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...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rattle And Hum

My next book is centered around the house I grew up in in the 70's in St. Paul, Minnesota. Of course the bulk of the story is built on what life was like growing up with five siblings in a single parent home. As I've written the stories and presented them at writing workshop, people have assured me that the stories are applicable to anyone who's grown up with multiple siblings, a single parent family or both. There are enough humorous stories mixed in with moments of near-tragedy to keep the reader interested - at least I feel there are. My classmates reaffirm these hunches.

Tonight we had dinner with some friends who we've come to know who are pretty cool. We were introduced by another friend and have sort of latched onto them, in part because of their story, but mostly because they are fun to be around.

I mention this in relation to my book because, as I was telling Donna, the energy of their household reminded me of my own home growing up. They have eight children right now. Two are biological, one is adopted and five are fosters. Oh, and they have two dogs. So on every given day the energy level is significantly higher than around our own almost empty nest. 

Their kids are respectful and well behaved, but like when I was growing up, there is sort of an ever constant rattle and hum to the house. It is one I last experienced as a young father on those nights Donna was at her Pampered Chef parties, selling cookware. Those nights where I was not only responsible for getting dinner on the table, but also for post dinner PJ's and entertainment and bedtime stories. These paled in comparison to growing up when there were enough moods, attitudes and hormones circulating around the house that it was spectator sport to just sit around and watch ourselves get on each others' nerves.

There's a part of me that misses the loving chaos of a big family and these nights with our friends reminds me of how difficult it can sometimes be one minute, and how joyful and beautiful it can be the next. At one point, after dinner one of the children came up and just said "I love you, momma." A touching moment as the days energy level wound down.

While I'm not sure I could go back to having that many little bodies around, I have nothing but admiration and respect for these friends that have chosen to take these kids in, love them completely and raise them as their own. I'm sure their story is one of many like it, but I'm glad to be a small part of sharing in their lives, albeit sporadically at dinners when invited or in social situations when they manage to get a rare night out.

Because as cliche as it might be, sometimes it takes a village. And if we can be there to love their kids and share some laughs with the adults, well, that's a pretty cool village.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Super Bowl Of Sorts

Today we celebrate the biggest day in professional football, the Super Bowl. Many will gather with friends or family to watch the two most deserving teams square off in a quest for the Lombardi Trophy. There will be food, drink and lots of really, really costly commercials - some of which will make us laugh, others that will make us go Hmmm...and maybe one or two that will shock us.

And while it is a nice diversion from all that is going on in our country, it pales in comparison to what we experienced as a family yesterday.

Those of you on Facebook know that my son Ben swam his final meet as a senior at Waukesha South High School yesterday. It was the Junior Varsity Conference meet which is a playoff amongst all the teams in the Classic 8 conference.

Going into the meet, his goal was to simply "break 30," or in layman's terms, to better his time in the 50 Freestyle and come in at less than 30 seconds. Ben joined the swim team last year as a junior and to his credit has had nothing but a positive experience with it. He loves being on a team, especially in a sport where you are striving for personal bests in the name of helping the team do better overall.

To further complicate achieving this thirty second goal, Ben has been sick for nearly a month and his battles with a sinus infection have made his quest a season long struggle. So as we sat up in the stands, I said a little prayer that he not only break 30 seconds, but that he break it by a couple of seconds.

His first event was the 50 backstroke as part of a relay, a race he wasn't on the program for, but swam anyway. He did a great job, but it was just a warmup for things to come.

When he came up for the 50 Freestyle, I was a bundle of nerves. As they took off, he was neck and neck for the first 25 yards. He seemed to be thrashing and kicking with a bit more vigor than I've ever seen. After the turn, he inched ahead and ended up touching the wall at a time of 28.27 seconds. Ben looked up at the clock and fist pumped. A personal best by almost two seconds! I was filming the whole thing and if you watch, the audio portion tells the story.

The whole race - even though it was heat #7 of 11 heats in a JV race - nearly brought me to tears with pride. I was so stinking proud of him as well as super happy for him achieving something he'd set out to do.

Well, later in the day he went on to better his 100 yard freestyle by 11 seconds. Then he swam a 50 freestyle as part of a relay and bettered his time again, this time swimming a 27.85. It seemed that by achieving his first goal, his confidence boosted so much that the others came more easily. Sports are like that sometimes.

I mention this event not to boast about my son. Yes I am proud of him, this day spoke more to me about the good things that a sport can do for a person. One of the things Ben missed during his Freshman and Sophomore years was not being part of a team. He'd played football up till then and, despite not playing much, he loved being part of a team. So when he joined swimming, he was back with his tribe, so to speak.

I know that feeling and can speak to it from my own high school experience. I played football, soccer and ran track during my freshman and sophomore years, but dropped all sports after that. I loved being on a team, but because I was small, I didn't get enough playing time to keep my interest as a junior.

Cretin B-Squad Soccer Team - 1977
Looking back now, I really wish I had tried swimming. My sister in-law and her three girls were all swimmers, as was my wife and my brother in-law. They all got so much out of their experience - teamwork, preparation and sportsmanship, not to mention discipline and the health benefits. It is one of my few regrets about high school. (But I loved the sports I did play too.)

In a sense, this was Ben's Super Bowl of swimming. And while I'll enjoy the game today, it doesn't hold a candle to watching my son swim his heart out. These are the moments we latch onto and hold close to our hearts.

In my eyes, right up there with Desmond Howard returning a kickoff for a touchdown, you have Ben Landwehr swimming hard to the wall.

Blogging off...


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Beer And A Sandwich

My Tuesday night evolved in the strangest way into an odd, albeit rewarding evening.

