Freezing in the Frozen North

The thing is, it’s actually not always cold in North Dakota.

I generally have to explain this to people who aren’t from the middle part of the continent, because their mental image of North Dakota usually comes from “Fargo.” Which mostly took place in Minnesota anyway.

Neither state is a desolate barren wasteland filled with snow in the summer. In fact, because we don’t get any mediating effect from water bodies it can get unbearably, painfully hot in Minnesota and in North Dakota.

Normally it’s not too bad, but there’s almost always one week where the heat reaches unbearable levels, and reporters start calling hospitals to see if anyone has keeled over from the heat, interviewing doctors to find out what people should do and chatting with vets to find out what humans can do for their pets. And we have pretty high humidity, too, so even breathing becomes a serious effort.

This week of punishing heat often hits about now, toward the middle or end of August.

Except today is Aug. 25, and it’s chilly enough out right now to warrant a hoodie or a light jacket. And the low for today is 44 degrees, if you can believe that! Somehow we’ve skipped right over September and gone right to October, as far as weather goes.

I don’t know why I didn’t wear a sweater today. More importantly, I don’t know how I’m going to explain this one to the out-of-towners.

“It’s not always cold in North Dakota! In the summer, it’s… okay, actually it can get really really cold in the summer here too. … why are you walking away, I thought you were interested in living in North Dakota! They hand out free parkas at the border! Come on! Awww…”

Leaving Jamestown

Just when you thought it was safe to go on the internet, I’m ba-ack!

But I’m not sure how long, exactly, I’ll be back for, or in what capacity. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow, Thursday, is my last day as staff writer for the Jamestown Sun, and on Saturday, I am moving to Grand Forks, N.D., where I have accepted a job with the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia content producer.

Even I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing up there, but it will definitely include social media, video and updating the Herald’s nifty website. It will probably include some writing and photo editing, too! I’m hoping to continue with this blog as well, because writers gotta write, right?

I’m sorry to be leaving Jamestown, where I have worked for four years and where there are so many wonderful people who have been so kind to me and so helpful to the Sun.

My coworkers are truly wonderful people, and every single one of them works hard and yet is still willing to lend a hand when you need it, both in and out of the workplace. They have rescued me so many times–when I needed help moving, when I popped a tire, when I needed a place to stay. This is a wonderful place to work because of them.

Thank you, everyone. I have really enjoyed working here.

Remembering Jerry Kainz

Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye.

For me, that applies to a lot of things, including shoes. I’ll buy a pair of shoes and, if I like them, I’ll wear them in, wear them out, and then keep on wearing them until they literally start to fall apart. In a few cases I’ve even attempted to glue them back together again just so I can wear them a little more.

I was wearing a pair of shoes a little longer than I should have when I stepped into the Jamestown Fire Department building one evening, and one of the soles had finally given up the ghost, flapping against the bottom of the rest of the shoe and the fire hall floor. I ignored them and looked for a firefighter, so I could get some basic information about a fire that had happened earlier.

It was Deputy Chief Jerry Kainz who helped me out, but not without pointing out the problem I was having with my shoe and teasing me a bit about it. We both thought it was pretty funny, actually–my shoe was flapping every step I took and I had to be careful not to trip on it.

After that, every time I stopped by at the JFD in the evening, I looked for Jerry. Everybody in that fire department is really helpful, but I remembered Jerry because of my shoe. He remembered my shoe too, because just about every time I’d go in there we’d have a bit of banter about whatever shoes I happened to be wearing that day.

And Jerry always knew the answers to all my reporter questions, too, and gave neat, organized answers. How many people were at the fire? How many trucks? What did you use to put it out? Any injuries? Is it totally destroyed? What caused the fire?

I was saddened to hear today that Jerry had passed away yesterday. I can’t say that I knew him very well, but I absolutely can say that he made me smile, more than once. He made my job easier, more than once.

While I never look forward to fires, I never minded going over to the fire hall, and part of that was because I knew Jerry was likely to be there, with both information and a quip about my (occasionally dubious) footwear.

I have since said goodbye to the shoe that prompted the initial exchange. I don’t even miss it.

I already miss Jerry Kainz, though–his quick smile, his knowledge and the ready way he shared them both. He made a difference to a great many people through his work with the JFD–saving homes, preventing property damage, saving lives.

But he also made a difference to me, even with just a smile and a helpful word.

Thanks, Jerry. Thank you.

Election Day!

It’s time to vote in the North Dakota primary election!

Our town also has several nonprimary elections that will be decided tonight, the most prominent of which is likely mayor of Jamestown, but there’s also School Board and Parks Board and City Council. Lots of important stuff, there.

