Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Day Unlike Other Days

I celebrated my 58th birthday a few days ago. As one gets older, birthdays are more and more just another day at work, albeit with a little special edge to it. This one was no different. It was one of those days where work was one meeting after another with a holiday party thrown in at the noon hour to make it just a little more upside down. The nice thing about the busyness was it made the day go by quickly.

But as I said, there were some things that made it special, like:


  • Cupcakes from my wife for both the GIS staff and the County Christmas party. Everyone deserves cake (or pie) on their birthday. 
  • A text from my daughter wishing me a happy birthday.
  • A call from Ben in Madison, wishing me the same.
  • When I got home a gift from Sarah awaited; a much-needed pair of slippers!
  • Over 100 Facebook birthday wishes. There is much to hate about social media and Facebook in particular, but it does serve this purpose very well. I very much appreciate my Facebook friends and love scrolling through the many wishes.
Perhaps the best part of the day though was joining some good friends at a nearby Irish pub for a couple of beers. It was a spontaneous sort of thing, in celebration of both Donna and my birthdays and one I'm glad we followed through with. 

When we arrived, it turned out we walked into something called "Whiskey Club" where a group of whiskey aficionados was taste-testing multiple brands of Whiskey. They brought us about four half-shots before we could tell them that we were not part of the club!

Outside of the whiskey club interruption the rest of the couple hours we spent were good. We talked and laughed and speculated on what we were all going to do in retirement. It was really good to close out an otherwise average birthday with good friends. 

As every year passes, I appreciate the people in my life more and more. They keep me laughing and young at heart as we struggle to figure out this thing called life together. I hope to spend many more with them!

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Radio Shift

I took a county vehicle from work to a meeting downtown today. It was a Chrysler Pacifica. The vehicle has some interesting quirks for sure, some of which I found confounding and borderline ridiculous.

Now, I know it's highly un-American, but I've been a fan of foreign cars for years. To me they are better engineered, run longer and need less maintenance. The two American cars I've owned as an adult were fairly disappointing machines. The first, an 83 Escort that was ready for the junk heap at 90,000 miles (Head Gasket + a myriad of other less major issues.) The second a Plymouth Voyager, a slightly less disappointing machine that was ready for the junk heap at 112,000 mi. (Too many issues to list. Am happy they gave me anything for it.)

Because I've driven largely Japanese and Korean I've become accustomed to the layout and functions of the cars - not to mention they work well for a long time.

But I digress. I am talking about the Pacifica here and thought the layout of the thing was so bizarre it deserved mention.
Shifter on left, radio on right.

Starting with the shifter, which is a big knob on the dash. Nice concept, but for me it is precariously close to the radio and heating control KNOBS. The last thing I want when I'm looking for a better station is to shift into Low gear and blow my engine up. Now, I trust they have controls in place to prevent drivers from doing this; Maybe an electrical shock if you touch the big dial while moving or something of the sort. I wasn't about to test it.

But my point is, why put it there in the first place? Was it ever a good idea?

Then there is the heater. The thing is driven by another knob with "Mode" printed on it. A bit unintuitive perhaps. It only took me about 5 miles of driving to figure out how the thing worked.

When I got going I realized there were two speedometers, one analog, one digital. I don't know if it they are covering the bases between the digital and analog ages, but I thought it was sorta stupid. Why not two tachometer readouts too? Heck, I'd settle for one good heater readout over the second speedometer.

The seat didn't go back far enough for a guy my height - thanks Chrysler. Add to that my knee hits the console in front, so my options to stretch my leg are limited. Thanks again.

The light switch is yet another knob on the dashboard. I thought they did away with those about 15 years ago. I'm so used to it being on the blinker stick that it took me 3 minutes of looking to find it on the dash.

The county also gets their vehicles installed with back-up beepers for liability reasons. It's safe, but adds another level of annoying to an annoying vehicle.

There was one nice feature about the car. It has a little light that comes on in the side mirrors when another car is in your blind spot. It's ingenious. They need to pay that engineer more and have him redesign the entire dash.

So that's my review for the day. But don't let it sway you!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Art and Appreciation

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. It was also a really, really good day.

It started, as most every Saturday does, with our weekly coffee date at a local coffee shop. This time together is where we talk through what has transpired during the week, we look to the future, talk about our kids and our friends, and ruminate about politics, culture and our world. It has become sacred time to both of us. We both miss it on those weeks we have other commitments or are traveling. It grounds us and sets the stage for the coming week.

From there, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We have a membership that we bought last May and haven't used, so we thought we'd squeak a visit in. The nice thing about a membership is you can see the special exhibits any time they come. We strolled through three of them, taking our time and admiring the art. Then we moved into the Portrait of Milwaukee portion and stepped back in time through the black and white photos of the city we both love and call home now. These trips to the Museum are always cathartic; a chance to slow down, appreciate the gifts of a multitude of artists.

After the Museum we went to IKEA to look for window treatments. We're not really shoppers, but still we go in with a target item in mind and almost always come away with a couple extra items.

When we got home, I went off to write, while she watched a movie. After that we moved a heavy dresser into our newly painted bedroom and got that situated. We closed out the evening watching the Badger football game together with the pets on the the couch.

The day sort of signifies what our marriage is all about. We enjoy each others' company over coffee, while taking in art, culture, sports and even shopping on occasion. We also recognize that we need time apart pursuing our own interests - too much time together is never good, and I say that with great respect, not to be cutting. And with regards to the dresser, we recognize the importance of working together to make our home what it is - as humble as ours is. And, trust me, we have a humble little house.

I don't proclaim to have a perfect marriage - I don't know of anyone who does. I do think it takes work and sacrifice and patience. We need to recognize the rhythms of each other and roll with them. It isn't always easy, but when you have a good day, it can be really, really good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Eagles, Gophers and Badgers, Oh My

We had a great Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota, despite a snowfall that went on and on and on. It was never debilitating, but certainly could be categorized as annoying.

After a nice dinner on Thursday, we hung out at the hotel most of the day Friday. I took a brief walk at a local regional park and had the privilege of seeing four eagles roosting in the same tree. One had flown off only seconds before I got there otherwise there would have been 5 in a picture I took. It was as majestic as it sounds; an almost spiritual experience.

