Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Plumber's Helper Of A Different Sort

The view from below, minus my head.
With Ben's high school graduation coming in a little less than three weeks, we have been catching up on many badly-needed house projects, both indoors and out. There's nothing quite like having 50 people come to your house to get you to take a look around and see what needs work. As a result, we both have mental lists in our heads and whittle away at projects as we can.

Today we tackled our kitchen faucet, a project we've been putting off for about a year now. Our old faucet had built up so many mineral deposits that it didn't even pivot to the second sink. Like so many aspects of home ownership,
we just kind of lived with it thinking...someday. Besides, who uses that second sink anyway, right? Well, just the rest of the world, that's all.

I have said many, many times on this blog that I don't consider myself "handy". On the other hand, I've said equally as many times that I don't give myself enough credit. I said it when I put the dishwasher in, I said it when I fixed our dryer belt, and I said it when I replaced our oven ignitor. It goes along hand in hand with my fear that I will try fixing something and end up messing it up worse - sometimes even requiring getting some professional to fix my fix.

The thing I dreaded about this job was the cramped space. I'm a large man with large limbs, so fitting my upper torso under a sink is no easy feat. Never mind that you are laying in gunk that is all of questionable nature - chemicals and sprays, food particles and other unidentifiable crumbs. Add to that trying to manipulate stuck bolts, washers and fittings in dim light and, well. you have all the trappings of a curse fest.

So I set upon my task with fear and trepidation. After I shut the water valves off, and unhooked the water supplies, I went about taking off what I thought were the only two screws holding the faucet.

Hey, this ain't so bad, these things come off easy!

Once they were off, I got out from under the sink and pulled the faucet. It didn't move. As it turns out there was a lock washer on a long, threaded brass inlet.

This is where the cursing started.

Because it was such a tight space and the nut was locked by deposits I couldn't budge the thing. Eventually, I told Donna to look at it. Now, she is much smaller than I so was able to get a wrench around the nut and while I twisted from above, she twisted from below.

After a bit, lo and behold she said she'd loosened it. This is the beauty of a good marriage. Teamwork kicks in when one or the other is struggling.

Well, after she got that loose things went much smoother. There were still some terse words at a couple of junctures, but overall, it was a piece of cake compared to what we'd just been through.

When it was finished, my wife asked me why we always wait so long to do things like this that are so simple. Then we joked about how nice the new faucet was and said "This is how the rich people live!"

And so it goes. I will continue to consider myself "not handy" and I will likely continue to surprise myself with projects that I successfully complete.

And I will also continue to procrastinate and gripe about them for 12-18 months before I do any of them.

Because that's how we roll around here on College Avenue.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Out Of Service

Some places are better than others with customer service. It seems in this day and age that you have fundamentally three levels of service.

  1. Overly friendly, generally great service.
  2. Meh-I'm-just-making-a-buck-for-a-living service
  3. Dreadful, awful never-shopping-here-again service.
Today I had the misfortune of a number three experience. It was the local Office Depot, where I had placed an order for bookmarks, a placard and some color copies. The service was bad when I placed the order - the clerk had to ask me twice for the flash drive with the files on it because he never saved them to the computer's hard drive. 

This was followed up the next day by a phone call saying he needed one of the files on the flash drive and could I email it to him?

But he left no email address on the voice mail, of course.

I emailed the file back and yesterday later I got an email telling me my order was done. So today I went to pick it up. 

And...they couldn't find the order.

It seems that clerk Jarrett had put 2/3 of the order somewhere and despite being an area the size of my living room, none of the three clerks could find it. Meanwhile, they took turns punting my problem between themselves while one or the other:

  1. Helped another customer
  2. Called Jarrett (No answer)
  3. Looked in the same places the clerk before them had just looked
Of course when I was eight miles away, I checked my phone and there was a message that they had found my order and I could turn around and come get it if I wanted. 

Um, no.

It was up there as one of the more disorganized operations I've worked with. I've worked with them in the past, because they're one of the few print services that do things that I need for my book promotion. They're much cheaper than buying those kinds of things on the web via Vista Print or other such places. 

The downside to this is you get what you pay for. 

Another example of crappy service was the other night when we took my mom out to a favorite old steak place of ours in St, Paul, Mancini's Char House. We used to always love going there with mom and it's been eight years since we went, so we thought we'd try it.

When I checked with one of the hosts, he was short with me and pointed me in the direction of another. She was rude also and told me to go wait in the lounge and they'd call our name because they were "backed up."

In the lounge the waiter (a young kid) didn't offer to clean off our table and was short with us too. 

The waitress was a bit better, but the mood had been set. We probably won't go back. When you spend the kind of money we spent to eat, you expect a level of service more like #1. 

My wife and I get that #1 service every Saturday when we go to coffee at the Steaming Cup. Friendly clerks, friendly waitstaff and people who seem to enjoy their jobs.

In this day and age, with so many businesses competing for consumer dollars, customer service is critical. People need to be aware of that. I am quick to write a good review, but will do the same for crappy service. I think it's only fair that businesses know how they're doing.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Lifetime Commitment

Typically, in the past I've always written about my mother on Mother's Day. But today I wanted to touch upon a different mother, namely, the mother of our children.

I do this in large part because she's earned every accolade she gets. She keeps the ship running tight and while we are still a team, still a village, she is what keeps the village from burning down.

Early into motherhood, we tried the whole day care thing with Sarah. At first Donna took Sarah to work and tried to work that scenario out. It wasn't long before that didn't work any longer and we set Sarah up with a babysitter. When that broke down, we determined that we were better off having her take a part-time night job and stay at home with Sarah and later, Benjamin.

I remember those days well. When I got in the door I was often met with a mother who needed adult stimulation and conversation. Often times it was "tag you're it," as she passed the kids off to me while she got things done that having two kids doesn't permit. (Things like showering, reading more than a paragraph at a time, etc.)

All it took was a couple of Pampered Chef conferences where I was left with the kids, to understand what her day was like. Diapers, formula, play time, meals, trips to the park, naps, more play time, bath time, more meals, story time and collapse in a blubbering heap time.

I quickly realized that, despite the pressures of a nine-to-five job, I was the one with the easy job, not her. I got to go to a (relatively) quiet office with my own space, uninhabited by extremely short people toting sippee cups full of milk and interact with real live adults. It doesn't sound that great until you've changed your third diaper of the day, stepped on a few Legos and answered thirty seven questions about where something is, or how come this, or can we go here?

It's enough to make email look appealing.

