answer” sales thing.

But I did tell them that Becky was a stubborn Norwegian, and most Minnesotans know what that means.

Big Win

The Gopher Women’s Basketball team upset #20 Northwester 95-92 last night at Williams Arena. Lead by Rachel Banham’s 32 points and 4 steals, they took advantage of the Wildcat’s star Nia Coffey being forced to sit out most of the first half with foul trouble to build an eleven point lead at the half. Northwestern answered with 33 points in the third quarter to get back in the game, but the home team held on in the fourth, beating back the visitor’s charge and makin 7 or 8 free-throws down the stretch.

In the first half the played as well as they have all year, using their quickness, shooting and ball movement to counter a significant size disadvantage. Alina Starr helped the Gophers out-rebound the Cat’s 39-38 with strength and hustle, playing above her height against much taller players. But many in the stands were left unsure of how she pronounces her first name. It sounded like the announcer pronounced it “A-lay-na,” “Al-eye-na”, and “A-leen-a.” However you pronounce it, it means “plays hard” in hoop language. A mid-year transfer from Auburn last year, she just became eligible to play after first semester. She immediately became a starter and what a great addition to the team she’s been.

The crowd got a first look at another transfer, although in street clothes, Bry Fernstrom, a 6’5″ post who was starting at Iowa State when she left the team mid-season. She will be eligible in time for the Big Ten season next year. Coach Marlene Stollings has another transfer in streets on the bench, Kanisha Bell who averaged 14.5 points a game as a starting point guard for Marquette and broke the school’s record for steals by a freshman. She was named to the Big East All-Freshman team. It looks like she’s the top candidate to fill the hole left by graduating senior Shayne Mullaney.

Interestingly all three of the transfers mentioned are Minnesota girls who, for whatever reason, transferred back to the U after Stollings took over the program last year. Kill the fatted calf baby, the prodigal daughters have returned!

This post was an experiment by the author, the point of which was to write a post without using the first person pronoun. 

 

WordPress Wednesday

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s WordPress Wednesday. Every Wednesday a group of my fellow WordPress enthusiasts meet at CoCo to work, hang out, and share expertise with each other and anyone who shows up with questions. Coco is a Twin Cities provider of co-working spaces, providing members with a place for working and networking. My membership gives me 5 days a month to use the facilities. You can do 3 days a week or every work day. I joined so I could hang with the WordPress Wednesday group and so I could get out of the house once in awhile and get some human contact. Working at home can make you feel very isolated.

I got into WordPress as a platform for blogging, actually for this blog. Xanga was going downhill fast and I wanted to have a self hosted platform for Horizontal Ambition. I had some experience with building static websites, having used Dreamweaver to build a portfolio site that I thought was pretty cool, but to blog you really need a CMS (content management system). At the time I didn’t know what that was, but I got myself a Godaddy hosting account and registered the domain and started my first WordPress installation. Not too long after that, I was at the now defunct cigar shop in the neighborhood and somehow fell into building them a website using WP. Then another denizen of that smokey cave told me he’d heard that I was a WordPress expert. He needed help with his site, so I jumped in and quickly learned that I didn’t know jack about WordPress.

From that point on, it was down the rabbit hole. I googled around and discovered that WordPress was actually a CMS that could be used to build just about any kind of dynamic website you could think of. I went to the monthly meetup of the MSP WordPress User Group and sat through some presentations that went so far over my head they had contrails. But I met all kinds of helpful people and heard about WordPress Wednesday. I traded in my iMac for a Macbook Pro so I could bring my work to with me, and I’ve been showing up on Wednesdays ever since. Although I’ve been kind of scarce since I had my unfortunate confrontation with a floor, but I’m moving around much better now and I’m getting back into the groove.

In fact, that’s way more than 300 words and I have to shovel the f**king driveway and head over to CoCo Northeast.

That’s two day in a row! The Timberwolves would call that a winning streak.

300 Words

springfall 1 digital
springfall 1 digital

Another long gap between posts. You might think my heart really isn’t into this blog. Don’t let me be misunderstood. My intentions are good. So I’ve decided to write 300 words a day. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not much good at following through on challenges like that. But if you don’t try…

That was 54. Now what? I’ve been struggling for a long time to decide what this blog was actually for. It started out over on Xanga (anyone remember Xanga?) and it was fun there because I was part of a group of people who wrote humorous, ironic personal essays. I still am in contact with those folks, but I think most of them are just posting on Facebook now. In fact is anyone doing personal blogs anymore? Does anyone read them?

Lately I’ve been pretty busy for a retired guy, I have a part-time job and also have some freelance projects going as well as prepping for a class I’m teaching. The procrastination of all those tasks takes up a lot of time. I’ve been thinking that most of the stuff I’ve been working on is production. I’m pretty good at production, I have a high skill level in all the software, I’m accurate and when I finally bear down, I’m pretty quick. But that’s not what I really want to do. I want to create content. It could be writing or it could be visual art. If I’m good at anything, it’s making art. I don’t know why I’ve avoided doing it for so long. Dabbling in this and that, guitar playing, chess, web development. Geez, learning coding? That’s pretty left brained for an artist. I guess it’s just the ADD in me.

So for right now, every morning, somewhere between my second and third cup of coffee, I’m going to try to bang out 300 words each day. I’m not going to guarantee that I publish all of them, because some might end up being complete drivel, and others might be about stuff that’s none of your damn business.

That wasn’t so hard.

Meanwhile back at the ranch.

IMG_1466To say there’s been a lot going on in my life since my last post is like saying the Titanic sustained some minor damage from an iceberg hit. I got a new job. I broke my hip, my daughter got married, I learned to surf. Ok that last one is a lie.