That night we had our traditional chocolate fondue with Christmas gift opening at our daughter's apartment. When we were younger, Donna's parents often came to town for "Thanksmas" where we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and Christmas on Friday. Now that we have kids in other states, we are doing the same thing, it seems. The important thing has always been that we are together, not so much the date, so this is a great compromise.

On Saturday afternoon we watched the Gopher/Badger football game. As a gopher alum, I hoped for the best, but sort of had a feeling that they'd struggle with the Badgers, as they often do. It was an exciting first half, but true to form, the wheels came off in the second half as the Badgers rolled on to win it very decisively.

Much like the Packers, I've become a Badger fan due to proximity over the years, but I was really pulling for my Gophers this year. They've been so mediocre for so long, I thought this year might be different. Alas. Nonetheless, it was a great year and maybe they'll get some good recruits for next year. (Though I"m sorta sick of saying, wait till next year.) In any case, I'll now root for the Badgers to beat Ohio State and go to the Rose Bowl and for the Gophers to win whatever bowl they end up in. It's nice to have options.

In any case, Thanksgiving was a good warm up and I am looking forward to the Christmas season.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Beyond Turkey and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of the prologue holiday for me. The warm-up act before the headliner Christmas. The holiday with a dash of a letdown. I remember as a kid, appreciating the fact that we were all together as a family, but when all was said and done, what was the point of a big, delicious meal, if there was no gift exchange afterward. Of course, my thinking was antithetical to what Thanksgiving was all about, namely being thankful for everything. Your family, your house, your school, your government and even the food before you.

As a kid, those holidays were always big affairs. Of course everything seems bigger when you're young. A couple of times we held it at my grandmother's community room at the Lexington Apartments on Jefferson Avenue. She had some of the affair catered and for some reason, my wife remembers the chef in charge of cutting the turkey had a missing finger, victim of his own knife skills perhaps.

My cousins from White Bear Lake came to these "off site" Thanksgivings and between the two extended families and kids, it grew into a mob affair. The football game was always on the TV and one year even featured the Vikings and Cowboys - It may even have been Herschel Walker years - it's unclear. In any case, it never felt completely the same as when mom or Aunt Helen hosted the holiday.

Thanksgiving on those years at the Portland house set the bar for how to do a  big family dinner, and Mom did it with middle-class elegance and grace. She'd put the bird in the oven at 10:00 it seems, sometimes maybe earlier, it's unclear. She always cooked the dressing inside the bird with sausage and spices that made it moist and delicious - a point of contention amongst those that prefer it cooked separately. I'm sticking with what I know - inside the bird deliciousness.

Everyone invited to Thanksgiving was charged with bringing a dish of some sort. In the later years when we were all adults, my sister Pat became known for bringing the "Green Stuff", a Cool Whip, marshmallow fluff, pistachio pudding concoction with maraschino cherries and other surprises in it. It's a dessert/non-dessert travesty of a recipe, but for the sweettooths in the family, it is a favorite. I love the Green Stuff and eat mountains of it every time I get the chance.

My other sister Jane has built her Thanksgiving notoriety on her dessert selections. She not only overwhelmed the table with a selection of goodies, but she always made enough so everyone had their fill + seconds. The display was photo worthy and a bit of a miracle considering she had three kids to take care of and keep out of dipping into them before the trip to Mom's.

Younger brother Paul always brought his trademark vegetarian lasagna, offering a meatless option for those so inclined. I think it was the product of a spell where he was vegetarian, but I think he's since reverted back to his carnivorous tendencies (though somewhat more selective).

The rest of the family filled in around the edges. Grandma Dagney always brought the much dreaded oyster casserole, an unsavory combination of oysters, mushroom soup, green beans and Lord-God-in-heaven knows what else. My stepfather, Jack, once complimented her on them and she took that as a sign to bring them every year. The adventurous among us would dip into them only if coerced by Mom out of courteous obligation. We recognized that they were prepared with love and good intentions, despite the appearance otherwise. After she passed, they've become the running joke every year.

In the years since Portland, the affair has moved around the family, from sisters to brothers. It has landed squarely at the eldest brother, Tom's house the past number of years. He has a split level house that is conducive to breaking up the mob a bit and spreading the noise and chaos to two levels.

And it seems no matter where the affair is held, it is always shrouded in the love of family, siblings, cousins, grandkids, in-laws, outlaws and friends. There are conversations on who's graduating, who's pregnant and the trials of young parenthood. The uncles tend toward job issues and trials. the fishing season of the past year, the Vikings playoff hopes and the environmental cause of the day. No real problems are solved, but it feels good to have someone who's been there listen for a while over a beer or pumpkin pie.

Because that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. It's not so much the food as it is the person across the table from you. It's taking a few hours out of our frenetic lives to say, these are the important people in my life. And from year to year, the faces change. As a family, those of us in Wisconsin only make it every other year. This year my nephew Nick is in the Middle East in service to our country in the Air Force. He will be missed, especially by his wife and new little boy, Roy, named after his great grandfather, another soul not around the table.

So as you gather with your own family this year, be sure and look around and take it all in. Because if we are not thankful for what we have today, we are probably doing it wrong.
The Green Stuff!
Happy Thanksgiving All!

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Having Fun With It

Yesterday I launched my two new books into the world. In a sense, I had a twin birth. Though these twins are as different as my own two biological kids. One serious, self-motivated and introverted, the other creative, whimsical and a socialite.

I've been looking forward to debuting these two books since about June when I found out I would have two released at the same time. By the grace of God, I received my copies of Genetically Speaking on Wednesday of this week, just in time for the Saturday event. My publisher assured me they would be here probably by the 21st. I worried myself sick until they came on the 20th. God has a sense of humor sometimes.

There was a great crowd at Cafe de Arts, I'd estimate there were more than for The Portland House debut. I was pleasantly surprised by a few faces I had not expected to show up. These are the little joys one needs to focus on in our day to day life. People coming out to support you on a hugely busy Saturday before Thanksgiving.

One of these was a fellow author and colleague, Nancy Jorgensen. She and her daughter Elizabeth both co-wrote a book, Go Gwen Go, about her daughter Gwen who won a gold medal in the Olympics for the triathlon. I've run into one or another of them at three different events recently and was so happy to have Nancy there.

There were so many other surprise showings as well as the faithful dozen that show up to all of my signings. It was a great reunion.

