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...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lining Up Future Words

As part of my ongoing writing goals I try and keep things rolling with regards future projects. Of course, back when I first started writing this wasn't a problem. My goal back then was to write a story about the boundary waters canoe area. Then, the next week, write another.

In a weird chain of events, I am now a book and a couple of poetry collections into it and trying to keep the muse chugging along. I am finished with the writing of what I refer to as either the "Portland book" or the "house book," so am starting to look at what's next. I have a few ideas.

The first one came to me just the other day and is kind of unique, at least I think it is. I'm thinking of writing another memoir about my years attending an all male, Catholic, military high school in the late 1970's. The reason I think this would be interesting is mainly because when I tell people that as my high school experience, their eyes typically bug out - like I told them I went to Hogwarts or something.

We wore military uniforms and were taught by a mix of laypersons, Christian Brothers, and military men. We had uniform inspections every Monday where we were checked for well-shined shoes, brass, proper haircuts, etc. Part of our Freshman training involved going to the rifle range and shooting .22 caliber guns that weighed as much as the bumper of a 77 Chevy wagon and were at least as unwieldy.

I guess it was so long ago, and I take it for granted as my experience, that I never think much about how truly unique it was as a teenager to go through high school with this strange mix of Church and State. The whole thing was a trip and I think it needs a book. I'm still unsure if there's enough material there, but I really like the idea.

One of the other thoughts is to co-author one of the two books that my uncle has written that were never published. Uncle Jack passed away years ago and I would like to fulfill a dream of his and get one of them published. They are a little slow moving, so I would rewrite every chapter. I have requested to get the manuscripts from my cousin so I can scan them and look at revisions/rewriting. It's a big project, but I think the fact that it would be a posthumously co-authored book makes it kinda unique.

The final idea is to write about the courtship of my wife and I. Most of you have heard the story, but I would like to take some of the letters we wrote over those years and build it into a book. This would also be a tough challenge because I only have the letters to her from me. I managed to throw most of hers out. (I'm such a clod-man!) I'm not sure how I'd like to work it - maybe transcribe my letters to her and then try and rewrite hers. Or just transcribe mine and write about where I was at that point in my life. I don't know. If you have ideas, send them my way. I'm desperate here.

So, I have three possibilities without trying too hard. The fourth option would be to try and write a fiction book, which would be fun and a stretch for me.

My son is in the throes of trying to decide which of three colleges to attend next fall. One day he came in the house after school and lay down on the living room floor and writhed around saying "I don't know where to go to college..."

And it's funny because that's where I am with my next book.

"I don't know what to write about next..."  {Picture full grown adult writhing on floor}

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ode To Teachers

I am friends with, or related to, a number of Teachers. (I intentionally capitalized Teachers because I think their jobs are so important that they require a capital.) Both of my longtime closest male friends are Teachers, one teaches high school history and government (and is also married to another Teacher), the other is a physical education Teacher. I also have relatives on both sides of my family that teach. My father in-law taught math for more than 30 years.

I know I could never be a Teacher. It takes a special breed to do the job. Most will admit they do it for the love of teaching - the desire to make a difference in kids' lives if you will. And thinking about everything they have to deal with reminded me of a few Teachers that impacted my life. I think everyone has at least one that stands out. Some have many. Here are a few that made a difference in my life.

