Valentine’s Day Special: My “Romance Survival Kit”

Any girl will tell you, it’s all about the little things. This is my contribution, a bit of friendly advice for all the fellas out there. One way I try to make my wife’s day a little brighter is with little surprises. Above is the “survival kit” I’ve assembled. Note the heart-shaped Post-It notes, guys. Those are usually found in stores right about now, in time for Valentine’s Day. Go get some!

I like to hide little heart-shaped “I Love You” notes all over the place: inside DVD cases, behind the visor in her truck, things like that. I put a date on each one because sometimes they go undiscovered for long periods of time. That makes the surprise even better!

Phase two was the purchase of little note cards with envelopes and colored stationery, complete with wedding ring postage stamps. From time to time I will write my wife a nice little love-note and mail it to our house. Then, when she gets the mail, she receives a special delivery! A little goes a long way toward making a girl feel special.

We don’t have big plans for Valentine’s Day, although we do have a date night scheduled later this week. My goal is to scatter little miniature Valentine’s days all throughout the year! Give it a try.

BMSO “Mimes and Marvels” photos…hold onto your hat!

After a lovely dinner at The Walrus Restaurant this weekend, my wife and I took in a fantastic season finale at the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra. Naturally I’m biased because my favorite violinist plays with the BMSO, but Saturday night held a particular treat.

Performer Dan Kamin ( came to town last week to entertain children and adults alike, including his program “The Classical Clown” with the Symphony. The show itself is wonderfully assembled, and it was a real joy to experience firsthand!

In addition to a variety of music selections and a fun ride with the character of the Classical Clown, the evening took a very colorful tone. It ranged from dancing…

…to a menacing, mime-frightening drama, complete with a walls-closing-in routine…

…to some sweet lullaby relaxation. Mr. Kamin’s character led us through the ups and downs of the selections performed by the Symphony, giving a new context to many familiar favorites.

This is no ordinary clown, however; after a brief trip backstage, he returned with tuxedo and baton, ready to conduct the Symphony! And conduct he did…

…until our conductor, Dr. Beverly Everett, returned with a few tricks of her own! This is a challenging production in that the conductor needs to co-star and deliver a lot of dialogue. Dr. Everett performed brilliantly! She was captivating and a perfect partner for Mr. Kamin. The orchestra was able to get in on the act a few times, too, which I’m told was a real treat for them.

The “cherry on top” for the evening was a not-so-brief Q&A session with conductor and mime, where a bunch of us were allowed to ask questions to our hearts’ content and hear Mr. Kamin describe his craft.

The show’s star performers graciously took questions from the group until almost 9:45! We got to hear Mr. Kamin talk about his experiences teaching Johnny Depp how to do magic and mime routines for movies such as Benny & Joon (which I loved), including a trick he used during the Pirates of the Caribbean. He also taught Robert Downey, Jr. the skills he needed to star in the movie, “Chaplin.”

What a personable fellow! You can tell that Mr. Kamin really enjoys his work. He talked a lot about the history of his craft, relating silent movie stars with mimes and other genres of performing without words. He taught a little boy how to do the “moon walk” and explained how, while popularized by Michael Jackson, the move was actually invented by Marcel Marceau.

Like I said, he hung out with us for quite a while! In addition to talking about the history of mime, he also expounded on my comment about relating comedic timing to music timing in his work. He talked about how he runs into different and similar conventions in humor when performing in different parts of the world, as well as what it was like to perform for a deaf audience.

The art of mime couldn’t ask for a better ambassador than Mr. Kamin. He said so many things I wish I could have written down. The one I was able to type into my phone, one of the best of the evening: “I look at Mime in the greatest sense, as in it’s what happens when you stop talking.” Well said. He compared the stereotypical “mime in white face” to the silent movie stars of old, Cirque du Soleil performers of today, and other styles that have existed for decades (if not longer).

Naturally I wanted to thank Dan Kamin in person for a brilliant show, his gracious gift of time to answer questions, and his warm personality. I think I blurted part of that out as I mentioned how I liked the scenes he brainstormed for the aforementioned movies. Then it was time for a quick photo and good-bye. Now it’s time to go out and rent Benny & Joon again…

(I hope these photos aren’t too grainy. I didn’t take my camera with me, instead relying on my wife’s little point-n-shoot model. It doesn’t perform in low light like an SLR, but I know how to extract the most from it when there’s no room for my big camera.)


Time to fire up the remote control monster trucks! I got both my 4×4 and 2 wheel drive trucks running this week. 50,000 rpms of nitromethane-burning fun never sounded so good! Wheels, Wings, and Hobbies even has a killer track set up for the 4x4s. My two wheel drive truck will do 60, and burned the first set of tires off within 15 minutes of taking it out of the box, but I do like being able to catch big air with the 4×4. Zoom.

I don’t run these trucks in the winter because jetting ’em just rich enough to not melt their engines down is a constant vigil. The colder the air, the leaner the mixture. Now that it’s nice out, however, I can keep them right on the ragged edge between performance and catastrophe. And I have a spare engine in the toolbox just in case I goof.

North Dakota…I AM LEGEND. -ARY.

