Thursday, January 31, 2008

Grandpa Bought a Winner

For Christmas the boyz's Grandpa gave them a cloth tunnel toy. The tunnel is about three feet long and has a furry cloth on the inside. Two fuzzy cloth balls hung down from the top of the tunnel.

The boyz love their Christmas gift. Diego, ever the brave and curious one was the first to climb inside. Theo, ever the peppy one, was the first to run back and forth, in and out. Thompson likes to lie inside and rest. One of the fuzzy cloth balls was torn off after the first few days.

Grandpa seems much better at picking out toys the boyz enjoy than I am.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So Long Dara

My favorite local journalist/writer wrote her farewell piece in this week's City Pages (our local weekly free independent newspaper). Before Dara I hardly ever read a restaurant review but her writing was so sassy and entertaining it was about the only reason to continue to read the City Pages (which has seen a huge staff turnover the past few years).

If you have the chance go to the archives and read some of Dara's work. You'll be glad you did... Dara's Piece

Bye Bye
by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

So, let's get a show of hands: Has anyone out there been reading since my first restaurant column here, which ran in City Pages on April 2, 1997? If so, if not, still I offer you handfuls of gold stars, tears, and flowers, because this is where it all ends.

Since I'm feeling all emotional, let's make this column a memoir of exactly how you make a Minnesota restaurant critic. If you like memoirs, enjoy! If you don't, enjoy it anyway, knowing this canary-cage liner will be my last.

It all started—well, hell, it probably all started in the late 1980s, when I was a 15-year-old haunting record stores in New York City. I was already neck-deep in restaurants, having started washing dishes at age 13 on Cape Cod, which morphed into a job at 14 as an oyster shucker, and a job at 15 as a waitress in a horribly dirty East Village French dive where we refilled expensive wine bottles with jug wine and were instructed to tell every table that we didn't know how to use corkscrews, so that's why the bottles had to be opened in the back.

At the time, though, restaurants didn't much interest me, aside from the pocket money they provided for buying records and copies of Spy magazine, which I read with an absurd Rosetta-stone absorption. Records, though, provided all kinds of interest. They explained why the world sucked, and they gave you something to talk to boys about. Yet my beloved Cure and Depeche Mode, which had so faithfully steered me through junior high, were beginning to seem too commercial and, worse, popular among kids I didn't like. The staff at Astor Place Records, who no doubt thought I was homeless, steered me toward what they called "post-punk": Joy Division, the Damned, Wire, and, fatefully, Hüsker Dü and Babes in Toyland. Minnesota became, in my mind, an exotic land of rock and truth-telling. It really did.

Time came to apply to college. As it happens, we were reading My Antonia!, the Spoon River Anthology, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in my various English classes, and the upper Midwest had begun to take on a role in my mind as the place in America where people had time and space to Feel Things and Tell the Truth, and so I ended up with a short list of colleges that would have made any Faribault farm family proud: Grinnell, Macalester, Carleton. It turned out that my father, a Wall Street economist, considered Thorstein Veblen, the Carleton economist who penned the theory of conspicuous consumption, to be his hero, and Minnesota became, for one New York teenager, the one place on earth where Truth lived. (What truth? Truth about heartbreak and why things sucked, à la Hüsker Dü, about the melancholy that pierces transcendent experiences, à la Fitzgerald, and about how annoying conspicuous consumption was.)

I guess I should clarify: In addition to my Truth-seeking high school self, there was my working-like-a-dog high school self. From that first dishwashing job at 13, every summer thereafter I climbed the kitchen hierarchy: oyster-shucker and mussel-bearder, prep cook, broiler cook, line cook, and sous chef (which in my world just meant the head line cook). I eventually even became part-time pastry chef at a few restaurants.

I almost literally never left the kitchen in those days. Though I was making four dollars and change an hour, I would frequently be the highest-paid person in the kitchen because I'd work 120 hours a week. Seriously, at one restaurant I used to do day prep, then night line-cooking, then become the main late-night breakfast cook and sole dishwasher. My chef used to let me crash on sofa cushions on her floor from 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning to 11:00 in the morning, when I had to be at work again.

I even thought about skipping college in favor of cooking school, but my chef told me she'd gut me like a fish if I didn't go to college.