  • Wally Wescott - Wally was my sixth grade math Teacher. In addition to teaching, he also coached the football team, ran the school newspaper and organized a huge school-wide garage sale every year that raised thousands of dollars for the sports program. This guy was firm but fair. Out of the clear blue he started me, and undersized second/third string 8th grader, in the last football game of the season. He had no good reason to do it other than he wanted to reward me for giving 100% all year. I never forgot that. I even wrote him a letter as a thirty year-old and told him how much it meant to me.
    Wally Wescott, Upper left. Me, Front row, second from left
  • Sister Patricia - She was a nun who I had homeroom for for 4th through 8th grade. She was also firm but fair. She could be a little Kathy-Bates'-as-seen-in-Misery at times, but she always liked me. Nuns got a bad rap in parochial schools. I thought she did okay, considering who she was dealing with.
  • Mr. Tierney was our high school current events teacher. He was as progressive a teacher as I've ever seen. He taught school in a Network "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," manner. He encouraged us to think outside the box, to question authority, to get involved. His mantra was "It's the Corporations!!!" We never quite stood on our desks like Dead Poets Society, but if we had, I'm sure he would have been alright with it.
  • Mr. Hughes, aka "Hondo the Magician" was my homeroom teacher for four years in high school. Once he found out my father wasn't around he reached out and tried to connect with me. He even took a friend and I to a Twins game once. Nice guy and an amazing Teacher. (Though I never had his math class - he taught honors, and I was no honors math student, Ha!)
  • Kathie and Michael Giorgio teach me at the writing studio I attend, AllWriters. I feel you should never stop learning, and these two have taught me more about the writing craft than I ever knew existed. They've taken me from a one dimensional flat writer to 3-D. It helps that it's in a subject I love, but their passion for the craft shows through as well.
Our kids have their own memorable teachers as well. I'll never forget the time we met with Mr. Kunkel, the gifted and talented teacher taking time out and talking to us and Sarah about her abilities. He was pretty much spot on with his assessment. And Ben has a couple of great teachers too most notably his swim coach, who I also sent a note to, thanking him for his mentoring and the impact he's had on Ben's growth.

Teachers today are up against more demands with fewer resources than ever before. Class sizes are bigger and with shrinking budgets, they are asked to do more with less. I think we need to recognize the importance of what they do and take time out to thank them.

Who was the teacher that made a difference in your life?

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Almost Showtime

We are in the midst of a big decision for my son in the coming days. His most recent acceptance at UW Madison completed the trifecta of ideal colleges for him, the other two being UW Milwaukee and the University of Minnesota. All are great universities and none would be a bad choice, in my opinion anyway. I have friends and family that have been to all three and all have nothing but good things to say about each.

I can't help but feel my son's angst about making this difficult decision. Like me, he is an "experience person" who doesn't want to miss out on something - wants the whole experience.

He's even said, "I feel like if I go to Madison, I'll never get to experience where you, and my uncles and Sarah went to school. At the same time, if I go there, well, I really like the feel of Madison too."

I get that. Knowing both places like I do, there's huge things at both that I'd hate to miss.

And then I think back to when I was looking at colleges. At the time, Mom was still single and college, while seemingly expensive at the time, was still affordable. Tuition was nothing like how out of hand they have become since. It is shameful the debt we are putting on our kids just to get an education, but I digress.

Anyway, I really only recall having two options for college, the University of Minnesota and St. Thomas. Because St. Thomas was considerably more expensive, I really only had one choice. Tom was at "the U" and economically and geographically, it just made sense.

Along with all of the other details of getting accepted and choosing goes the whole FAFSA and Scholarship process. When your college costs the same as a new car, every year for four years, well, you need all the help you can get. Again because my college years were quite affordable, scholarships weren't as necessary.
Speaking at a conference as a Senior at U of M

Despite that, my freshman year I qualified for a BEOG (Basic Educational Opportunity Grant) which essentially paid my whole first year. When my Mom married during my freshman year, it put us into another tax bracket and that was the end of the BEOG. The saving grace is that I had a good job at Montgomery Wards and was able to pay off college as I went. I came out with zero debt. I think I might have been the last guy to do that...ever.

In any case, for the one academic year that Ben and Sarah overlap, we're looking at trying to juggle the financial burden of "two in college" and frankly it is mighty daunting. I have faith we'll make it happen, but I'm still kind of banking on that long lost Aunt Millie that will leave us a large inheritance. Aunt Millie, inbox me if you're reading this. We need to talk.

Until then, Ben is applying for every scholarship that is out there. It's pretty much a numbers game. Flood the market and hope for the best. Either that or the U will have to "cover me" based on my past record of never missing a payment. I know they'll jump at that one. Yeah.

We hope to have a decision in the next two weeks. This will allow us to start the ball rolling on housing and all the other things that go with signing on the line. Exciting and anxious times.

Badger, Gopher or Panther, he can't go wrong.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Maps And The People Who Love Them

I have been in mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for 32 years. For the past 20 of those years, I have been involved in a statewide organization known as the Wisconsin Land Information Association (WLIA). In layman's terms this is a statewide group of people who are employed in some sector of the geospatial industry.

These are map geeks. 

These are computer geeks. 

These are my people. 