Last week after my weekly coffee with the the boys at Cafe De Arts, I got a text message from my friend Claude who asked if I wanted to get together next Tuesday. I mentioned it to Donna, and she said it was probably because she was hosting 10 women at our house to assemble sandwiches for the Guest House of Milwaukee. Claude knew I would probably want to get out of the house, so felt it would be a good chance to get together for a beer.

So we set a time and a place (Bernies Taproom a local bar) and I mentioned he should invite the other guys from coffee and some others from CollectiveMKE, our church. Then he said, "Maybe we could even make sandwiches while we're there.

Now, to be honest, I thought this was a little crazy at first. I am one of those people that worries entirely too much what people think. (Though as I get older, I seem to be caring less.) So, to propose a bunch of guys assembling sandwiches at a bar just seemed like a stretch. Nevertheless, I told him to see if they would mind, figuring they would say no, and that would be that.

He texted me later that day and said that "Karen said we're more than welcome to."

So much for my great intuition.

We met at seven o'clock and each ordered a beer. Bernies has a fantastic selection of beers, so it has become our favorite local place on occasional night we get out together. We each carried in our bag of bread, meat and cheese and gathered around a table. They have picnic style tables that are perfect for this kind of thing.

And we started putting sandwiches together. We drew some stares for sure, but after a couple of minutes people kind of forgot what we were doing.

As we put them together, we talked smart and solved huge world problems. One of my friends even went so far as to say, "Wouldn't it be cool if everyone in the world made sandwiches for like three hours? World hunger solved!"

We talked about all that is going on in our country today a bit too. It was cathartic to have a couple of beers and laugh hard with one another while doing something positive for the world (albeit a local men's shelter) at the same time. I'll be frank with you and say that these past two weeks have been extremely difficult for me - lots of different emotions - so to put them aside for a couple of hours and blow off some steam felt really good.

When I got home, the last of the ladies were saying their goodbyes. Donna mentioned that collectively they had made 450 sandwiches. If you throw in the 50 my buddies had assembled, it totaled over 500 sandwiches. Plus Donna's friend Jill Krey hosted her own sandwich night in Bay View and they made another 300.

These are significant numbers, and I don't write this to get a pat on the back. I only write it to show how an ordinary night with the guys can turn into a super positive night if someone gets an idea in their head. I write it to encourage anyone who is all ragey about the political goings-on at the present time to take action to make the world a little better place. And I write it to thank all those guys and women who took time out of their lives last night - and in the past - to step into the lives of others and lend a hand.

Because while there's not much we can do about Washington, there's something we can do closer to home.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Author's To Do List

As you probably know by now, I am well into the writing of my second nonfiction book. It is a memoir about my boyhood home in St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1970's and early 80's. I am 220 pages into it and am hoping to finish it by year end 2017. It is at the "I hate everything about this book" stage right now for me as an author who is clearly too close to it. Everyone in my writing group loves it and keeps cheering me on as I sulk away threatening to send it to its room for six months like I did with Dirty Shirt. 

I'm really trying to avoid doing that and I plan to keep plugging onward with it, but that doesn't mean that I can't think about what's next or what else I want to work on. 

Knowing this is how I feel, I've compiled a list of books I want to write before I'm dead and gone. 

Here is that list:
Books I Still Want to Write
  • A (posthumously) Co-Authored Book. My uncle Jack wrote a couple of books in his day and never had any luck getting either of them published. I've read both and would like to take one of them and rewrite every other chapter and try and get it published. This would fulfill his dream of wanting to get published and would help me in some strange way connect with his past. I never knew him very well, but I can certainly relate to his love for the craft.

  • A Far Out Science Fiction Book. I love to read science fiction (Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton)  and sometimes wonder if I'd be any good at writing a sci-fi novel. I've written a couple of short stories that are loosely based in science fiction, but haven't had much success in getting them published. (Maybe this is a sign from God.) It may be a ways out, once I'm done with the nonfiction/co-authored thing, but it is on my mind.

  • A Collection of Short Stories. My writing instructor has a couple of these collections published and I've always thought it was a cool thing. Now, I have a grand total of about six short stories that I've ever written, none of which have garnered much interest from publishers, so there is work to be done for sure. But I think it would be a nice way to diversify myself as a writer.

  • A Collection of Road Trip Stories. As a family, we've taken a number of cool trips over the years. Places like the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Colorado Rockies, Poconos Mountains, New York City, Mexico, Disneyland and many more. I think it would be fun to pull out pictures and write a story about each trip. Will get to this down the road - so to speak.

  • A Poetry Chapbook. A chapbook, for those unfamiliar, is smaller than a collection. Written Life and Reciting from Memory are more along the lines of collections. I currently have one out there that I am trying to get published. They aren't huge money makers, but hey, if I was in this for the money, I wouldn't be writing poetry at all. None of my writing is about the money.

  • A Book of Letters. My wife and I met through letters back and forth in the late 80's. I'd like to put them together into a book of some sorts - possibly with some editing for the sake of my children. Ha!

  • A Book About My Faith Journey. Coming from a Catholic background, my journey to where I am now has been a fascinating one of discovery, revelation, self-examination and enlightenment. Everyone has a journey to or away from God, so I would think there would be some moments that most people could relate to somewhere in such an account. 
Those are just a few of the stories still in my head. I figure if I get to half of these before I kick, I'll be happy. Heck if I finish the one I'm working on I'll be happy. Gotta shoot for the sky though. 

What books would you write, given the chance?

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Something From Nothing

The creative process continues to amaze me. (Eight years ago, I would have said I don't have a creative process, barely a creative gene in me. I've come to change that self-criticism.)

I came to this (recurring) realization last night as I sat going between the vitriol that is Facebook politics and staring at the white space of a blank Microsoft Word document. I kept flipping back between the two until I finally shut Facebook and focused on writing a bit of poetry.