Badda-bing, badda-bang, four years later I graduated from Carleton into the George Bush/slacker recession of the mid-'90s.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: I wanted to write. So I moved into a teeny-tiny little Minneapolis apartment between Rudolph's Barbecue and the highway, and embarked on a life piloting my $5 thrift-store bike between my day job as a telemarketer and my night job as a cocktail waitress at the downtown Chi-Chi's. (I'm the one who dumped a whole tray of strawberry margaritas on the woman in the white fox coat. It was a complete accident, no matter what she thought.) After work I would start on my writing, staying up till dawn to pen a 200-word book review for Julie Caniglia, then arts editor at City Pages. I distinctly remember carrying a floppy disk to Julie on my bike, bouncing over the rocks in the railroad bed after the bike path ended.

Julie and Will Hermes shared a tiny office that was floor-to-ceiling with books and papers. To me it looked like the Taj Mahal—all those free books, all that writing! I took my first clip to Kinko's, where a friend of mine worked, and he made about 50 copies, two inches of text floating in the middle of a whole sheet of paper, with City Pages' logo floating over it like a cruise ship over a guppy.

Soon enough I was one of the contributors to something called Page Three, City Pages' attempt to be something halfway between Spy and the New Yorker's Talk of the Town. Unfortunately, when the writers for those publications wrote about who and what they knew, it was of earth-shattering significance; when I wrote about what I knew, it was mainly about how to subsist on a $40-a-month grocery budget, which is a notably short story of limited appeal. So, I kept the details of living exclusively on dried beans to myself, and instead immersed myself in microfilm at the Minnesota History Center and the Minneapolis public library looking for material for "this day in history"-type stories. I remember finding a 19th-century notice in a St. Paul paper that ran something like: "City fathers demand that the citizens of Minneapolis stop throwing newborn babies into the Mississippi River which distressingly wash up on the shores of our fair city."

Time went on, and the City Pages restaurant critic announced she was moving to California, so they offered the job to me. (One of my freelance jobs had been writing short restaurant reviews for a Microsoft Sidewalk city guide.) I was ambivalent about it. It wasn't a salaried job or anything, just a $150-a-week freelance gig. It paid less than almost every other kind of writing and had no prestige in the newsroom; generally, it was considered drudgework that you took for the team. It's hard to remember that now, but this was long before the days of celebrity chefs and the Food Network, and food writing had the same prestige as obituary, pet, or cute-kid writing, which is to say not much. It was largely a pink-collar ghetto of zucchini-bread recipe editing where ambitious women tried not to end up. However, I had a long history of cleaning out walk-ins and sleeping on couch cushions on the floor, and the romance of having my byline more regularly in a paper I was still in awe of swayed me. I said yes.

That night they fired me and gave the job to Rick Nelson.

City Pages had been bought by Village Voice Media, which had also bought and closed the Twin Cities Reader, where Rick worked, and they needed the job for him. But Rick, now lead critic for the Star Tribune, didn't want the job, as he had just been recruited by the Pioneer Press. I still remember editor Steve Perry's phone call offering me the job for the second time in 36 hours: "Listen, I don't even know what to say...."

Overnight I had crafted a bargaining strategy. "Look," I said, "I don't want to get stuck with all these expenses on my own credit card. I want a City Pages credit card."

"Yeah, that's never going to happen," he said.

I took the job.

And that's how you got stuck with me. Almost 11 years ago. Oh, I feel so misty and nostalgic about it all. A lot happens in almost 11 years. When I look at my first restaurant reviews from 1997 I cringe. The inevitable lutefisk story. Clueless praise of the mediocre (the Alamo Grill! It's like looking at junior prom pictures—I'm just mortified). And the one story that ranks as the single worst idea in my whole food-writing career: a roundup of gyros. Yeah. Seriously. I think I ate 20 in a week. The takeaway: Guess what, all the gyros meat comes from the same damn place, and the pita breads usually come with them. It was like doing a roundup of Cool Ranch Doritos: How do the Cool Ranch Doritos at the Super America on 22nd and Lyndale compare to the Cool Ranch Doritos at the Maplewood Cub Foods?

After a few months, however, the job changes you. For one thing, it beats polite hospitality out of your body, which is crucial. I mean, for nice, normal people the response to anybody providing you with hospitality is to be nice back. So what if the pasta is soggy, they gave you something, and when someone gives you something you smile and say thank you. That's manners. It's also no way to be a critic who is useful to the public.

After about six months I had been to enough restaurants to get a sense of what good service was in this town, what good food was, what pricing was. (All of these things are local. Better-than-average food in Minneapolis is not the same as better-than-average food in Aix-en-Provence or Minot, North Dakota.)

And then in October 1997, I wrote my first slam, of MPLS. Cafe, a restaurant I still dislike, years after it closed. "It had been a long hour since I placed an appetizer order," I wrote, "and I might as well have been waiting for a bus for all the fine dining I was doing. I felt like Pamela Anderson at a NAMBLA convention."