I was humbled by Kathie Giorgio's heartfelt introduction. At one point she referred to me as a "reluctant hero" which I thought was an interesting term. I'd never heard it before, but it seemed appropriate, I guess. I never expected to have one book to my credit, so these last couple have come as sort of a wake up call to the fact that I've built writing into my life. She and her studio got me into this whole writing gig and I've never looked back. I think I'm a better person and have a richer life because of it, so am grateful to the AllWriters community.

The reading went really well, save for a spilled bottle of water that I clumsily tipped over during my talk. The poems were well received  and the audience seemed engaged with their laughter and attention. I first read from Thoughts from a Line at the DMV and finished with half a dozen books from Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood.

There was a mix of humor and heart throughout the reading, something I like to do to keep interest, but also to show people that I have a serious side to my writing. One never knows what people really think until it's over or until weeks later when they say, "I really enjoyed your reading a while back." We writers perseverate on the perception of people, so to hear a positive comment after the fact is uplifting to say the least.

All in all it was a fantastic afternoon with friends over coffee. Great thanks go out to all of those who showed as well as those who wished me luck despite not being able to make it. A gracious thank you to Ayhan Munzur for opening his shop, Cafe de Arts Roastery for the event. Purveyor of the best coffee in Waukesha, and always a gracious host.

To anyone looking to get books, please email me and I will mail them for the cost + shipping. They make great holiday gifts!

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Performance Art

Last night was the monthly Poetry Night at Mama D's in Wales. These affairs have grown in size over time, and depending on the featured poet, there can be a problem finding a place to sit.

Well, last night we had a poet, Colleen Nehmer, who has quite a following. She had a number of fellow supporting poets come from Milwaukee to hear her read as well as reading their own stuff. It was the most eclectic gathering of personalities we've had there since I've been coordinating it.
Tim Kloss and The Fall of the House of Usher

I was surprised to see Ken Woodall there. Ken is a Milwaukee poet who I saw at a GIS Day event a few years back. I had a great chat with him and found out about his own poetry night at a coffee shop in Riverwest.

Then, there was a 16 year-old who'd never read her stuff in front of a group before. She nailed it and did it with confidence and conviction. Very cool.

But the capper on the night for me was watching Tim Kloss, a well known Milwaukee poet, recite the first several paragraphs of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." He did it without reading a line, all from memory. It was nothing short of amazing. I admire people who can do that kind of thing, as I can barely memorize my PIN number for my debit card most days.

Like I've said before, these spoken art events, like sand art on a beach, are cool in that if you weren't there to experience it, you miss it forever. That's true of any concert or theater event as well. Being there when the energy is good, well, there's nothing better. So, I'm glad I was.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poetically Speaking

As many of you are aware, I have two new poetry books that were recently released. The first, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, came out in late September. This is a collection of 50+ poems about all sorts of subjects. It is the culmination of about three years worth of work, and I love everything about it.

But it is accompanied by a more recent release, Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood. This is a much smaller collection of 30 poems, called a chapbook. It was the product of last April's NaPoWriMo, which stands for National Poetry Writing Month. NaPoWriMo is a challenge to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. I entered a challenge by Local Gems Press where, at the end of the month, we were to submit our manuscripts for consideration for publication. Well, mine was one of the ones selected and suddenly I had two books "in-process" at one time.

So the publication process began, and proceeded along at the pace these things usually proceed. Ever since I submitted the final edits, I've been checking Amazon to see if it was up there for sale yet.

Well, at last, on Friday I found it was. (Get it here.)  And though this is my seventh book, there is still a wave of excitement that comes over me when I see my work out there. There is nothing quite like either seeing your book on Amazon or getting that first shipment of books in the mail.

Because of the subject matter, this book holds particular significance and meaning for me. You all know my family story by now, and this book touches upon all the sensitive touchstones of fatherhood for me. Every level of fatherhood is touched upon in it. Biological father, stepfather, father in-law, father figures and, of course, my own fatherhood experience.

Without giving away all of it, suffice it to say the book revealed some deep-seated emotional issues for me, for every level I mentioned. It is not all happy stuff. There is some deep sadness, a little anger and other fun emotions that I don't usually express well. I don't know where it came from as I wrote, I only know I wrote it from the heart. No one has, or is, the perfect parent(s). So, the book addresses the good the bad and the ugly. It is a little outside of my stylistic tendency, but that's maybe what I like about it. It shows the joy, the rawness, and the beauty of fatherhood.

I might add that I am ecstatic about the cover. When the publisher asked for images, I sent them three, two pictures were of the cabin we go to every year, and the third was a picture of my dad with 5 of us 7 kids. The one chosen was my favorite and it came out great. I'd love to know what you think of it.

So, this Saturday, November 23rd, I'll be launching both of these books at Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha at 3:30 PM. It will be a lot of laughs and I hope you can make it out. If not, I am also willing to ship one or both signed books for the cost + shipping. Just send me your address.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

GIS For Everyone

Yesterday was GIS Day. For those who don't know, GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. And if you don't know what that is, you probably don't know what GIS Day is. Well, I'm here to tell you.

GIS Day is a day focused around getting the word out about GIS, what it is, what it can do and why we need it. The running joke is that it is an ESRI sanctioned holiday. ESRI is the company that makes the most-used GIS software in the world. They are based in Redlands California and I actually have a niece and nephew that work for ESRI out there. 

The owner of the company is Jack Dangermond, a  Forbes billionaire who is as down-to-earth as they come. I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to him on a few occasions. In the GIS circles, he has a cult-like following and he makes it a point to meet as many users as he can at their annual Users Conference in San Diego. He's a big deal - at least to us GIS folks.

Anyway, I decided we should do something in recognition of GIS Day at work. Sometimes people remind me that we are a little known entity at the county, so I wanted to make a point of getting the word out. So, my team and I put together a weeklong event called GIS Awareness Week. It features daily presentations on a variety of topics and is aimed at getting the word out about some of what we do in the Land Information Office. The presentations showcase applications, maps and data. 

So far we've had a great week of interacting with other GIS users at every level. I have said it before, but I LOVE my job. I love telling people about GIS and using it to help people do their jobs better. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say I have spent my entire career in mapping and GIS. I have met a ton of great colleagues, smart folks who love the business as much as I do.

So, Happy GIS Day/GIS Awareness Week! 

Hug a GIS professional today!

Blogging off... 





Sunday, November 10, 2019

Figuring It Out

A few things have become apparent during these four days alone in my house. They are things that I might have already known in the back of my mind, but they became clearer as the weekend went along. Some are a-ha moments, others are just petty observations that bubbled up during my moments of painting or in the quiet where all I could hear was my tinnitus.