I've been trying to write a poem a day in January, and it hasn't worked out to quite that yet. In fact, I'm at 13, which works out to exactly one every two days. This is what happens when you don't have a "real" deadline must-meet goal hanging over your head. This challenge was to be on my terms, and well, I hit 50% and I am alright with that.

Anyways, so once I shut down the social media cesspool, I started writing a poem about my house. Now, I've written a few poems about my house already, so right out of the gate I thought this was a rehashed idea. After some struggling and shuffling of words and compiling a total of eight lines, I deleted the whole mess.

And I thought to myself, well that was a waste of fifteen minutes.

Then, I opened up a new document and proceeded to write a fairly touching poem about my wife and our marriage and somehow tied it into outer space. I had no intention of tying it into space, but I think it started with mentioning galaxy at some point. Then, for some reason the space metaphors (something most people don't talk about in every day conversation) kept coming to me. Try as I might to control the poem, it sort of wrote itself. When I was done, I looked at it and thought, dang, that's not half bad, right there.

So there I was an hour later with something satisfying sitting before me when I'd almost given up out of frustration. It just goes to show you that if you put your butt in the chair and work hard enough, good things will happen. Granted it's not a done product yet, but it's a good start.

This process works again and again for me. It's almost become expected to sit and glare at the great pixelled whiteness for a time before I get started. Then after a couple false starts it seems to start flowing. And frankly my blog keeps me limber - so to speak. It challenges me to write at least twice a week, Pick a topic, put my butt in the chair and hammer away until it's done.

Just like this.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Championship Style Disappointment

I am sitting here watching the Falcons first carve up my Packers through the air, and now, with a comfortable lead, grind them down with the running game. It was 24-0 at halftime and, judging from the way things were going, over at halftime as well. It hasn't gotten any better at 37-7 well into the third quarter. I now have the sound turned down (it helps) and am obviously doing other things.

This is what kills me about being a football fan. You follow a team all year, experience the ups and downs - like the Packers slumping, then nearly "running the table" - only to have them kick you in the privates in the NFC Championship. One game from the BIG ONE!

Now, people will say, "You should be glad you're there - look at our team, we're sitting at home." Well, that helps but getting to the NFC Championship and forgetting that you have to win to get to the Super Bowl is kind of like going to prom in your jeans and a t-shirt. You look bad.

And believe me, I've had lots of practice at this -both as a Viking and Packer fan. Too many to count. I mean a first round playoff loss I can understand. Happens every year with one or the other of those two teams. But these NFC Championship games hurt. A few come to mind going way back.

  • The Roger Staubach/Drew Pearson Hail Mary pass. I was just a kid, but that was my first real taste of Championship style disappointment. I should have quit following football then. LOL.
  • Cowboys/Packers NFC Championship. The Cowboys dogged the Packers for years in the mid 90's. Just too good. Eventually the Packers surpassed them in 96 and went on to win it all.
  • The Gary Anderson missed Field Goal loss to the Atlanta Falcons in '98. Seriously, not since the days of Fran Tarkenton did I feel like they had all the pieces to win a Superbowl as they had in 98. Randall Cunningham was so cool! That loss might have been the biggest disappointment of all my years as a Vikings fan.
  • Packers/49ers Terrell Owens catch. Those games that end on a last second score are heart wrenching.
  • Vikings/Giants 41-0 game. The Giants won it all including the coin toss.
  • The Packers/Giants ice bowl. Brett Favre - Interception. Enough said.
  • Vikings/Saints. Brett Favre - Interception. I see a trend.
  • Packers/Seattle. In my mind the biggest playoff meltdown in NFL history. To lose after being ahead by 25 is pretty inexcusable.
There's a few more in there, but these are the highly memorable and disappointing ones. Add today's drubbing (it's currently 44-15) to the heap and well, it's a wonder I watch at all.

Wait till next year!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vintage Pastimes

Last Sunday I was getting a bad case of cabin fever before the start of the Packer playoff game against the Cowboys. I was tempted to try out the new skis, despite the probable poor conditions at Lapham Peak, a park that boasts a small system of trails where the snow base is man-made. The park is a 20 minute drive from home, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to what might be a disappointing experience.

So, instead I went skating.

We have a park near us that constructs a rink every winter. It is not huge, but I knew it doesn't take much to tire out this 55 year old skater, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

I was trying to determine the age of my hockey skate and I narrowed them down to being about forty years old. When I googled them, one eBay site labelled them as "Vintage Bauer Big Chief Skates." I'm the proud owner of "vintage," I guess. I think I got them in about 1977 and, because I never skated more than a few times a year, I never saw the reason to upgrade. If I couldn't justify an upgrade 20 years ago, I really can't justify one now. So, I'll just keep sharpening them and hope for the best.
Vintage Big Chiefs

Not wanting to appear to be a creeper at the rink, I vowed that if any kids were out there, or even families, I would just keep driving on by. (I worry about how it looks - even though I just want to skate!)

When I got there, there was some other lonely white male adult who was slogging around the rink. (And I do mean slogging. I'm no Gordie Howe, but I wasn't this guy either. LOL.)

Once I got my skates on he was just finishing up. He said, "It's all yours, young man." Us old guys call each other that as a form of compliment. Hey, it helps.

I started out going round and round counter clockwise. Shaky at first, but eventually got into a pretty good rhythm. After too many laps to count, I took a break. Then I started out going clockwise. I discovered that I am a much better clockwise skate. I was trying to figure out why and realized it's because I was always a left handed hockey player. The balance of a stick always made me a better counter clockwise skater, I guess. It was a weird revelation.