And she did it well. I think the best gauge of parents is how your kids turn out. And we've been blessed with a couple of smart, empathetic, funny kids. I am confident that we had a role in some of that. And I am even more confident that they would not have come out as good as they have had she not stayed at home during those early years. This is not to say day care is bad - everyone has different situations - I guess it is to say that I am glad we were able to work our situation out on one and a half incomes. I think it paid dividends.

So, now the kids are both almost off to college, and she's still rallying the troops. She has about three more weeks of shouting Ben's name upstairs every morning to wake him for school. Then, four more years of FAFSA (Student Aid), college registration dates, requirements, move ins, move outs, and finally launching them into the world.

And while yes, we're working as a team, she's up in the booth, calling the plays.

But there's three of us who are trying to drown out the crowd noise and execute. And we know the play will work, because she's the best in the business.

Happy Mother's Day, Donna!

We love you completely!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Strange Ways Of The 70's

I've taken to listening and watching YouTube videos of bands from the seventies and eighties. Because YouTube's algorithm actually puts similar videos as recommendations in the suggestion panel, it makes it easy to roll back through the hits of the day.

And no matter what age you are, the music of your teen years seems to always stay with you. It's such a formative time of life, that the music of the era seems to be life's soundtrack.

On top of remembering the songs, the words and the tunes, you associate the songs with certain situations or time frames - music is really cool that way. A few examples.

Firefall's song "Strange Way", puts me right back in my 68 Cutlass driving to Afton Alps skiing with some high school friends. I don't know if it played on my radio that night, but it was certainly a huge hit at the time. Because Top 40 was all there was for rock n roll radio choices, it was frequently played.

The Seekers "Georgy Girl", brings me back to the house we rented on Hubbard Avenue in Saint Paul after Dad was killed. It was kind of a dump, but was a marked step up from the housing projects we were living in before that. For some reason, I remember Mom telling me that dad always liked that song.

Vanity Fair's "Hitchin' a Ride" and Blues Image's "Ride Captain Ride" both take me back to the beach at Bayport in the early 70's. There was a beach house where you could play pinball, buy chips and a frozen Charleston Chew, (Crack 'em up!). Hooked up above the door of the place was a big speaker that blasted music for all the beach goers. These were a couple of the songs.

Shocking Blues "Venus" was a song that I absolutely loved as an 8th grader, So, when a classmate's band got up in the gym and played it along with a few other songs, I was floored. Furthermore, it was a super quiet girl who is the last person I would have ever suspected playing in a band, and there she was playing the bass - all cool like.

Badfinger's "Baby Blue" takes me back to my buddy Ross's apartment where we drank many cheap beers and listened to his kicking stereo. Ross had a thing for Badfinger. They were never my favorite, but I could appreciate them. And when you're at someone else's place, they have DJ trump over you.

There are so many more and believe me it can be a big time-suck for me once I've fallen into the pit of YouTube classic videos of these songs. But it sure is fun some times.

Music is magical to me in the way it can take me back to an allegedly simpler time. The music of the 70's will always be part of my story.

What were your memorable teenage songs?

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spring Sprint

Well, spring is fully upon us and that means many things.

It seems everywhere I turn I am blown away with a budding tree or bush. I can tell I'm over 50 because every year I am more awestruck by the beauty that each season brings, especially spring and fall - birth and death. Having a phone in my pocket makes passing these up without a photo nearly impossible. Why is that? Now I have a phone full of flowering crab trees. What good is that? I don't know, but I can't help it. It's a strange affliction.

My yard beckons to be tended to - a pastime I loathe deep to my core. We're hosting a small party for Ben's graduation in about a month, so something needed to happen. As a result, yesterday and today I spent some time tilling soil, picking rocks, picking weeds and even planting some bushes. It actually made me feel better - like progress was being made. Don't get me wrong, I still hate it to great depths, but at least I feel better.

Kids are approaching year end. This coming weekend my daughter will be done with school in Minnesota, so we will be taking that 5 hour trek to fetch her. We will only have her home for two weeks before she heads up to her internship job in northern Wisconsin, but it means our family will be back to whole again. At the same time, my son is finishing up his final exams and his Advanced Placement exams which count for college credit (almost always). There is just a whole lot of logistics that goes with all of this as well as the preparation for this fall. And don't even get me started about the financial stress. Yikes.

Fishing season opened this weekend, and I didn't wet a line. As I mentioned, the house takes priority at the moment, but I will be going when we take Sarah up north for her internship in a few weeks, so I will be fishing soon enough. It will serve as my reward for busting tail on the gardens/yard.

With all the nice weather, my bike beckons as well. I managed to get 22 miles in this weekend on three different outings. I'm one of those weirdos that, if I don't get a chance to stretch my legs and work out the stress of my day, I get crabby. So, being able to bike most days of the week keeps me sane.

So, while I love the season, I feel a little like I'm running in front of the train with only one shoe and the other one is not properly laced. It should slow down a little after Ben graduates, but it'll heat up again in the fall. This is called the cycle of life, I believe. And as crazy as it is, we'll get through it.

I hope your spring season brings hope and happiness after our long winter.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Wrasslin'

Well, I finished the second complete edit of my book-in-progress. (Still untitled)

The good news is I don't completely hate it. In fact I'm sorta falling back in love with it. It's like the girlfriend you've been around for 5 years and recently broke up with, but then you realize she has some really redeeming qualities, so you call her up again.

And you say, "Hey, wanna get Chinese?"

So, I guess I'm at the Chinese stage of birthing a book.

We're dating again.

Talking civil again.

It is really amazing what a good thorough edit can reveal. Several times I fixed repetitive words of the week. Sometimes there times where I fixed things like times, like, multiple times, times two.
From the Porch of 1121 Portland.

Finding these "words of the week" as we call them in my writing workshop, has become a skill after correcting myself from them over a period of years. Yet I still do it. I guess the important thing is that they get caught before it goes to final edit. But still, you would think after doing this for eight years or so this kind of pen hacking would cease.

But that is the nature of writing. It is an ongoing struggle to master the English language and form cohesive streams of thought.

Now, I started my third edit last night and came across another annoyance. In the first paragraph of the book where I start by talking about our porch, for some unknown reason I end the paragraph talking about our solid maple doors.

On the porch? I think not!

What the heck, man. Have you ever written before?

While the talk of doors might have fit somewhere else in the book, it certainly had no place where it lay. The question is, how did I miss it the first time through? And how did my workshop colleagues miss it?

What the heck, man. Haven't they ever written before?

There were a hundred other little annoyances in edit #2 as well. Paragraphs that were too short. Sentences that were too long. Subject changes mid paragraph and repeating an event that was mentioned earlier in the book.

All of this stuff makes reading more arduous for the readers. Authors should look at their readers' time as precious and not beat them up with writing that reads like a seventh grader.