As part of this organization's mission, they host an annual conference every year at a different location around the state of Wisconsin. This year was at Chula Vista Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. These conferences are the usual fare of educational workshops, user presentations, special interest groups, networking and social activities.

The past year I have been part of the Board of Directors for WLIA which is charged with a number of duties including putting together this conference. While I have been a member of the group for 20 years, I've learned more in the past year about all that goes into a conference. Here is a little of what we see and do at the conference.

Frosted brownie map of WI land cover
Every good GIS conference has a map gallery and WLIA is no different. Our conference actually hosts a map and poster contest where they have several categories of maps, small format, black and white, aerial and more. This year one entry was even an edible map - a frosted brownie with a map of land cover on it!

A beatuifully done historic atlas
Hillary/Trump cartogram displaying the same data 2 ways.
 Good Friends/Networking
Over 300 people attend this conference every year, and while I claim to be an introvert, nothing brings out the closet extrovert in me like getting together with old friends to talk shop, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. My boss' wife came to one of these conferences one year and, when she was done with a late evening of socializing with the GIS crowd, she said to him, "Do you
guys ever stop talking shop? Does anyone ever talk about their family?" And while she was being sarcastic, she wasn't too far off the mark. Sure we talk about family - a little - we are really here to solve problems, share successes and troubleshoot issues. There is a a level of passion in GIS that I am sure is present in other trades/industries, but we take it to the next level.

Cool Gadgets
Because we deal with technology and trying to make flat maps fit in a round world, we get to play
Stereo Pair Viewer
with some of the coolest gadgets and technology out there. (Well, it's cool to us, anyway.) Things like GPS receivers, Drones, and 3D printer/plotters. This year we had a 30 year celebration which we chose to use to display some of out "historic tools and maps" on a table in the exhibit hall. One of the cooler things I saw was a Stereo Aerial Pair viewer. You put two overlapping photos together under these and you get the illusion of 3D. The other was a Leroy lettering set that was used to add lettering to maps so it looked uniform, All of it's great stuff and we need to see these items of the past to see how far we've come.
Silent Auction
Every year we hold a silent auction to benefit students pursuing degrees in GIS. This requires a fair amount of grovelling and pandering to get donations - much of which is my task as coordinator. This year we raised over $3500 on the auction and between that and the raffles we hold, we raised enough for four $1000.00 scholarships. Having two kids in college (soon enough) I know the importance of every dollar in scholarships. 
AllWriters Basket O' Books for Silent Auction

On top of all of this, there were lots of people behind the scenes who, although they look calm on the exterior, are barely holding it together. They are the ones running between session rooms, their vehicles and the registration desk making sure their tasks are done. Without them, there is no conference. With them, the attendees have a better experience. 

Furthermore there is one woman who makes sure that everything runs smoothly and while she doesn't do it all, she is the go-to for so much of it. I have nothing but admiration for her calm demeanor and her authoritarian approach to things. When she gets on the phone to the hotel staff, SHIT HAPPENS. (Pardon my profanity.) I think every conference has one, but we have the best.

So as I spend the next couple of days recovering from "social overload," I want to remember how much I do enjoy and learn at these events. It's all good stuff, even for a closet extrovert.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February Bugs

You have to admit if you're a Midwesterner, this has been a bizarre couple of weeks in February. It actually is toward the tail end of a strange winter. When I got a pair of Cross Country skis for Christmas this year, I actually said, you can officially put your snow blowers away, as I'm sure it will not snow again, now that I have new skis. Well, it has literally only snowed an inch or two since New Years. I was only joking about the snow, but I am actually okay with it.

Throw on top of that the last couple of weeks where the temps have been between the high thirties all the way up to sixty eight forecast for tomorrow, and well, it gets stranger by the day. Knowing this, I've compiled a list celebrating this weather.

The top 10 things I like about sixty degrees in February.

