Monday, November 3, 2014

Car Karma and Climate Change Warnings

There is the myth of the one owner car.  You know, the one with incredibly low mileage in spite of its age.  We have heard of this legend, scoffed at it and the truth is, whenever buying a used car, many people are afraid.  True, there are internet tools out there to report on title history, because well, people are not always forthcoming when selling a vehicle or even worse, they may not have a clue on how to maintain a vehicle.

I have not driven since 2008.  That is 42 dog years.  There has been a certain amount of freedom I have enjoyed by not driving, but the reality is, I do finally have a need for a vehicle.  So I turned to Craigslist and was considering a vehicle from a friend of a friend...but timing wasn't right, etc.  I was going through my options, reading over everything, when suddenly a new ad was posted for a 1999 VW Jetta, with relatively low miles for its age.

Joan Jetta when reconditioning is complete.

I called, I went, I purchased.  I have already named her, Joan Jetta.  I insured her, registered her and began going through the reconditioning phase.  The actual truth was Joan Jetta was not a one-owner vehicle, but she was close to being one.  The vehicle was transferred from one family member to another and I decided to run a VIN history report, which can be done on number sites.  The title was clean.  No hail, no water damage, no accidents and no odometer roll backs...which made me decide, that in concert with the low mileage this was the vehicle to recondition.

When you run your list of pros and cons, as I ran mine, was the condition of the body was excellent.  Minor rust, good bones, and a solid engine.  I budgeted a target amount for reconditioning her.  I weighed out not having to pay a high sales tax for vehicle registering, no car payment, lower insurance costs and researched existing Jettas, same year and found a lot of them were still on the road, had upwards of 300K on engines and read over maintenance issues and recommendations.  So I decided then and there "Joan" was going to be worth the investment.

So, starting from the inside out, you take care of all of the fluids.  replace the timing belt and other drive belts, hoses, spark plugs, distributor cap, ignition wires, oil change, coolant flush, engine flush and it becomes apparent that this girl has got a lot of life left in her.  Her battery was changed out and she already had a new exhaust system and new brakes, so she's in pretty good shape for a teen-ager.

I am going to be honest, I had missed driving, but today, I heard about the new Climate Warnings issued by the UN.  "Invest NOW or change will be irreversible." I had just rejoined the millions of drivers on the road and tried to soothe myself by stating that at least it wasn't a gas guzzler and that I was doing my part by reconditioning her.  However, what it made me want to ask was what if there was a way to hybridize this vehicle?  Since she is getting reconditioned, why not make the existing vehicle greener and not contribute to the waste cycle we seem to have with our vehicle cycle in the USA.  That is a huge waste problem right there, but there is change, with more owners holding on to their cars longer with the average vehicle age being 11.4 years old (

As a renewed driver on the road, what could I do to minimize my impact?  There are some obvious things I can do, like minimize by drive time and whenever I am in the city, I use public transportation.  It's when I have to go out to the 'burbs, I need to drive.  Car Karma, is one way to look at how to minimize a negative impact and turn it into a positive one.  There is use and then there is abuse and disuse.  As this journey continues, hopefully we can look at ways for transformation of what we have instead of just trying to sell each other new stuff to replace our old stuff.  If we are going to even begin to take climate change seriously, the impact to our food supply, the impact to our environment and all of the steps that this global society needs to take will have to be voluntary for us to thrive.

It's not really about whether or not anyone believes in climate change...we all have seen the ill-effects of pollution.  We are poisoning ourselves, corporately and individually by chasing after little bits of paper, to live.  What if chasing after those little bits of paper was what was killing us?  Just a thought...that perhaps we could really be smarter than a pigeon in B. F. Skinner's box.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Death Sentence - A Preview

When I first viewed the art, associated with this film in 2007, it rendered me speechless. At the time I worked with survivors who had lost their military spouses. Many of them had an emotional nakedness about them, often feeling like they were lost in the world without their partners. 2007 had been a particularly hard year for me. It was a year of multiple losses for me, so I did not share the view that others had expressed. Where others saw objectification, I saw vulnerability that made me feel the coldness of a world at war. I thought about our national history. At the time of the first world war, many families were left without any sort of safety net. There was little in the way of death benefits. There was no such thing as "SGLI" or "Survivor's Benefits". During this time, they truly were left to their own devices to survive. Women were not known to serve during the first World War, and often were left destitute. 