I skated for probably an hour or so, stopping to tighten my skates three times during the course. It brought back such great memories of skating with my high school buddies at Como Lake in St. Paul. They always made a speed skating track at the lake, as well as a hockey rink complete with boards and a warming house.

And I remembered my stepfather skating with me there once on a Saturday. When I mentioned I was thinking about going, he said he'd like to go, so he dug his skates out of storage and off we went. He let me drive his Datsun F-10 (probably because he'd had a few drinks) which had a manual transmission. I managed to shimmy-and-shake it to a grinding halt on a couple of occasions as we laughed our heads off around the traffic circle by Como's pavilion.

He skated well for an old guy (probably late 40's at the time) with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his lips. And as stupid and piddly as it was it meant something to me that he would come along and do something he probably hadn't done in 20+ years himself. He mentioned the event several times over the years, so I have a feeling it meant something to him as well.

My point is that while going skating alone at 55 because your kids are older or not around might seem odd, it should not keep a guy from doing what he likes. I do it for the workout and to ward off the winter blues as much as anything. If that makes me am odd duck, well, quack quack. See ya on the ice!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An Entertaining System

This afternoon I will sit down and watch another Playoff Packer game - one of my favorite winter pleasures, especially if they play well and win.

It's what I will be watching it on that is a little funny. If you know my family, you know that TV is not a high priority. It's barely a thing, actually.

I remember when HD flat screens came out, and I'm not talking the kind that you hang on your wall, I'm talking about tube TV's that had a flat screen instead of curved. Well, we had an old 25" Magnavox that had a curved screen and we were VERY late to the party in upgrading to the flat screen HD TV that we currently still use. We tend to drag our feet on upgrades around here until something breaks, especially something that we don't use much.

So we bought our 300 LB tube-based HDTV in part because our in-laws had the same model and we loved the picture. At the time it was the waning technology with "hang on your wall" thin TV's on the cusp of getting big. We bought it and a surround sound system to go with it. We loved the setup, but did not like the cable bill we were burdened with every month.

We fixed that by cutting the cord - so to speak.

It was interesting to see how much our TV viewing dropped off when we were left with just network TV. I can comfortably say that after today's football games, the TV might not get turned on until next Sunday when the next games are on. It's how we roll. The commercials kill me and it seems they come on about every 6 minutes and who needs that?

Anyways, my co workers and I were talking about TV technology and most of us spoke matter-of-factly about 40 or 50" flat screen TV's with Apple TV, Roku, soundbars, blue tooth and frickin' ice machines. I've found that in no matter what setting you are in, you can talk to people for an hour about this or that setup until it makes your head spin (and sometimes triggering your greed or envy if left unchecked.)

Well, all the while I was laughing to myself a little because here is my setup.

  1. The core of my entertainment system is a 32" 300 pound Phillips HDTV from 2001. The picture is still pretty good, but I'm pretty sure it's just 720p not 1080i (Technospeak for resolution.) 
  2. This is augmented by a Yamaha entertainment center, also from 2001 has a 5 channel speaker system OF WHICH only 2 channels still work (Center and one rear speaker). 
  3. This entertainment system also is rigged so that to play the sound through the TV you need to put the input mode to Aux2 and the TV sound needs to be turned down because it creates a nauseating echo effect. This adjustment requires two different remotes and an MIT technical student to figure out the few times we use it.
  4. We have a Roku box that is the coolest thing since the invention of the cell phone, but during the move of the TV from one spot to another, the HDMI cable got ripped out of the port for the TV thereby making it not work. Sigh. So now, the Roku box requires that the TV input be set to AV2 and the receiver to be set to oh, I don't know, Alpha Bravo Niner, I think. If you want to listen to FM, the antenna for that is laying on the floor and the reception is bad, so go read a book or something. And if you want to watch a DVD, well, it's probably easier to just use your dang laptop.
  5. Leaf Antenna^^^
  6. Because we cut the cable cord, we now use a Leaf antenna. This is a great little device but only when you hang it in a most prominent place. It doesn't do well behind pictures or on the floor behind a couch. Ours is hung from a curtain rod, because we like to keep it classy. Don't judge and don't be jealous. Besides, my cable bill last month was...oh wait, there was none.
So you're probably thinking, boy, I sure wish the Landwehr's would invite us over for the game sometime, right?  Well, you know you're always welcome. Just don't get in the way of the Leaf antenna and be prepared to sit in our new experience know as "not-all-the-way-around-sound."

Go Packers and pass the chips!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Half Winter

I'm not sure exactly where we are in regards to the length of the winter season, but I'm going to call it the halfway point, for lack of a better gauge and not wanting to count days. Based on that declaration, I thought I'd give a quick assessment of how it's going - because you may recall an apprehensive post a few weeks ago about the coming cold and darkness.

In a nutshell, so far so good.

We have had a fair amount of rain recently and little to no snow. At this point, even the snow on the ground is almost all gone. This is a mixed blessing for me. I just happened to get new Cross Country Skis for Christmas so I would like a chance to use them. I joked when I got them that everyone could put away their snow blowers for the year. I was just joking, but so since that time all we've had is either rain or warm enough weather to melt it.

At the same time, I hate shoveling/snow blowing it, so I am okay with it not being here at all.

So it is a dilemma. Suffice it to say that I'll be totally okay with whatever happens from hereon out - snow or no snow.

Another reason I'm okay with the snow being gone is that it creates less problems for walking/driving.

Having said that, I have to admit that, yes, I fell yesterday. I know I shouldn't laugh because falls can be really bad - maybe even kill a guy. But whenever I fall, and it's usually once or twice a winter, I cannot but think of how funny it must be to the casual observer. Especially given my height.

