tumblr_nmcpwgTSiR1qzk2apo1_500WE’RE HITTING A RHYTHM these swampy, swamped summer weeks.

Sarah is aggressively organizing neighbors against the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which lobbied to tear down the perfectly functional public housing project in our backyard (one of the country’s oldest) and sell it to private developers. Her alliance of tenants and homeowners is winning for the moment. Though now MPHA is like, “Okay, YOU find a solution for long-term maintenance” and none of us know what that looks like. Sarah is two-for-two in preventing local government from demolishing community assets (glad she’s on my team). Meanwhile, I’m flogging grain-free bread, debt-free business financing and stereotype-free teacher training. It’s the kind of variety and volume I thrive on (leaving me too busy to wonder what the hell it all means). I’m dotting i’s and crossing t’s right up ’til 5pm today, when we drop everything and head for Iceland, Holland and Germany for 21 days.

Having signed my own Will this week, I feel ready for anything.


Love & Mercy (a story of two lovable, troubled Brian Wilsons)

Page One: Inside the New York Times (featuring David Carr, “that most human of humans”)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (come for the music, stay for her dancing)

Dinkytown Uprising (Not yet released, but Lucas got a copy from the filmmaker — about the 1969 local protest movement to prevent a corporate burger chain from opening on 4th Street. It was shot mostly by the documentary filmmaker himself, now in his 90s; we enjoyed it at double speed, Chipmunks-style.)

Mad Max: Fury Road (At Jenney’s urging, I caught this in a suburban theater in a recliner with a cocktail; the best-most-boneheaded thing I never knew I needed)


Ta-Nehisi Coates — The Case for Reparations (Atlantic)

Paul Ford — What Is Code? (Bloomberg News)


The Raincoats — No One’s Little Girl

Beach Boys – I’m Waiting for the Day

Pavement – Give It A Day

Camper Van Beethoven — Jack Ruby

Dusty Springfield – Warten and Hoffen

Wir sehen uns im nächsten Monat!

IMG_6779I WAS PARTY TO AN ARGUMENT this week about New Year’s self improvement. It was on the Internet, where cynics and contrarians are way overrepresented. They said our good intentions are mostly in vain when we choose to change at such an arbitrary time. Resolutions have to spring from profound crisis, they said, from needs that heed no calendar.

I hear that. I’ve bailed on my share of January fitness kicks and penned lists in the holiday afterglow that seem absurdly pie-in-the-sky a few days later.

But I’m fine making a date with renewal (no crisis, please). The moment isn’t so arbitrary. Winter Solstice is a turning point for every culture outside of the tropics, occurring, not by coincidence, right around New Years. And the cynics seem to miss the social component of intention: it gains force when everybody has it.

At the risk of going all “positive vibes” and “the universe has ears” on you, the moment feels fortuitous. After 3 months of acute self-absorption in New House Land, I feel sparks of genuine interest. Colleagues are writing me into proposals for worthwhile work. Make Sh!t is poised to revolutionize mini golf. I’m using the hell out of some second-hand ice skates, the direct result of a Christmas visit from my brother-in-law (passion transmission in action!).

Then there’s the Book. I’m hesitant to say anything about it because my hopes are embarrassingly high. It’s all very preliminary, except that amazing arch amigo Steve Davis has in his spare time written a history tome (no effing around) about his hero John Brown, Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Iowa, which he researched by visiting county historical societies and cemeteries from Council Bluffs to Burlington. I’m doing maps, illustrations and production (my bit’s starting to take shape on Google).

I’m positive this book will make my year. And I haven’t even read it yet.

It’s a New Year’s miracle. 