The artist, Philip Brooker, started this project after reading a series of letters, the last letters home by servicemen who were often at the front of the war, where real horror visited daily.  In that era, men came face to face in conflict. Not at all like the remote warfare that is practiced in our age. This film, aptly reminds us of the real violence of war, no matter where they are fought. It's been seven years since I have seen this series in person, and I still come away with that feeling of being deeply moved by my perception of his work. After nearly a decade of work, it's evolved into this project. This is just a preview that I have been graced with and the privilege of sharing it with you now.  For more information about the artist, Philip Brooker, please visit

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Hammer and Sickle in Uptown Minneapolis

In the midst of Apple's release of the iPhone 6 (and plus) this weekend, I happened to get caught in a downpour along Lagoon in Uptown that forced my way into another realm.  A little Russian hideaway that I have fallen in love with.  However, this is not the Cold War Russian faire with bread lines and MIGs.  This is the post-Berlin War era, despite the bathroom poster calling for wealth redistribution through capitalism via gift card purchases (though that would be a gift much appreciated after looking over this menu).  The winds of change, after all, had blown me into this venue and I decided it was time to warm up with an Irish coffee, for medicinal purposes.

When is the right time for caviar?  It's a luxury, true enough, but if you go through life telling yourself what you can never have, you will never have it.  The Hammer and Sickle makes this adventure achievable for many.  From domestic roes to true caviar (from Sturgeon), the market price will vary depending on what you select.  If you already know what you like, you can order a single caviar and have it presented with the traditional accompaniments.  However, this is caviar that is dressed to the 9s.

The only thing that didn't make any sense to me was the huge clove of pickled garlic that was served as a garnish.  That was the only item that I sent back to the kitchen.  Everything else was a straight 9 out of 10 for me.

The dill infusion vodka is also a must.  The wait staff went through an incredible list of choices of in-house infusions, and I was very happy with her recommendation.  Incredibly smooth, no queen olives needed.

Up next, one of their small plates, the Kobe beef sliders.  In a word,  SUCCULENT.  Lardons of bacon, farm cheese, micro greens, and their own crafted ketchup.  Just about everything served is made in house.

You do get what you pay for here, great service and great food.

So if you are ever in Uptown, want something a little different from your normal routine, live a little.  The Hammer and Sickle is a must.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Object Displacement

 Lost or abandoned items always feel as though there is a story associated with them.  A random pair of sunglasses, on top of a dustbin, a glove without its mate on top of a snow drift.  Things that we seem to drop along the way and never realize they are missing until we go looking for them or feel that void.  At the time, I wondered why I noticed these items and photographed them.  It's the physical representation of emotion or an intuitive moment perhaps.  I use imagery a lot, so forgive me as I indulge myself.
At times, there are things that happen to us that are not a result of any action we have taken.  At times there are events that happen in life that are the consequences of action or inaction, the results of our decisions.  A lost mitten doesn't seem like it would have any action except for the owner to get a new pair.  The sock that goes missing in a dryer, resulting in a drawer full of mateless socks.  We laugh about such things, these little things because we see them all of the time.

As I walked on, I wondered if in a strange way it was an unconscious form of self-sabotage.  My thoughts tend to want to explore the things we ignore on a daily basis.  We edit out these things because of the lack of importance.  We ignore what we see all of the time and walk by, blinded.  So I started a little game of details.  Random little details on my walks, that I would note and it has had a surprising effect.  It made me aware of subtle changes that happen continuously.  Instead of noticing change in accumulated moments, you can see it happening constantly, becoming more aware of your environment, seasons, surroundings and a form of subtle energy that we are blind to.

