Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fat Air

I remember one episode of The Simpsons where Homer disappeared, or something, and either Patti or Selma said "he just vanished into fat air." Well, from where I sit, I am without a doubt experiencing the low-cal version of the atmosphere. As soon as I stepped off the plane here in Helena I breathed deep...and kept on inhaling. It's a strange feeling, and one that takes a few minutes to get used to, but it's a small tradeoff for such good company and such staggering vistas.

From the front door of my wife's parents' house in the outskirts of town one can easily see mountains commanding attention on the horizon, at once reinforcing the majesty of their creator and reinforcing the smallness of the beholder. It is a humbling sight, and one that I hope I never tire of witnessing. Not that I am in danger of wearing out the view, mind you. We come up here once or twice a year, depending on finances and obligations and whatnot, and usually stay for about a week until heading back to the trees and plains of the midwest. And our time here is usually spent relaxing, running small errands, walking the dog, and preparing and eating meals. Tonight's menu, by the way, is homemade pizza.

I should also take some time (and so, I will) to mention a few things about our visit to Lincoln which was, as predictable, awesome. :) We got in at 2:30 on Saturday morning, thanks to extremely dense fog clear through Iowa, and went about enjoying the amenities of Lincoln for several days thereafter. Christmas Eve was a near critical mass of unicycle riders (and future one-wheelers for those who don't yet know how) all opening presents and drinking my brother's apple cider in my parents' living room. My mom even surprised me with one of the best presents I have received in recent memory, which also served to provide somewhat of a degree of closure: A 100-pack of Fiery Habanero Doritos, all single serving bags, of which I consumed 15 the following day. My wife got me the Indiana Jones trilogy, and other nice gifts included The Protector from my brother Tom, a self-charging flashlight and a copy of Super Mario Galaxy from my parents, The Godfather Part 2 and the complete Firefly series from my wife's parents, an ornament from my brother Phil, and others that I cannot remember at the moment. On top of it all, however, sits the gift of Christ who was sent for all of us, and without whom we would be hopelessly lost sinners in need of a savior.

The sound of the door opening just a few moments ago means it's time to get started on dinner. Merry Christmas once again, everyone, and a Happy New Year to you all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Recap

Just rolled in from Lincoln, and here's the quick version:

- Christmas with The Fam was Teh Awesome. Lots of good food, excellent card games, and dozens of photo-ops with our 19-month old niece.

- Brought Guitar Hero. Rocked basement.

- Got Mario Galaxy. It feels like my computer is rotating while twisting itself inside out as I type this.

- Saw lots of friends, ate lots of shrimp, drank lots of Andy's cider.

- Board games rule.

- We head out for the second leg of our Christmas 2007 Tour tomorrow. Destination: Helena, Montana!

- George, our Geo Prizm, officially turned 160,000 on the drive home this afternoon. I got him some new windshield washer fluid and an oil change to celebrate.

- Time for bed. *snore*

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Winter, To

Last weekend I attended my first-ever hockey game, which may seems a bit countercultural in that someone of my age around here should have been to several of these events by now, but might I politely remind all you would-be naysayers that I attended UNL for five years and went to nary a Huskers game?

I will, thanks.

Anyway, the game was, as many of the spectators might have described it, "super fun." Far more interesting and exciting to watch than football, and far more mentally engaging than baseball. I hope to attend more of these in the coming months, and my brother Andy even offered to take me to a hockey game should I be in Lincoln when one is occurring.

After the game we made a trip to (where else?) The Brass Rail with (who else?) Jon and Sarah for some broastedey goodness, but an otherwise stellar trip to an outstanding eatery was marred by a dearth of cottage cheese and longer-than-usual service times. But nothing stops the Chicken Train once it gets going, and dinner was as belt-loosening as ever. Mmmm...tasty chicken...

Monday I tailgated with Jon as well as my cousin Matt and some others downtown near the Metrodome before the Vikes played Da Bearss. Two hours of standing in the cold with good company, excellent brats, and strange but fun sports fans wielding all manner of purple paraphernalia all amounted to a supremely fun time. Definitely worth checking out if you have not experienced it, but it is also, without question, a dude thing.