Some of the things that I've found.

1. Getting unlimited free time does not mean I'll finish my book, write 10,000 words or seven new poems. As much as I would like to devote eight hours of each of these days to writing, it just never seems to happen. My writing coach once said that life tends to get in the way with writing more often than not. In this instance, I had a painting project that beckoned me away after my morning write session. Sometimes I got back to writing, other times not.

2. Regarding that painting project, I realized that, like my mother, I get fairly obsessed with a project once its started. It is a bit of our work-ethic at play, but also some sort of weird OCD-manic-wet-paintbrush syndrome. As long as there is good music on the wireless speaker, it's hard to make myself stop.

3. I miss my kids. I was blessed to have Sarah and her boyfriend Sam come down and stay with me a couple of nights on their way to Chicago. I don't often get time alone with either of my kids, so it was a nice chance to hear what's going on in her life. Having them in the house took away some of my loneliness that usually sets in after my wife being away for 2 days or so.


4. I am fortunate to have an outstanding friend and colleague network. I spent Saturday night at a poetry reading of three poets who I highly respect, Cristina Norcross, Stephen Anderson and Dewitt Clinton. Though I only know them through my writing/poetry channels, they feel like old friends to me. They ask about my wife, kids, writing and even my fishing. We are a tribe of creatives, and we support one another when sometimes it seems like no one else does.

5. My house stays incredibly clean when I'm the only one here. Nothing moves out of its place. It's magical.

6. I miss laughing with my wife. We've had some serious changes to adapt to with having the kids move out, and one nice change is our ability to laugh with one another about our crazy day. We've rediscovered what brought us together and it has been all good.

So, these weekends alone are good for more than just projects and writing time. They remind me of who I am, how much I am loved and what a great network of people I've surrounded myself with. I am a lucky man.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Paint and Pablum

My wife went home to New York with her brother today. They are going to visit their mom who is suffering from dementia, as well as to see her dad, sister and brother in-law.

Meanwhile I have been tasked with painting the bedroom the two of us will be moving into this winter. When our daughter went to college, we decided we wanted the "big bedroom" she was in, because we thought it would be an upgrade. It's funny because over the past six or seven years we've been in it, we've never really taken to it. I guess we got used to the smaller bedroom and in a way it will always be our bedroom. So, we decided to go back to it.

Before we do, we are giving it a coat of fresh paint. I've lamented in the past how much I hate painting and it still stands. I might qualify it with not hating interior painting as much as exterior, but it's still not a favorite activity of mine. Some people say they love the fresh look, etc., that a coat of paint provides. Well, you know what? So do I. I just hate what it takes to get there.

But I realize it has to come from somewhere, so I paint.

As part of my prep for painting the ceiling, I put down tarps all across the floor. These are the plastic, crinkly kind that you get at Menards.

So, last night I was sitting downstairs and I kept hearing this crashing type sound, and I had no idea what it was. It came and went, wasn't consistent, so I wrote it off to the neighbors being noisy. I'm half deaf without my hearing aids, so I thought nothing of it.

Tonight as I was waiting for my dinner to cook, I heard a crashing again. I followed the noise up to the bedroom and saw a lump under the tarps. After a few seconds, out popped Isabelle the cat. She looked right at me like she'd been caught doing something horrible. If cats can look guilty, she was doing it.

I don't know what the point of all of this is. I do know that my house takes on a weird vibe when my wife goes away. The animals get all moody, I get manic after a couple of days and, well, it's just different, and not all in good ways. I always look forward to alone time, but after day two, I'm about ready to have her back on the loveseat across from where I sit every night.

29 years of marriage will do that I guess. You get to a point where you can't imagine life without someone in it. I guess that's what love does. I'm not going to fight it. I can be as happy alone as anyone, but we all have our limits. Talk to me in a couple of days and I'll let you know how it's going.

Until then, I'll paint to pass the time.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Festival Of The Bookish

Yesterday was day 2 of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, arguably one of my favorite days of the year. This was the 10th year of the festival and it featured over seventy authors presenting about their work, the writing process and what's next.

This festival always starts on Friday by hosting a series called Authors in the Schools. It features sending over a dozen authors into area high schools to talk to students about writing.

I've been a part of this for about four years now and have come to really enjoy it, despite my loathing of the spotlight. It's become clear to me that if you do enough of this you can achieve a comfortable level of discomfort in front of a crowd.

Laughter from the crowd helps.

This year I spoke to 55+ students from an AP Composition class at New Berlin Eisenhower High School. The talk went very well. I spoke for 55 minutes and took questions for 5 minutes. Students were courteous and engaged and none fell asleep, a plus for sure. The coordinator was kind enough to treat me to lunch as well. Perhaps the coolest part of it all though was the fact that they bought 5 of my books and put them into the library system.

Then, Friday evening and yesterday, I spend the day with colleagues, friends, authors and poets from all around Wisconsin at the book festival. Friday night featured Andre Dubuus III, author of House of Sand and Fog. He was an incredible speaker and I really enjoyed his keynote. He talked about how his tough upbringing in a violent, poor, lower middle class area of Massachusetts turned him to writing. He also described how he has a soundproof studio where he goes to write for 3-4 hours a day and starts every session by reading a poem to get his creative juices flowing.

Saturday was a full day for me. I started at a session on memoir by Lila Schwenk, Julie Beekman and Nancy and Liz Jorgensen, mother and sister of Gwen Jorgensen, the US Olympic Gold Medalist at Rio in 2016. It was fun listening to the struggles of other memoir/nonfiction writers. It's good to know I'm not alone out there struggling to tell the story correctly without offending family and friends. I also bought Go, Gwen, Go, the book about the Gold Medalist because the story sounds so compelling.

The rest of the day was filled with words and friends. I had the privilege of moderating three accomplished poets, Angie Trudell Vasquez, Fabu, and Drew Blanchard, who read from their books and talked about their inspiration.

It was interesting to hear their stylistic differences. The poem that hit me hardest was by Fabu and repeated the line about an "Unnamed negro from Green Bay..." that spoke about the death of one of the first black residents in Wisconsin. She spoke about the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves on American soil from Africa. Some tragic visualizations and powerful words.