We forget how we are like this oasis of life in a 'space desert'.  We often get caught up in our life games created here that we forget about everything around us.  Intellectually, we acknowledge where we are, see pictures from around the globe, but our limits, well, not everyone has the ability or time to explore.

How does displaced objects relate to all of this mental masturbation?  Actually, it relates to my own blindness and for me, highlights where I may have a lack in my perceptive ability.  Things are not always what they seem to be.  Like the quote from Hesse.  I am trying to see beyond seeing.  To see more and to see less at the same time.  Sometimes a cigar is not a cigar and at other times it is.  The difference is knowing and the beginning of wisdom.  Then again, I am getting older and I tend to remember riddles.

And then I take a deep breath.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Before I Die...Chalkboard Wishes

 In front of an old Victorian House, near the corner of 24th and Lyndale Avenue, in Uptown Minneapolis, stands a chalkboard with the words, "Before I Die".  A piece of chalk and a series of blanks is all that is required for the public to respond with their public declarations.  Anonymously, I picked up the chalk and decided to write over a wish that had been faded out by the sun and the rain.
Some of the responses appear to be simple, like falling in love.  However, as we get older, perhaps we find that we either didn't make time for love or we realize that we had it, but were so damn busy with the things that other people said were so damn important.  The lucky ones, have their priorities straight.
 Others are dreams that require action, to either acquire or do something.  Some dreams require action from another, "becoming a grandmother" was a good example.
 Other dreams were more abstract, with changing definitions, such as being happy or successful.  Others had dreams of public recognition while others had more simple dreams, like being away from the city and being in a log cabin in the woods.  We don't want the same things, but what we all share is that knowledge that we don't have forever.
This morning, I saw a man with a quote from E.E. Cummings on his shirt.  "It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are."  Before I die I want to...hmm, perhaps, I don't want to want.  Perhaps I will already have been so I will be ready to die and will not be afraid to close my eyes when I do go.  I think I am comforted by the thought that we are not here, in this form, forever.  We are always changing and who I am today may only be a glimmer of who I am tomorrow.  The same should be thought of every single person that is encountered during this journey, and what a journey it is.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The 100 Foot Journey - It's Worth It to Cross the Street

@2014 Dreamworks and Harpo

There aren't too many movies without violence, profanity or gratuitous nudity.  There are even fewer movies that tell a story with crisp dialogue.  Shot in France and India with diverse languages without subtitles,  this is the pure art of telling a story.  Through Le Cordon Bleu, I had the honor of an advance screening of The 100 Foot Journey, starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri.   The goal of art is to touch you, from a place you can draw off of your own experiences.  For those who haven't read the book, you might have fresh eyes looking at this movie, where there are few surprises, and you have a story arc of tragedy and triumph.  It IS a "feel good" movie, with another illustration about following your dreams, but also defining your own success and following your heart.  

For those of you who read the book, I don't think you will be disappointed as this work translated well to the screen.  The rhythm of the dialogue was completely natural, the silent reactions involved the audience.  The audience got what they wanted to see, transformation of characters, the clash of cultures as one family emigrates from one nation to another as we grow more culturally diverse wherever we are.  

