Thinking about “stuff”

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about material things. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I think a lot of it has to do with my changing perspective on materialism. This past week I happened to visit a Wal-Mart for something I needed. Wal-Mart (at least in America) is a bastion of consumerism and materialism gone wild. Everywhere you look are signs advertising the lowest prices on things that you often didn’t even know that you needed. The aisles are filled with bins and pallets of random things that scream, “you need me!”, despite being of questionable quality. Even when you look at electronics, the aisles were filled with ultra-cheap TV’s that are subsidized by systems of data collection that monitor what you watch so that you can be advertised to more effectively.

Years ago I was right on board with a lot of this. Before my divorce, our house was FILLED with more things than you can imagine. Not in a hoarder way, but simply full. We didn’t think twice about buying whatever we wanted (not going to get into the credit card debt issue…), and in many ways we used it as a way to make ourselves feel better. When I look around my house now, the number of those things that still remain is so small, it’s not even funny.

I’ve started to think more about quality. Not just quality of goods, but quality of life. I’m not against having things, and I would never suggest that minimalism is a lifestyle I could ever adopt. However, I’ve been trying to be more and more intentional about the things I purchase, and making sure that they actually are meant to improve the quality of life that I’m trying to live. That means that purchasing outdoor gear (for example) is money well spent, as being outside and exploring has become a major part of who I am and what I want to be about. The things that I buy, I want to mean something to how I’m living my life. Not just something random that makes me feel good.

That also brings up the other side of quality. I’ve really started to appreciate good quality things, and understand the benefit of making something really good last a lot longer. Especially in the world of electronics, it’s so easy to buy cheap garbage that is outdated and doesn’t work for more than a year. Back in 2011 I invested in a good quality desktop computer (iMac), and then a few years ago upgraded it to an SSD. I’m STILL using this machine as my daily driver 9 years later. Sure it cost me a lot of money back when I bought it, but that’s money that I haven’t had to spend again in 11 years. It’s finally getting time where I’m outpacing what this machine can do, and once again I’ll look to make a long-term investment, instead of a short-term disposable one.

As I spend weekends continuing to purge old stuff that we don’t need, I look forward to a world where maybe we tone down our consumerism just a bit. We don’t need to stop buying things, but maybe we can do it with a bit more thought, intention, and eye towards longevity.

Brewery Review: Boathouse Brewpub

Of course when traveling I need to sample the local brewery scene. Ely, MN has a nice little brewery right on the main drag that is also a brewpub. Our first night in town we hit there for supper, and to try the local brews.

Since they had 7 beers on tap, and their flights were 4 beers each, I got two flights so I could try everything. I posted a picture of it on social media, but didn’t realize right away the perspective made it look like I had 8 FULL pint mugs of beer in front of me. It ended up being a funny accident as I then had to clarify that, no, these were flight sized mugs.

In terms of the beer, I was very impressed at the quality. In the flight, I didn’t detect any overt brewing flaws, and almost everything tasted to style. A couple beers of note: The altbier was really well done, and actually nailed the style really well. This isn’t a common style to find in pubs, since it has a slight earthy and peaty character. However, on a cold winter night it tastes really great.

I also really enjoyed the Blueberry Blonde. The aroma nailed the blueberry scent, and that really helped to create the perception of a blueberry flavor in the beer overall. Blueberry is a hard one to put in a beer, but this one was successful. This was all helped along by a scoop of actual blueberries floating in the beer. It was also entertaining to watch them float and sink on the carbonation bubbles.

A couple beers that were just OK for me were the milk stout, which was thinner than I like my stouts. It was bordering on porter territory, but still tasty. The bourbon barrel porter also lacked in the barrel age flavor, but it was still a decent beer.

The food was also decent for pub food, and it was a great way to kick off our trip. Certainly worth a stop if you’re in this neck of thee woods.

International Wolf Center

I’ve always wanted to visit the northern Minnesota town of Ely. As a kid I knew plenty of people who went up north to the BWCA, but I never had a huge interest in camping until later in life. So I had never been to this part of the state. This past weekend the wife and I headed up to experience Ely in a typical Minnesota winter, and it’s been a great trip.

One of the key attractions for Ely is the International Wolf Center. This is an organization that does wolf research, and helps to educate folks on wolves in general. They also try to contribute to the difficult discussion around wolves and agriculture, which are issues that we simply don’t think about that much in the cities.

We visited the center early in the day on Saturday and got to hear a presentation about the ambassador wolves at the center, as well as see a couple of them sleeping in their enclosure. However, we knew that to truly see them we’d want to come back at 7pm for the Saturday evening feeding.

Sure enough, as soon as we arrived on Saturday night all four wolves were running around and getting excited about their upcoming meal, as well as all the people watching them. These wolves have been raised in captivity and so they’re very comfortable around humans. They can see inside the building and would often come up to the glass to look at what we were all doing.

There was a presentation on how wolves hunt and eat, and then the main attraction was the depositing of a road kill deer carcass into the enclosure. Sure enough they started chowing down right away. I managed to get a bunch of cool shots before and during the feeding. I’ve put them together in an album over on SmugMug.

If you’re in the Ely area, this is certainly worth a stop. It’s a great facility, and getting to see wolves up close is really cool.

TV Review: The Good Place

A week ago, The Good Place concluded after a 5 season run. My wife had discovered this show a couple of years ago, and much like Parks & Rec (another show by the same creator), this one really worked for me.

I’m going to keep this review spoiler free, because it’s really a show that you need to experience the way it’s presented. However, in brief, this is a show about the afterlife, and how a group of people deal with their situation in the afterlife. There are lots of twists and turns, but that’s the basic premise that begins the show.

When dealing with comedy shows about the afterlife, it’s way to easy to move into campy territory. Making fun of sitting on clouds with harps, or representations of heaven as all-inclusive resorts, only work for very brief moments in time. The Good Place doesn’t go in that direction, and instead uses a solid base of humor to ask questions about the human condition, and the very fundamental meanings of life.

The show is an ensemble cast, and despite the fact that Kristin Bell and Ted Danson are obviously the stars, the entire group works. They’re a bunch of misfits that all end up together, despite having almost nothing to do with one another. Their individual flaws accentuate the good parts of each other, and create a wonderful dynamic that builds a true “group”. I’m probably going to have a hard time watching any of these actors in other settings because of how strongly they are now tied to this world.

Suffice it to say, The Good Place was an amazing piece of television for me. It’s profound, honest, funny, and heartwarming. It’s a wonderful show, and worth the investment to see it through to the end.