Minnesota State Park Adventuring

Throughout most of the fall I’ve been spending weekends heading out to Minnesota’s state parks.

Nature With the Kids

It started after a summer vacation I took with the kids to South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas. We took in lots of nature: the Badlands, the Black Hills, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

But watching over two kids by myself (until Colorado when I joined my parents), I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy the nature. There wasn’t a lot of quiet. Or patience.  Or peace.

At one point in Colorado, after climbing across rocks in the river rapids with my kids, I sat down in a chair along the shore and put my feet up.

A moment later, Milo fell into the river. Continue reading Minnesota State Park Adventuring

Star Wars The Last Jedi: Post-Movie Thoughts

Last night I went to the opening of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars is such an ingrained part of my childhood and life that these movies are just a flood of nostalgia. I love the experience.

We’ve certainly been disappointed with the prequels, but it’s so amazing to see Star Wars back in the theaters and to be so excited about it again. I love it.

Just as I did with The Force Awakens, I want to share my post-movie thoughts.

I often expect these in-the-moment reactions to temper a bit with time. I always admit that I came out of The Phantom Menace loving it. Even the second time. But then reality caught up with nostalgia.

I still love The Force Awakens.  I do think the re-hash of A New Hope, primarily Star Killer Base, was a bit much, but I don’t really care.

So we’ll see where I go with my Last Jedi reactions. Continue reading Star Wars The Last Jedi: Post-Movie Thoughts

U2 Songs of Experience

The new U2 album, Songs of Experience, came out today. For the last several U2 albums, I’ve blogged my impressions as I listen to the album for the very first time.

It’s a silly thing to do because I’m not very good at writing about music. But I like capturing my first impressions and then coming back later to laugh at my first take.

So here we go…

  1. Love Is All We Have Left – Weird slow intro. The reverb vocals are even weirder. Sets a unique tone for the album, thought not sure I like it.
  2. Lights of Home – Sonic shift from that opener. Seems to have a different feel from what I expect from a U2 song. I like the chorus better than the verses. “Free yourself to be yourself” bridge with the piano is interesting.
  3. You’re the Best Thing About Me – This is kind of a weird pop-rocker hybrid. Initially it struck me as so-so, but it’s growing on me. (This came out early as the first single, so hearing it again now with the album, it feels more familiar and I’m definitely liking it more.) “I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy.”
  4. Get Out Of Your Own Way – The intro music feels so U2. The intro vocals are a little weird and breathy… ah, there’s Bono. The breathy part of the “Get out of your own way” in the chorus is kind of weird… and that’s a mouthful.. but the rest of the chorus is great. I like the repeats. “Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside, I could help you but it’s your fight.” Hearing this again (it was released early), I like the rhythm in the verses. This feels like a quiet favorite.
  5. American Soul – The beginning of this does not sound like U2 at all. That guitar sounds a little more U2, but it’s different. I like it. The chorus sounds like another U2 song, I can’t place which one though.
  6. Summer of Love – This is slower and somehow more melodic. I liked the bridge, I was waiting for some soaring vocals but we barely got those. Meh.
  7. Red Flag Day – Seems like a very different album rhythmically, and I don’t mean drums and base but the rhythm of the vocals. This one feels catchy.
  8. The Showman (Little More Better) – Nice: “Singers cry about everything.” This reminds me of a song I hear on the radio and think, “That’s dumb, I don’t like it.” Some phrasing or the way they sing something seems annoying. But they keep playing it, and I start to like it. I don’t get that feeling often from a U2 song, but this song is totally it.
  9. The Little Things That Give You Away – This is the slow verse U2 song that’s itching to turn into an anthem on the chorus. We get hints on the first chorus, we’ll see if it picks up as it goes. The bridge sounds familiar (like another U2 song I can’t place). Now it’s picking up. I’m curious to see how this one holds up to repeat listens.
  10. Landlady – This song really didn’t catch my attention, until the last minute or so. That part felt catchy. Otherwise meh.
  11. The Blackout – The beginning sounds like several different old U2 songs (again, I can’t place them). Love the bass. I love these driving rockers. Second verse, is this about Trump? Seems like this one will be better live.
  12. Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way – Sometimes it’s just interesting to hear U2 make music. They’re trying to do new things, not just cranking out more U2-sounding songs. That doesn’t always work. This song feels like that kind of experimentation. Parts of it work, parts of it don’t. Parts of it feel familiar, parts of it feel unique.
  13. 13 (There Is a Light) – Is this our quiet album closer? The chorus is super familiar—where have I heard this before? Is this a reprise of another song? Oh there, it is, “A Song for Someone” from the last album. Interesting choice there—I’ll need to compare these versions.

It’s always hard to judge a new album after hearing it for the first time. Am I liking it just because it’s U2? Is it initially catchy but won’t last?

I think it’s fair to say U2’s last several albums haven’t been major hits. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb seems like the last one I thought, yeah, I like that. No Line On the Horizon still feels kind of fuzzy in my mind (what are the hit songs? None? “Moment of Surrender” and “Magnificent” are my favorites, but probably not hits). Songs of Innocence likewise felt short on hits (though “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” got radio play and is probably my favorite).

