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In the past couple weeks, much has been written about electronics retail giant Best Buy. I can only recall a handful of stories that generated the kind of attention and social media reaction Forbes writer Larry Downes has gotten with his post about Best Buy going out of business…gradually. But when you hypothesize that one of our country’s great business success stories is about to crumble, you might expect a little attention.

Buttons have been pushed. Nerves touched. Wires crossed.

In the end, retail shopping is about consumer experience. Let’s face it, the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer is never going to make every transaction a pleasant “win” for both the consumer and the company. It just can’t happen. That said, Best Buy must strive to be better than its previous best. The company must hire savvy store managers, train its floor sales people thoroughly, streamline its checkout process, and take every possible step to curry favor with consumers. All that while it expands its Internet business to compete with the likes of Amazon and other mega online retailers. No small feat.

For all the comments (mostly negative toward BBY) that Downes’s blog post has received there are, no doubt, millions of happy Best Buy customers who don’t make time to vocalize their public support of the company.

I’ll take the time.

In 2011, I purchased a 42-inch Insignia television from Best Buy. The sales rep was extremely helpful. The checkout and pickup process effortless. I was asked once, and only once, about my need for HDMI cables and an extended warranty plan. I declined both offers, paid for the product. End of story.  Did I mention the sales rep was extremely helpful. He was no more than 20 years old, but knew his shit when it came to TV technology. And when his store didn’t have the size that I wanted, he found it at another location convenient to me.

And that’s how customer loyalty is won.

Granted, Best Buy has hiccupped its way through the holiday season. But rather than estimating that the doors of this company will be shuttered and locked within 24 months, I’ll place my bets that the world’s largest electronics retailer will figure out its next growth step…and nail it.

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It’s Friday. It’s also the Friday before the three-day-long Memorial Day weekend. Fun ensues.

Tonight, endless options include taking in Alison Scott at Redstone in Minnetonka.  She’s also playing a gig at The Dakota jazz club in Minneapolis on Saturday night, which is a great venue but likely sold out by now.

Saturday entails road-tripping to Albert Lea, Minn., for a meetup of several high school friends – most of whom I’ve not seen since my 10-year reunion circa 1993. Funny how nothing really changes in the first 10 years post high school. But my, how things have changed in the last 16 years. This small group should be a load of fun.

Sunday/Monday options include movies (Terminator Salvation and The Girlfriend Experience are both on my list); mountain bike rides at Lebanon Hills, where even the intermediate singletrack leaves me bruised; and relaxation. I’m thinking some nicely grilled salmon and Leinenkugels new Classic Amber may be just the ticket to top off the long weekend.

Summer is here people. Enjoy and Happy Memorial Day.

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Valentine’s Day night found me at the W Hotel in downtown Minneapolis celebrating the 30th birthday of a friend’s friend. I’ve not been to the Living Room bar at the hotel, adjacent to Manny’s Steakhouse, since last October.  And unlike that first experience, which was quiet and comfortable, last night the place was rockin’ with people – beautiful, unassuming couples and ostentatious men and women whom I was embarrassed for because of their crazy costumes on Feb. 14. It’s Valentine’s Day, not Halloween, right?!?

So our small group of eight stood in the midst of all the couples enjoying their evening at a hip bar/restaurant and we drank our Grey Goose martinis or Manhattans. One lively conversation led to another and another, including the topic of Obama’s economic stimulus package recently passed by the Senate and scheduled for signing on Feb. 17.  As I talked with young 30-somethings just getting married and starting their lives, their interest in owning a home is a clear priority. But some don’t have the financial wherewithall to make it a reality. Obama’s plan allows for first-time home buyers to obtain an $8,000 tax credit if they purchase a home by Dec. 31, 2009. Not bad, but wouldn’t this stimulus plan be even better if that a$8,000 could be immediately applied to the downpayment a first-time home buyer needs to make? That would finally enable many who don’t have an adequate downpayment to push their ability over that hurdle. I guess there’s more than one way to stimulate the economy, but in our current woeful economic state, I’m of the opinion the best way to stimulate the economy is to put funds and programs directly into the hands of people who have long-term plans. Homebuyers, for example.

From the trendy and hip W, the group moved west several blocks to a bar along First Avenue called, The Ugly Mug. Here is where I had a quick glass of Blue Moon and then checked out for the night. Not only is this place designed exclusively for Gen We-ers, it’s also excessively loud. At my age, I prefer not to stand in a bar pretending to hear conversation when all I can do is see lips moving, nod in return and smile a lot.  God, I sound old.

Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei make “The Wrestler,” an Oscar worthy movie. I finally got to see this film on Saturday afternoon. The audience was small, but it was Valentine’s Day at 5 p.m., and this movie isn’t really a feel-good kinda show.  Those who haven’t seen Rourke since his pretty boy days of “9 1/2 Weeks,” won’t recognize him. This role was essentially written for him, and I got the impression that Rourke barely had to act to fulfill his part in the film, especially given the past two decades of his life and the hard knocks he’s lived through. Still, the story is a good one, the father/daughter struggle all to painfully real, and the wrestling scenes almost comical in a very WWE kind of way. Tomei, in her role as stripper/single mom, deserves a solid for making her part not just relevant but dominant throughout the movie. Her torn life and dream to make something more of herself become the antithesis of Randy “Ram’s” day-to-day, piss it all away rut that he can’t get out of. In the end it seems they both get exactly what they want.

See “The Wrestler,” in theaters if for nothing else to say you saw Rourke in his comeback effort and Tomei looking beautiful in her plain-Jane kinda way she does so well. Stay for the credits and hear Bruce Springsteen sing the title track to the movie.

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When Roses Speak, I Pay Attention
By Mary Oliver

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on. “Listen,
The heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

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Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year”

Plenty of Christmas childred-treehood memories float around my head this time of year. Like the several-year-stretch of purchasing flocked Christmas trees from Del’s Garden Center in Spencer, Iowa. Dad and Mom even bought a red flocked tree (around 1972, I think). It seems a heinous act, flocking a poor evergreen, but back in the ’70s it was the “in” thing to do and Del’s flocked Christmas trees like nobody’s business.  For those of you unfamiliar with the process, they basically stick the tree in a paint room on a stand that spins in a circle while a thick coating of foam-like, dyed flocking material covers every branch and needle. Instead of vacuuming up dried needles on New Year’s Day, we vacuumed red flocking attached to dried needles. It was stunning stuff.

One of my best Christmas memories involves Uncle Floyd and Aunt Evelyn. Floyd worked for my Dad who owned a machine shop and small-engine repair business. (Floyd and Evelyn were not actual relatives BTW). Floyd should have been retired, but Dad had a soft spot for Floyd who was a fountain of information when it came to mechanics.  The aged Floyd and Evelyn lived in a little town, Sioux Rapids, about 20 miles from our home. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would collect them and host them for dinner. Evelyn made delicious caramel pecan rolls, and it would kill me to sit in the backseat of the car with those rolls waiting until we got home before I could indulge. A few years back, I began my own attempt in mimicking the creation of those pecan rolls. Both Floyd and Evelyn have passed away, so I turned to the Google and after trying a couple recipes and combining a few things, I landed on what I believe is a very close caramel pecan roll recipe that would make Evelyn proud. It’s a tribute of sorts to them both and the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners of my youth.

Some traditions fade away – while others remain or re-occur or begin. Gone are the days of flocked trees but those pecan rolls are back in my life. And my two kids, who practically peed their pants in anticipation of Santa’s secret visit and the  gifts he left them for Christmas morning, are teenagers. The excitement may be (mostly) in the past, but the spirit and intention that comes with spending time together making a dinner, playing cards or watching a movie remains anticipated and important.

Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

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It’s the holiday season. Rather than wander endlessly through crowded shopping malls and electronics retailers trying to identify an oh-so-perfect gift for the guy in your life, shop with a purpose this year.

Here are 10 gift suggestions practically any man would love to open up on Christmas morning – none of which involve a gift card (boring) or spreadable cheeses (that’s just wrong).

In no particular order…

  1. Rayban Wafarer or Oakley Flak Jacket Sunglasses – Celebrities aren’t the only ones who appreciate signature eyeware, although it’s more affordable for them. Still, a nice set of shades wrapped up in a bow tell your significant other that his baby blues, browns et al need proper protection from those damaging UV rays.
  2. Blue Ray DVD Player – Now that Sony won the battle of Blue Ray there’s no reason not to upgrade. He may not notice the picture difference, but he’ll say he does. What’s more, he’ll tell all his friends, repeatedly, about how his wife/girlfriend gave hime a Blue Ray player for Christmas.
  3. “Unforgiven” Two Disc Special Edition – Four Academy Awards, Clint Eastwood starring and directing along with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman.  This is the ultimate Western movie for any guy’s DVD library.
  4. Art – the hanging kind. That poster of Daisy Duke on a nail in the home office was put there as a placeholder. Make the upgrade with an architectural line drawing or black and white photograph, add a nice frame and he’ll be sure there’s something extra special in your stocking…next year.
  5. Multifunction Tool – Even the most unhandiest of men need ready access to a tool that cuts, twists, drives screws, and opens that stubborn beer bottle in a pinch.
  6. Under Armour Gear – It’s not only for athletes. In fact, donning Under Armour’s Contender Armour Stretch Pants, for example, might make guys feel more athletic. They’ll certainly look the part.
  7. http://www.mywebsite.com – Unlike pet rocks and mood rings, I don’t think the Internet is a passing fad. Find a website developer and do it up right. Nothing will scream Merry Christmas like his very own dot-com address.
  8. Fender Guitar – To be specific, the Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster guitar.  If owning something cool is the objective, this autographed custom guitar puts cool on the map. I can’t play a lick, but seriously, who wouldn’t want this as a conversation piece? Amp not included.
  9. Navigation System – The technology running these devices only gets better making it nearly a shame for any vehicle not to have a portable nav system telling us where to go. Tom Tom, Sony and Garmin all have systems starting at around $200. You can’t buy humility back after asking for directions for that price.
  10. Sigg Water Bottle – with all the plastic filling our ditches and dumps, isn’t it time to stop with the unnecessary buying of bottled water? Give the “gold standard” in reusable water bottles this year. The Sigg Classic is durable, leak proof and sophisticated (that’s what the web site says, you can’t make that up!).