I didn't think too much about the review when I wrote it; it just seemed like the truth. But the response sure got my attention: My home phone rang off the hook. This was unexpected. Cooks, servers, and even one server's mother were all leaving messages on my home phone weeping, calling me a liar, and worse. I heard later someone had posted my phone number in the kitchen. I got an unlisted phone number that day.

But City Pages' response was what mattered to me. They didn't even blink.

In retrospect, I think during the weeks after that review ran was when I really became a restaurant critic, when I dug in and decided that certain rather trivial things were in fact worth going to the mat for: the right to have your water glass refilled, the right to eat lobster ravioli without shells in it, the right to have decent wine at a decent mark-up.

It was funny, all my teenage conflations about the nobility of Minnesota and Truth came together in a Bill of Rights for your water glass. And your pad thai.

Over the years, I've learned that the relationship between columnist and community is more collaborative than I could have known at the outset, and I have been, all these years, dazzled by the letters I get from my readers—my dear, literate Minnesotans with your heartfelt, insightful, funny, or otherwise unpredictable takes on the world of food and Dara.

I guess one thing I wanted to do in this mini-memoir was lay bare some of the behind-the-scenes things from my side of the typewriter, but now I realize there's no room. So much of my life happened these last almost-11 years. I bought a big, falling-down Victorian four-square in a bad neighborhood in south Minneapolis, and, after many years when it looked like the renovation might just kill me, I now have a real house with a porch swing and a rosebush and everything, just like the people Sinclair Lewis mocked. I'm so proud. My dad died, hopefully joining Thorstein Veblen at the great economics conference in the sky. I fell in love with a nice Minnesota boy, who won my heart the night he effortlessly, happily spent a night checking out both a godawful Colombian restaurant in Northeast and a pretentious wine bar in White Bear Lake (both unreviewed; that's another behind-the-scenes thing—all the frogs I kissed that stayed frogs). We got married, we had a bouncing baby boy. Over the years I won a bunch of awards, both for my fiction and my food writing. I launched a freelance career that has given me a small national presence, and I think the next task for me is to leverage that into something bigger. And so I'm off!

It's funny, looking back on all this, as addled as my little teenage brain was, as dreamy and idealistic as my post-college self was, they did me right. Minnesota turned out to be the perfect place for me, the place, indeed, where Truth, or rather Truths, long-winded though they be, are valued by patient, kind readers. So I've been telling my truths as best I can in this space for almost 11 years, and to all of you who came along for the ride, I'm incredibly grateful.

Cold Now

Theo's not much of a window cat. This past weekend, I did notice him looking out a window more than he usually does. Then last night as I crawled underneath my covers he jumped up and looked out the window that's right next to my bed. He eventually took his normal spot smack dab in the middle of my bed. But when I awoke this morning he again was quietly looking out the window. Given the minus 14 degree temperature and 40 below wind chill maybe he shares my concern: the earth has broken out of its orbit and is hurtling away from the sun.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our Hero

We all worship at the altar of Diego-san. (And I think he not only knows it, but he certainly expects it...)

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Got What I Asked For (Sorta)

Yesterday I didn't supervise the boyz eating their dinners and true to form when I returned to the dining area Diego-san was munching away on Theo's dinner with Theo watching him by the side. I didn't even have to holler at Diego, he knew what he was doing was wrong and when I set foot in the room he dashed away.

I followed him up the stairs and began to lecture him when without much warning he urped up some food. It was almost as if he defiantly said to me, "all right I'm wrong and here it is..."

Theo came up the stairs and sniffed around the regurgitated food maybe thinking Diego was kind enough to heat it up for him as I tried to clean it up. That's not exactly how meal time is supposed to work...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nickname MeMe

Diamond Emerald Eyes tagged me for my first ever meme. It's a nickname meme with the following 'rules.'

"List your real name, how you got your real name, nicknames you like/tolerate, and nicknames you wish your humans would stop calling you.

Tag several kitties, and write a comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged."

Well to start, nicknames aren't too numerous in the household. As a group I call the trio, "the boyz" or "guysos" (which I got from my favorite comic strip "Get Fuzzy.")

I didn't name either Thompson or Diego. They both got their names from a girl who took care of them in their foster home. Thompson apparently was named after the girl's boyfriend and Diego was named after the painter Diego Rivera. Since both names were unique, I kinda liked them and decided to keep them when I adopted the two.