And so I'll go through it a third time, hopefully with considerably more ease than the second time. From there I will pass it on to my friend and editor in Michigan. She will go through it essentially a fourth time.

From there, we should be good to go. Overall, I'm keeping on track, despite occasionally sounding like I'm writing while knocking off a bottle of Scotch.

Stay tuned.

Blogging off,,,

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Among The Fellowship

Yesterday I attended the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Spring Conference at the Park East Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. This is a statewide group of writers and poets who come together twice a year at various locations around the state. Because I've only been a member for a couple of years, and I'm busy with other writing pursuits, conferences and, well, to be honest, life, I haven't had the chance to attend a conference. But when I heard they were meeting in Milwaukee, I decided to make it a point to go.
Featured Poet: Mark Doty

I'm glad I did.

There were about 110 people there, a turnout much higher than I expected, frankly. Their agenda featured everything from a business meeting, to "Roll Call" open mic poems by people in the audience to featured poet Mark Doty. 

While the group was heavily tilted on the over 50, white female crowd, there was a decent cross section of age and race as well. I noted a lot of grey hair, to which my wife reminded me of my own grey - what is left of it anyway.

Demographics aside, there were lots of moving words and powerful voices despite a mic system that was more annoying than helpful most of the time. (From my perspective, The Park East Hotel is in need of some significant updating, but I digress.)

Some of the highlights of the day were:

  • Finally getting to hear Marilyn Taylor (ex. Poet Laureate for Wisconsin) read in person. I now understand why my writing instructor worships her. She was fantastic.
  • Ex Milwaukee Poet Laureate Matt Cook had the crowd in stitches with his brilliant work. He takes the benign of daily living and makes it absurdly hysterical.
  • Hearing a couple of "Milwaukee Voice" poets recite great poems about racial unity and division. A teen did a memorized prose poem about the murder of 15 year old Emmitt Till by Klansmen in 1955 that brought the house down.
  • Talking with fellow poets I'd met on Facebook, but never in person. Facebook is the great uniter for building community and because of it, you see someone at a conference like this and suddenly, you have an instant friend.
  • Reading one of my own poems titled Wednesday's Child in front of 100 of my peers. 

Poetry is such a niche genre. People who read fiction and non fiction often times have no time for poetry. They "don't get it" and I get that. Some of it I don't get, either. But in a setting like this with all the talent and diversity, if you sit long enough, there is something for everyone. 

Of course, poetry, like any other artistic endeavor, has a few crackpots and eccentrics. That's part of the reason I go to things like this. It broadens my vanilla-white-middle class-male perspective on the world. It's the eccentrics and the crackpots that keep it interesting, colorful and beautiful.

And when they can write phenomenal stuff like some of these folks it makes the world a better place.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Time Warp

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm having a hard time here.

It's this whole kids growing up thing and the looming inevitability of an empty house in less than six months.

I'm not a fan.

I know this sounds crazy from someone who should look forward to those quiet nights without having to worry where he or she is, or waiting to hear the car come into the driveway. After all we work hard to raise good, responsible, equipped children, so when they start showing signs that they're ready to leave, we should rejoice and push them gently out of the nest.

Well, I'm not ready, just yet.

Last night was yet another reminder that our time together under one roof is short. We attended Ben's Scholar/Athlete Banquet at Waukesha South High School to see him accept his award along with 260 other students. This award is given to any student who participated in at least one sport and maintained at least a 3.5 GPA for their first semester.

Now I'm the proudest father around, that much is true. I always say I don't know what we did to get such a smart couple of kids - way more academically adept and engaged at that age than I was. So this event nearly brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Hearing some of the stories about kids overcoming adversity, or excelling in their upperclass years after joining a sport late, was nothing short of inspiring. To see my kid up there with the top achievers both athletically and academically meant the world to me.

But I don't want it to end.

And then, last weekend we had to watch him prepare and set off for his last prom. We were reliving our own prom experiences in a conversation with some friends and were commenting about how nervous we remember being. Now, he was likely feeling the same. And while I think he was more than happy to have it come and go, I didn't want it to be the last prom I'd have to take pictures for for my kids.


Part of me wants the little kids dancing in the living room at ages 2 and 5 again. I want trips to Frame Park where I push them on the swing. I miss watching Sarah screech and squeak her way through a 5th grade. I want to cheer Ben on at the soccer field again. I want picky eating, and tiny, little Velcro sneakers and cute little sweatshirts.

As strange as it sounds part of me will miss the chaos of mornings where the bulk of the action is getting one or both of them up out of bed and off to school. I'll miss Christmas concerts and "Family Fun Nights at the grade school where we sugar them up with Pixie Sticks, play some games and hang out eating bad hot dogs in the sweaty gym with the music blaring.

I know these feelings will probably pass, and may even do so much quicker than I think. But I think the only thing I can do is appreciate the days I have left with Ben hanging around. The other day, he left me a cinnamon crunch bagel in a bag from Panera where he works now. They give the bakery away at the end of the night and he was thoughtful enough to set one aside just for me.

Now you might think it a strange thing for a 55 year old grown man to do, but I kinda got choked up. Part of the cause was knowing that this kind of thing is soon to stop as well.

But it also means we did something right.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Boat Time

A few weeks back, I wrote about a friend of mine from back when I was in high school. His name is Pat and he and I have been friends ever since. My point was that there are certain friends in your life that impact the person you are, what you think and believe. Pat is one of those guys, especially in regards to helping me form my faith.

So in keeping with the spirit of writing about close friends, I have to mention another of those guys, my friend, Steve. He and I met through our wives over 25 years ago. Our wives worked together at the Southeastern Wisconsin Center for Independent Living (SEWCIL). I still remember the first time we met, the four of us went out to a movie (in 1991 or so) and then went back to their apartment where we grilled out and talked.

Over the years, our wives grew to be best friends. We attended Brewer games, bowled together, helped each other with house projects, attended the same church for a while and much, much more. While Steve and I were friends, we were still sort of the fallout of our wives friendship. The two of them were what kept the two of us together.

I guess if I had to pinpoint what changed our friendship, it would be a fly-in trip to Canada that we took in 2006. Steve's wife gave him the trip as a Grad-school graduation gift. Donna arranged to have me go with as part of it, and it didn't take a lot of arm twisting to get me to say yes.

The trip brought 5 days of driving, fishing, laughing and talking. When you're thrown together for extended time periods like this, you're kind of forced to get to know each other at a deeper level. While we talked about life, our spouses and our faith, the biggest revelation might have been that we both share a love of fishing that runs deep. I still say the night we found a great walleye hole was one of the best nights of fishing of my life.