Yesterday the sidewalks were all clear except for occasional patches of ice. Well, I took it easy over those patches and was almost to work when I went to change the song on my iPod and I hit a patch and went down in a heap. My hand hit pretty hard, but nothing else really was affected. My iPod went skittering away, and I got up as fast as I went down because I never want people to see me on my arse flailing about.

I think it was two years ago when I took a big time fall and messed up some tendons in my hand that didn't heal until spring. So, like I said, I know it's not a laughing matter, but I laugh when it happens anyway.

Today was slick too, but I was prepared and wore my Yak Trax. They look funny but so does a guy landing on his butt.

And so with my new found attitude, I'm just taking winter as a time to slow down a bit - to read more, write more and enjoy the good days (anything above 20 degrees) and tolerate the crappy ones (those 2 degree with -18 windchills.) Because, like my friend Paul said, there's not much I can do about it. Being pissed off about it doesn't help any.

So, let it snow. Or not. Don't care.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Words With Friends

A couple of nights ago was the quarterly AllWriters' Friday Night Free For All event at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. The event features students of the writing studio reading their work in front of an audience. They read from a bunch of different genres and styles including, Poetry, Memoir, Fiction, Short Story and Novel. And while I live the reading part, sometimes I get as much enjoyment out of the half hour before and half hour afterward talking to other writers.

It's the closet extrovert in me.

I enjoyed talking to Lila about her soon to be released book about her brother that she wrote using HIS point of view - something I've never seen too much before in memoir. She conducted interviews with him for much of it and it sounded like a fascinating way to write a book. She has worked hard getting her book finished and published and I am super excited to see it come to fruition.

And I loved talking to Jocelyn, the newest member of the Mighty Monday Nighters group that I workshop with every week. She has a great fiction story going which is loosely based on some of her family. Her husband was there and is working on some writing of his own. He gave me some great advice he'd heard about struggling with being tired of looking at your manuscript. He said that he'd heard that was sometimes an indication that you are done with it and need to start refining it.

I wanted to hear what everyone in the room was working on. (Who am I, anyway?)

I relished catching up with Deb who is working on both fiction and memoir. Her book is done and is a cool story about a freeway princess/prophet. I'll leave it at that. I always say that I can't even think in the dimensions of some of these fiction writers. They have attributes I wish I had. (Or maybe I do, and they're just untapped.)

It was great talking to David, an author who just published his book about his online dating experience in his 50's. He is reading East of Eden by Steinbeck and was saying how rich Steinbeck's description is in everything. We joked about how our description is two dimensional comparatively.

I had the opportunity to buy and get my writing instructor's second book personalized. It was recently released and is a mystery based in a fictional town in Wisconsin called Devlin's Crossing. I try and make it a point to attend all of my colleagues' book signings, as they usually make mine. Plus, I think it is so cool to say "Hey, I know this guy/woman! And he/she's a dang good writer!" Writers supporting writers.

It was fun talking to two of my fellow Monday Nighters, Ellen and Paul about how we should get together more often to brainstorm ideas and encourage each other. (Wait, I'm an introvert and I instigated this idea? What the heck?)

Couldn't get enough talking to Carrie about her work in progress. She's written a great book about shape shifters and is working on her second. She was brutally honest saying she's spending much more time watching TV than writing. Hey, writers need downtime too!

I felt bad I didn't get to talk more to Barb who is working on a book about a Kayak trip down the Mississippi. A great person, a huge supporter of my writing and a fellow water adventurist to boot. What's not to like about talking to her?

I wanted to talk more to the kid, Andre, who showed up after finding the event online. He's "interested" in writing and decided to show up to see what it's like. I wanted to yell, "YES! Write! It is good! You'll love it!" There is a certain creep factor to being that excited though, so I just said I hope he gets involved in a group.

And none of this includes the 15 other people I didn't get the chance to talk to. I wanted to talk to them all! People are so interesting and there is nothing that excites me more than talking about the writing process with all of it's joys, struggles, successes and failures.

The realist in me understands that the downside to an event like this is I need three day of isolation to recover. That is what I have been doing, because tomorrow I get to hang with the Mighty Monday Nighters and do it all over again. I am a lucky man.

Blogging off...

BTW, if you would like to know anything more or purchase any of these books, they're all available Here. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Good Things Happen In Threes

We are in the midst of a bit of a deep freeze here in the Upper Midwest - not unusual for January, just unlikeable. It's the kind of weather where your car never really warms up and your dog who gets walked every night of his life looks at you like he'd like to go out even though you know he would make it about 40 feet and want to turn around.

Despite the frigid weather, it has been a weird week in a strange way.

New Years is always a time where I take stock of a lot of things in life. Sometimes I try and shake up my routine, but other times I just work on shaping my outlook. It keeps me sane in the darkness. This week has helped in some way because of a few small incidents or pinholes of light for lack of a better term.

The first happened a couple of days ago on Facebook. A friend of mine made a conscious effort to send out good messages about people close to him in his life. He did his mom and some of his friends which included me. I've only met this guy once, but we've been Facebook friends for quite a while. Despite only meeting once, he said some really flattering things about me.

Anyway, I thought it was such a positive, productive use of this monstrous time-suck we call social media that it caused me to pause. Why can't there be more of this and less political or derogatory mudslinging on the various social media outlets? Why is it that we as humans in our interactions always tend to spiral downward over time?

While I fully understand what he did was a very personal act and everyone feels better when they are complimented, it just caused me to wonder what the world would be like if we got more of that kind of thing on a daily basis. We carry enough baggage around without being reminded of it. What if we focused on each other's positive - and only the positive? What would the world look like - how different? I'd like to think I am doing my small part in this by keeping my Facebook posts positive. It's not for everybody, but it's my policy and I'm sticking with it. There's enough negative energy in the world, I don't want to be part of it.