When Thompson was first brought into the vet after his accident they named him Tumbles. I'm guessing that's because after they amputated his leg he had to learn how to walk again at times with varying success. I always thought that name was sorta mean. I sometimes call him Thomps or Thompers.

When Diego was first brought into the vet they thought he was a female cat and his name was Nicole. After his "operation" he was renamed. I added the "san" because I wanted him to sound more Asian. I sometimes call him 'the big fella' because he looks much bigger than the other two (although in fact Thompson weighs more... Diego is just fluffier).

Theo's full name is Thelonious Dribble. He was named Dribble by his foster mom because of his white streak that looks like he dribbled some milk down his chin. I wanted to name him after something music related. I considered "Dylan" and "Jazz" but neither fit. I settled on either Cecil (after the great jazz pianist Cecil Taylor) and Thelonious (after the greater jazz pianist Thelonious Monk). He actually was named Cecil for a day, but Theo seemed to be a better fit. I sometimes call him my 'lil boy' because he is smaller than either Thompson or Diego-san.

Thanks for tagging me Diamond. As for tagging others, I don't read that many of the wonderful cat blogs out there and the ones I do have all done this meme. So I'll just tag anyone who hasn't participated yet. Kind of like how when I was a little kid playing tag with the older kids I would never be able to catch them so I often ended as "it."

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Thompson seemed to think that breakfast this morning was lick smackin' good even though it was the same thing he always gets...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Give Me the Simple Life

It was minus 13 degrees out on my way to work this morning. I was glad my Mini Cooper has seat warmers...

I got my Mac Mini back from repairs last night. I didn't realize how much I missed having a home computer until I had the Mini hooked up again. I basically use it to download music and podcasts and to keep my iPhone up to date. It's hard to believe that not that long ago the most complicated device in my home was an automatic coffeemaker.

There are those with simpler tastes... Theo's new favorite spot to sit in the house is on top of a bar stool I recently moved from my bedroom (where it served as a clothes holder) into my dining room area (where it will probably end up serving as a mail and bill holder). The move of the chair makes it a brand new thing for Theo to enjoy...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Snorerer

Every house has to have at least one who snores. Diego-san fills that role in our household. He doesn't do it all the time, in fact it's rare when he snores but last night I was awoken by the sound of him snoring somewhere unknown in the room. He was snoring so loud I thought about getting up and taping him. It reminded me of growing up and sharing a room with my brother. I knew if I didn't fall asleep before him, I may not get much sleep the rest of the night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Our First Award

The boyz and I are very proud that Diamond Emerald-Eyes awarded us with our very first blog award a "You Make My Day" recognition. Thank you very much Diamond. What makes this perfectly timed is that this morning Juno, our favorite movie in a long long time, thankfully received a well deserved "Best Picture" Oscar nomination.

St. Paul Pioneer Press 1/22/08

Why are fewer pet lovers bringing their feline friends to the vet? It's a question vets hope to answer as they break down barriers to cat care at the coming Catalyst Summit.


For the nation's 88,000 veterinarians, this observation about how owners view their pets is more than mere conjecture. It may help explain why their revenue growth slowed dramatically during the first half of the decade.

Americans are more than willing to spend money on their pets - they shelled out $24.1billion for veterinary services for dogs, cats, birds and horses in 2006, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

That was 27 percent more than they spent in 2001. But that's less than half the 65 percent growth veterinarians enjoyed in the previous five-year period.

Pet owners tend to interact more with their dogs, and that almost parental closeness - contrasted with the relative independence of cats - could result in canine health problems being spotted sooner, says Jim Flanigan, marketing director for the American Veterinary Medical Association. Plus, Morrises seem to be better than Marmadukes in masking their symptoms.

The theory is among the topics to be explored next month at a first-of-its-kind professional meeting on the overall decline in the number of veterinary visits for cats between 2001 and 2006. Called the Catalyst Summit, the meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., is an attempt to break down barriers to veterinary care for cats.

Among the topics on the agenda: How can the existing stereotypes regarding cats in today's media be rectified?

"One-third of all U.S. households own a cat, yet cats see the veterinarian only half as often as dogs," said Jane Brunt, chair of the Catalyst Summit and a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. "There are probably many factors, and as veterinarians and others who have a passion for cats, we must address this."

In 2006, dogs made an estimated 119.4 million visits to a veterinarian, a 2.1 percent increase from 2001. Cats, despite outnumbering their canine counterparts, made just 63.3 million visits to the vet in 2006 - a 10.6 percent drop from 2001, according to the veterinary association.

This suggests that Bev Mahlke of Rosemount is among a minority. She notes that in her household "we spoil the cat and the dogs equally - they're all babies to us.