Well, the rest is history. We had such a great time fishing Canada that we went back two other times, both of which were even better than the first. We also fish locally when we can and he even helped me learn the ropes of Musky fishing and was part of helping me catch several fish of lifetime.

All of this time in a boat together has forged a friendship that will last the rest of our lives, of that I am confident. I refer to him as the brother from another mother and the passing of our brothers from cancer, literally within 12 months of each other made that statement strikingly real and relevant. Our losses only served as another commonality between us. When you lose someone as close as a brother, it brings everyone a little closer, especially a good friend.

And for that I am thankful.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Using Caffeine to Find Heaven

I have mentioned in past posts that my Thursday mornings are spent drinking coffee with anywhere from one to four other friends at Café De Arts in Waukesha. We typically try and work our way through a book, often times by an edgy Christian author like Brian Zahnd, Peter Rollins or Rob Bell.

While I don’t always align 100% with the teaching or proclamations of each of these books, I cannot deny that they all challenge me to think outside the box. They often show me that I am comfortable putting my faith or my God in my own little box. I won’t go into specifics of each, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if I am not questioning what I’ve always believed, then how will I ever grow in my faith.

Anyways, a bit of a tangent there.

Our discussion today turned toward heaven and hell, but mostly heaven. We started by postulating what heaven was like. It made for some interesting and, as often with this group, some far-out ideas. Those far-out ideas would take turns and devolve into humorous abominations of the original idea. In other words, we sometimes stoop to laughing about it because it is such an incomprehensible subject that we don’t know how else to deal with it.

Some of the ideas were:

Working 24/7 – Someone had the crazy thought that what if when you got to heaven, you got a shovel and a wheelbarrow and were set to work to make Earth a better place? That maybe if your time on earth was well spent (Well done, good and faithful servant) that God put you on the fix earth team. And that for eternity, heaven wouldn't be lounging around on clouds, but work - enjoyable, rewarding work, unlike any here on earth, but work nonetheless. I guess I never thought of it that way. It lead to one of the guys asking if there would be break times. Because. that's important.

Singing 24/7 - Or maybe we will spend our eternity singing as a form of worshipping God. One friend admitted singing wasn't his gift, but his grandmother would be ecstatic. The guy went on to say that it might get to be a little much after about the first 1000 years of singing. "Okay now, verse 3,446,410. Sounds a lot like the last one."  Of course someone asked if there would be breaks.

Hobbies 24/7 - Maybe heaven is nothing but things you enjoy the whole time. Or maybe you're limited to One Thing. (What would yours be? Mine would be fishing.) The consensus was that even something you really love would get old after the first 1000 years. This led someone to ask if we could maybe take breaks from our hobbies to work a bit on some emails for work or something? Never thought of having a hobby become old and tiresome before.

Sunsets/Sunrises/Natural Beauty 24/7 - Maybe it is that stunning waterfall or rock formation or Redwood tree or maybe all of them in a constant loop. 

Father/Son or Parent/Child Moments 24/7 - This would actually be one of the more appealing ones. If you were on a constant loop of moments between Mother and Daughter, or Father/Son, but maybe you saw it for everyone that's ever lived. Kind of a cool thought, With breaks of course.

Not every Thursday goes this deep or this philosophical, but it's always a great way to jump start my day. We don't pretend to know all the answers to any of it, but it's great fun poking at ideas and seeing what seeps out. This week we didn't touch upon Hell much, but maybe that will come up next week.

What would your ideal Heaven be? 

Blogging off,,,

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Alleyway Reality Check

I helped a friend with his patio yesterday. He is a longtime friend and over the years we've taken to helping each other out with home improvement projects. It is what good friends do for one another - like family without the blood relations.

While the day was good, spent with a friend, followed by a drink on their deck afterward, it was not what stood out to me on the day. No, that was something much more sobering.

As we were driving out to pick up the gas powered compactor, we came across his neighbor, Bob who was puttering in the alley. Bob was probably in his early sixties and was hobbling around like he was in pain. When Steve stopped and said hi, he asked Bob how he was doing. Bob told us he was in a lot of pain. He'd had a couple of cortisone shots in his back a couple of days prior, but it hadn't touched the pain he was having. He went on a bit about his options coming up and after a couple of minutes we told him to take it easy and went on our way.

Then, after we had compacted Steve's patio, we were driving down the alley and came across another neighbor down the block. His name was Mike.

Steve said, "Hey Mike, I see you grew all your hair back. How's it going?"

"Well, the Doctor said I'm 'stable,' whatever that means."

We talked a good while with him. Turns out he has brain cancer. He showed us a 7 inch scar on his scalp and said that there was much of the tumor that they couldn't safely remove.

After some more questions from us, he revealed that he was terminal. Doctors say they don't know how long it could be, but likely 3 years or less. Mike is about my age - mid 50's.

Now, before yesterday, I did not know Mike from anyone. I still barely know him. But his news and his circumstances were positively sobering. Steve and I both shared our stories of losing our own brothers to cancer in the same year. Cancer was our common thread - our connection point.

And it shook me up.

It made me realize once again that what matters most is hearing from other people that they are thinking of you, that you are praying for them, and that they care. It made me reaffirm how I need to keep looking at my life and living it with a sense of urgency. There are important things to be done, and hoarding material possessions or envying someone else's house, or dwelling on petty grievances, building wealth, worrying about having enough for retirement and other such things is a monumental waste of precious time.

Help someone, tell your kids you love them, spend time with friends, feed the poor, pick up litter (and tomorrow, pick up more), mind your diet and health, love your spouse or significant other or niece or nephew or parents.

I don't mean to preach, but life is short. Do it well.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Climbing The Ladder

Today at work we were talking about our kids and how we want them to be successful in their careers and that as much as we would like to, we can't live that part of their life out for them. They will have to make the choices, one at a time, that take them through their working life. They will question their choices, weigh the benefits, and probably take a fall or two in the process.

My son has already had a couple of jobs and is currently embarking on his third one at Panera Bread. Of the first two, one was a pretty positive experience (groundskeeper at a church) and the other was not so good (checker/cart boy/bagger at Woodmans). The not so good experience gave him a taste of how bad management and policies can make a job not-so-fun. He was finally let go when he was sick with pneumonia - including a doctors note - and was unable to cover his shifts. He bid good riddance and is a better person for it. I've heard from many people that Woodmans' management policies are pretty laughable.

Anyway, my coworkers and I were talking about how we got to where we are today. In my case, I took a job right out of college doing manual map drafting for a Minneapolis mapping firm, Markhurd Aerial Surveys.)  The job was pointed to me by my girlfriend at the time. This was a woman I dated for only a few months - one of those connections that I'm certain was put in my life to get me a job.