Personally, I loved how it reminded me of my travels abroad, so my nostalgia was sweetened.  This movie opens on 8 August, so foodies will love seeing the displays of technique and plating.  If you are in the culinary world, perhaps it might remind you that the kitchen is a real place of magic.  I am very fortunate to be in school, learning from some incredibly talented chefs that do speak to me about the heart and soul of the kitchen.  The very act of creation is something I never get tired of.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer in Minneapolis or Food Trucks and Baseball

 People don't like staying indoors when its summertime in Minnesota.  Lou Holtz once described Minnesotans as the land of "Blonde hair and Blue Ears" when he coached at the University of Minnesota.  Our winters are particularly vicious and our summers can be just a touch humid, mosiquito populated and have that touch of pine in the air.  In the cities, there has been a sort of resurgence in the streets.  You feel this hope that better days are not just here, but there will be more of them.  Fears have been pushed aside, and as I wander around, it's just so carefree feeling.  People get in the habit of business and consuming.  There are so many festivals that happen during the summer, that it can be hard to keep track of what is going on, when.  A few weeks ago, there was a food truck festival, and since the food truck season is rather short here, they were out in full force, trying to be as distinctive as possible in design and public offerings.
 Business was brisk, lines were long and some of the more adventurous eaters were going for every and anything they could get.  Some of them, well, I just couldn't marry up their concept with my sense of taste and my imagination.  I couldn't visualize how a 'Donut Burger' would taste.  I recalled how a burger would taste, how I preferred it and tried to will a donut mashup and it made my stomach churn just thinking about it. I would have rather had some pan fried termites, sautéed in a garlic oil and sea salt.  So I was rather surprised to see anyone ponying up to sacrifice their greenbacks for a taste of the bizarre.
 The other day, I had gone to the Mall of America, en route to some where else, but still kind of look at this mecca of capitalism to see people still chasing a good time.  It's a bit excessive to me, but not so many were walking around with huge shopping bags and still many spots were open for leasing.  In a way, the Mall of America has done much to shut down a lot of the malls that once did spry business in Minnesota.  We had a "-dale" at every corner of the city.  They were the places to go to people watch in the winters when we would get so full of cabin fever that we couldn't stand it anymore.  Malls were the places to check everyone out and to see what was the fashion of the moment.  The last mall I went to was occupied at maybe 50%.  I thought that meant we were buying less, but with the latest numbers, Minnesota is down to about a 4 percent unemployment rate.  Most of the business being created within the state is coming from companies who no longer think it's cheaper to make things in China anymore.
 In Downtown Minneapolis, we were getting ready to show off out city, the All-Star Week was hosted in my humble city. The all new "Target" field really did kind of impress me.  I still held my childhood memories of the old Metropolitan Stadium, watching Rod Carew play at my first baseball game.  It was live, not on television and we beat the Oakland A's.  Now the Mall of America is built over baseball history and our football history as well.  Things change.  The game was moved downtown into a shared dome, which was demolished this year to make way for a new stadium for the Vikings.  I don't recall if some corporate entity has purchased naming rights.
 The inside of the stadium was being spruced up, with everything being washed down.  Our little part of baseball history being sold to the national audience.  Right now the adding machines are rolling, trying to figure out how much of a profit was being made, or if something would come out of this for future events.  I kind of lost my love of the game.  It was a slow death, but maybe the game had changed to such a point that filled my mouth full of bile when I went into the merchandising store.  People will spend with their hearts and not their minds.  The mark-up on the Merchandise was crazy.  All of the product was made abroad, with China being a primary manufacturer.  With all of the hype about our food being locally sourced, we have a long way to go.

Our Downtown is beautiful, with high vacancy rates, but strangely it has grown, changed and evolved since my childhood, when the Foshay tower used to be the tallest building on our skyline.  The IDS tower opened in 1972, as a sort of Monolith that ushered in a new era, a modern era.  Other buildings have come to join in to create a skyline and skyway system so you could traverse the city without ever going outside.  But we love the outdoors and nature and perhaps that's why we don't have that many cities here in Minnesota.  We like that small town feel, where every neighborhood is like a village and our villages all link up to make our urban sprawl look somehow manageable.  It's still home, and though I feel the urge to get out there in the world, to go abroad and walk in dusty streets, sit in nondescript cafes and just feel the pulse of a far away place, I'll stay put for a while.