Yet Mahlke sees the love from her dogs as "totally unconditional," while her cat Spooook exhibits independence. The bottom line, though, is that Mahlke tries to be just as diligent in getting veterinary care for her pets.

If there's a difference overall in spending trends and the use of veterinary services for dogs and cats, Mahlke wonders if it could stem from something that seems true in the world of pet-supply stores.

"There's so much more out there for dogs, as far as toys and coats and treats and collars and leashes," she said. "I think it's easier to spend more on a dog."

A survey by the veterinary association found that people who owned only dogs were more likely than people who owned only cats to describe their animals as "family members" as opposed to a "pet" or "companion." That distinction can have financial consequences and helps explain the overall growth in veterinary spending.

"People are willing to spend the money, as opposed to 20 years ago," said Dr. John Howe, president of the Minnesota Veterinary Association. "The mindset then was more that this is a pet - it's not a member of my family - and you can replace a pet."

Nowadays, though, people might be closer to their pets than their parents.

A 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 94 percent of dog owners described the relationship with their pet as "close," while only 84 percent of cat owners used that word. That same survey found that 87 percent of respondents described relationships with their mothers as close, while just 74 percent of respondents said they felt close to their fathers.

Survey results aside, Flanigan and others say the decline in cat visits to the vet could have less to do with sentiment than science.

Vaccine technology has improved in recent years so that cats don't need to come to the clinic as regularly for their shots, said Michael Cox, an analyst with Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis who follows publicly traded veterinary companies. That is leading some cat owners to think an annual trip to the vet isn't necessary - a perception that veterinarians are fighting by stressing the value of other preventive services, Cox said.

It's a fight made all the more difficult when considering what a physical challenge it can be to get a cat to the vet, said Matt Sturner, a veterinarian with Parkview Cat Clinic in Mendota Heights. Veterinarians have worked with a vaccine manufacturer to address this, Sturner said, by publishing a brochure with transport tips.

Sturner opened his cat-centered practice in 1988, and saw growth every year for more than a decade. But between 2001 and 2006, client visits were down about 10 percent, he estimates.

"We deal with it by offering the absolute best care available to the cat, and letting people know what's available, whether it's dentistry or ultrasound," Sturner said.

That strategy is in keeping with how the veterinary market overall is growing, said Cox, the Piper Jaffray analyst. As veterinary technology improves, veterinarians have more up-selling opportunities, he said.

"There is growth in the number of pets owned," Cox said. "But it's not 5 or 6 percent per year, which is what I would estimate the industry is growing at."

While a decline in cat visits has clear financial implications for veterinarians, it also affects pharmaceutical companies that make animal health products.

A division of Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug company and the maker of several cat medications, is sponsoring the Catalyst Summit. A company representative acknowledges the move could help the drug maker generate "commercial opportunities."

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Action

Here's what Thompson was doing while I was off helping my team win our curling match 9-4.

He's trying to rip Theo's favorite toy to shreds. The toy is a furry mouse that Theo will pull out of the box full of the boyz's toys.

It's a mouse that can be filled with catnip, but currently is not. Theo loves to lick the toy. Thompson too enjoys the mouse because as you can see he can spear it with his claws and either bite it or bunny kick it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Figure It Out

I don't think I've given Thelonious enough credit.

His spacey demeanor and blank facial look has led me to believe there isn't a lot going on behind that cute look of his. But give him this: he's figured out that when the automatic coffeemaker goes off in the morning that soon my alarm clock will sound and I'll pop out of bed. After my shower he'll be fed his breakfast. Thus he has taken to hoppin up on my chest with the sound of the coffeemaker and then nudgin his noggin against my own, in an all out attempt to speed up the fill his tummy fillin process.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Brrrrr... Seriously

The wind chills are supposed to be from 25 to 35 below zero today. It's a good day to stay inside and enjoy the company of the boyz.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Woo Hoo Wah

Spent about two hours on (and involuntarily off) the phone with Apple support people. I thought I'd call on the longshot chance that since my broken down Mac Mini was three months past its warranty period, they would consider giving me a discount on the astronomical (and impractical) repair costs.

After being bounced back and forth between technical support and sales (and getting disconnected six different times), I ended up with customer relations. They agreed to pay for the entire cost of the repair.

Thank you Apple.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

He's Back

Diego-san is back to snuggling with me as I drink my morning coffee in preparation for my drive to work. My period of punishment is over... (and I'm very glad.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


My one year three month old Mac Mini died last week. Yesterday I brought it to the Genius Bar at my nearby Apple Store and my worst fears were confirmed: I need a new logic board. The cost? About two-thirds what it would cost to buy a brand new Mac Mini.