Sorry, I just had to play around in Photoshop. I got the idea over a year ago when North Dakota Tourism picked the slogan “I Am Legendary”. Great slogan perhaps, but it was poorly timed considering the release of the Will Smith movie “I Am Legend.” Oops.

Bummer when your new slogan bears an uncanny resemblance to the title of a Will Smith movie, ain’t it? Well, I decided to combine the two for a faux movie poster with a North Dakota theme. I played around in Photoshop a bit tonight to rig up this cheesy imitation. It ain’t my best work, but it gave me a few chuckles. Now, on to some of my other year-old projects around the house…

MHS does “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

My lovely wife and I had a date night last night, and attended Mandan High School’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I didn’t know much about this little musical (apparently licensed from Tams-Witmark, Inc.), but I certainly appreciate how hard it must be to portray such iconic characters! I didn’t take my camera, since this was a date, thus the poor-quality cellphone shot of Snoopy above.

I’m a big Peanuts fan, with a collection of books and memorabilia going back longer than I’ve been alive. I think some of my oldest Peanuts books are from the mid-1960s. I’ve got the cartoons on DVD, the shirts, the toys, the books ABOUT the cartoons, and even a 35 year old Snoopy jack-in-the-box that my little brother got as a kid. Uncle PJ played with it in the 70s, and now my little PJ plays with it in the 00’s. Having said all that, someone like me could be very hard to please with a musical like this…or very easy.

At first I wondered what the play was trying to accomplish. It’s obvious that they do a lot of little interstitial “strips” plucked from the annals of Peanuts history. These are performed in series between the main musical performances. On the one hand, I think they were well done; however, on the other hand, I think one might have to be a true Peanuts fan to really appreciate them. Again, I think that’s part of the mixed blessing of portraying Peanuts characters on stage. I must say, however, that I had bonded with these kids a short while into the play.

If I had to highlight a performance, it would clearly be Nick Leingang as Snoopy. Nick had the unusual task of taking the world’s most popular dog and, while NOT wearing any sort of dog costume, walking us through some of our fondest insights into Snoopy and his fertile canine imagination. He did so with energy and flair, and the best compliment I can give is that I felt like I was watching Snoopy. Tough praise to earn from a devoted Peanuts fan of over thirty years! Judging by the energetic applause at the end of the “Suppertime” scene, I get the impression that other folks agreed.

Other bright performances in this play are Jonathan Wanner as Linus and Vanessa Stumpf as Lucy. Linus has always been my favorite Peanuts character, Lucy not so much, but I really liked the way each of these actors portrayed their character. Nice work!

You can catch this performance two more times this weekend: tonight at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30. I recommend heading over and enjoying this performance. TIckets are $7 for adults. Get there early and get a good seat!

Studio party on the fly

The fun continued at work today. My boss’s birthday is today, and he was supposed to on a golf trip as part of the celebration. Sadly, circumstances came up that prevented the trip…but his trusty crew wasn’t about to let that lessen the joy of the day! One of our studios became an indoor miniature golf course for the occasion.

In addition to making good use of our party supplies budget, a few of the guys took tubes, chairs, light stands, and even actual mini-golf supplies to make a six-hole, par six (!) course on the floor of Studio A. I don’t know who came up with that Par 1 designation…this thing was TOUGH!

The studio guys lined up the course, one of the graphic artists made flags and score cards, while another was in charge of streamers, party poppers, and other assorted party favors. Oh yes…there were kazoos. Randy from the Walrus Restaurant brought a bunch of his fine pastas and bread, and we keep a well-stocked refrigerator in back for beverage duty. I recommend the Mountain Dew, it helps wash down that sugary birthday cake very nicely! I had a little bit of salad to help make things healthy.

It was actually a little darker and more colorful than this photo implies, which means that of course I dialed up some Frank Sinatra on the iPod for the occasion. We have speakers in the back with an iPod plug-in so we can set the right ambience in the studio, and the Chairman of the Board seemed perfect for today.

So what do you do when its thirty below and the office has a bona fide reason for a party? This is how we do it! We love our boss and did our best to provide an alternative to those sunny greens. Happy Birthday!

Throwing copper

I couldn’t resist throwing the title of a Live album in for this post’s title. Technically we were throwing lead, too…at high velocity! This isn’t my ammo, I was shooting something a bit more beefy.

I don’t hunt other than with my camera; I’m strictly into recreational target shooting. I’ve shot more this year already than the past couple of years combined, and plan to do a lot more. Thankfully my accuracy with a handgun doesn’t appear to have suffered. There’s no replacement for practice, however…I am getting plenty of that!

ND Peace Coalition urges withdrawal from violent North Dakota quagmire

(Bismarck) The North Dakota Peace Coalition called for immediate withdrawal from North Dakota this week, after describing the situation here as “a quagmire with no end in sight.” In light of numerous homicides and other violent crimes in 2007, said NDPC representative Karyn Van Possum, “the continued cost of the North Dakota occupation in the lives and health of our citizens is exceeding our expectations…not that the deaths of North Dakotans should have ever been within our expectations.”