Songs of Experience feels lacking in a signature single. I like “The Blackout,” but other songs feel like they’ll need to grow on me.

We’ll have to revisit these thoughts and see how wrong I am. (My previous takes on Songs of Innocence, No Line on the Horizon, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.)

Greenway Is Going Through

Last week the West St. Paul city council voted unanimously to approve the River-to-River Greenway tunnel. It’s a project I’ve been pushing since January. It’s great to see it finally moving forward.

Of course it’s not done yet. This is just the first step.

The plan was passed with all kinds of ifs and buts, but the hope is the tunnel goes through and development comes with it. Everybody wins.

We’ll keep pushing the tunnel with the WSP Greenway Project on Facebook.

I Love the Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View Short Story Collection

I’m not a big fan of short story collections or Star Wars novels. But I loved Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. It’s a collection of 40 stories offering unique points of view surrounding the original Star Wars: A New Hope movie.

The stories offer glimpses of the main characters—Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, etc.—and even some dialogue straight from the movie, but mostly we’re following the stories not told in the movie:

  • How the Imperial gunner who didn’t fire on the escape pod with no lifeforms used bureaucratic paperwork to cover his ass.
  • An excerpt from the celebrity memoir of one of the Cantina band performers.
  • The untold story of what really happened with the red R2 unit that Uncle Owen almost bought instead of R2-D2.
  • The harrowing saga of how the trash compactor monster came to be on the Death Star and the larger role it had to play.

Continue reading I Love the Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View Short Story Collection

Fannie Lou Hamer Documentary

Check out this preview of a new documentary about civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. I discovered Hamer for myself a few years ago while reading about the civil rights movement and was just floored by her story.

If you don’t know much about Fannie Lou Hamer, I encourage you to dig into her history.

Like much of the civil rights movement and the wider fight for justice, it’s many of the same conversations we’ve been having over and over and over again.

Such as standing for the national anthem:

“It’s hard for me to stand up and sing the national anthem. I stand up and I work my mouth, but I don’t always come through with the verses. ‘O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed,’ cuz actually the land of the free and the home of the brave has meant the land of the treed and the home of the grave for so many of us.”

Something I love about Hamer is that she says it like it is:

“This is just a lot of crap that folks talk about the true democracy of this country.”

Learn more about the Fannie Lou Hamer documentary and consider making a donation to support its production.

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Turning on the Heat 2017

Every year I track when I turn the heat on, like a good little nerd.

This year is pretty average. It was still relatively warm inside, but with cloudy days and low temps on the horizon, it wasn’t going to get any better.

Plus I kept sitting here shivering. The older I get, the sillier that seems.

Common Sense Gun Control in America

On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a man opened fire on a concert crowd, killing 59 and injuring more than 500. It’s hard to be shocked by mass shootings in America anymore, but I’m taken aback by the sheer efficiency of this brutal attack.

I’m also amazed by the conversation after the fact. There is incredible resistance to any kind of discussion about stricter gun control. That baffles me.

I wish we could break through this partisan divide and come together to discuss real, common sense solutions that could address gun violence.

Part of the frustration is that it seems like we have the same conversation every time. We hear the same arguments, the same responses, every time. My Twitter feed is full of the same ridiculous quotes, followed by the same refutations of those claims.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we could put all the arguments and responses in one place and be done with it? Let’s give it a try:

Now is not the time to debate politics.

So when is the time? Mass shootings happen all the time in America. Gun violence is a daily occurrence. If not now, when?

By the way, nobody says this about any other issue. It’s simply a way to duck the issue of gun control. Continue reading Common Sense Gun Control in America

Robert St. Tunnel: Invest in West St. Paul Without Raising Taxes

Right now the West St. Paul city council is debating the 2018 budget and a potential 10-12% levy increase. Yes, taxes are going to go up.

This really isn’t a surprise, especially since the city has been unable to secure state help in paying for the recent Robert Street reconstruction (I explored taxes vs. investment last year).

These are preliminary numbers and the city council and mayor are working to bring those numbers down—nobody wants a huge tax increase. They will wrangle over ways to slash the budget, including closing the city pool and Thompson Golf Course, delaying improvements to Marthaler Park and more.

Budget cuts are painful, no way around it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to invest in West St. Paul without adding to the budget? 

Oh yeah, there is: The Robert Street Tunnel. Continue reading Robert St. Tunnel: Invest in West St. Paul Without Raising Taxes

Synchronous Vacation Photos

I love seeing photos that are near reflections of each other. I don’t know what to call this—synchronicity, mirror images, whatever. There has to be a better way to describe them. But I love them.

While on vacation this year I managed to add a new chapter to several such photos:

1986: Me, my brother, and my dad (Grand Lake, I think)
Hendricks Boys 1986 (Rocky Mountain National Park Style)

2002: Me and my wife (Estes Park)
Kevin & Abby with the RMNP Sign

2014: My wife and I (Grand Lake)
Rocky Mountain National Park West Gate

2017: Milo, Lexi and me.
Rocky Mountain National Park

Continue reading Synchronous Vacation Photos