So far, there’s been low voter turnout, so while I obviously take no stance on who you should vote for, I definitely think you should vote!

In local elections like these, your votes absolutely do matter, so go, do your civic duty. It doesn’t take long–estimates are about 10 minutes–and you get a sticker afterward. A free sticker! I know, right? Just for voting!

Go vote!

Review: Didn’t It Rain, Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie, known for portraying a talented, bitter physician on “House,” loves the blues, and despite being British, he’s released two blues albums — “Let Them Talk” and “Didn’t It Rain.”

Didn't It Rain

Didn’t It Rain

I’m a bit impulsive at times, so when I saw the name “Hugh Laurie” on a CD on the shelf (yes, I still buy CDs, for I am old), I picked it up, saw the genre, shrugged, and decided it was worth a shot.

Had I thought about it a bit more, seeing the artist’s name on the front cover so much bigger than the name of the album, “Didn’t It Rain,” might have been a bit of a warning sign.

It’s a symptom of what I call “Saganitis,” which is what happens when a writer or musician becomes so famous that his or her name is much larger on the cover than the title of the work–and the work inside hasn’t been thoroughly edited or vetted, because it’s Carl Sagan for heaven’s sake, people will buy it regardless of what’s in it. (I don’t want to beat up on Sagan, whose work was excellent, but at least one of his latter works could have used more editing.)

Here’s the problem with “Didn’t It Rain.” While Laurie is a splendid blues pianist, playing with panache, musicality and just enough messiness for a true-blues sound, his singing is not so great. It’s not that it’s bad, per se–he’s hitting all the notes and nothing is off-key–but he sounds uncomfortable most of the time, as if he’s self-conscious.

The only song on the album that makes this work for it is “Kiss of Fire,” a lovely multilingual duet between Laurie and Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno that’s based on “El Choclo.” If you’ve ever heard a tango in a movie, chances are very good that it was “El Choclo.”

Laurie’s self-consciousness as a singer works there because of the song’s subject matter–he’s in love with someone who lies to him, he knows it, and he has decided he doesn’t care. And a bit of the English reticence leaks through anyway–after all, the singer knows the relationship is a bad idea.

It’s a great song, but it’s one of the few on the album in which Laurie’s vocals really work. Apart from “Kiss,” the best tunes on the album are the ones in which Laurie plays the piano and lets others do the vocal lifting– “The Weed Smoker’s Dream” (which most people will recognize as “Why Don’t You Do Right“), or  “I Hate a Man Like You,” or “Didn’t It Rain.”

As a blues pianist, Laurie is fantastic–dramatic, understated, insolent, coy, anything the song requires. As a singer, he’s weirdly self-conscious and almost apologetic. That means the album is flawed, but I’d still say the good outweighs the bad, and if you skip past most of Laurie’s singing tracks you’ll still have a good time with the CD.

Help Needed: Songs About Disasters

What’s your favorite disaster song?

I have been chided about not blogging often enough, and I said that once I was done with our upcoming totally-awesome Progress edition (really, it was fun to do this year!) I would start blogging again.

I’m not quite finished, so maybe I can get some help from my audience, if I still have one.

There are a lot of songs about disasters, whether it’s the figurative or the literal kind, and I realized the other day that there are at least a few about specific disasters. There are songs about shipwrecks, songs about storms, songs about wars, songs about hurricanes. There are even songs about the banana disaster. (It was a lot of bananas, to be fair.)

There are at least three songs about volcanoes:

1. Pompeii, by Bastille, which is about, yes, Pompeii, the town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, so suddenly that a lot of people were buried in ash before they had time to run.

2. Volcano, by Damien Rice. This one seems to be a more metaphorical take on volcanoes, but does include some volcanic lyrics: “You give me miles and miles of mountains and I ask for the sea.”

3. 1816, the Year Without a Summer, by Rasputina. I’ve written about this before, and you probably remember it. Mount Tambora erupted and filled the skies with ash, causing brutally cold temperatures in Europe. It was the Little Ice Age.

What are your favorite songs about disasters? Have I missed any volcano songs?

Saturday’s Terrifying Incident

The scariest thing ever happened to me on Saturday: I gave my parents a perfectly valid reason to say “I told you so.”

I also slid off the Interstate at 75 miles per hour, but hey, perspective, people.

I’m fine, and while my car’s bumper is hanging down on one side, my car is also mostly fine.

Actually, the outcome of the accident was about as good as it was possible to be. I didn’t hit anyone or anything but snow. My car didn’t flip over. I didn’t even have time to be scared or worried, and afterward, I sat in the driver’s seat of my car on the median of I-29 about 20 miles south of Fargo, and thought: Well, huh. That happened.

