Long ago, practically in a previous life, we lived in North Dakota. We lived for a while, in fact, on the eastern edge of the Bakken oil field, and then later, further east off of its eastern edge.
But that first year, we lived in Plaza, ND, a town–if it could indeed be called that–that was no more than about seven blocks wide and maybe five deep (though the Google Maps view seems to charitably assign road indices to what pass for alleys in town). The stated population was 150, though I frequently thought that was being overly charitable.
The town had a gas station, a bank branch (usually just staffed by one lone person), a post office that really was not much larger than a two-car garage, and a “mall,” which simply housed a small grocery store, a small hardware store, and a small cafe.
Then there came us. Two twenty-somethings, setting up shop in our rented five-bedroom house. There were no street addresses, in fact, no marked street names. So we made up our own street address (occasionally not the same one) for the UPS guy to use for deliveries. But truth be told, he knew where we lived and complained once that our doors were locked so he couldn’t stick our delivery in the entry for us.
But more than once, we were asked about the status of baby making, for purposes of keeping their school funded. You see, back then, in the mid- to late-1990s, North Dakota was slowly, quietly dying, bleeding out population. And we swam upstream to move into the state. And it wasn’t just that town, it was others, and other people from across the state who I came into contact with, who said that they really wished the state could grow a bit.
Then, sometime last decade, it finally became technically and financially feasible to mine the Bakken for oil. And the boom was on, with thousands of people moving in to run the mines to suck–or more appropriately with fracking, push–out the oil. The exodus stopped. The fortunes reversed. North Dakota is growing again.
They got their wish. But they never thought about the cost.
Just today, a news story hit saying that Williston, ND, a town that had no more than 10,000 people living within its borders when we were out there, now has the highest rents in the nation. The city, practically in the center of the Bakken, is now estimated to have 30,000 people living there, and that has made housing so scarce that a 700 square foot apartment will run you nearly $2400 a month, more than New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The glut of six-figure salaries is largely to blame, though the lack of housing is another cause. But in a recent series on NPR, it was almost sad to hear people who almost certainly were lamenting the slow death of cities like Williston just 15 years ago, now saying that they don’t even recognize what the city and state have become.
But it’s what they wanted, right? It was the dying wish of a dying state to have fortunes beyond measure come to them. But they never thought about the downside: the cost, crime, overcrowding, lack of infrastructure, or even, as shown in a recent satellite photo, the constant bright light of hundreds of wells burning off excess natural gas.
Sure, it isn’t all their fault–there have been wells out there hopelessly pumping low-grade crude for decades. But they didn’t do anything to slow down the rush by drillers to get in there once the technology was available to get the oil out of the flaky rock deep below cities like Williston. So now it’s becoming almost impossible for the people who were there first to live in homes and apartments they had been in for years.
This is the progress North Dakota wanted.
See you tomorrow.
Okay…Before we start the festivities, know this: mom, I love you. And that’s why I can laugh at (and with) you.
I have decided that my mother does her best and most active thinking on Sunday mornings. And if I pulled my cell phone records for the last eight years or so, I could prove it. And actually, I think I can pin down the timing of her best Sunday morning thinking to a block of time between nine a.m. and noon.
How do I know this, you may ask?
Because I and my family are, more often than not, in church during that block of time. And, that is when I frequently get messages from my mom of one sort or another…Thank goodness I am pretty good about muting my ringer. Unmuting, on the other hand is a bit trickier…
Back before we introduced her to texting, voicemail messages were the mode of communication. My pocket or hip would vibrate the requisite three times (sometimes inconveniently mid-sermon), and then it would be gone, shuffling her into the ether of my voicemail. Then, post-text-introduction, I’ll get these text messages regarding one thing or another. Sometimes carrying attached photos of whatever she’s doing at the time.
Are they important? Sure. In the sense that regular communication with your mother is important. And they can be topical. Or necessary. And I can’t say I want them to stop. It’s good to know that she’s up and pondering the world and needed to share some part of it with me. But it makes me laugh every time I see a message come from her during church hours.
So it’s a running joke in my life: church time equals time for mom to call or text. It’s what she does. It’s who she is. And as inconvenient as it may be, it lets me know that I’m always there, somewhere in her head.