So the second thing that happened is much less significant, but also happened on Facebook. I saw the following meme on a friend's page.* (Courtesy of Wholesome Memes)
I don't know why it struck me, but it kind of gave me a sense of hope. That and the fact that if we all do our part, we're bound to see more goodness around us, even if it is just the fruit of our own doing. We are living in strange times, and I think the best defense against it is to keep from adding to the bad and maybe double down by doing some good. It's probably optimistically myopic, but again, it's going to be my policy.

The final thing struck me during coffee with my Thursday buddies at Cafe De Arts. We are working through a book by Peter Rollins titled The Orthodox Heretic. (Got that edgy title that this group is known for studying. LOL) It is a book of modern day parables. These parables all have an interesting and challenging spin on them. 

The one we read for today was on accepting people for who they are, as ugly as that is sometimes. It went on about how, often times, we will do that as long as they adhere to our decorum of behavior, courtesies, etc. It was very challenging and spurred some really good conversation. As the three of us talked about it I thought to myself, here are two guys who are among the people in my circles that need to work on this THE LEAST of anyone I know, They are extremely good guys, very welcoming and would give you the shirt of their back. And yet they were being convicted of how they should be doing more. 

Again, for some reason this was encouraging and gave me some hope. Is everyone working on things as heady and positive as this? No. But I aim to keep at it as part of my policy. 

Because in 2017, I ain't planting no weeds. We've got enough of those.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolute Adjustments

Now that we've put 2016 to rest for good, I'm choosing to look to the coming year for what it promises to bring. We talked at church today a bit about how our actions, routines, thoughts and reactions shape what our realities become. Depending on what fuel we're throwing into the fire, we can change the outcome. Knowing this there are some things I want to do, and do better, in 2017. Here is a short list - not resolutions mind you - just adjustments or wants.

  • I want less social media. There's only one person who can fix this problem, and I know who it is. Nothing against any of my Facebook friends, but frankly, we've been spending way too much time together lately. 
  • I want to read books again. I've been trying to read more these past few weeks and I am realizing how much I miss it. For me it is complete escape and fantasy - a bit like the movies. It will also help me be a better writer - you can't do one without the other. The ability to have more time to read should be a direct by product of the previous bullet.
  • I want to be an better instigator. I admit one fault I have is that I rarely organize or instigate a get together. If asked, I'll usually go, but I'm not good at asking. I want to get better at asking, because that's what friends do.
  • I want to listen better. It's funny but now that I've addressed my hearing issues, I've found that it is only half the problem. You can't hear when you're not listening. Now my goal is to do that better too. This is especially true for those closest to me, my wife and my kids. It is a re-training process, but one I want to work on.
  • I want to give more freely. Gifting has never been a strength of mine and I want to get better at it and think of people more consistently. When I give, I am always blessed as the giver - not that that should be my goal - but I need to remember it when I'm waffling on whether to give a gift or not.
  • I want to write more first drafts using pen and paper, and less with my laptop. This is a simple change that can make for better writing - for me at least. The transcribing of the written draft into MS Word allows me to do my first edits in the process.
  • I want to better see peoples talents and beauty before I start counting their faults. Everyone has
    something good to offer the world and I aim to find it more consistently.
I intend to make 2017 a better year and this is just a few ways that will help. I hope you all have a great year too!

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A New Hope

We are a couple of days away from 2016 being over and done with. And let me tell you, I'll be the first one in line toasting good riddance to it. It has been a tough, difficult year in our country and our world - one of the worst I can remember anyway. I try and be as positive a person as I can, but this year was a struggle to keep my chin up.

There were a multitude of racially charged cop/citizen shootings that created demonstrations and counter demonstrations. Throw on top of this the nearly weekly active shooter occurrences and it kind of makes one sick to their stomach. I don't know what the answer is anymore, but I'm guessing a good start would be less guns and more punitive measures on gun crimes. I'm no expert though, so this is just a thought. I just want it to stop. 

And of course we had a rash of high profile celebrity deaths this year too. For some reasons the ones that always hit me the hardest are the rock stars of my youth. This year saw names like Prince, David Bowie and Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Glenn Frey and George Michael. I was never a huge fan of any of them, but they were all the face of my young generation, so it's a bit of an eye opener. When you're young, you kind of assume these guys are going to live forever. When you see the ages of some of them you kind of look over your shoulder to check for guys in long black robes bearing scythes. 

And then, don't even get me started on Carrie Fischer. That one slays me. 

There might have been one of the biggest election circuses that ever saw air time this past year too. I'm not sure. I can't remember. I bought in early to the candidate who got aced out (not naming names, but it started with a B) and when said candidate dropped out I was left with no good option. Another lesser of two evils election. It was divisive and ugly and long and drawn out. I for one am glad its over. Let the praying begin (and that would have been true for either candidate.)

To pile on to the craptastic year that was 2016, my wife and I have had a handful of health issues afflict our parents. Donna's father had a couple of heart stents put in today and her mother is struggling with worsening dementia. A couple of days ago my mother was admitted into a hospital for some lung related issues - a form of COPD. My wife and I realize we are of an age where this is the new normal. We will continue to love and try and help where and when we can. 

Because of the rough year we've had, the fear of the future is not really fear at all anymore. I can't wait for it, really. Last night I saw Rogue One with my daughter and the final line mentions that a data exchange about the death star gives the rebellion "hope." 

That is is a message I will ride alongside into 2017. 


Blogging off...

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Santa's Gift

We just returned from our Christmas celebration after a 5 hour drive through a relatively torrential December downpour. There were moments of white knuckles and at least two incidences of a second or two of uncontrolled hydroplaning - which was kinda fun - in a one-horse-open-sleigh kinda way.