The problem is I didn't have a good backup system. My photos and music are stored on my iPod, and it is possible to extract them. I didn't have any important documents on the Mini so now I have to decide if it's worth paying for someone to transfer the contents of the dead Mini's hard drive onto whatever new computer I end up buying or if I should take the time to learn how to extract stuff off my iPod.

Needless to say, I am not a happy camper.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ski U Mah

I saw a lot of people riding scooters in DC. It got me thinking it sure would be nice to live in an area I could ride my scooter year round.

On my way into work this morning it was zero degrees out. That means my poor lil body suffered through a 70 degree drop in weather from Wednesday to today.

Of course the boyz would probably enjoy living in an area that the windows could be kept open year round.

This type of thinking is probably why I should not travel.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'm Home

Got back home and the boyz are well, the boyz.

Diego-san and Thompson teamed up to show me that they were none too happy by my extended absence. They spent most of last evening in another room from me. Theo on the other hand didn't want me out of his sight. When I went behind a closed door he cried and cried.

This morning things are back to normal. Here's a picture of Thompson goading Theo into a fight by sticking his tongue out at him.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Q Street

We took a stroll down Q Street in DC. The houses are historic looking and they have very little front yard. As a result many of the homeowners have fancy rock gardens in the little front yard space they have.

This was my favorite- featuring a scratching kitty...

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Postcard

Dear Thompson, Diego-san, and Theo,

DC is certainly a happenin city. Haven't had much time to do much other than go to the conference. Did have dinner at a hip, eclectic restaurant located in Dupont Circle. No signs of any kitties here.

See u soon,

-the food fella

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The boyz didn't seem to sense anything unusual was up until I gave them a day's worth of food before I left. I packed lightly so that did not raise suspicions.

Thompson did spend a lot of time on my lap (unusual) before my dad picked me up on way to the airport. Flight was bumpy. Temperature was 72 degrees on arrival in D.C. Temperature in Minneapolis when I left was 12 degrees.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Washington Bound

Off to the nation's capitol for the next few days. My friend A- is going to stop in and visit the boyz. Just when our routine was returning to normal...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Kilroy Was Here

The late great Mr. Max's stupid pet trick was that he and I sounded exactly alike when we ate chips.

Diego-san's stupid pet trick is he does a spot on imitation of Kilroy.

Learn about Kilroy

Monday, January 07, 2008

Minneapolis Star Tribune 1/6/08

CD sales plummet, leaving retailers spinning

The iPod generation is addicted to downloading, so stores scramble for other cash streams.

By JON BREAM, Star Tribune

Like Britney Spears' reputation, CD sales declined dramatically in 2007 -- 19 percent, to be exact.

That news hits especially hard in the Twin Cities, a national hub for record distribution for a half-century. It is home to two of the industry's biggest players -- Best Buy and Target, which together account for 3 of every 10 discs sold in the United States -- but even smaller stores are singing the post-holiday CD blues.

To fight back, Best Buy and longtime local independents such as the Electric Fetus and Cheapo Discs are diversifying, adding everything from coffee shops and digital downloads to -- gasp! -- vinyl albums.

Although Best Buy did not suffer as sharp a downturn in CD sales, "We're not happy about the decline," said Jennifer Schaidler, vice president of music. "But we're going to go where the customers go."

That means Best Buy is now custom-tailoring its CD selection for each store.

"In Chicago, we have Polish and Arabic music," Schaidler said. "Latin music is a big initiative. The shopper is not going away. We also will be expanding our digital [download] initiative," a partnership with

You don't need to know your way around an iPod to understand that digital downloads (legal or otherwise) are becoming the preferred medium for recorded music. Since 2004, digital song sales have more than quintupled while CD sales are down by one-third.

Although Best Buy is devoting more store space and advertising dollars to other products, it still carries a similar number of CDs -- at least 10,000 per store, according to Billboard -- and aggressively courts superstars for Best Buy-only discs, such as live DVDs by the Rolling Stones and Mariah Carey, or a Tom Petty documentary by Peter Bogdanovich.

Target takes a similar approach with tailored inventory and exclusives, including recent Christmas discs by young stars Taylor Swift, KT Tunstall and Elliott Yamin.

"We recognize that overall sales will likely continue to decline as digital options become more widespread, but remain committed to the business and to doing everything we can to encourage our guests to buy physical CDs," said Target spokesperson Amy von Walter. Its stores typically carry one-tenth as many CDs as a Best Buy.