At least on a Sunday morning, I am. And I’ll take that.
Love you mom!
See you tomorrow.
And it was.
The story is about Emmet, an ordinary Lego living in a huge Lego city, following the instructions that all Legos live by. Then, after falling into a hole at a construction site with a red block stuck to his back, he is identified as “the Special,” who is supposed to return individuality and creativity to the Lego world.
He falls in with a group of “Master Builders” who can build just about anything they can imagine from the bricks they find around them. And they look to him for leadership.
They are fighting against President/Lord Business, who wants nothing more than the perfect world he has built to stay that way.
It’s a simple story, and an allegory about following directions, being creative, embracing change, and so much more. But it’s done really well at various different levels, so it’s entertaining for the kids and grown ups. It’s quickly paced, and filled with all kinds of humor. It’s a crisp story that only stumbles a bit at the end as it works too hard to make the ending too deeply emotional.
And the animation–most of the movie is CGI, though some of it is actual Lego–is so well done that the Lego world is just truly overwhelming to look at at one time (we’re going to need to go frame-by-frame when we get the DVD or Blu-Ray). The water, fire, streets, buildings, and everything are Lego, and it’s just amazing to look at.
Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a great movie? In many ways, yeah. In some ways, no. But I think its shortcomings are easier to overlook because the rest of the movie is just so fun and great looking. But for every kid who has ever had a collection of Legos, there is so much of this movie that you can relate to and celebrate: the different types of sets, the instruction manuals, and that playland that exists in your head when you’re building and playing with these toys.
It was a movie that was worth seeing on its opening night. And we’ll see it again several times, though probably on DVD. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
For those not living in these parts, it may well be forgivable to not realize that we do indeed have a professional football team. You may well also be forgiven if you don’t realize that said professional football team has been playing in an antiquated building. It is a building that is so old that hipsters may not have been alive when it was opened. All others, though…
Okay, you get the picture. The dome’s dead, the new Vikings…er, thing…is being built. And today, the Vikings shared with the world more images from their brand new cathedral of football. Let’s take a look at what we’re getting for the next 30 years, shall we?
I’ve said it before. This thing looks like it was pooped out of robot. I have no idea what the architects were thinking when they designed this thing, but there had to have been some sort of mood-altering chemicals involved.
What’s worse is that half of the roof is transparent, and the other is not. Meaning that half of the crowd will have a permanent sun tan, and the other will not. Meanwhile, the photographers will hate every minute of this light/dark horror show.
Those who don’t live in town here may not know where the new stadium will be built. Let’s answer that pictorially:
As you can clearly see, it’s conveniently located across the yet-to-be-built park from the Hennepin County Jail, which should speed the process of getting players back into the game after their drunk driving arrests.
And for a view of the pristine stadium and the Minneapolis skyline at night, we give you this image:
This, by the way, is an artist’s rendition of what it would look like if the Vikings ever had a winning team. I shall hold this close to my heart for all eternity as it shall never, ever come to fruition.
Okay. Enough of the exterior shots. What about the interior amenities? The new website set up by the Vikings touts the seven clubs in the stadium, including the “Valhalla Club,” so named, presumably, as a place where can honor the Vikings war dead. But, as the team also points out, this new stadium is nearly twice as large as the previous stadium, while still holding just a few more seats…So they had to do something with all of that extra space.
What about the suites for the discerning fan and their overblown corporate overlords? Let’s look:
Looks pretty swanky, don’t it? Nice enough so these suite-dwellers can completely detach from the real world and not even have to watch the game through the doors at the far end of the room there.In fact, it will be hilarious if the sliding glass doors there are actually frosted as they appear in this rendering.
Let’s look at another suite:
The keen-eyed observer will notice several wonderful things about this suite: first, the garage door opening at the other end of the suite. Second, that this door seems to open up directly at the back of the end zone, meaning that players can dart in and out of the suite during breaks in the game, and grab a few chicken wings to power up for the following play, and return before the next snap. And third, the lighting on the woman on the right seems almost like direct sunlight, which leads me to believe that this stadium may well have many structural elements which, like half of the roof, will be transparent.
Finally, let’s look at the locker room.