As in years of recent past, we stayed at the Homewood Suites in New Brighton, Minnesota. It is a pretty nice hotel and their suites have a kitchenette and separate living areas that makes it quite comfortable.

On the evening we arrived, we spent some time with my sister in-law, Jane and her two girls. We always used to stay with them during holiday stays, so our kids grew up together. Part of our evening was spent going through Jane's scrapbooks of a few of our family vacation trips together. Two of the trips were spent with three of us siblings and our families. We saw Colorado, South Dakota and Pennsylvania. It was a blast going back through some of the things we had forgotten about on those trips. Some of the sketchy 3 star motels that were blatantly mis-reviewed and shouldv'e been two stars or less!

Then, last night we continued our tradition of going to Christmas Eve service at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis. The church is majestic and beautiful empty. Fill it with choirs of children, middle schoolers and adults and you have a transcendent experience. As usual I was a mess by the second chorus of Silent Night. So choked up I couldn't sing. It just means so much to me to be able to share that place and that music and that experience with my kids, my sister in-law, her daughters and the spirit of my brother Rob on Christmas Eve. It is one of the high points of every Christmas.

After church we crossed town to Woodbury where we had the gift exchange at my niece's apartment complex party room. It was our first year not at my sister Jane's house, and we were all a little apprehensive about how it would go.

It was perfect!

Santa managed to make an appearance for a bit. We snapped a bunch of family pictures with him and somewhere along the line, my niece's boyfriend managed to propose to her. He got down on one knee and did the surprise thing. It was a cool moment and we all celebrated it with hugs, congratulations and champagne.

After the gift exchange, people started to clear out - always a time of melancholy for me. I am such a sucker for family and I felt we were just getting started and, here it was, time to go. I had some great laughs with Tom, Jane, Mom and Paul as well as my nieces and nephews. For all of the commercialism and hustle and bustle of the season, this is really what it boils down to for me. We could all just get together for food and drinks and we would have just as much fun.

There were a few noticeable missing personalities. My sister Pat and her son Michael are sometimes home, but they are in California with her other kids. Also missing were my sister in-laws parents, Dwight and Carolyn. They are battling through some health issues with Carolyn and weren't up to making the trip. I missed chatting with them and I know they missed us too.

The whole experience is a reminder of how lucky we are to have each other. I feel the love of Christ in each of these relationships. He brought us together as a family and continues to see to it that we come together a couple of times a year to enjoy each other's company. I am blessed beyond measure and wish the same for you and your family.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Keep It Down Over There

Well, I am the not-so-proud owner of a new pair of Phonak hearing aids. Yep, it's official, I'm old. I got them on Tuesday and went through all the fitting/training procedures at the audiologists office.

I was surprised by the small size of them and when they're in, they are very difficult to see. (Of course I realize that by posting this, I am tipping you all off, and now you'll be looking for them next time you see me. Don't be a judger.)  In fact, the day I got them I went to Ben's swim meet neither my friend nor Ben noticed them until I mentioned it to them. That was my big hangup for so many years was the vanity end of it. That and the fact that it skews me as "old," which I may be becoming. Not sure yet.

Anyways, when I first tried them on, I was shocked at how loud and echoey my voice was. The doctor adjusted it and said that over time my brain would get used to it and I wouldn't notice it anymore. The other thing that was shocking was, I could hear her rustling papers even though I couldn't see the papers. I know for sure this is a sound I wouldn't have heard without the hearing aids. It made me wonder how many other sounds I haven't been hearing over the years.

I went to work after the fitting and the first thing I noticed was the clicking of my mouse - super annoying! I hear every click, which I don't recall hearing before, at least not at the present volume. The other annoyance is the clicking of my keyboard keys. Again, I've heard those before, but never this clearly. I'm not entirely sure this is a desirable fix.

The coolest thing about them though is that if I'm not hearing something, all I have to do is click the right one and everything goes up a notch. Same goes for situations when something is too loud - like, say, any political speech or banter - I can click the left and it all goes quieter. So, if you see me picking at my left ear, you'll know.

I was set up at 80% of my max with a slow adjustment up to 90% over thirty days. This allows me to get used to them. I also need to have them set it up so I can use a phone app to adjust them - which I think this model is capable of.

My whole concern over how they look and people's perceptions is totally stupid and selfish. I think of my brother Rob who wore hearing aids his whole life and never much cared what people think. I need to get over it and rejoice in being able to hear things that I should.

So that's what I plan to do. And don't be talking about me behind my back, because I might just hear ya!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 18, 2016


December is a month full of significant birthdays for me. My brother Paul's is December 2nd, my wife's is December 7th, my own is December 11th and my stepfather, Jack's is today, December 18th. He would have been 87.

Jack dated my mom  for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. They divorced in 1985 and we sometimes joke about how getting married was the biggest mistake they made. When they didn't get along during the dating years, they just stopped seeing each other for a couple of weeks. Then, they'd get back together and all would be good again until the next time.

While I can't paint Jack as a saint - he had drinking problems for most of his adult years, the cause of both his divorces and the source of much hurt to his families - I think it's only fair to point out the good on his birthday.

Jack had a wicked sense of humor. He loved to laugh and was great at getting others to laugh with him. That's why people liked him. I know there were several occasions that Mom pulled him along to something he maybe didn't want to go to because she knew people "loved Jack." His sense of humor and wit were part of the reason he earned the moniker "Happy Jack," or just "Happy." He was also a smoker and as bad as that habit is for you, there is nothing quite as funny as a good "smoker laugh." It comes from the chest and fills a room. The good ones usually end up causing a coughing fit by the laughter afterward.