Both Target and Best Buy "have done as well as expected, given the music environment," said Patricia Edwards, a retail analyst with Wentworth Hauser and Violich in Seattle. She thinks Best Buy's strategy to localize its inventory reflects a growing trend that "consumers want more and more customization."

Indie stores diversify

The decline of the CD has been tougher for stores that, unlike Target or Best Buy, focus primarily on music. Three local indie chains -- each in business since the hippie era -- are transforming themselves to make up for lost revenue.

The Electric Fetus, the granddaddy of them all, figures if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It's adding digital downloads to its mail-order website.

Down in the Valley has expanded its non-CD merchandise (T-shirts, collectibles) by 30 percent.

Cheapo Discs is adding coffee shops to some stores. Buzz, a 1,000-square-foot coffee joint with a separate door, will take up about 9 percent of the St. Paul Cheapo and 5 percent of the Uptown Minneapolis location.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," said Cheapo owner Al Brown, who founded the three-store chain in 1972, and co-owns similar stores in six other states and Toronto. "I've got some ideas no one else is doing, [but] my ideas would have been great five years ago." His stores have always revolved around recordings -- the Uptown store has more than 100,000 -- but for the first time he will attend a national gift show this year to shop for other products.

Music store morphs into gifts

At Down in the Valley, "I'm trying to get my store known as a gift store, not a record store," said Steve Hyland, owner of the four-store chain, which has shopping-mall locations in Golden Valley, Wayzata, Maple Grove and Crystal. "Gift is what I'm going to survive on."

That might be a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, a ceramic Marilyn Monroe cookie jar or a Rocky key chain that screams "Yo, Adrienne!" CDs occupy less than half of the floor space now.

"Every month my business goes down, down, down," said Hyland, who opened his first shop in 1972. He estimates his CD sales dropped 18 percent from 2006 to 2007 and, to his surprise, DVD sales declined 10 percent.

Nationally, digital-download sales were up 45 percent in 2007. Those numbers are tough for even a diehard like Electric Fetus owner Keith Covart to ignore.

"We're working on a downloading site," said Covart, who has stores in south Minneapolis, St. Cloud and Duluth. "My heart is not in it. They still haven't beat the CD for [audio] quality."

But with his 2007 CD sales down about 18 percent in both retail and wholesale -- the Fetus also distributes CDs to about 200 indie and gift stores around the country -- Covart realizes "you've got to carry music in several formats: digital, vinyl, CD, new and used. Sales of vinyl is 10 times more than [the previous] year. High schoolers and college students are looking at vinyl more than CDs."

The Fetus, like the big-box stores, also tries to lure customers with exclusive titles -- 200 of them, such as "Ben Harper Live at the Twist and Shout," via the Coalition of Independent Music Stores.

Although Cheapo shuttered a 6-year-old store in Moorhead in November because of slow sales, none of the local indie merchants are talking about closing shop. Hyland would like to hand over his stores to his children even though he knows the future is "not good. In a few years -- maybe 10 years -- I don't think they'll have a CD or DVD product that you put in your hands."

That's because the under-25 crowd -- the iPod generation -- is hooked on downloading, not owning discs.

"My kid's got 1,000 songs in his MP3 [player]," Hyland said, "and he didn't buy any of them from me."

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Not So Extreme Makeover

I had my basement framed and sheet rocked over the summer with the idea of eventually turning it into a family room and bedroom area. The stuff that I had down there that I didn't dispose of has remained in my main level bedroom and office. Both rooms have been full of stuff and mostly off limits to the boyz since the summer.

Today I finally got around to moving stuff back downstairs and arranged orderly in other rooms. The boyz were both curious about access to the rooms again and anxious over all the box moving. Hopefully someday the house will be settled again.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Theo's Haiku

Theo runs around
a rabbit, gonna grab it
No one else can see

Friday, January 04, 2008

Me Time

Before the holiday madness Diego-san had carved out a time with me each morning before I went to work and I was enjoying my morning coffee. He'd jump up on my lap and snuggle for a bit before I really needed to get ready for work. He hasn't done that since my dog sitting duties and I kinda think I'm being punished for my unexcused absence. I must admit I miss our lil time together.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Satan in a Litter Box

by Colleen Kruse
The Rake Magazine

I hate my cat. Cat people, save yourself the trouble of emailing me. And, rest assured, this is not a one-sided kind of a deal. The cat hates me, too. I know it is childish and wrong for me to hate the cat. After all, it is not her fault that I bought her. I should feel sorry for her. Imagine, being purchased by someone you hate and not having the thumbs to do anything about it. Poor, sweet, evil baby.