Pretty nice, eh? The team colors adorning the walls and floor give that team pride. And the logo in the ceiling for those moments when everyone looks skyward wondering just what the hell happened out there.
Finally, let’s share some numbers…right off of the Vikings’ new stadium site: the new stadium is going to cost 17.7 times the amount that the Metrodome did. But let’s keep in mind that inflation since 1981 has caused costs to increase just three-fold. The concourses will be almost twice as wide, there will be more handicapped seating, and just over twice as many bathroom fixtures. There will be more concession stands, substantially larger video boards, more TVs, 11 elevators, 34 escalators, one pedestrian ramp, and, most importantly, WiFi.
Wow. I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this. The day they gold plate this sucker will be one to remember.
See you tomorrow.
Somehow, Jenni and I decided to start trying hard ciders over the Christmas break.
Jenni likes sweeter drinks and foods, and I’m not a big fan of a lot of beer, and yet, there’s this common desire to drink more alcohol. Yes, I realize how that sounded…We’ll just go with it for now.
So hard cider became an option.
Here are some reviews and thoughts. (Dad, just go sit in the corner…I’m still experimenting with some dry ciders and haven’t found one I really like yet. So shush…) Let it be known here and now, though, that so far, I’ve just been playing in the shallow end of the domestic cider pool…No foreign stuff yet.
First: I bought a sampler pack of Angry Orchard and we tried that.
The crisp apple is the sweetest of the bunch. It’s refreshing, almost too easily drinkable, and one of those things that you don’t realize was alcoholic until after you’ve downed the bottle.
I liked the traditional dry as it’s sweet but also drier. Pour it over ice, and I really liked that as a nice dinner beverage. And the ginger was a good taste, too: sweet and dry, with that edge that’s almost like a good ginger ale.
I’ve tried the original flavor of Crispin hard cider: it’s good, with a sweetness somewhere between the Angry Orchard traditional dry and crisp apple. But there’s something there that isn’t quite as smooth.
I want to try some of their other flavors, but their pricing is a bit higher than some others I’ve seen…Plus they only come in 4 packs at my local liquor store.
I just picked up another couple brands to try, and these are smaller producers, which so far has reflected well:
First is Woodchuck hard cider. Unlike Crispin and Angry Orchard which are owned by huge beer manufacturers, they’re a medium-sized operation based in Vermont. They produce a handful of varieties, though I started with their original flavor, dubbed, unoriginally, “Amber.”
I really liked this one. It’s sweet and dry, but without a noticeable edge, so it’s very smooth and easily drinkable.
Then there’s Ciderboys. This small producer, based in Wisconsin, has only been on the market for a couple of years. They offer only one pure cider: called First Press. The rest are fruit blends–cranberry, strawberry, peach and the like.
But they’ve gotten good reviews, and I agree. It’s a more apple flavored cider, so it’s sweeter than most, but you notice the zip of the alcohol, and you don’t get that with either Crispin or Angry Orchard.
I’m thinking I need to try the cranberry, but I don’t know about the others yet…
All in all, I’m addicted. I really like the flavors and the range of types of ciders there are. And hunting down options is kind of getting fun. So stay tuned for more reviews as I go.
See you tomorrow.
For those keeping score at home, yes, I’ve been gone for about a week.
I blame the usual suspects: nothing to say, no desire to say it, a complete giving over to the desire to become a blob in a comfy chair at home and appreciate the American dream of total laziness.
You’d think it wasn’t that hard, writing a blog here every day. I mean, it’s basically just opening up the brain and letting something I’ve thought about, seen, read, heard, eaten or cooked just fall right out into a field on a screen which then gets formatted and presented to you in the nice prettified presentation.
I try to view writing this as an exercise and duty, all at the same time: an exercise in creativity, proving to the world that I can indeed crank out beautiful prose or meaningful nuanced thoughts that all can consume and appreciate. But it’s a duty because I want to try to fill your head with all the crap I can five days a week…
Ah, well. It is what it is. There are something like three of you who read this on a regular basis, and the screaming doesn’t increase or decrease if I miss a day. Or two. Or a week.
But I had something to say this time. Besides lamenting my horrible skill at keeping up with a blog that I often wish was bigger and better than it is.