The day was filled from end to end. The last session myself and others read from the Bards Against Hunger poetry anthology put together by Ed Werstein. Again, some heart wrenching poems about hunger and poverty at the local level. Poetry speaking the truth and seeking social change.

A lot of thanks goes out to the many organizers, sponsors and volunteers of this great festival. I sat on the program committee and saw firsthand the amount of planning that goes into it. It is a credit to Barry Wightman and the rest for putting on a first class festival.

I can't wait for next year.


Blogging off...

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fishing With Veterans

This past weekend was spent fishing for muskie with my friends Steve and John, a tradition that is ten years running now, as I mentioned last post. I'll be honest, I had a bad feeling going in. I figured since I got one last year, it was back to the drought. 

It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within the first hour of the first day, we boated a 40" fish that my buddy hauled in. Then within an hour and a half of that one, I caught a 30" fish while casting. There is nothing quite like catching a muskie casting (as opposed to trolling), so I was elated to not be skunked. 

Then, while John was taking my fish off, the bobber started moving on one of the suckers in the water. It was what we call a "doubleheader" in the fishing world; two fish on at the same time. It's something that is almost unheard of in the muskie fishing world. 

Because my fish was much tinier than the 40" fish caught earlier, they decided to let me catch the one on the bobber. After about 10 minutes I landed my second fish of the day, a 36"er. It put up a tremendous fight and I shook for 15 minutes. It was a moment that I won't soon forget.

The following day we hooked into another 37" and lost a couple more that spit the bait. None of us could believe our luck.

To add to an already fantastic weekend, John, his girlfriend Jen and I all surprised Steve with showing him where his father's name would be engraved at the Presque Isle Wilderness Veterans Memorial. It is a beautiful memorial right outside downtown that features granite markers for each war and an "eternal flame" that funds raised by donors keep burning. 

The idea was John and Jens, and when they told me, I told them I was in for sure. I got a couple pictures of Steve's dad, Richard Krey and the dates he served etc. They sent it in and now his picture an service info is on the website

Steve seemed pretty touched and it was a cool moment between three guys who have fished together for 10 years and become pretty good buddies. I credit both of them for making my muskie experiences way better than I ever dreamed. It hasn't always been easy, but they sure do make it fun. I'm lucky to have them as friends. They both love to help other people catch fish.

Now, I can't wait until next October.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ten Years Running - Off The Grid

By the time this is visible, I will be on my way to my happy place in the great Northwoods of  Wisconsin. This will be my 10th year going up in October for what I term, Muskyfest.

My first trip in 2009 came with much trepidation. My friend Steve had asked a couple of times if I'd ever want to come up muskie fishing. I told him that I wasn't really into fishing for a single species with a high probability of not coming home with a picture of a fish. I'd seen a few of his pictures where he was dressed in a winter coat and hat holding a giant fish, and the appeal just seemed wane even more.


After a couple of rejections, I finally gave in to see what all the hype was about. We went up on a Thursday night in mid-October and gave it a go. On Friday, we had a gorgeous day, where we fished a favorite lake all day. It wasn't until about 4:00 when we'd just cracked a beer and were having a sandwich wrap when the "clicker" on the rod we were trolling with started clicking. Steve checked the line for tension and said, "Yeah, you might want to put down that beer and catch this fish."

It ended up being a small 34" fish, but suffice it to say that fish changed everything. After we'd photographed it and set it free, I still shook for 10 minutes afterward. The adrenaline rush that these fish incite in a fisherman is second to none.

I was hooked!

Needless to say I've been going up every year since. It's become a bit of an obsession with me. I've fished in rain, snow, sleet and high winds. The things you do for a minute long fight with a large fish. As for all my fears about the cold weather, well, it turns out you can dress for that! ;-)

Much of the trip involves a friendly, ongoing banter in the boat with my buddies, Steve and John. It helps pass the time, and the laughter is therapeutic. This is the place where I can let go of all the stress and routine of my life back in the cities. It is grounding and, I kid you not, this last fishing trip of the year is part of what gets me through the winter.

So, if I don't pick up my phone in the next 3 days, you'll know why. (Besides, the cell coverage up there is the worst!)

Going off the grid and,

Blogging off...


Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit From An Old Friend

Last night we went and saw the movie Western Stars with a couple of good friends. These friends are music lovers just like us, so when we saw that it was coming out, we set the date. We're all big Springsteen fans, and they had never seen him in concert, so thought this would be the next best thing.

I've seen him in concert twice in the 80's when he was in his prime. The first time was for The River tour. I went with some friends and were treated to one of the best concerts I've ever been to, and I've seen a lot of them. The second time was for the Born in the USA tour and again he did not disappoint. Both concerts were pushing 3 hours in duration. It was amazing and set the bar for every other performer I've seen, a bar that few if any have hit.



I know not everyone is a Springsteen fan, and that's fine. But regardless of what you think of his music, you cannot deny his legacy of songwriting and performing. His songs tell stories and are in every sense of the word, poetic. I remember when his Nebraska album came out - it was an entirely acoustic album, after a half dozen rock albums had established his name as one of the best. Lots of people panned the album. I happened to love it. Lyrically it was all Bruce, and I totally understood his need to stretch creatively.

So the movie was a concert he put on in his barn with a full orchestra and band. The music was entirely his new album, Western Stars, that has a country and Americana feel to it, mixed with a bit of Neil Diamond epic ballads thrown in. It's growing on me. In between each song, was a voiceover explaining each song. These snippets were accompanied by sweeping vistas of the American Southwest and or people interacting. His stories were authentic and provided some great glimpses into the heart of people and this country. It was a great movie, and I recommend it.

And of course, as with all of my rock heroes, he's showing his age (as am I!). He's 70 years old, and looks 55. But along with Bob Seger, who I saw last December, I can't think of a rock star who I looked up to as much as those guys. They are storytellers, phenomenal performers and yet vulnerable to the passing of time, just like you and I.

But for one night, it was great to see him back making music (albeit as a movie.)

He's still and always will be The Boss.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Genetically Blogging

It seems I have another book in the books, so to speak. I finally got my cover for my newest chapbook, Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood, from my publisher, Local Gems Press. After the last of my textual edits, they've sent it off to press and I should be receiving my copies in three weeks. Huzzah!

For those who don't know, my other collection, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, came out a couple of weeks ago. (It's been a very good year). I was waiting for this one to come to completion so I could schedule a dual-book release in November. Watch for details on that, tentatively pending for Nov. 16th or 23rd.