My cat is very beautiful, and people who come over to my house—cat people, that is—are beside themselves when they see her. They coo and moon like it was Angelina Jolie who just ambled into the room after taking dump. “Who is this gorgeous one?” they say, stretching their spines sensuously. (Scritchy-scratch.) Or “Ooooooh, look at that pretty kitty!” (Caress, stroke.)

Cat people, listen to me. I have never nor will I ever mistreat or neglect this wee beastie. If you want me to believe you when you say that cats have personalities just like humans do, then sure; I’m with you. Because then you will have to agree with me when I tell you that, without a doubt, some of them are total cat-holes.

Having one cat does not make you a cat person. Having three or more does. Maybe you have a cat or a cat person in your life. I have four cat people in my life. They are all physically beautiful, well-educated people, but other than that, they come from different neighborhoods and socio-economic backgrounds. The wealthier cat people, I have noticed, can sort of mask their cat person-hood by claiming eccentricity. This doesn’t fly with those of lower income. These cat people just seem all the crazier for choosing to scoop poop and de-lint in their spare time, and for spending what disposable income they have on food, litter, and all manner of feline accessories.

Cats cost about three hundred dollars a year to maintain. They have a projected fifteen- to seventeen-year lifespan. If you have three cats, this adds up to a grand total of $13,500. I understand that it is nice to come home to “someone.” But please try to think outside the litter box for a second. Nine hundred dollars a year might purchase you a shot at human companionship. You could take a life-enriching class. Get out and meet people. A painting class, maybe. You could even paint pictures of cats.

Cat people, you love to speak of the companionship that these tiny terrors offer, but have you ever stopped to notice that there are no “man’s best friend” genre movies starring cats? Could Old Yeller ever have been made if the script called for an orange tabby? How come there are no such things as bomb-sniffing cats? Or seeing-eye cats? “Cats are too smart for that.” I’ve heard that one before. Tell it to Judge Judy. Cats are inherently wicked, self-involved pleasure seekers. If being a wicked, self-involved pleasure seeker equals smart, how come we’re so quick to call Britney Spears stupid? Britney Spears would totally be worshipped in ancient Egypt. And look what happened to the ancient Egyptians.

Furthering my argument: The next time you go out for dim sum, check out the animals on your placemat. You’ll find a pig, a goat, a rat, even a snake! There is no year of the cat in Chinese astrology. They have a dragon. A pretend animal was better than a cat.

Plus, cats have got that otherworldly, spooky vibe. Nostradamus was a cat owner, ditto Aleister Crowley. I don’t think it’s just black cats—all cats are bad luck. There is no good-luck correlation to cats. People don’t carry around lucky cat’s feet. Unlike horse manure, if you step in cat poop on a city street, it doesn’t mean that you are lucky.

Cats are the opposite of heroic. You always hear modern folktales of devoted dogs who were tragically separated from their owners and sniffed their way cross-country from Nebraska to Vermont, making their way back to little Billy. People write love songs about dogs. “Lily,” by Pink Martini. “Queenie’s Song,” by Guy Clark. “Old King,” by Neil Young. What songs are there about cats? “The Cat Came Back.”

As I sit here tonight, daubing my five-inch laceration with a sterile alcohol pad from the first-aid kit, these unkind thoughts about my cat comfort me. On the upside, it is nice to have a face (even if it is three inches wide and furry) upon which to superimpose all of my earthly hatred and anxieties. On the downside, it means putting up with violent and bloody surprise attacks in my own home. I am the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, and she is my Cat-o.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Top 5 CDs of 2007

The boyz and I have reached a consensus on our five favorite CDs of 2007:

1) The Arctic Monkeys- Favourite Worst Nightmare (the boyz and I do disagree about the merits of adopting a pet monkey)

2) The Fratellis- Costello Music

3) Alice Smith- For Lovers Dreamers & Me

4) The Ike Reilly Assassination- We Belong to the Staggering Evening

5) M.I.A.- Kala

While we highly recommend you give these a listen we also highly recommend you do not download the music nor buy the CDs online from Amazon but instead go out and support your local independent CD store...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Theo's Got a Girlfriend

My niece told me she was watching the boyz' DVD I gave my family for Xmas. Her cat Yoko ignored the Thompson and Diego-san slideshows. When it got to Theo's slideshow Yoko immediately perked up and went and sat right in front of the TV.

Like Theo, Yoko is a peppy tuxedo cat. She obviously saw a kindred spirit.

Sorry for the picture quality here- it's a picture of a picture my niece took of the moment and my scanner isn't hooked up...