  1. When the wind blows it doesn't hurt your face. Those below zero days when there is a twenty mile per hour wind are killers. 
  2. There are no wicked patches of ice to make me flail about when I hit them while walking to work. Nothing but dry pavement. 
  3. Hope. Having this warm stretch go for so long gives me hope that we're going to make it through the dark days of cold weather. Once we hit March, I know it's still not spring, but at least it's not December. Spring is right around the corner.
  4. Bugs. I actually saw a ladybug flying around outdoors the other day. Others have said they've seen mosquitoes. In February. Go figure.
  5. No heavy coat. I had to bust out my Fall/Spring coat because my winter coat was too warm. This is a good problem to have.
  6. Daylight/Sunlight. We've not only had warm weather, but the sun has been shining a lot lately. It is refreshing and helps my mood.
  7. Heating bills. I love our new furnace, but I love it more when it's not running because it doesn't need to. An unexpected perk of the warm temps.
  8. No shoveling/snow blowing. Usually in February there is some stubborn snow lingering, but I've been hard pressed to find any snow anywhere. Again, I'm okay with this. I'll use the skis (and the snow blower) next winter. Really.
  9. No hats required in the house. When the February winds get blowing, you could fly a kite in our house. My head gets cold and the only way to keep it warm is to wear a baseball cap around the house. It's Donna's temperature barometer of sorts.
  10. Walking to work involves biking to work. I took my bike to work on Monday this week. It was so nice that I thought why am I walking, when I can bike in half the time?
So, it's been a weird February, but frankly, I'm loving it. Friday it cools back down to 33, but hey, we're almost there now. I think we're going to make it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Shifting Sands Of Parenthood

I've been thinking about kids a lot lately. No, not having more kids, those days are certainly behind us, but more about the "kid years." As Ben approaches the end of his senior year of high school, the prospect of an empty nest is staring Donna and I in the face. Within the next seven months, we will have two empty bedrooms (a sad thing), no one to wake up for school every morning (a weird thing) and two cars that we can reclaim as our own (a good thing).

But I'm not sure I'm 100% ready for it yet.

If you had talked to me 15 years ago, when they were 6 and 3, I would have laughed in your face if you told me I'd be saying that today. There were weeks where the prospect of having even ONE child IN high school seemed an eternity away. Those days where it seemed all I did was work, go to the park with the kids, eat dinner, read bedtime stories, fall into bed and then repeat it in the morning.

And while I was plenty engaged at the moment, especially since, thank God, cell phones weren't a thing yet, I still wish I'd paid more attention. By that I mean I wish I''d realized how fleeting those moments were - those moments of tiny bodies, precious moments, dinners-with-daddy, living room dance parties, bath times, and all the rest. Sometimes you are so in the moment that you can't see the forest for the trees. All you see is what is next on the to do list.

  • Do the dishes.
  • Change the diaper
  • Get their jammies on
  • Pick up toys
And, as I said, I was fully engaged in my kids' lives - as much as any full time working parent can be,  I guess. Yet, I have second thoughts about
  • Did I spend enough time playing with them? 
  • Did I encourage them enough in sports and school?
  • Did I listen when they needed me to the most?
  • Did I savor those moments where they fell asleep in my arms?
I'm guessing I did, but I don't think you ever stop second guessing yourself as a parent. There are no rule books about how to do it right, we're left to the freestyle dance of parenthood when all we really want are the specific dance steps. 

These past two years when we've had just Ben around have been bittersweet. They've allowed us to focus our attention and energy on making sure he is launched into college with all the tools and support he needs. And to his credit, he has matured ten fold since the start of his junior year - swimming and having a job had a lot to do with that - so I think he's as ready as he needs to be. 

But it's also been tough because not only do I miss having Sarah around, I realize how deafeningly quiet it's going to be around here in a few months. It will be an interesting transition for Donna and I as well. We've been re-discovering our own relationship these past two years, but the rattle and hum that comes with getting our last child into adulthood and out on his own is about to cease. 

And I'm not sure how I feel about that. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Party Of The First Part

One of the little known facts about me is my love for old Marx Brothers movies. This goes back to the early '70's when on Friday Night at 10:30 they would sometimes show their movies as part of the Friday Night Late, Late Movie. (Another good show was Horror Incorporated  which showed spine tingling horror films on Friday.) On those nights I was too young to go out on Friday, these were the extent of my entertainment. This is back in the day when we had 4 channels (count 'em!) and one of those was a static filled PBS channel.

I remember always hoping they would do a Marx Brothers film or even a Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges. My brother Tom was the one who introduced me to Harpo, Chico, Groucho and Zeppo and I can remember both of us howling at their antics. 

Then for years they kind of fell off my radar. This was until the early early 90's when occasionally they would show one of their films at the renovated historic Paradise Theater in West Allis, Wisconsin. Donna and I used to haunt that theater often and see all the classic movies like Rear Window, African Queen, Hair, The Maltese Falcon, and many more. It was such a treat to see these great old films on the big screen and was usually only $5.00. But anyways, over time, they had a Marx Brothers film or two, which was cool.