It’s funny how things work sometimes, memories or references to souls long gone popping up without reason at odd times. Today the memory of Pippin came back to me a couple of times already in totally unrelated ways: one was the weekly visit to another blog I read, by James Lileks, whose 19-year-old dog passed away last week. And the other just comparing how our current cats sit to how Pippin would sit.
It’s weird how those things just start the dominoes tumbling, recalling the disinterested, regal stature of Pippin, and then one of her predecessors, Katushka, both of whom were probably either reincarnated queens, or truly felt they deserved everything that came to them in that life and more.
Etta could have that stature, but she’s still just a kitten at heart who desires attention completely on her terms: doing figure-eights around Jenni’s feet as she’s doing her hair and makeup in the morning, or following me around incessantly after dinner, yet not usually spending much more than 20-30 minutes on my lap. She just stays somewhere she can keep an eye on me or sleep nearby, as if she just needs to know for sure that the day is over when I head to bed.
Pippin could spend hours on my lap, even as a kitten, purring and kneading and sleeping the day away if necessary. I don’t know if that was just her, or if it was born from sitting on my lap during the countless hours of pre-law or economics paper writing during college. I’d like to think it was just her, but I think it’s both: Etta sits just a few feet behind my desk chair or just under it when I’m in my dean, and she’ll follow me whenever I leave the room. Again, just keeping me in sight.
But I read Lileks’ blog entry from last week, relating the long slow decline of the family dog, and the decision to put him down because life was becoming such an uncomfortable struggle for him.
And I cried.
I wrestled with that decision with Pippin–everything just seemed to abruptly but quietly shut down for her. And her last few days were spent sleeping, drinking very little, and drifting in and out of a haze of consciousness. She’d been there every day for 21 years. And for those last few, I felt horrible because I couldn’t really do anything for her except watch her fade away.
As you advance through life, more and more of it is just memory, packed into your head. Joys, sorrows, regrets, friendships, loves, and feelings, all stacked up as vignettes that only come back when prodded by some event that ever so briefly passes through your life. It’s interesting, though, that even with the memories that hurt or make us sad, we still strive to build more memories that add to that feeling of wholeness we have as we grow as a person.
Etta’s a different cat than Pippin, though there are some similarities. Gus is totally not like any cat I’ve ever had. And yet, I enjoy my life with them. Just as I did with Tito, and Pippin, and Katushka. All of that experience and feeling just keeps coming back. Because that’s what memory is.
See you tomorrow.
There’s a trend afoot in the world, to “binge-watch” entire seasons at a time of a TV series, as if sitting through 13 or more hours of non-stop entertainment is really that easy to do. At least it isn’t that easy for me to do. I just can’t keep it together for that long.
But I needed to come back to the House of Cards series as produced by Netflix. Last time I wrote about it, I was disappointed, and not sure I’d finish the season. Well, I finally finished the 13 episodes of the first season so that I could see if things got better.
They didn’t. In fact, it magnified a huge problem I have with a lot of TV series (and even some movies) these days: they don’t actually wrap anything up at the end of a season.
First, let me assess the House of Cards season: I still hate every single one of the characters in this show. No one is a hero or even an anti-hero. Everyone’s despicable and selfish and self-absorbed and not even the least bit likable. And because of that, I can’t say that I find anything in the series actually entertaining. I was not compelled to come back for the last few episodes to see how things turned out, except to see how it compared to the original.
I’m not even sure how Robin Wright managed to win her best actress award at the Golden Globes, unless acting consistently sullen and brooding is a good thing.
But here’s the big problem: nothing actually ended in the story. I got to the end of the 13 episodes and was just left feeling empty. We’re left stuck in a middle place where all of the various storylines have come to a stop, without a resolution that makes me want to continue. For instance, in the main plot line, Francis Underwood got his nomination to be Vice President as he wanted, so while his plan mostly worked, various aspects of it spiraled out of his control and he ended up backing into what he wanted and not really controlling the outcome. This doesn’t make me care one way or another for the character.