The interesting part of this job was that it only paid $5.50/hour.

With a college degree.

My friends pretty much laughed at the fact that I would even consider it. My point was that I was doing a job I loved, in my field of study, and gaining valuable experience in the process.

Well, it led to a layoff. Then, a job offer in a place called, Waukesha, Wisconsin to do "CADD mapping". It was a significant pay increase to...$7.50/hr! Now, most people thought this was hardly worth moving out of state for a $7.50/hr job. But this time my rationale was similar:

Take a job that I would love, in my field of study, gaining even more valuable experience, for a little more money!

That was the leap of faith I would tell my kids to take today if they were doing the same thing. I would question it, no doubt, as my own mother did when I moved. But I think it is these leaps that give us the most growth. I was scared to death driving across the state of Wisconsin, but I am glad I followed my instincts, because it lead me to a career that I have been blessed to have.

So this summer my Sarah will be taking an internship in Vilas County, Wisconsin. It will give her valuable experience, for a little pay and give her a sense on whether environmental science is what she wants to pursue.

And we will be right there with her, cheering her on.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

From The Podium

Ever since the release of Dirty Shirt, I have been forced to do a fair amount of public speaking and presentations. It is one thing to write in a bubble, as I am doing right now in my living room with headphones in, but quite another to take your work into the world. It is also absolutely essential for any author to get out there and push their book once it is published. In many cases this requires writers to go WAY outside their comfort zone and do fun things like readings, signings and schmoozing with the public.

Now, I'll admit that the idea of this requirement was one of my biggest fears when I first heard that Dirty Shirt had been accepted. I don't much like the spotlight and other than a few work presentations, I really haven't done much public speaking since college. It's not my favorite thing to do. I'm a bundle of nerves and it typically shows.

However, now that I have been at this for coming up on three years, I have become much more comfortable at public appearances. In fact, in a couple of days I have another poetry reading in New Berlin at the library for an hour. Unlike my Dirty Shirt presentation, this one is just reading some of my work and talking a little about the inspiration behind some of them. My Dirty Shirt schtick is much more involved with slides, mixed with readings and other things.

So tonight I was able to book another Dirty Shirt book signing for September 1st, 2017. This time it is in Minnesota at The Paperbacks Plus Book Store and represents only my second signing in my home state. On top of these two appearances, one is in the works for Tribeca Gallery and Books in Watertown, Wisconsin sometime in May (or, worst case, July).

The kicker is, I never thought I would be doing book signings and appearances as long as three years after a book comes out. I figured a good year and things would dry up. While I understand you are never really DONE selling your book, I figured the opportunities for selling it would become much less frequent than they have. Not a bad thing, mind you, just surprising.

Even more funny is the fact that just about the time the signings slow to a snails pace, my next book will come out. (I am hoping for a year end acceptance and a spring or early summer 2018 release.) So if I think that soon enough I'll have time to breathe and relax for a bit, I am dead wrong.

At that time, it will all ramp up again. All the peripheral stuff that goes with promotion, including lots of soliciting of bookstores, libraries and the like, will become my "other full-time job" as I like to refer to it.

And you know what? I'm really okay with the thought of that. It's what it's all about.

For more about my coming events, visit:

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Little Tree Hugging

I have written this post in advance because tomorrow (Wednesday) I am headed to northern Wisconsin for a retreat for a statewide board that I sit on. The event is in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin which is about twenty minutes from where I musky fish every fall and about forty minutes from the cabin we stay at every fall.

I frequently refer to this area as "God's Country." It is the place of tall pines and birch trees and lots and lots of lakes. In Minnesota, anywhere north of Duluth is very much the same. These areas are soul restoring for me. To hear the wind in the trees and to see eagles soaring overhead lowers my blood pressure about ten points.

Today on Facebook, I came across an article reporting that some thieves have been pillaging stands of birch trees in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. They are using the logs to sell to people for decorative fireplace pieces. 

This was both sad and shocking to me. It seems like there is no decency in some people anymore. It's not quite as bad as say, wiping out a whole rain forest, but it's the start of a North American equivalent. Greed does strange things to the hearts of men.

At the same time, there are mining companies trying to push through building a sulfide mine on the edge of the BWCA. In addition to the devastation to the landscape that this would cause, it threatens large portions of the BWCA watershed in the event of a disaster. That alone to me seems to be enough not to allow it, but money drives business, so it's a thing. Hopefully a thing that will be squelched, but a thing nonetheless.

The same holds true for the Porcupine Mountains. There are copper mining prospects being sought out these sensitive areas as well. We hiked that area last summer and the thought of any kind of mining makes my skin crawl.

I can only hope level heads will prevail when push comes to shove on these areas of God's Country. If we don't remember how lucky we are to have them, how are we going to pass them on to our children to enjoy. 

Write your congress person. Visit these areas. Speak out. Educate. Protest. Protect.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Eyes Wide Open

This was one of those weekends where every time I turned around I saw the triumph of the human spirit. I saw people living their lives to the fullest, pushing themselves and making the world a more beautiful, enjoyable place to live. And I'm not sure if it is my age or just an awakening of some sort, but when I see things like I witnessed I take hold of them and it restores my faith in the world and in humanity. With all the darkness and despair in the world today, when I see points of light from anywhere, or in the case of this weekend, everywhere, I regain hope for my kids and their kids.

It started on Friday night when we went to see a couple of blues bands at Anodyne Coffee Roastery. The warm-up band was named Big Al Dorn and the Blues Howlers, and they blew the doors off the place. And I am a sap for live music anyways, but to see these talented young musicians playing their hearts out and playing the blues like they were meant to be played, just made my heart soar. The lead singer also played harmonica and guitar on a few numbers and was a testament to the gifts and abilities artists are capable of with commitment, practice and applying themselves. They were followed by The Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys a band of older guys who were phenomenal too.

Musicians pushing themselves as proof of the creative triumph of human spirit.

The other part of the Friday night thing was the dance floor. It was filled with people, most of them over 55 years of age I would guess. And while my friend said that it was like being in a Cialis commercial, it was also so cool to see people of that age out there enjoying life and not giving a damn what people thought.

Evidently there are clubs for these kinds of folks and while it's not for everyone, I give credit to people who are not letting age slow them down. It's much easier to live life in a barcolounger, but these people were a lot cooler than that. I'm not quite ready to join that club yet. Talk to me after 60 when I really don't care what people think. Ha!

Old people pushing themselves as proof of the triumph of human spirit.

Then on Saturday I had a local author fair at the New Berlin Public Library where I and several other authors were hawking our books. And while the sales were slow, I still met some of the coolest people. One guy I was talking to was sharing some of his story and while he was very humble, when I went online and looked at his website, I saw that he'd written professional articles for NASA, taught English in Korea and a ton of other fascinating history.