In August I was contacted by on of my web clients, The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder,  asking for me to recommend a print designer. The Spokesman-Recorder is a weekly newspaper for the African-American community, it’s the oldest Black owned business in Minnesota. Their designer had left for another job and they were looking for someone who could take over and help them with laying out the paper and handle collateral design projects.

I’ve been tossing around the possibility of getting a part-time job, a few hours a week to supplement my retirement income. But given the fact that I can’t really bend my knees or be on my feet for long periods of time, I’m kind of limited to what I can do. I already failed as a barista. But doing some design work in-house a few days a week would be perfect. So I recommended myself. I’ve been working there for a couple of months now and I really enjoy it, great people to work with, perfect hours and a regular paycheck. Between Social Security, my freelance income and this, I’m almost as much as I did when I retired.

Actually I didn’t break my hip. I broke my greater trochanter. Which is the little nub on the outside of the top of the femur where the glutes connect to your leg to articulate your hip. If you’re walking through a house that has a sunken dining room, looking back over your shoulder talking, it’s the part that hits the floor first when you miss the step. Yup, that’s what I did. In Chicago at the rental house we were staying at, two days before the wedding. I had the pleasure of escorting my daughter down the aisle on crutches.

The fracture wasn’t displaced and didn’t require surgery. They didn’t see the crack on the X-rays in Chicago, they diagnosed it as a bone bruise. It wasn’t until the pain wasn’t getting any better and I went to a local bone doc who discovered the break. I didn’t have much pain in resting position, but there were certain movements that gave me a breathtaking shot of pain. I was told to use crutches until the pain went away and start physical therapy. It’s been about five weeks now and the pain has pretty much gone away, it seems to be getting better by the day. I’m down to one crutch now, and sometimes I find myself walking around without it. I’m hoping to be crutchless next week for the Gopher Women’s Basketball opener.

Yes, Lucia and David got married. I’m going to save this story for another post.

Obviously not hip enough

Many years ago, a friend of mine was a big fan of Thomas Pynchon,  particularly enamoured with Gravity’s RainbowI tried to read it. All 700 some pages. It is  an outrageously funny, complex and difficult read. I was within 80 pages of finishing. I’m a guy who rarely gives up on a book. I came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to resolve the insanely convoluted  plot in the last 80 pages. I put it down and never picked it back up.

The trailer for Inherent Vice a film based on the Pynchon novel of the same name, sucked me in, with the same results. Becky and I watched it with another couple and at least one person was snoring by the time we packed it in. At one point we thought, “We’ve spent this much time on it, we might as well gut it out to the end.” But then we realized that there were still forty minutes left. We went to bed.

But I knew Pynchon was loved by many of my literate friends and I decided that owed it to myself to take another look. In the course of my research I ran across a list of the great contemporary writers which mentioned Pynchon, but also named Don Dilillo. The only thing I knew about him was that my mind always went to Don LeDildo when I saw his name. So when I found a copy of White Noise at the used bookstore, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

White Noise doesn’t feel like a novel to me. It’s more like a collection of short stories with the same characters. Or maybe Saturday Night Live skits. It’s got that post modern ironic flavor that makes you feel like you’re not smart enough to figure out how good it is. Like cod live oil, I kept taking it because I thought it was good for me. It helped that it had short chapters. Some passages were brilliant, one is a riff on misinformation that starts with a simple statement and each subsequent response evokes another misconception. But then I ran into a long chapter. And I found that I was totally uninterested in what was going to happen next. I couldn’t go on.

On that same trip to the used bookstore I picked up books by Elmore Leonard and Saul Bellow. I read the Leonard book first, which is like having dessert first. After I gave up on Delillo I started the Bellow. One page in, I already knew I was going to enjoy Humboldt’s Gift more than White Noise.

OK this is weird


Snowy Buddha
I mentioned earlier that I had started meditating. I’ve found it very useful in maintaining a good outlook, being positive and resilient. However I am by nature extremely skeptical of new age mystical magical supernatural phenomenon. I don’t believe in ghosts.

I had an experience this week that was, shall I say, unreal. I often use guided meditation, and I particularly like a podcast called Meditation Oasis. The guide, Mary Maddox, has an incredibly soothing voice and she’s really helped me with my practice. The podcast has dozens of meditations for various situations and I recommend it highly.

One of the meditations is for “Morning Energy.” I use it often when I’m starting out my day and I’ve found that it did indeed seem to increase my energy. One of the things she does is to ask you to imagine a center of energy in the middle of your pelvic region. She asks you to imagine it spinning and glowing and absorbing light. These days I mostly experience prostate pain in that region. Weird stuff. Then she asks you to turn your attention to your feet, the soles of your feet and feel the energy flowing up from the “core” (of the universe?) through your feet, up your legs, through your body and up to the “crown chakra” at the top of your head and then feel it shoot out the top of your head like a fountain of energy. C’mon, really?

I did this exercise a few times and experienced some level of increased energy, but I stopped, partly because it just felt a little to “New Age” for my tastes. Then late last week I tried it again. I shifted the way I was trying to imagine that ball of energy and the flow of energy through my body. I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a very vivid experience of those things actually happening! My limbs were twitching as if a rush of energy was flowing through them and I really felt as if it was shooting out of the top of my head and showering down around me like some kind of fireworks display. I had the same experience the next time I tried it. I’ve never experienced anything like it. OK I’ve never experienced anything like it without being under the influence of psychedelics. Hey, I came of age in the late ’60s.

I almost hate to admit this happened, I’m a proud skeptic, after all. I’ve tried this twice since, but I was somewhat distracted and the experience was much less intense. I’m guessing that what was going on here was some sort of self-hypnosis, and I’ll admit that I’m pretty susceptible to suggestion and have always had a vivid imagination.

I will not be packing up for Tibet to go on a year-long silent retreat, a la Sam Harris, anytime soon.