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A few days off from writing and it feels like, “Where do I begin?” What’s more, I wonder, “What have I got to write about that hasn’t been written?” But, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. Doesn’t really matter if the wisdom or words of flotsam I pass on mean anything to anyone (but it always does).

Resurrecting an older post, here are a few random thoughts:

  • I sat alone on Christmas day, just me, the cat, a book, and the TV remote. Less than four miles away, in a house I once owned and shared, my two kids celebrated Christmas with their Mom and her side of the family. With snow in the air, the Christmas tree twinkling its red and white lights, and a little background noise from “The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” (which I watched…twice), I felt a comfortable sense of peace. Through it all (and by it, I mean through the divorce process which kicked into high gear two years ago), we’ve emerged in better-than-expected condition. What seemed to be the world’s end for us has resulted in many beginnings, new starts and renewed optimism. Life is too short to live it sad and unfulfilled. Two years ago I was only saying it. But now I am really alive again and each day is better than the last.

It’s not just about living forever. It’s about living with yourself forever.” –Captain Teague (Keith Richards) from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

  • As elusive as love tends to make itself, most people I talk to agree that having it in your life is much better than not. We all have someone who loves us: Kids, family, secret admirers, stalkers. Those of us in search of the all-elusive romantic love…the kind that just fits and sits well with us, like a favorite pair of jeans, or shoes, or baseball cap, must keep our heads about ourselves. We can be dreamers as well as realists when it comes to love and being in love. And because we’ve been around the block a time or two, we can also be a little on the selective side. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to share this video from Ray LaMontagne and Damien Rice. Here they cover the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.”
Lyrics:
There’s a light
A certain kind of light
That never shone on me
I wanted my whole life to be
Lived with you
Lived with you
There is a way everybody say
To do each and every thing
Oh but what good does it bring
If I ain’t got you, if I ain’t got you?
Baby
You don’t know what it’s like, baby
You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you
In my brain
I see your face again
I know my frame of mind
How you got to be so unkind
And I’m blind, have I gone blind?
But I’m a man, can’t you see what I am
I live and breathe for you
Oh but what good does it do
If I ain’t got you, ain’t got you?
Baby
You don’t know what it’s like, baby
You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you
Baby,
You don’t know what it’s like, baby
You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you
  • I’m reading profiles and background information on Democratic candidates who are running for President of the United States. Let’s face it, there’s no chance in hell a Republican wins the 2008 presidential election unless Bush pulls our military out of Iraq (which he won’t do because he’s incredibly stubborn when it comes to admitting mistakes). So, I’m thinking: Hillary. Obama. Hillary. Obama. Hillary. Obama. Hillary? Obama. Obama. Obama. Obama.
  • I continue to be a bit confused on how assumptive e-mail spammers are when it comes to my needs. For example, should I not be offended when a subject line from an e-mail spam reads, “Want a larger male organ?” And lately many spammers are hunching that they can match me with a “special buddy” in my city who is apparently a nymphomaniac. Of course if I choose to ignore these appeals, I can always “play craps online for free.” I wonder if they’re going to give me free money to lose in my crap-playing activity? And if I do lose and am unable to pay my debt, will a thug appear at my door and break my knee caps?

I think I’ll just continue to read, write and enjoy my day job instead of getting lost in all these intriguing e-mail offers. As long as I keep hitting the delete button I’m thinking I’ll save myself several trips to the emergency room.

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Guys, whether you’re handy or not, there are certain power tools you should definitely have on hand.

While asking for that bottle of 20-year-old scotch or case of cigars may seem like a prudent “guy” gift request, when the significant other asks you this year, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” be prepared with a list of ideas that includes a decent tool or two. You’ll raise her eyebrows and simplify her shopping experience.