Last night some friends stopped by to drop off some Christmas cookies, which was an extremely pleasant surprise. We even made tentative plans to go snow tubing, as well as have a game night where we can all get together for some cards, board games, and a healthy dose of Vitamin Wii. One of my wife's friends is also in town for a visit and stopped by with her fiancee (sorry folks, I don't have time to look up the HTML code for the ASCII character that is an accented 'e') and we had some delicious pizza, followed by Guitar Hero and a few rounds of Password, a game my parents got for us last Christmas.

Why is it that so much of this blog revolves around food? :)

Friday it's off to Lincoln, and then to Montana next Thursday. Them's the holidays, folks!

Friday, December 14, 2007


When I was a kid, my dad had an ice cream pail full of taconite sitting in the garage, perpetually full and continually tempting, daring, all us brothers to use it. So we often did, and often in conjunction with my dad's slingshot. We usually shot it at street lights and trees, but occasionally we just went to the nearby schoolyard and hurled those tiny little pellets with as much potency as far as our tiny little arms could wrest from that slingshot, often aided by the rules of physics and some coaxing, just because, well, why not? And as such is the logic of little boys, so often is the logic of their grown counterparts.

I still do not know precisely what taconite is used for, but I do know that tonight my wife and I watched a movie based, more or less, entirely on those pellets of slingshot fodder. Well, perhaps that is somewhat of a stretch, but the movie, North Country, did take place in a mining town way up nort in Minnesota.

Now, the plot of the movie aside, there are some archetypes which are uniquely Minnesotan, which can often only be captured by a skilled observer (ethnographer?), and such was the makeup of North Country. A chilly small town framed always by a monolithic water tower and accented by aging Chevy trucks, the sides of which are eternally tinged with salt and grime. A Lutheran church potluck. Bearded men in Carhart jackets and plaid flannels. Low-slung motels with aging siding dim lighting. The cold grey light of day, as if the sun itself was visiting only as a courtesy--a friend from long ago paying a token visit and then fleeing to more comfortable surroundings. Crusty laborers who know the value of a good day's work.

It's a romantic exaggeration, to be sure, but one not without grounds in reality. There's a pride in the Clearbrooks and Elys and Virginias, one that so many Twin Cities residents remember and even long for, and I appreciate a movie that can capture the essence of these towns without falling into the all-too-easy trap of Northern Mockery.

I may not know what to do with taconite, but I know where it comes from, even if I cannot lay claim to it myself. I grew up in Nebraska, far from the North Woods, and have spent the last few years dwelling in the relative insulation of the Twin Cities. But I do know where it comes from, and I do know enough to tip my hat.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

You sent me a letter

When I woke up this morning, the air temperature was one degree. Below.

I just thought I would mention that.

Anyway, last night our friends Sarah and Jon came over for some good cooking, good laughs, and a good movie. The dinner was lasagne, homemade, using Sarah's recipe, with about twice as much cheese as it called for. The laughs were mostly from a Comedy Central special that Jon brought, of a guy whose name slips my mind, but who was, in what is rather singular in his business, funny but not very foul-mouthed. The movie? Robert Zemeckis' gift to nerds the world over: Back to the Future. As Jon said, why don't they make movies like that anymore? I don't know, but someone really should. We capped the night with a few rounds of Wii Bowling, during which I finally joined Sarah and my wife in the "Pro" club, which is attained when one reaches a score of 1000 in the bowling rankings. It takes quite a bit of work, and the reward, a sparkling bowling ball, is more than worth it.

Today, after sleeping in and then fiddling with the backup software on my computer, I made some calls to local stores and managed to locate one copy of Guitar Hero 3, which I have been attempting to find for some time now. I high-tailed it down to the GameStop on University Avenue where an employee named Colin (thanks, Colin, if you're reading this, the chances of which are highly unlikely. But it never hurts to try...) handed me their last copy, which he graciously held for me. Much of the day was spent trading the Les Paul between my wife and myself as we strummed virtually along, unlocking songs and battling opponents online and off. My wife's brothers introduced us to Guitar Hero 2 this summer, and we have both been awaiting the release of the series' third iteration ever since. Well, I have, at any rate, though my wife does enjoy the games a good deal also. :)

So yes, it is one degree out, but we have a roof over our heads, a heater that works, a pair of reliable automobiles, food in our fridge, clothes on our back...I suppose I could go on, but one does get the point. It's not the dark circle of winter on which I try to focus, but the bright spot in the center of the degree, the brilliant point the cold of winter is farthest from.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Backing forward

So, you all remember my new hard drive, right? Well, as it turns out, there's much more to the story.