The book came about through a NaPoWriMo contest by Local Gems Press back in April. Poets are encouraged/obligated to write a poem a day for the whole month. Then, at the end of the month, we were supposed to submit our manuscripts for consideration. I was a "honorable mention" that also got an offer of publication. Thus, Genetically Speaking was born.

The book comes at fatherhood from all dimensions. If you know my background, you know my father was killed at a young age. Many of the poems address that experience - all the questions and subsequent angst that comes with such a tragedy.

Twelve years later, my mom remarried and suddenly we had a "stepfather," who also appears throughout the book. It looks at all of the struggles of living with a dad who is not blood but fills the role of one and comes bringing some issues. 

And then there's the father in-law experience that comes with any marriage. The father by default whose traits you sometimes see in your spouse sometimes and suddenly things make more sense.

Sprinkled throughout are poems about the father-figures in my life. I'm talking about friends who've mentored me, a brother who helped fill in where a dad should have, and those I admire for adopting children, a selfless act that exceeds my own fatherhood experience.

This one is not filled with as much humor as my poems of the past. Fatherhood is not all laughs and humor. Some are tragic for people and for those people I mourn. Mine was mostly good - what little of it I had. And of course there is a ton of reflection on my own fatherhood experience, a source of unending joy in my life.

So, without giving more about the book away, I have to say, keep your eyes peeled on my website and social media for details on the signings. I hope to schedule one for Minnesota as well as a handful in Wisconsin.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

October's Fest

 Fall is always a melancholy time of year for me. I love the colors and the beauty of a nice fall day, yet it is a brutal reminder of what follows as well. I admit I am in full denial and was wearing short sleeves until yesterday, when the bottom dropped out of the weather and I was forced to go full sweatshirt.

At the same time, this time of October always holds great significance for me for a number of reasons. Today was my nephew (and godson) Nick's birthday. He and I were pretty close as he was young and have maintained a great bond ever since. He is currently serving our country in the Middle East, leaving his family back in Wisconsin while he finishes out his tour.

And of course I can't forget that tomorrow my brother Rob would have been 55. Not a day goes by where I don't think of him in one way or another. He always loved this time of year as well. He was a rabid Viking fan but also loved going to the apple orchard and picking pumpkins with his wife and daughters. He was a Halloween buff and got into decorating the house and/or going all out in his costuming.

Rob's presence is missed at family functions, but I still allege that his legacy was leaving all of us with a sense of living life with a grateful heart for each day as well as a compelling sense of urgency and purpose. "Live life to the fullest," was a saying he used with frequency, well before he was sick. They almost seem prophetic now.

Tattoo with date. 10-14-11
Another reason this time of October is significant is it usually the time I go muskie fishing. The fall bite is on and in a couple of weeks I'll be going up to fish for them again. And of course the colliding of both of these worlds happened 8 years ago tomorrow when I caught a muskie on what would have been Rob's 48th birthday. It was a smallish fish, but it helpd great significance for me. My friends Steve and John helped make it all happen in the rain on that lake that day, and I will always remember the day and the time with my friend who helped me remember my brother. It was the inspiration behind the tattoo I got in 2013 in honor of him. He will be there with us in spirit again in a couple of weeks.

And finally, this is the time of year that the traditional Landwehr Hunt takes place in northern Minnesota. This is a tradition started by my dad and his brothers over 50 years ago. Now it is all the sons and grandsons that go to Gull Lake to catch up, play cards and have some adult beverages. Hunting has always been a "decoy" for what really goes on. Often times no one brings a gun.

I've only been to one of these gatherings, and it was the only one all four of us brothers were all present for. At one point there were about six of us in a deer stand smoking cigars. It was like a sweat lodge except with smoke. Crazy stuff, but I laughed so hard my side hurt for two days. I am glad I made the trip. They'll be going up again this year, and again without me, as it falls too close to my fishing weekend, but I know it will be meaningful time together.

So, as much as I dread the oncoming winter, this month of October means a lot to me. Special people, special times and captivating memories. I am going to embrace the cool weather, the glorious colors and time with people I love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Existentiality Is Not Just For Breakfast

I got an email last night about one of my poems that sort of caught me off-guard. I am always grateful for feedback on my writing as, for one, it means people are reading my work, and secondly that it is having an impact. 

This one referenced a poem, Wednesday's Child. The poem came from my collection, Written Life, and addresses the night my father was killed at the hands of a gang of men. I titled it after the nursery rhyme "Monday's Child" about children according to the various days of the week. It reads:

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for his living
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

I thought the Wednesday theme was fairly relevant given the tone of the poem. 

Anyways, the woman who emailed mentioned how the poem made her cry and even pray. She prayed against the violence and racism of today, and I must admit I pray that every day as well.

When I thanked her, I told her the story behind the poem and how everyone has a story and this was mine. I also mentioned that it all ended well, in that my mother was a hero and raised us all to be decent, loving human beings. She replied back with her own tough childhood story, thereby validating my thought that everyone has a story. Many are tragic. What makes us who we are is how  we respond and carry on through it all. 

Our humanity is shaped by our tragedy and our character is shaped by everything after.

So between this touching email and a friend dealing with a recent heart attack, another dealing with cancer, another with a detached retina, and yet another who is grateful to be alive after a wicked car accident, I am having yet another existential crisis. 

I hate to blab on and on about how lucky I am to be alive and in good health, but all of these things around me remind me of my life in the balance. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow or next month, and I am brutally aware that I need to live like it. We all do. 

Here is the poem she referenced.

Wednesday’s Child          by Jim Landwehr                                                                 

On a warm Wednesday night in June
my father steps into a bar not knowing
it would be a step preceding his father
into eternity with The Father.

A beer to numb the pain
of the angst of his middle age
and maybe another to numb it more
because it was Wednesday night.

The Wednesday night regulars say their hellos
and speak of loves, loss, and luck
while Johnny Cash sings
about those same things in the key of E.

In walk four youths with nothing to lose
looking for someone to prove it to.
He was the biggest target they could find
for their Wednesday night wilding.

They take him on four to one
he holds his own for a bit,
fighting to make it to Thursday
on this Wednesday night in June

But they kick and punch
with brutality and vengeance
beating a man because of his race
for fun on a Wednesday night.

When they leave he asks, why me?
Before he gets an answer
they return and beat him again,
beat him to death on this Wednesday night.