What really irritates me is that these shows and movies begin with the assumption that their viewers will come back to the show regardless of what they’re given, so there isn’t any incentive to resolve storylines in the first season. The result is that from my point of view, the best episode of this House of Cards season was actually the next to last episode. Not the last one that would make you excited to head into the next season.
It’s funny because this same conversation came up with Patrick, who saw the latest Hobbit movie–the second of three made from one book. He’s read the book and said that there are a lot of things added that weren’t in the book, and it made this film tedious. Whether he’ll go back to see the third film or not was still up in the air when we talked.
So maybe you film and television writers should go back and figure this out. I don’t mind storylines bridging the seasons, but at least give us resolution or a cliffhanger to bring us back.
See you tomorrow.
We’ve all seen this kind of story before: rich, cultured person gets new perspective on life after meeting a poor, down-on-his-luck, streetwise person. And that effect goes both ways. This is one of those movies.
And, in a few cases, movies like this have been made based on true stories. This is also one of those movies.
Plus, we’ve seen French films. This is also one of those movies.
I give you today’s review: Intouchables.
Based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caregiver Abdel Sellou, Intouchables looks at the odd-couple relationship between Philippe and Driss.
Philippe is wealthy, has a staff of people to help him, and is a quadriplegic as the result of a paragliding accident. His beloved wife died before they were able to have kids, and so they adopted a child, who is proving to be a difficult teenager.
Driss is kicked out of the home where his aunt and several of her kids live because he periodically goes missing for a while. With a prison record, though, he’s sure his prospects are limited, but goes looking for jobs at least to get his paper signed to continue receiving welfare benefits.
He shows up for an interview as a caregiver for Philippe, explains that he doesn’t expect them to hire him, and that he just needs his paper signed. But Philippe tells him that he’ll give him a chance, and if it doesn’t work out, the paper will get signed so he can keep getting his benefits.
Of course, the relationship clicks. Driss shows Philippe how to really live, in spite of his health issues, they share their respective art and music interests, and begin to become friends in addition to being reliant on each other. In the meantime, Driss discovers that Philippe has been in a correspondence relationship with a woman from Dunkirk and encourages him to call and meet her, but Philippe is resistant because of his condition and his money. Driss eventually convinces Philippe to arrange a meeting with the woman, and he goes, but gets cold feet and leaves before she arrives.
But with Driss living in Philippe’s mansion, one of his cousins comes to him seeking help because he’s in trouble with a gang. Philippe releases Driss and tells him to go and help his family, but while Driss is gone, Philippe stops letting his new caretaker care for him. Then one of his assistants calls Driss for help. Driss arrives and takes Philippe for a drive, ending up at an oceanside hotel, where Driss cleans him up and takes him to a dinner with the woman, thus completing the circle of each giving to the other by recognizing the need to care for their family and those they love.
Have we seen this before? Absolutely. Is there anything really different about this movie? Not really. But is it well done and funny and poignant? Yes. It’s a light and easy story, and in a short time, you really grow to like both characters in spite of their flaws and imperfections because you recognize that in spite of their flaws, they’re good, genuine people.
Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
Perhaps you heard the big tech news from Monday: a company called Nest was bought by a company called Google. And ever since then, there’s been quite the hubbub over this.
I’ve seen Twitter posts from people threatening to rip the devices from the wall if this really goes through…Never mind the fact that doing that would keep your furnace from functioning, but whatever…
But, for the uninitiated, Nest makes two products: the first is an elegant, brilliant, and wildly overpriced thermostat that “learns” how you adjust the temperature in your home during the day.
Yep, it’s a programmable thermostat, a lot like the one I’ve got hanging on my wall, except that mine didn’t cost $250.
Okay, except that mine isn’t as pretty, doesn’t “learn” my habits (I’ve had to program specific times to heat up and cool down manually)…oh, and mine doesn’t connect to the internet so I can control the damned thing over the web.
The second product is new, but it’s hot as well: a souped up, internet connected smoke detector. And I understand the appeal of this product even less than the $250 thermostat.
The yelling about Google’s purchase of Nest centers entirely around the fact that it’s Google buying them. And my guess for the reasoning is that Nest products have that Apple-like simplicity, design aesthetic, and price point. Never mind that they’re internet connected, and that they’re one step closer to the ultimate technological goal of a network-connected house. The bottom line in this entire argument seems to be that it was Google that bought them. Big, bad Google.