When I bought my 160-gig LaCie hard drive several years ago I decided to make it my primary boot volume, in case my internal hard drive died. And sure enough, in the winter of 2004, my trusty blue iMac gave up its fanless ghost, and died in a quite literal puff of smoke on a chilly February evening. Thankfully, everything on the computer was stored on my trusty external drive, which I had purchased only a few months prior. So when my eMac arrived about two weeks later, fresh from Apple's Scratch'n'Dent store, all I did was plug my drive into one of its Firewire 400 ports and voila!. Instant Computing, just as it had always been.

Oddly, though, the LaCie drive has always had this weird problem with (don't laugh) sounding funny. Hard drive platters usually spin around at 7,200 revolutions per minute, which, over the course of several years, adds up to quite a great deal of revolutions (and, coincidentally, a great deal of minutes). Inevitably, something will leave its rocker, so to speak, and problems will surface. Well, this drive will sometimes start to make an undulating high-pitched sound as it spins, almost as if it imagines it were a tiny digital police siren. When this happens I usually a) freak out, b) break into a cold sweat, c) thank the Lord I do nightly backups, and d) wait for it to stop. It usually does, and I resume my computing without a care in the world, and having learned nary a lesson from the incident.

Anyway, last Sunday things went all haywire, and the poor hard drive looked as if it were finally giving up on this world. In a fit of panic I called my brother Andy, who always has an answer for these sorts of things, and, over the course of the next twenty-four hours, successfully migrated everything to our new 320-gigger. Not bad.

So, having been told off by my hard drive one last time, I have finally put it out to pasture. It now rests quietly beside my desk as it has for years, its glowing blue power light barely illuminated, as if to remind me that it has earned its retirement and will be dozing quietly, if I don't mind. But should I need it for one last storage mission, I'm sure it will be happy to comply in its own grumpy, cantankerous way.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Where do you go

when it's cold inside?

Quite the opposite question would apply for today, as I awoke to the quintessential Minnesota Morning: a shroud of soft snow blanketing the world below, flecks of silver swirling past my window, and the soothing hum of our furnace, as if our apartment was sighing as it settled in for another of what Laura Ingalls Wilder might call a Long Winter.

Despite the white tendrils of winter worming their way through the city streets, my wife and I ran some errands in our trusty 1998 Corolla named William, after his fearless Scottish forebear, but not before breaking our nightly fast with two servings of another Minnesota staple: the piping hot bowl of oatmeal, ours with apples and raisins. We made our way to several stores in the afternoon, thus earning whatever downtime we had in the evening. And wisely did we spent it, I might add, putting up our tree and trimming it with an assortment of lights, ornaments, and odd knickknackery from our childhoods. Nothing says December like a Christmas tree.

My cousin and her boyfriend were over last night, and we had a delightful time at Applebees followed by a trip to the Roseville 4 second-run theatre to catch one of the most delightful and simply entertaining movies I have seen in a long while: Ratatouille. We followed this with several rounds of Rayman Raving Rabbids and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned conversation--a lost art, perhaps, but one I still enjoy practicing.

As I write this, the room around me glowing with the soft feathery light from our tree, complemented by a shimmer from the modern-day equivalent of a button lamp, the scented candle, I think of the months ahead which will, sans doute, be filled with snow and cold, and dwell not on the cold and darkness, but on the coziness that being indoors can bring during such times. I also think of December 21, and the extra minute of daylight that each day in January brings. I think of being back in Lincoln in a shade under three weeks, and in Montana soon after. I think of a Christmas spent in the company of family and friends. I think of Moses Merrill near the end of January, the melting of snow, the green of spring, and the turning and revolving of the world ever after.

It's gonna be a good winter.