And I met a couple of teen writers who were telling me how much they enjoyed writing fantasy stories. I urged them to keep writing - keep following their passion - and that it will carry them far. It was refreshing to see kids engaged in something that didn't involve a phone or a screen.

Young people pushing themselves as proof of the triumph of human spirit.

After the event when I got home, I was walking to our local library to write a bit and saw a track meet going on at Carroll University. I stopped and watched for a couple of minutes and was transfixed. Again, I don't know if it was the beautiful weather or my age or what, but to see high schoolers chucking Javelins, running distances, long jumping and pole vaulting just made me glad to be alive. It's weird. I can't explain it. It's and old guy thing, I think - because that used to be me. It's called living life to the fullest and it starts in high school I think - maybe even before.
High School artistic amazement.

Athletes pushing themselves as proof of the triumph of human spirit.

Once I arrived at the library, I found they were featuring an artist exhibition from local high school and technical college. As I gawked at the works before me I tried to get into the mind of the high school artist. This stuff was beautiful, and bizarre, and creative and wonderful. Some of the same people that were out chucking javelins were drawing some of these charcoal drawings, these oil paintings, these sculptures. It was humbling.

Artists pushing themselves as proof of the triumph of human spirit.

And it finished out today as I attended a fellow author's book launch party. This is a woman who was in my class 7+ years ago at AllWriters Workplace. On several occasions she has cheered me on saying "I remember when you first started writing your Boundary Waters stories so long ago. Now you have a book." And now SHE has a book, because she stuck with it and persevered.

Writers pushing themselves as proof of the triumph of human spirit.

So, tonight my heart is full. My faith in humanity is restored and overflowing. There is so much goodness and beauty and passion in the world. And with that we all need the reminder that to experience that we need to get out of our safe little bubbles and experience it, be it, and do it.

We need to live, dance, sing, paint, write, run, jump, draw, interact, engage and open our eyes to the beautiful world and its people around us.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chipping Away

It is an interesting time on this writing road for me at the moment. Much is happening, though nothing is happening.

I am in the middle of my second edit of my "House Manuscript" for lack of a title. It is absolutely amazing to me how every time I go through this thing, I find more errors, redundancies or stuff that I just don't like. One of the things I find more and more frequently is what my Monday night writing friends call the "Word of the Week". It's amazing that sometimes you can use a word like "door" ten times in a page and not see it.

And then there are cases where, because these stories were written as stand-alone pieces, I refer to something three times in three different chapters. The same thing - spun three different ways - in three different places. Enough already, man!

But that is the nature of a good editing session. As a writer, you tend to fall in love with your work the first time out.

"Oh, this is so good. I amaze myself! People are going to love this part."

By the end of the second edit you're ready to change careers, because obviously this is not your thing.

Seriously though, I think I could look at this thing 10 times and still find stuff that is either nonsensical, wrong or that I simply hate. But I take it as part of the process. I am looking at it as a marble sculptor. You chisel out the rough outline first, then the less coarse pieces, and finally down to the point where you're sanding it smooth. This is done with the hope that you don't chip off the nose or a major appendage in the process as well.

But here's the kicker. I am REALLY excited about the book again. And that is a good thing. Because, like Dirty Shirt, I had my ugly fight with this book and told it it was not my friend anymore. I scolded it, called it some bad names and even stopped feeding it for a bit while I was dating my girlfriend poetry.

Poetry is like the Las Vegas call girl for a memoirist having a fight with his genre.

So, I owe a boatload of thanks to a good friend of mine in Michigan who said she was sad to hear me griping about an accomplishment as big as a "finished" book. She snapped me out of my "hate my book" funk and got me back into doing the hard work, the no-fun work of making a good manuscript better. And as I go through it I am getting re-energized about the prospect of finishing and getting the thing published.

The other big thing I'm still excited about is my poetry chapbook titled "On a Road" that is currently out to eight or nine publishers. It is only a collection of twenty poems, but I am super jazzed about the way it came out and think it is unique enough to draw attention from one of those publishers. If it does, I imagine life will become even busier in 2018.

And I'm okay with that.

A couple of literary dates to remember:

  • April 1st - I will be selling and signing books at the New Berlin Library for their Local Author Fair. Details Here

  • April 11th - I will be reading poetry as the New Berlin Public Library as the featured poet. Details Here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Crappy Paragraph

I am a firm believer of taking stock of one's life from time to time. I'm not talking about the New Year's Resolution kind of stock - looking back at the year - but rather just a day to day assessment of where I'm at, where I'm heading and where I've been.

And when I do that from the place that I am in my life right now, I see almost exclusively good things. The best gauge of all of it I guess, would be to rank my level of happiness. In my day to day life am I happy? If so, how happy?

To which I would have to answer, extremely happy. (Well at least lower case extremely. Ha!)

This is for a number of reasons.

  • I have been blessed for coming up on 27 years with a wife and friend who loves me despite my me-ness and puts up with all that I am not. She knows what I value and shares many of those same things. She is my rock and I laugh as hard with her as I did the day we first met.
  • Watching my kids go to college and prepare to go to college makes me incredibly happy. They are/will be experiencing what I remember as some the best days of their life. I want to relive those days vicariously through them. College was a time of awakening, learning and stretching. 
  • I have a family back home in Minnesota and another in New York that support and love me. My mom is still a source of great inspiration and I'm lucky to have her around. My Minnesota family has been a great safety net for Sarah as she attends the U of M and I'm grateful for that. At the same time, my New York family has been a great support system for my Father and Mother in-law as they deal with health issues. Blessings 750 miles away.
  • I still love my work and this year have become more involved on the board of a statewide organization that has reconnected me to the GIS community and brought a ton of new friends into my work life.
  • I have three published books (albeit two of them smaller poetry collections) and have another memoir well along toward publication (as well as a poetry chapbook that I am keeping my fingers crossed with.) 
  • Along with the above point comes the writing community that I am a part of. I've met so many cool, creative, fun writers these past seven years that it's hard to put into words. They are the source of my Monday sanity as we work through each others' words and put them right. 
  • I've got a good-not-great house in a great neighborhood that most days I don't hate. Could be worse, but I suffer house envy quite frequently.
  • My church community CollectiveMKE is the best. It's as unconventional as church can get I think, and I learn more from it every week than I did within the walls of conventional church.
I point out these positive things not to gloat or beat my chest, but rather to remind myself how lucky I am. It was all possible in part by the leg-up that Mom gave me in putting things like education and hard work as priorities for all of us kids. 