>> Pslam One – Better Than My Last

• Ways a moose could kill you
• The trail’s unfortunate acronym
• How I kind of wish I wasn’t getting text messages here
• Idea for a cutthroat tourism jingle for Grand Marais: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand Lutsen” (apologies to The Police)
• People I forgot to invite to my wedding (eight years too late)
• Similarities between beaver dams and furniture forts
• Animal sex
• A world without the smells and sounds of two-stroke engines
• What won’t people carve their names in?
• Snakes feel you coming
• Those rare things in life that sharing may ruin
• A yearning to renounce civilization
• That what I know about wilderness survival could fit on the back of a business card
• Mortal fear
• Whether this would make a decent blog post

>> Slint – Breadcrumb Trail

IS THERE A WORD FOR STRIVING to get something right, and in doing so messing it up? Like your thoroughness and zeal are your failure? I keep stumbling into situations—eagerly, confidently—where I’d have done better if I’d tried half as hard. On the intertubes, I think it’s called “You’re Doing It Wrong.” As usj, I bet no one else noticed, yet I’d probably feel like I botched it either way.

Stepping outside of my mental hot-box, last Saturday Johanna steered us past this glass bottle display at the M.I.A. A pure experience of color and form, requiring no fore-knowledge or special discernment to enjoy. There’s a lesson for me here.

Ice queens at a park rink down the way. In the socialist utopia that is Minneapolis Park and Rec, loaner skates are free.

Want to be alone? Visit the frozen Mississippi River on Christmas Day.

‘Twas a low-key night two days after Christmas when up in Nordeast, creatures stirred (and smoked) with good ol’ St. Matty Nelson, now of Portland, Oregon, where the dream of the 90’s is still alive.

Craig Phillips discusses ailing parents, rye whiskey, and the finer points of Blingo (we all lost).

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us Prime Rib and Yorkshire Pudding Day.

Playmobil is a German toy that perpetuates the silliest German stereotypes.

At the Uptown Nassifs’ for Kir Royals. Shown here: three cousins, one boyfriend and my uncle who’s dropped 60 pounds in two months—whoa. Thanks for the fancy bottle of rye, Dan (not for guzzling, Craig).

Sarah found a kit to make dinner plates with drawings on them, like ones I made when I was four (Jo eats on the only remnant of that series every night). Here’s one of her new entries, to be delivered in hard plate form any day now.

A New Year’s Day photoshoot, staged and styled by Jo. Cheese!

>> Pete Rock & CL Smooth – Act Like You Know
>> The Kinks – Holiday

WINTER DOESN’T START ‘TIL TOMORROW. So it’s far too soon for griping about snow, cold and the city’s Emergency Parking Rules. Yes, 17 inches is a top-5 snowfall record and the sidewalks are like walled mazes for lab rats. But snotcicles and bleak ice mountains are our reality for the next four months. Deal with it.

Chocolate, booze and caffeine are getting us through so far. We’re in talks about a “coffee crop share” with the neighbors, dividing up a 20-pound bag of beans from our favorite local roaster as soon as they offer such a thing. Whatever gets you through the white.

Going to a Solstice Party tomorrow (grog, bonfire, full moon) after which extra daylight will accrue and 35 ever-lengthening days will fly by until Sarah and I wake up in a villa in Old San Juan. My wind-chapped skin flushes at the thought.

Where was I? Oh, un-blogged bizness. Here: music, backgammon and Instant Netflix in Des Moines with Lola Plum and Family.

The Flat Earth Brewery tour with Lucas, Tats and John, one of fall’s last hurrahs. I recommend their Belgian growlers.

Spotted off the interstate near Williams, Iowa.

Minneapolis ruinscape on the last full moon.

Johanna’s four birthdays in glass.

Comrade Austin paid us a holiday visit from Beijing, first time I’ve seen him since my 2008 trip. We braved the glaciers to go to my favorite dive, Palmer’s on the West Bank, only to encounter an open-mic comedy night so vile, people fled en masse and bar personnel were shaking their heads in disgust. The jokes were uniformly mean, sick and unfunny. Which means we repeated them dozens of times throughout the weekend.

My sister entertaining old Marines with Happy Days-era karaoke.

Cutting even looser at her 33rd birthday.

Laugh Attack inside Goldsworthy’s cairns at the Des Moines Art Center.

Late-night letterpress…

… and more Make Sh!t shenanigans.

Christmas In July with my grandfather, Charles Klima, his great-grandchildren and haunch of annoying lab. Now back to Christmas In Antarctica.