A call comes in from dispatch:
Altercation at Happy Harry’s,
a man down, bleeding, not breathing.
Lights and sirens, too late on a Wednesday night.

*From the poetry collection, Written Life

Blogging off...


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shirking My Routine

I am as lame as they come when it comes to changing up my Saturday routine. I have come to love sameness and ritual on weekends, so when a curveball comes, I tend to grumble about it for a few weeks before it even happens.

Typically my Saturdays are completely predictable. Coffee with my wife, home to walk the dog, vacuum the whole house, go to library and write for a couple hours, do more house chores, have dinner or go out to eat, go to bed. Simple, boring and something I've come to love.

Last weekend it was all messed up by an all-day golf event. Yesterday all of that routine was blown out of the water by an all-day writing conference I attended in Middleton, just outside of Madison. I was invited to the conference because I served as a judge in one of its contests. Of course, I was flattered, and it was fairly close to where I live, so I agreed.

Very much like the golf tournament the week before and true to what almost always happens, my change in routine was stimulating, rejuvenating and a ton of fun. 

At these events I always walk in trepidatious about meeting and knowing people. It is a stupid, energy wasting fear, because I always end up sitting/talking with someone I know and it is fine. Why then such dread about that initial social introduction? I have no idea, other than my tendency toward introversion. Some seek out these things, others like me dread it until it happens, then we're fine.

The day was full of information and tips on writing and the writing/publishing process. A few of the highlights:

  1. A mystery writer who talked about moving the story along. I am not a mystery writer, but listening to this highly successful writer talk about the do's and don'ts of keeping a story moving with pacing, dialogue etc, was fascinating.
  2. The Wisconsin poet laureate who had us work with interweaving two subjects together to give a poem depth and complexity that it might have never had before. She has advanced degrees in English and writing and made me realize how flat my poetry and nonfiction is. (This is an eye opening realization, of course...)
  3. The winners of the Jade Ring Contest read some of their work over lunch. An entertaining diversion from taking notes on the presentations.
  4. A young woman came up and introduced herself as a fan of my work. She mentioned she was an English teacher at Arrowhead High School and had referenced my poems on a few occasions in her class. After talking to her for 5 minutes, I asked her name. It turns out it was Liz Jorgensen, sister of Gwen Jorgensen and daughter of Nancy, who I recently became friends with on Facebook. We had a great chat. It is these kinds of spontaneous networking opportunities that make these conferences so valuable.
  5. It turns out Liz then did a presentation on a cool form of Korean poetry called Sijo, (Pronounced SheeJoe). We all then wrote one and it gave me a new style to mess around with.
  6. Kim Suhr, a local writing teacher who owns her own studio gave a captivating talk on how to revise our work - a task no one likes, but is highly important.
  7. And finally, the day closed out with a wonderful author who hails from New York who talked about how to end a story well. After his talk was over, I asked if he had one good Woodstock story, as I'd heard he'd been there. He mentioned he was one of the few cops there in charge of 500,000 people and went on to tell a great story.
To finish off an already great day, I took my son out for dinner in Madison and had a great chat with him about his studies and his future. Such a good kid, living out a great collegiate experience in one of the best college towns in the nation. I live it vicariously through him.

So the day was nothing short of a fantastic diversion from my usual routine. Deep in the recesses of my mind, I knew it would, yet I still sort of dreaded it. And while I'll spend the rest of today catching up on what I didn't get done yesterday, I am a little richer person because I stepped out of that routine for 12 hours yesterday.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Me and Billy Preston

As a memoirist, I tend to be a raving nostalgic as well. I am one of those who looks back and tends to only see good things. Maybe it is part of my outlook - I tend to favor positivity and optimism, so maybe it's just the good things I see while relegating the bad to the deep recesses of the forgotten.

My wife and I have discovered that we are opposites that way. She tends to be forward-looking and has little time for the past. It carries through especially with regards to material keepsakes and such. I will pull out a photo album or a card my kids wrote and spend time looking at it and reminiscing. She can appreciate it, but has very little time for it or attachment to it. 

I'm not sure what makes some people nostalgic and others not so much. One of my biggest triggers is music. If I hear a song from the '70s, I am instantly back to the place that it reminds me of - my front porch, a friend's car, high school, wherever. 

For instance, whenever I hear Billy Preston sing "Will it go round in circles," I always picture him on the Midnight Special, a television show built around live performances by bands. I remember him banging away on a piano with a big afro and as a 12 year old kid, I thought, this dude is killin' it! It gave me an appreciation for his music and was one of those "where were you when you..." moments. I was in my living room watching the Midnight Special.

Or when I hear, Ride Captain, Ride, by The Blues Image, I am taken back to the beach at Bayport, Minnesota on the Saint Croix river with my step siblings. Those Saturdays were the best, times when we had few cares and it was summer. 

I tend to think of Lava Lamps, mood rings, and TV shows like The Waltons and Charlie's Angels. At the same time, I tune out the bad news of the day, like oil crises, Iranian hostages, and presidential impeachments, and the Vietnam war. Those things take back seat to Tang, Quisp and Quake, and disco (well, I guess disco was bad news of a different type.)

So when I write memoir, I think this is why I have such a love for it. It allows me not only to go back to those times, but to recreate them, hopefully in a realistic way that enables people to draw upon their own similar memories. And while I don't necessarily want to go back to those times - I love my life today - I do have a love for my past and feel I am lucky to have lived it. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Importance Of Friends

It has been a week of reconnecting with friends. On Tuesday I got together with a group of friends I used to work alongside in a writing workshop. We keep in touch on Facebook, and it's been six months or so since we all got together that someone mentioned we should get together over a beer and see what each other is up to.

We gathered at a local microbrewery and talked and laughed about our writing projects, failures and successes and where we were at with our works in progress. The answers ranged from people who had not written since we'd been together last, to those with books coming out or in progress. We respected those who'd gone different directions and praised those who'd stuck with it. Writing is hard work and you can't force it. It comes and goes.

The reason I appreciate this group of friends and love getting together with them is because we can all talk like a bunch of writing geeks and none of us tires of hearing about the others' struggles. We also know we won't be boring them like we might with someone who doesn't appreciate writing, or just doesn't care. We talk about plots, and endings, story arcs and writing block. On Tuesday, we picked up right where we left off 6 months ago. They are a group of friends I am glad to have because they think like me.