A deputy arrived about 10 minutes after I called. A tow truck arrived about 25 minutes later and tugged me gently out of the median. Its kind-hearted driver told me my bumper was down on one side, and advised me to ask someone at a local truck stop to help me use a bungee cord to secure it temporarily, so that I could get back Jamestown okay.

I drove slowly to the truck stop and stood in line with some bungee cords; then I asked the cashier if she knew anyone who could lend a hand. The man in line behind me said he’d look at it and that I should wait before buying the cords so I could be sure I was getting the right ones.

He looked; I swapped the cords for a different set, and then he rigged the bumper up.

I went to my board game gathering in Fargo–two hours late–and asked my friends if one of them could put me up, because while I was in relatively good spirits, my taste for driving was definitely gone for the night. Two people offered me guest rooms, so I chose the one with the cat. (It is a particularly beautiful cat.)

On Sunday, my kind host fed me bacon and hot tea and sent me on my way.

The drive from West Fargo to Jamestown was awful. Along the way I saw multiple accidents. One woman sheltered a small golden-colored dog as she walked along the interstate to a waiting car, away from some sort of a wreck. At least one semi truck lay in the ditch, its weight clearly unable to protect it entirely.

Another accident occurred right in front of me, as an SUV from the opposite lane from me slid into the median. Only that unfortunate driver wasn’t lucky like me and his or her vehicle ended up on its side. As I passed, I saw one frail-looking arm push the heavy door up.

I called 911 and reported it, worrying that reporting the accident would cause me to get into another accident, but it didn’t.

It took about twice as long as usual to get from Fargo to Jamestown, but I stopped several times just to give myself a break.

It wasn’t until I was safely home that I realized the true horror of my own position. Before I left Jackson, Minnesota, to return to Jamestown, my parents had told me that the weather was bad and the roads terrible. I told them I’d simply drive more carefully.

Well, it turned out they were right, and now they have earned the absolute and total right to say “I told you so” for at least the next decade or so.

And I’m doomed.

Fashion Show

I went to the Buffalo Mall and caught about half of the fashion show there on Saturday. It was very refreshing to see ordinary people of various sizes, shapes, genders and ages modeling the clothes! Not everyone has the same body type, after all.

Baby Model

This model was too young to strut his stuff on the catwalk, but his mom carried him, so he got to show off his John Deere duds anyway. Super cute! Kudos to both of these lovely folks for serving as models.

Styles came from a lot of different stores in the Buffalo Mall.

Hat Tip

A young model tips his hat at the end of the runway during a fashion show at the Buffalo Mall Saturday.

I never found out why there were so many elves at the shindig, but they looked great and they certainly made the place festive.

Elves! Surely Santa can't be far behind?

Elves! Surely Santa can’t be far behind?

Plenty of kids showed up at the mall Saturday, too.

Treat Bags

Kids at the event got treat bags.

Black Friday: Mass Hysteria or Family Fun?

Family members investigate a fish house at Home of Economy on Black Friday. Coty Remmick, back right, checks the size with son Jaxsyn Remmick, 5, while his other son, Gavyn Anderson, 9, left, tries out the view from inside the fish house.

A lot of people shop on Black Friday with their family members, like the guys shown up above. They were all super nice to me, and took time out from shopping to chat with a reporter, which I appreciated.

Shoppers check out the toys at Home of Economy on Black Friday.

A family of shoppers check out the toys at Home of Economy on Black Friday.

All in all, the mall was busy but not hectic-crazy-trampling-busy when I visited it at 10 a.m. or so on Friday, and everyone I spoke with was very nice and polite–none of the negative behavior people often associate with the day.

Alvin Gruebele of Jamestown, left, and Ken Frey of Bloom Township, right, wait for their wives during a Black Friday shopping expedition. 

I love Mr. Gruebele’s shoes in the above photo. I didn’t notice them at the time, but the laces are awesome, and they are exactly the right kind of shoes to wear for shopping, too. The guys looked a bit worn out, but I think they were having fun chatting with each other.

Donna Mayer of Jamestown takes a mid-morning break on Black Friday at the Buffalo Mall.

Donna Mayer of Jamestown takes a mid-morning break on Black Friday at the Buffalo Mall. She had shopped the night before, and intended to go on to shop more at Fargo on Friday! She advised prospective Black Fridayers to take lots of breaks.

I took a lot of pictures, as I wasn’t sure whether they’d be needed, and a few of them were used in the paper, but as usual, I had some extra ones, as well as some mediocre ones that I didn’t really like but may be of interest.