When asked if a resolution in the state legislature along the lines of the Mathern/Kretschmar Pacifism Resolution was being considered, Van Possum indicated, “…that’s certainly a possibility. What better way to demonstrate support for our citizens than to get them out of harm’s way? Staying in North Dakota will not work and is not worth the price.”

Van Possum continued: “The list of atrocities committed in North Dakota include: an asphyxiated newborn in December, the high profile killings of two college coeds in Minot and Valley City, the beating to death of a man in Grand Forks in October, and the April slaying of a Sykeston couple in which their home was burned to the ground in an effort to conceal the crime. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Even now, the local news is reporting a possible kidnapping in central North Dakota. In August, someone hit a young man in the head and tried to run him over with a pickup. Obviously North Dakota is not safe for North Dakotans. We need to keep our citizens safe. We support North Dakotans, just not their mission. It’s time to bring them home…er, well, somewhere safe, anyway.”

When not busy fighting to end all fighting, many of the ND Peace folks keep busy by forming an endless array of coalitions, councils, and other “dot orgs” to champion such causes such as deviant sexual practices and preferences, pseudo-peace through capitulation to all enemies of freedom, and the worship of the Earth rather than its creator. Populating these organizations, attending the occasional protest and/or drum circle, and standing in black in front of the capitol keep many of them too busy to find a productive place in society. “But we care,” stressed Van Possum, “and that’s the important part.”

While they concede that our presence in North Dakota is unlikely to diminish any time soon, the peaceniks vow to remain resolute. “There’s no giving up on giving up,” Van Possum said. “It takes courage to stand up for running away.”

(I didn’t have time for a new April Fool’s joke, so I decided to recycle a little satire from an earlier post. It doesn’t take an intellectual giant to make these people look silly. They do 99% of the work themselves.)

Ice racing to cure bike fever

Who says winter has to put a stop to motorcycle racing? This is a shot from a while back when I was turning laps on an ice course with several friends. (It was also before I went to Bob’s Photo and got a decent camera.) The location and identities of the guys will remain undisclosed because of one simple reason: lawsuits.

There are quite a few local guys who spike up their tires and race on the ice every winter. We plowed a course on a frozen body of water, put up cones to mark the corners, and then went nuts. Every now and then the racing would stop, people would grab shovels, and we’d go groom the corners. Those spikes shred the ice in a hurry, and we’d get drifts of ice in the corners that needed to be cleared for better traction. But it had to be kept secret…why?

The particular property we were using is privately owned. We had permission from the owner to be there, it was an invite only event, and that’s the way it has to stay. The reason is to protect the gracious landowner from a lawsuit should somebody come out uninvited, injure themselves, and suddenly decide it wasn’t their fault. It’s a shame, but in these 50 United Litigious States we live in, it’s a fact of life.

It’s a lot like the off-road course east of town on the MME hill. It’s marked No Trespassing, but for certain folks it’s open for use, as long as we keep a signed waver in the filing cabinet in the trucking company office. For most of us it’s a no-brainer…we try to go as fast as we can on a particular piece of dirt or ice, and any consequences belong solely to the rider. Sadly, many people don’t think that way, and for that reason a lot of fun has to be kept within a tightly knit group of riders.

Hold onto your tummy: Thrill Hill

If you grew up in Mandan, you’re likely no stranger to what the kids have affectionately termed “Thrill Hill.” I have no idea how long it’s been named such, but it already sported that moniker over twenty years ago when I first got my license. Whoa. I just realized I’ve been driving for over two decades! That must mean I’m…………….old.

Okay, I’m back. This innocent looking street holds a real “whee” at the end, so it’s no surprise that people discovered it and treat it like an amusement ride. It’ll put your heart in your throat right quick! This street is a long upward slope, but it drops off pretty good on the other side.

Photographs simply cannot do the backside of this hill justice. Believe me, I tried several angles. The crest of the hill is really nothing remarkable…if you’re not sure you’re on the real Thrill Hill, you’ll think you missed it! Just as that thought crosses your mind, the road drops out from under you. Whee.

The bottom of this photo has snow on the roadway, otherwise you’d see hundreds of scrapes as cars hit the dip at the end of the block. Whether it’s for drainage or speed control I don’t know; but apparently people are still hitting it with some gusto. Just as the road falling away will bring your heart into your stomach, piling into this dip will drop it back into place!

This post is kinda for the “insiders” who know where Thrill Hill is. You see, I’m not going to tell you…that would be encouraging you to try it, and quite frankly it’s dangerous. While it’s fun even at legal speeds, for some reason no mere mortal can resist going much faster. I like my readers, I’m certainly not going to send them to their doom! I need you folks.

Before I got my license, I was a passenger in a car that flew (quite literally) over this hill at speeds that would probably have cost the driver his license. Later on in life, my friend Tony and I explored it on our motorcycles and scared ourselves silly – there’s not much keeping motorcycles from going airborne, we discovered – and I haven’t done anything reckless on it in many, many years. I guess now I think like an adult, a dad, and a homeowner.

So if you want to find it, you’re on your own. If you’ve got your own Thrill Hill stories, I’d love to hear about them.