Then, yesterday I golfed in my one golf outing of the year, the Greater Krey Open, or GKO. It is a fundraiser for cancer setup by my good friend Steve and his family every year. He lost his brother Pete to cancer about 10 months before I lost my brother Rob to cancer. The tournament is played as a best ball "fun" outing with on the order of 60 golfers or so, I would estimate.

I golfed with the guys I usually golf with and as in past years it was an absolute riot. Our team finished a humiliating 4 over par, which is pretty bad for a scramble, but we didn't care. It was too much fun to be concerned with score. The four of us spend 18 holes laughing at each others' bad shots, cracking jokes about their feeble drives and trash talking about shots so deep in the woods they might have killed a deer.

And at the end of the day, we gather for dinner and beer, and a raffle of prizes. It is a great way to spend a fall day every year, one I've come to look forward to every year.

It occurred to me as the evening ended, how lucky I was to have good friends like these guys. Thinking back to Tuesday, I remembered how great it felt to connect with my writing colleagues.

In some ways I am a horrible friend. Especially when someone spontaneously asks me to do something that doesn't give me enough notice. I am an introvert by nature and need to work up my energy to a friend event. If I don't have a week or two's notice, I will usually decline someone's offer to do something spontaneously. It's a weird habit, but one I can at least acknowledge. I am grateful for those friends who stick it out and keep trying with me. It's not them, it's me.

But if I get enough notice and have planned for the event, I am ALL IN when I get there. I love being around friends for a couple of hours catching up and, most of all, laughing our heads off. I guess that makes me a good friend provided I have advance notice. Like I said, weird.

It is so important to have good friends. Old friends, new friends, casual friends and even virtual social media friends. I have fishing friends, church friends, coffee friends, work friends, friends of friends and friends I only see once a year. They all keep me laughing, they check up on me, ask how I'm doing and rejoice with in my successes. They are one of the most important keys to a happy life, at least in my opinion.

So, to all of my friends out there, Thank You for hanging out with me.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Hallmarkiest of Days

Today is National Daughters Day. I was unaware there was such a thing until I saw it all over Facebook this morning. It sounds a little like a Hallmark Holiday to me, but I'll take any chance to celebrate my daughter, or my son for that matter. (I am looking into whether there is a National Son Day, and if there is, I'll expect a Hallmark card, mom.)

A father/daughter and father/son relationship is incredibly important. Not everyone has a good one to speak of. I am painfully aware of this - due in part to my own experience. No parent has a rule book. We all just make it up as we go. Knowing that I did what I consider my best and, well, now she's on her own, and independent, and I think she's going to be okay.

I will confess that there are a number of moments in my life with her that I will always carry.

1. The ride home in the car in a blinding snowstorm the night after she was born. That was me crying like a big dope, blinded by snow. The weight of joy and love just sort of overtook me.

2. Standing on the dock at a lake up in Hackensack, Minnesota while she caught sunfish after sunfish. Her love of fishing was born on that dock, of that I am convinced.

3. That squeaky violin recital in grade school. Her turn in front of the crowd was as rough as the rest, but absolutely beautiful music to her parents' ears.

4. Watching her play freshman volleyball in high school. She agreed to play because we told her she needed to try a sport. Well, she pretty much hated every minute of every game, but she finished. I give her total credit for that. Some kids are jocks. Some are not. Parenting 101.

5. Seeing her off to prom her junior year. No father is really ready for that and I was no different.

6. Watching her walk for her college graduation. It doesn't get much better than watching your kid graduate from your alma mater.

And with any child, it takes a village. I am grateful to have a family that supported her all along. She had aunts and cousins and almost-aunts that loved her as much as we did. All of that pays dividends when you see what your child has become. All I know is I am a lucky father.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Bookishness


Like my wife, I am one of those people that needs to have two books "in-progress" at all times. Books to me are complete escape, so if I can go to three different "aways" on any given evening, I'm all for it.

My reading interests are a little all over the place at the moment.

My Fiction Escape: I just finished "Copper River" by William Kent Krueger. He writes murder mysteries based in northern Minnesota, so there is a home connection too, which I love. I never thought I'd like mysteries, but I've found his style to be captivating. He not only has a wonderful descriptive style - one I aspire too, but may never achieve - but he has a way with introducing unexpected twists and tying characters together. Add to all of that, the regional appeal and well, I'm glad to have stumbled upon his books. (He has 18 or so, so I certainly have enough to get to, as well.

My Existential Handbook: I keep Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Being Peace around so I can refer
to it on an as needed basis. Thich is a Zen Master, a global spiritual leader and peace activist. His book is a reminder of how much we miss when we forget to be mindful of the present. It talks a lot about breathing and smiling as movements toward happiness.He talks of smiling during an exhale and while it seems odd, to me it's not. It is a little bit of fake it till you make it. We smile when we're happy, so smiling "out of turn" may even have an effect on our outlook or physical help. Call it hocus-pocus or what you will, but it seems to help. If nothing else, the book has taught me to be in the present and to spend less time frantic and filled with worry.

My Religious Read: I've always enjoyed reading books on faith and Christianity. My recent forays have been into some of the edgier authors like Peter Rollins, Brian Zahnd and, most recently, Richard Rohr. I am currently working through Rohr's book, The Universal Christ. A group of friends and I meet at Raised Grain, a local microbrewery, to have a couple of beers and talk about the book. It is heady stuff, and I'm not talking about the beer here. The premise of the book is that God is everywhere and the DNA of God is in everything. More importantly then, if that is true, we need to look at each person we meet as the image of God - somewhere in there, in some cases - and treat them as such. I can't say enough about what I'm learning from his books and his podcasts. He is so wise. This particular book reminds me that while life is important, I am but one small part in the greater cosmos.

My Poetry Book Of The Moment: I am currently working through, We Are Beat, a large anthology by Local Gems Press that I am featured in, among a host of others. Along with this, I am revisiting Benediction and Baseball, by Ed Werstein, a Milwaukee poet. He was featured at a reading I went to the other night and so I thought I'd open his book again. (I'd read it a couple of months ago.) Good stuff by a guy I aspire to write as good as someday.

That's my list for the moment. It changes monthly. I can't say enough about how important books have been to me and my children. They both love to read too. Sarah is heavy into a fantasy series and Ben was last seen reading the Sand County Almanac, which makes me very happy. Such a classic.

What's on your nightstand?

Blogging off...