>> Captain Beefheart (R.I.P. Don Van Vliet) – The Host The Ghost The Most Holy
>> The New Pornographers – The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
>> Charlie Parr – Coffee’s Gone Cold

Here’s a fun experiment if you can get away with it: For a four-day holiday weekend, don’t stray more than 1/4 mile from your home. Have enough food and supplies to last it out. If you must see people, make them come to you. Even then, pretend your pajamas are clothes. When asked to justify yourself, say you are “creating your own traditions.” (Click pics to enlarge.)


By Christmas morning, it looked like a UPS truck had exploded under our tree.


Only two things on Jo’s list: a Pink Teddy Bear with Pink Stars (Sarah took that one) and a Hello Kitty Computer (my job). Moments after opening her new laptop, she got to work.


We are thankful for festive washclothes.


Scene from a ViewMaster, “Columbia River Valley” edition.


By noon there was a foot of wet snow, perfect for sculpting a fort. This one had windows. And appliances.


Behold the power of the plastic snow-brick maker ($2.99, Walgreens).


Hot prime rib and Yorkshire pudding? Dad: quit with the pictures and sit down.


This took hours. Of which we had no shortage.


It was a Christmas of costumes and curtsies.


Books ‘n’ Boots: Aunt Allie and Jo at Wild Rumpus.


Another family portrait of us trying to “help” Johanna compose herself.


Not quite in the spirit of the season, I ordered a bunch of mail-order gifts for myself. Check out that crazy-bad-ass thumb drive. Moving data. Taking names.


Would you believe we were the only Christmas revelers exploring the closed school next door after dinner? People don’t know what they’re missing.

What’s troubling my mind on a scale of 0 (no stress) to 10 (panic attacks).

> The swirling mass of plastic choking the North Pacific: 1.0

> Total economic collapse (or as Travis prophesies, “when the shit goes down”): 3.5

> That all skills I’ve acquired as an adult will be obsolete when the shit goes down: 4.0

> Wrinkles, gray hair and other signs of physical deterioration: 2.1

> That I’ve peaked: 5.1

> That my spouse has more friends than me: 1.4

> That the good I do is far outweighed by the good I don’t do: 4.7

> Teenagers no longer seem to think I’m cool: 2.6

> Failure to create a professional website: 4.3

> The fact that everything about my life may change in the next 10 years: 2.0

> The fact that nothing about my life may change in the next 10 years: 3.0

> Continuing inability to grasp the point of Twitter: 1.5

> The possibility that American democracy is an irredeemable hoax: 3.0

> I cannot identify 40+% of the bands on 2009 top 10 lists: 4.1

> I do not own a garment with sufficiently long sleeves: 0.9

> Being buried in 20 inches of ice-snow by Christmas: 0.0

Photo 78

xmassmMy family agreed to give minimally for Christmas this year. That means my annual retail immersion is off, which is a relief (I have this thing about stores during holidays; the music alone makes me feel like a lunatic). I’m shopping ultralocal for the few people I need to buy for. For the rest, I’m trying out the concept of “gift hugs.”

The no-gift memo was not widely circulated. Thus we have already received multiple shipments of presents, some a full month early. One marked “open right away” included an advent calendar that is not so much a calendar as a giant suck hole for time—hundreds of minute pieces and cryptic instructions the size of a AAA map. The box said 15 minutes, but it took HOURS to assemble. Jo looooves it, naturally. I’m trying not to see it as another symptom of Western decline.

I’VE FOUND A NEW PRODUCTIVITY ZONE in my day between 10 and midnight, so I’m jumping on this year’s handmade gift program.

Steve Davis a/k/a Hank Piece comes through with a new batch of tunes to share every year, and I haven’t reciprocated in a while. To say thanks, I made an homage in glass to a favorite family pastime of his: mushroom hunting. (Once when I came by to say hi to Steve’s folks, his mom promptly fried up some chicken of the woods for me, as if wild mushrooms were cashews.)

This fails to show the variegated morel pattern of the art glass I found (the light is terrible today). The crudeness of the piece seems forgivable when the subject is ‘shrooms. It looks like it was dug out of a gnome’s root cellar or something.


Here it is front-lit, which reveals another detail I like—vintage privacy glass from my gramps’ collection (the bumpy blue stuff).