At the same time, I try and take notice because it's not all rosy all the time in my head. Most of the time I wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. Will it be a health issue? A death in the family?

Furthermore, each of these good things comes with it's own bag of worries. Mountainous college debt, fear of literary failure, health concerns every time I get a new click or pop, and worry that my kids will continue on a good and successful path. And there are concerns about impending changes at my workplace in the coming year, the upkeep and maintenance of two aging vehicles and a house that's 95 years old this year. Add to this aging parents, and the increasing list of things that I'm adding to my "wanna do but probably never will get to before I die," and, well, like I said, it's not all rosy all the time. 

But that's life.

I realize these are all first-world white guy problems, but I guess my point is, we can all get lost and buried in the last paragraph crap. Dwelling in that area knows no race, gender or age. And it's not to say that the last paragraph isn't deserving of some attention. It's all legitimate worrisome stuff - if you're into that. 

But if you want to live better, live in the bullet points, not the last paragraph. Focus on the richness of who and what you have and not what you don't or what you fear. That stuff won't go away, or at best will just change its face. 

Because life is too short to wallow in the crappy paragraph. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strawberry Roll Ups and Coffee

One of the cooler things I've seen people do on Facebook is call out or recognize a friend who has been either a good friend for a long time or someone who has carried them through a tough time. I have many of both, but want to make it a point to blog about some of them over the coming months. They won't be in succession, but rather periodically as I feel inspired.

I want to start with a long-ago friend who I still consider one of my best friends. His name is Pat and he lives in Minnesota. Pat and I went to St. Lukes grade school together, then on to Cretin High School after that. The two of us and a couple of other friends were inseparable in high school. In fact a couple of them even made it into my book, Dirty Shirt as part of the high school trip debacle.

One of the things we did with a fair frequency in college was "road trip" up to St. Cloud Minnesota after I got off work at 8:00 PM to go out for a couple of beers. We made the trip in his VW Beetle, which was likely quite a sight, as we're both over 6'4". Then, afterward we typically went to Perkins for a 1:00 AM breakfast which always included a pot or two of coffee. 

Strawberry Roll Ups for me, Granny's Country Omlette for Pat. Like clockwork.

We loved road tripping, even to mundane locations like St. Cloud, or Cloud-Town as we called it.

It was those late night hours eating and drinking bad coffee that I treasure as some of the funnest times in my college days. Pat was a Christian and a guy I still attribute to shaping my own faith. We talked about faith, girls, school, family, friends and a ton of other subjects over breakfast for hours. Everyone should have a friend like that - someone you can talk to for hours without even realizing the time that is passing. 

Pat and I had similar upbringings, both coming from big, Catholic families. But what drew me to Pat more than anything was his sense of humor. We laughed so hard some nights. We probably didn't take life seriously enough at that age, but we sure had a good time. 

About my sophomore year in college, Pat moved away to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend a Bible college. It was weird not having him around, but he was restless at the University of Minnesota and not happy in the channels of a traditional University, so it was the right decision. He eventually finished his degree and became certified as a pastor. 
Me, Pete, Pat (R)

After college, I moved to Waukesha and while we didn't lose contact entirely, we didn't talk like we once did. He came to visit me, and I went to Tulsa to visit him. We were in each others' weddings, and every few years or so I'd get a call or send him a letter. He's the type of friend you can talk to and pick up right where you left off the last time you talked to him.

The last time I saw him in person was at the funeral for the mother of a mutual friend of ours. It was a brief outing over coffee, but really good to reconnect and find out how life is treating him. 

Thankfully, through the use of texting and email, we keep closer in touch now than the past 10 years. And while I have friends here, Pat knows me at a level deeper than probably any friend. That's what 40+ years will get you in a friend. And I hope there's many more.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spell Check Insights

Saturday afternoons have become my "anchor time" for writing. It is these two to three hours every week that keeps my book on track. Sure, I write through the week, but it seems that I need time at the library or a coffee shop to really get stuff done. Weeknights at home are filled with distractions and it seems that by 8:30 lately I start thinking about how good it would feel to be reading in bed. So, Saturday writing it is.

This past Saturday I was going to start a complete edit of my entire 75,000 word, 240 page manuscript for the second time. What occurred to me though was that I had never run a spelling and grammar check on the whole document, so I thought that might be a good use of my time. It revealed lots of fun little things.

Things like:

  • When I'm writing dialog, I'll often drop the g's off of words. Words like coming turn into comin' and going turn to goin'. It's not wrong from a writing standpoint, but it pains me a little to even write bad grammar - even though I am guilty of using bad grammar all the time. Ya see where I'm comin' from?
  • For emphasis, I'll lead some words with a few of the first letters of that word and follow with a multitude of the trailing letters. So when someone is in trouble, they'll say, "Oooooohhhh!" for example. The problem is I am never sure how many letters should be on one side or the other. For all of the rules in the English language, and there are a crap-ton of them, why is there no rule that "When writing for emphasis, thou shalt use 7 primary letters and 6 trailing letters." Call it a writing Commandment if you need to. Just tell me if I'm using too many or too few.
  • I didn't realize how many sound effects I'd used in a single book until Spell Check caught each of them and pointed them out as errors. Again, there are NO rules about sound effects. I think writers have free reign to make up words based on how they sound to THEM. So when I say a truck says Roooooaaar Brrrraaaap, well, that's how it sounds to me. To you it may sound like Pachelbel's Canon, but to me more like Roooooaaar Brrrraaaap! I actually enjoy making up words for these sounds as is evidenced below with a few examples.
    • Caclang!
    • Pffffttttt!
    • Fwoosh!
    • Cathrack!
    • Cathump!
  • I also realized I made up a couple of words. I feel more comfortable doing this in poetry - in the name of freedom of expression - but it always feels just a little wrong in memoir. But I did it anyway. We'll see what the old editor says about Arsonic. Merriam Webster defines it as: A word first coined by Jim Landwehr in 2017 to describe the tendency toward arson. Waiting on the copyright.

There were a multitude of other weird things that came up - including the need to look up the word  Jetway (don't ask) only to find it is trademarked and needs capitalization. Who knew? I guess these are the kinds of A-ha moments that only a writer can appreciate. 

In any case, the truth of the matter is that I have a 75,000 word book that, while a bit rough at the moment, is getting closer to becoming a real thing and that excites me no end. I learned in writing Dirty Shirt that during the editing process, often times the book gets better by subtraction rather than addition, as it goes. So I did a little of that yesterday as well.

But I draw the line at subtracting Brrrraaaap!