I read this column today that talked about it, and how this writer doesn’t trust Google. But does that mean he trusts all of the other information scrubbers in his life? I mean, I think we can make some assumptions from his article: First, the dude’s got an iPhone. So it isn’t Google collecting his data, it’s AT&T or Verizon AND Apple (and his assertion that Google cooperated with the NSA should be amended to show that Apple admitted to doing the same thing, though they’re arguing now that they didn’t actually help the NSA hack iPhones). His provider knows where he is all the time, except for when the phone is off or doesn’t have a signal.
Second, he’s got internet access at home. Whoever is providing the access is capturing what sites he goes to, and how long he spends there.
Third, he’s probably got cable or satellite, or at least Netflix or Hulu or some other streaming service. And they all track what you watch, how much you watch and the like.
And fourth, he’s unbelievably naive to think that no one he purchases any of these services from doesn’t sell his information and data to anyone else. You’ve got to be holed up in a shack on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean these days to not have some sort of footprint reverberating across the internet.
To top it all off, remember that Nest products connect to the internet. For convenience, you know…Not to call back to the mothership once in a while with some tidbit of information, I’m sure…
Apple isn’t nearly as transparent. And from what I’ve read, they collect and sell an awful lot of information about their users as well.
This kind of thing puzzles me. We expect these connections and services to be a one-way street, where we use a product and provide a great deal of information and do not expect that it will be shared. It’s the same as the NSA revelations–I’m astounded that people really believed that no part of our government was doing any kind of spying on its own citizens. Apparently just now, we’re learning to be skeptical about our government’s interests and actions.
Are we as consumers that naive?
So what if Google owns Nest. Even if they do collect all of the data from the little thermostat and attach it to your Google account, what more have they learned? That you wake up at 5:30 and crank the heat to 78 because you have cold feet? That changes absolutely nothing about the product or the user experience.
So all of you who have complained about the purchase, get a grip. Go back to your iPads and keep trying to believe that Apple isn’t logging what you’re doing right now.
See you tomorrow.
Those of you keeping score at home know that Hannah and Zoe are eighth graders this year, which means that we here in Lathropworld are in the market for a new high school (or two).
Today, we began the shopping process.
Hannah and Zoe aren’t entirely sure what they’re looking for in a high school. Though they have some guidelines that we’re working from: they don’t want to be in a school that’s as big as Patrick’s. And they aren’t sure they want to continue in their current program and go to the high school equivalent of their current school. So there are some limits that we have to work within.
But since it would actually be their default school anyway, we took a tour today of Edison High School.
I spent most of my life believing (mostly truthfully) that Edison was not a great school. I only went to the school in my neighborhood for one year–eighth grade–and at that, I ended up going to Edison for first hour French every day, and then was bused back to the junior high for the remaining five hours of the day. Otherwise, I went to better schools with better programs in other parts of the city for the remainder of my school career.
When we were looking for schools for Patrick those many years ago, nothing stood out until we saw the program at the school downtown. And because we liked it to start, we sent the girls there. But then it stopped serving Patrick’s needs, and we looked around for alternatives and ended up sending him to Roseville.
So yes. I felt a bit dirty even considering Edison for my kids. It’s like watching someone get mauled by a bear in a cage at the zoo, and then sending your kids in as apprentice bear trainers.
Well, then there’s the realization that we never really gave Patrick the latitude to choose his school as much as we’re giving the girls. Sadly, his move was mostly a reaction to two things: the fact that at the time there were few good options for him at the high school in that program, and that he had been bullied for a while there and we needed to get him out.
Fortunately, that all has worked out well.
But back to Edison…
I haven’t set foot in a Minneapolis Public High School since I graduated in 1987. And I haven’t been in Edison since 1983. But there was a real familiarity there, because I think all Minneapolis Public Schools built in the same era as Edison all had the same basic design elements…The woodwork, center courtyards, staircases, even the creaky wood floors in the classrooms.
But remember that the girls were there to see what this school had to offer. So there it was: the future set amid flashbacks to the past. I’ll let you know how this all turns out.
See you tomorrow.