Christmas Cloth

I actually meant for this photo to show that Black Friday is the kickoff to the Christmas season, by illustrating Christmas cloth for sale at the Buffalo Mall. In retrospect, though, it’s probably not clear enough what kind of cloth that is, so it just looks like a large selection of cloth bolts. Oh well.

There were a lot of Black Friday sale signs at the Mall.

Christmas season at the Mall! On Black Friday.

The above photo was another quasi-failed attempt to show that Black Friday kicks off the Christmas season. It didn’t get used, probably because it makes the mall look like a barren wasteland.

Which it wasn’t–there were a lot of people there. You can see a few of them in the distance, and there were a bunch more behind me. I just took the picture at the wrong time, unfortunately.

If it weren’t for work, I’d never get within a mile of a mall on Black Friday. I just don’t like shopping–normally clothes shopping in particular makes me radiate misery like the corium under Chernobyl gives off radioactivity.

That said, the mall and the other businesses in Jamestown that I visited on Black Friday were actually quite pleasant. Busy, yes, but cheerful.

Dogs Who Survived Puppy Mill Need Families

Many of the dogs rescued from puppy mills have lasting issues. Some of them are health-related, like urinary tract infections, dental problems that have required removal of teeth or worse.

Other issues are behavioral. Some of the dogs haven’t had any socialization at all, so they’re timid around strangers, won’t get too close to people and have habits that are atypical for dogs raised in better conditions. They might gobble their food down so fast they choke, or they might hide food for later, knowing that in the past, food hasn’t been supplied regularly. When faced with stress, they might go to a quiet place and hide, ignoring everything. They haven’t been housebroken, so they’re more likely to have accidents inside the house than other dogs.

These dogs often still do make great pets, though. They just might require more time and more patience from their owners. The older ones, some of whom have been used as breeders under terrible conditions for years, likely won’t turn around in a week or two. It takes a long time to get over something like that for an animal, just like it would for a person.

It may sound odd, but I thought of the women Ariel Castro kidnapped and imprisoned for years in Cleveland. It’s terrible that people can do these things to other people. It’s terrible that people can do these things to dogs, too.

There’s still hope, though, and as time goes on, the dogs do get better.

I wrote a story this week about some of the dogs saved from a puppy mill near Wheatland, N.D. in July. While more than 174 dogs were taken from the mill, our local group Prairie Paws Rescue took in nine of them. Three of those nine have been adopted, and six of them remain in foster homes waiting for more permanent homes.

Prairie Paws deliberately took in some of the hardest cases, because it has experience dealing with puppy mill dogs and their unique set of issues, so it’s not surprising that some of the dogs still haven’t found good homes yet.

The dogs, all of whom were named after cars, have been making progress.


This is Porsche, one of the dogs that has been adopted. She’s getting along quite well, according to her new owner, Terry McCleary, of Ashley, N.D.


Mercedes, called Mercy by her fosterer, Stacey Ellingson, hasn’t yet been adopted, but her condition has improved greatly from the above image. While she was at the puppy mill, the fur around her eye became matted, to the extent that her eye was beginning to close up.

It looks like they had to trim her hair pretty short, so I’m guessing the matting was pretty bad. Since then, though, with the help of eyedrops and Ellingson’s dedication, Mercy’s eye has improved. And her fur has grown back, too–she looks pretty fluffy now.


She’s probably going to need eyedrops for a while, yet, and may always need them.

“Her hair has grown out, the eye is looking better and her skin and coat are much healthier. She is now a happy girl,” Ellingson wrote in an email to me.


She is a pretty cute dog. According to Ellingson, she does like people, and she’s fine with other dogs, as long as they don’t get in her face.

Mercy served as a breeder dog, so she was older when she was rescued–probably around 7 or 8. That makes her a harder case for adoption, even though, as Ellingson pointed out, she has many good years left in her.

She needs to be on special food. And she has a tendency to gobble her food, and treats too, sometimes inadvertently nipping a finger or two in her haste. Sometimes she pees in the house, as puppy mills don’t teach their dogs to go to the door if they need to go out.

And when she’s stressed, she goes somewhere quiet and sort of shuts down, becoming so unresponsive that rescuers initially thought she was deaf. She’s not deaf, though–it’s just her response to difficult conditions, a coping mechanism she developed at the puppy mill.

For more information about the Wheatland dogs that Prairie Paws still has — Porsche, Mercedes, Buick and the others — click here. Prairie Paws has a website, too, and you can view all the animals currently available for adoption there, dogs and cats, kitties and puppies too.