So now, I've gotten my son hooked on their films. We've seen all of their films and most we've seen multiple times. We both have our favorite scenes, including:

  • The Tootsie/Frootsie ice cream horse racing digest scene
  • The peanut vendor hat burning 
  • The Doctor Hackenbush medical assessment scene
  • The "Thank ya" wallpaper scene
  • The Ice Man in the apartment scene. 
There are too many good ones to recall. 

Much of what I missed in my days of watching it as a youth was Groucho's hurling of insults and one-liners. Sometimes when he says something excessively outlandish, I just look at Ben with raised eyebrows and we just howl. Groucho Marx makes Michael Scott from the Office look politically correct. 

I think I am pretty lucky that I've got an 18 year-old who can appreciate the old classics enough to actually ask me, "Hey dad, you want to watch a Marx Brothers movie?" when he's feeling the need to laugh and connect. He has sent me animated GIF's on my phone with certain scene snippets of the boys and their hijinks. He also bought me a six DVD movie collection for Christmas that we've watched together a couple of times. We also occasionally quote lines from it or make references like "That looks like something out of a Marx Brothers movie."

I realize many people don't have the same appreciation for the old classics of the Black and White days, but I am glad I have someone to watch them with. Tonight we're watching their movie "Duck Soup," and we're doing it because we both just need a good belly laugh. And no one provides those like the three buffoons and their straight man (Zeppo).

Blogging off... 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mind Games

In my ongoing edits for my next book, I am increasingly called upon to recall events that happened forty years ago, or more in some cases. Looking back on my childhood, I forgot to carry a notepad around and write down every major event or milestone as they happened. Because of this, I am left to recall all everything by memory alone. It worked this way with the writing of Dirty Shirt as well. It was during that process that I discovered that sometimes we remember things wildly different than how they happened. 

For instance, I point to the story where, after tipping our canoe, we were left to try and find a campsite near our entry point. I originally had written that we camped on an undesignated campsite on a nearby island after paddling out of the stream system we were in. When I passed the story to my brothers to fact check, they both reminded me that we indeed did not camp at the island. They both agreed that we had tried to camp on the island but it was already occupied on its a designated site, so we were forced to camp on the mainland at an undesignated site. 

So much the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Of course, when they reminded me of it, I remembered that they were exactly right. Over time though, my memory had made up, or maybe pieced together, its own version of the story. The principles of the story were right, namely:

  1. We had tipped.
  2. We struggled to find a site.
  3. We camped at an undesignated site.
But somewhere along the line I made up the part about the island and convinced myself that it was where we stayed.

Just the other day I had a guy from work who had just read Dirty Shirt ask me if I had journalled durign those trips, or did I write strictly from memory. I told him it was all from memory and that even today I don't really journal on trips. My first purpose on any trip is to enjoy the moment, and I don't want to ruin that by having to take notes. 

However, I do think that I have a knack for remembering occasions and details maybe better than some people, which may be why I'm good at creative nonfiction. I think part of being an introspective person means I don't always say a lot, but am always taking it all in - sometimes down to the minutiae, like what song was playing or what a person was wearing. Being able to recall that and put it to words is what makes writing fun for me. 

With my current work in progress, just yesterday I was writing about how our house was burglarized three times in the early 80's. I had my own vivid recollection of each incident - or at least what items were taken. Because I wanted to be sure my facts were straight, I asked my mom and sisters what their recollection was. Of course it was different than mine, and because it had a more direct impact on my mom, I tend to believe her over my own story. We both had all the same items accounted for, it was just the order of which burglary involved which items. that was different.

(Yeah, I guess after looking back, we lived in a tough neighborhood. LOL)

Writing memoir is a constant reminder that our memories fail. As we deal with my mother in-law's dementia, I fear that such a devastating disease like dementia or Alzheimer's may some day strike me and take away my ability to keep doing what I love doing - namely writing about the past. At the same time, I always hear that things like reading and writing are the exact things we need to keep doing in order to stay sharp and in part to combat Alzheimer's.

And so, as long as I can, I aim to keep doing it. Remind me that I said that next time you see me.

Blogging off...