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Late Winter Yard Sale

I would consider myself a fairly active adult for my age. I fake my way through a 20 minute yoga routine every morning, walk or bike to work every day (3.2 mi. round trip) and do a fair amount of biking and kayaking during the spring-fall seasons. Winter is typically hard for me because I tend to dial my activity back and pack on a little winter fat. I might not show it, but trust me, I feel it. I carry around five to eight pounds every winter that I just can't seem to shake. Not a ton, but enough to make my pants annoyingly tight.

In an attempt to alleviate some of these issues and maybe keep the winter blues at bay, I got some new cross country skis for Christmas this year. I love to ski, but my old skis were just that, OLD.

Ironically enough, when I got them, I jokingly said that everyone could put away their snow blowers for the year, because it would mean no more snow - this prohibiting me from skiing. Well, it almost happened. Until this week, we've only had probably 3 inches of snow since New Years. So, when we got 6 inches on Monday, I wanted to get out on my skis.

Monday after work I did just that. The snow was fresh and the trails weren't tracked just yet, but it felt good to get out and schlep the old boards around a local county park.

Now, I have a dangerous love of speed that is inversely related to my ability to control my skis. It's one of the reasons I gave up downhill skiing. I love the speed, but am a weekend warrior on the skill side of things. Put it this way, I feel much more in control at the top of the hill than I actually am, once I hit full speed. Especially if there's a turn or two in the mix.

I got out again today despite the deteriorating conditions. My wife's parting comment was "Don't hurt yourself."

To which I replied, "I'll try and not fall and break a hip."

The trails were in "fair" condition with patches of dirt mixed in along the trail to add another variable that I probably could have done without. But, as I say, at the top of the hill, I'm king.

As I started out things were going well. Oh sure, there was the occasional wandering ski, but those were easily reigned in with great deftness. Until they both wandered at the same time and I faded into the brush like a runaway logging truck. It's not a preferred way to stop, but it's effective.

After I checked to see if anyone saw it I backed out of the shrubbery and resumed my route down the hill - allegedly wiser for the wear.

Well, before long things got going a bit faster than I would like - even with my adventuresome spirit. Not wanting a wander into the woods like a few minute earlier, I went into full snowplow mode. It wasn't a full panic at first, but quickly devolved into one.

Now, when I used to ski with a buddy back in the day, he turned me on to a term "Yard Sale." In skiing, a yard sale is a crash which leaves skis, poles and other items strewn about like, well, a yard sale. He and I had a couple of them back in the day.

Today I held my first yard sale in a few years. Somehow the snowplow turned into a face plant. Luckily I turned my shoulder and made a bad landing slightly less bad. And you know what the first thing I thought was?

"Oh no, I've broken my hip!"

Of course I was fine and got up chuckling to myself and looking around to see if there were any witnesses. There were not.

In typical Wisconsin fashion, after three days of good skiing, tomorrow we're supposed to get rain/snow mix. This means I'll put the skis away and save breaking my hip for another day.

But for today, it felt good to be young.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time Well Spent

There are ebbs and flows to parenting. Times of high concentration and focus on one or the other of our kids happens cyclically it seems and with the prospect of an empty nest in our immediate future coming this fall, I am especially in tune with these moments with my son, Ben. During my wife and my Saturday morning coffee yesterday, we agreed on how nice it was to have a couple of one-on-one years with Ben, while Sarah is off to college. Despite the door always swinging with his comings and goings, the time we do have with him has been rich and gratifying.

And while I love both of my kids. this week was one of high contact with Ben and I have to admit it was what I needed. We tend to cruise through our day-to-days sometime and forget to stop and talk - catch up on where each of us is really at. So this was good.

It started on Wednesday evening when we went to the Journal Sentinel Sports Show. This has become an annual event for the two of us over the past five years. We usually go out to dinner beforehand and then spend a couple hours walking the floor of the sports show. I was joking with him that the sports show is kind of like my "shopping mall experience" where I go to dream about buying things that I don't need and can't afford to impress people I don't care about.

We hit all the usual spots like ogling the $45,000 boats, checking out the knives and guns, and challenging each other to the BB gun shooting range. He beat me again this year, as it seems one of my shots missed the target completely. This explains why I fish instead of hunt.

One of the funnest things we did was watch the lumberjack show. They threw axes, cut trees with saws and axes and finished up with log rolling. Ben actually said "I seriously only thought logrolling was done in cartoons."

He's a city boy like his dad.

Then, on Thursday night we celebrated his swimming career with all of his teammates at the Waukesha South/CMH swim banquet. The coaches and players all got up and talked about the season. This year the South/CMH swim team took the state championship, so it was an especially festive event.

When Ben gave his speech about being one of the "junior walk-on" players, I got a little choked up. I have nothing but admiration for his courage and effort to join a team that late and do the things he did as a JV swimmer. We also joked about how I'd always regretted not lettering in a sport in High School, and here he was a two-time Letterman for the swim team. He even offered to let me have one of his letters. Now I just need to get it sewn to a jacket. Ha!

It was a great night.

And finally, on Friday we went to Madison to attend the YourUW event that is held for all students that have been accepted as freshman. It was an informational tidal wave, but I am glad I went. In addition to some orientation kinds of things, we got to ask questions from experts in several different areas. It was cool seeing Ben get excited about things like the prospect of a writing fellowship, campus groups and the possibilities of an Honors program. It was weird standing back and letting my 18 year old ask the questions, but I realize that's what needed to happen.

The first course in college is Adulting 101.

After all was said and done, Ben mentioned he wanted to go to the bookstore and maybe get a sweatshirt or some spirit wear. We went to the Kohl center and got him a T-shirt and it occurred to me that this was a telling sign that this is where he'd chosen to be. So, I think my boy's going to be a Badger, and, after our day Friday, I am totally cool with that. More on this in a later post.

My wife mentioned at coffee on Saturday that a friend of ours was having a hard time at the thought of sending their first daughter to college. I though Donna's advice to her was excellent. She told the friend three things:

  1. Appreciate this time with the one student you still have at home. This is an unprecedented time if you think about it. The older child has ALWAYS been around with the younger. You've never had time with the younger one alone, so use it well.
  2. Take time to start dating and getting to know your spouse and friends again. This could include taking a trip or do other significant local things together. Time with both friends and spouses will soon become abundant, so you need to rediscover this person you married, these longtime friends. You need to remember why you fell in love with your spouse or became friends with your friend group in the first place.
  3. Don't visit your daughter or let her come home for the first 5 or 6 weeks. This is her/his time to meet new people, find out who they are as a student and get acclimated to their new life. This probably sounds a little harsh, but it's worked for us. 

So, it's been a good week to be a father to a son. It's part of a good life being father to a daughter and son who I am incredibly privileged to raise.

Blogging off...