Cordless Drill: A cordless drill is especially useful if you need to drill holes in an ongoing project. It can also help with those hard-to-manage pivot holes you need when screwing, and you won’t need to change out the screws between using the screwdriver and cordless drill. Home use drills are usually three-eighth inch, while anything larger is usually considered commercial size.

Cordless Screwdriver: A cordless screwdriver will help you finish small tasks that need a bit of power. Like screwing furniture from IKEA together or drilling small holes for picture frame hanging. Look for a cordless screwdrivers with reverse action, which allows you to back out a screw if needed.

Power Circular Saw: Power circular saws do come in cordless models, but be sure to get one with plenty of power if you go that direction. Electric models offer the juice you need to slice through all kinds of materials and are much easier and faster than regular hand saws. If you need to cut large 2x4s or other lumber, such as particle board, the circular saw is your tool. Usually, a power circular saw can cut up to three inches in depth and have multiple blade options.

Jig Saw: The jig saw will help you complete more intricate work, such as cutting around edges, for example. Jig saws give you the ability to make those tough, tight cuts with simplicity.

Cordless Finish Nail Gun: Cordless finish nail guns provide the speed, durability, and power that you’ll come to expect and appreciate. The key benefit of a finish nailer is how it provides you with the readiness to fire and deliver consistency with each nail penetration that traditional nailing can’t provide.

Two other tools for good measure:

  • Four foot level: A man with a four foot level will be able to make just about anything…well…level. Plus you’ll look like you know what you’re doing standing outside facing that “project.”
  • Belt sander: At some point you simply must be able to make rough objects smooth. A good belt sander will deliver.

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Happy Thanksgiving Day

To my readers:

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone (a wee bit early)!

I know most of you don’t leave comments and I’m cool with that. I’m just happy to have the regs stopping by and enjoying the posts that bring life to “Views from Minnesota.” The past couple days have been some of the “most visited” days recorded on this little blog, and for that I’m very grateful. Seems the interest in the Cities 97 Sampler and the “Hallelujah” tune from Ms. Carlile are quite popular.  In just a few months of blogging this Interweb site is well into the five figures for visitors.

Many more posts to come.

Thanks again for the support and occasional comments.

Enjoy the extra doses of tryptophan on Thursday (they say you’ll eat 5,000 calories when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner – that’s a whole pound-and-a-half of food!). Kinda makes you want to go for a brisk walk, doesn’t it.

Cheers!

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In my bank of childhood memories, the Thanksgiving holiday stands out big time. My very-middle-class roots found me living in a five-bedroom house – we had a formal dining room, a front entry that seemed gynormous, and lots of space to entertain. With grandparents living just three houses away and a Dad who owned a popular business in the little community, our home saw a lot of visitor traffic throughout the year.

Thanksgiving was no different. Mom worked the kitchen all week making pies and dinner rolls, prepping the big bird so it would be just right for roasting on Thursday morning. She did it with the my Grandma’s help, and between the two of them they could make shit on a breadcrumb seem like a five-star restaurant’s main course.

That was 30 years ago.

This year, on Thursday, I’ll prepare turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and some kind of green veggie. Heck, I’ll even make pie for the kids and myself. But thanks to the miracle of food science, the job has become a lot easier than when my mom and Grandma made it all from scratch.

Let’s take gravy as one example. While I can make a mean batch of mashed potatoes, I suck at making gravy – probably because I only attempt it once or BM Gravytwice a year. But now I never have to make gravy the old-fashioned way again, because the gravy gods have learned they can become zillionaires by bottling their own recipe.

Get over yourself thinking it’s just WRONG to buy gravy in a bottle. The trick is finding the one that doesn’t taste too salty, won’t spoon gloppy and looks appetizing in your fancy gravy bowl. Boston Market’s Roasted Turkey Gravy is the answer. It tastes like the gravy Grandma made – from real turkey drippings – plus it has a nice oniony flavor that goes great over both the spuds and the carved turkey.Dinner rolls

The Pillsbury Doughboy ain’t got nuttin’ on mom’s homemade dinner rolls. But if mom no longer fusses in the kitchen, or lives 700 miles away, you can still enjoy great tasting rolls. Alexia French Rolls taste just like a bakery’s — crusty on the outside, doughy on the inside. Add a little REAL butter and you’ll think Mom was hiding out in the kitchen.

Many good-intentioned people get caught up in how to fry the turkey on the stove or use the toaster to melt marshmallows for the candied yams. My best advice to you (and you know who you are) is to call your local specialty grocer and inquire about a complete Thanksgiving dinner delivered right to your door.

Here in Minneapolis, Lunds/Byerlys, Kowalskis, and heck, even Cub Foods, offer complete meals to serve up to 12 people for between $59 and $99. It’s cheaper than taking your clan out to Old Country Buffett and the only think you’ll have to do is set the table and wash the dishes.

Sounds like a way to enjoy the holiday and really be thankful!

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