Jack loved kids. He had 8 by his first marriage and married into our family of 6 kids. He frequently mixed the families by taking us out to the beach. He spent much of the time either horsing around with us in the water (including his famous "butt bouncer" dive off the diving board or throwing the football to Timmy, Maggie and Theresa (his twin girls) and me. He and Mom took us camping and made sure that we had fun when we were there. I remember one year we went camping and we went to town to get something, not realizing we had the bug spray in our car. When we got back to the campsite, he joked that he'd been spraying Raid bug fogger on himself.

Jack had all the sayings. He was the king of a bunch of sayings, some of which got more prevalent when he'd had a few drinks. A few of his lines were:

"Not to worry!"
"Can of corn."
"Piece of cake."
"I'm a quiet man." (He was not.)

His nickname for his girls was "Toots" (less than flattering, ha!) and his go to phrase whenever he and Mom were arguing was that he'd go and "Sleep in my one-third of the house down at 965." (His family lived on the same street as we did, two blocks away.)

I realized coming into a family as any stepfather must have been a tough thing to do. I was lucky, Jack always liked me - for whatever reason. He taught me a love for football and the Vikings. He SHOWED UP when my grade school football team went to the City and then Twin City Championship games. It totally caught me off guard, but meant the world to me.

The last time I saw Jack was on Easter Sunday in the late 90's. Jack was in a nursing home for a rare disease that was eventually the end of him. I told mom that I thought it was more important to go see him than to go to church. We went and I introduced him to our daughter Sarah who was just a baby. He was in rough shape, but he still had his wicked sense of humor. Mom scolded him for being a slob and picked up his room a bit, but he just made light of it and we all had a laugh. For some reason I felt I needed him to meet my daughter. I don't know if he remembered it a week later, but it's a day I will never forget.

Because when you love someone, despite their imperfections and their flaws, warts, tics, bad habits and all of the hurt  they might have caused, at the end of the line when life is coming to a close, I like to focus on the beauty that that person brought to the world. Some prefer to dwell on the bad - and there's maybe space for that - but it's not my style.

People in your life shape you and make you who you are. You take their influence and try and make it better in your own sphere of influence. That to me is what relationships and love and family is all about.

So, Happy Birthday, Jack.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter Camping Close To Home

It has been an interesting few days around this 95 year old house.

If you recall, I've mentioned we've had furnace issues for a while now. We've been walking the tightrope for about a year now. Our furnace started making some noise a couple of years ago. We had it checked and the guy said it was the inducer, it costs around $600 and that it could probably go for a while but would eventually need replacing. We were contemplating replacing it at the time, but since the noise wasn't too bad, we figured we'd ride it out for a while.

Well we rode it through last winter and by the end of the season, she was howlin' pretty good. When it fired up this fall, it was no better. It's weird how those things don't fix themselves with a little time off.

Knowing that I would absolutely lose my mind if I had to listen to the roar of that thing for another season, we decided to have it "assessed." The assessment was that the patient was old, lived a good life but was on about stage 3 of a very expensive cancer. The inducer was now up to around $650, with a "failing main board" to the tune of another $700. If we fixed both of those we would have a patient with a new heart and brain, but a 21 year old liver with heavy cirrhosis scarring and a 21 year old gall bladder that caused heartburn.

Oh, and it's appendix was about to burst.

It was not a glowing bill of health.

So we saw the writing on the wall and decided to bite the bullet and get a new furnace. When we sell the house in the next 5-10 years, it will be a decent selling point. Yeah, that's it.

The date was set for today back in November. That way we figured we'd nip any chance for a cold-snap disaster right in the bud. We got this.

In true form, timing is everything. Yesterday when I woke, the furnace was acting up. It roared for a few minutes then powered down with no heat blown our way. Then, oddly enough it powered up again a minute later, howled for a few minutes, then shut off again.

To make sure nothing tragic happened like a total failure and burst pipes, I stayed home and furnace sat. I holed up in an office with a space heater and worked.

The thing worked on and off all day and into the early evening. So we went to bed and crossed our fingers.

I woke at 2:30 because my nose was cold thinking something wasn't right. Checked the thermostat and it was at 56 degrees. I put the space heater on in our room, turned on the bathroom faucet slightly and went back to bed and thrashed around in bed like a heavily caffeinated meth addict.

It was a bit like winter camping in a large wooden tent.

A few hours-that-seemed-like-minutes later, I woke to the alarm. I went downstairs and saw we'd hit a new low of 51 degrees.
Seems kind of small for 4K

Not bad...liveable, I thought. I fired up the oven like an urban hillbilly and went about breakfast and my routine. In the shower it occurred to me how much more steam gets generated when it's hitting 51 degree air. It's kinda purty.

Our dog and cats were practically bedding down together to share the body heat.

The installers were supposed to show up at noon. True to form and fear, they were two hours behind schedule. Nonetheless, they got the new one in (not without having to replace one plumbing valve that was rusted open - Imagine that!)  and were setting up the thermostat until we realized our wifi was out due to an area-wide outage. Doh!

Well, at least we got heat. And I thank God for that.

Blogging off...(using a data tethered hot spot from my phone.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trips Around The Sun

As it turns out my blog post day (Sunday) falls on my birthday this year. I turned 55 today and while birthdays are always a little special, as we get older, they tend more and more to drift toward the "just another day" on the spectrum of life events. So today I will spend watching the Packers/Seattle game with a couple of close friends, eating ribs and birthday cookies and enjoying the downtime that snowy Decembers bring.

And it will be a really, really good day.

When pressed to think of memorable birthdays past, a few come to mind.

  • In 1972, we celebrated my golden birthday a day early on Sunday, December 10th. I remember the Vikings played the Packers and because the game was not a sellout, they blacked the game out in the Twin Cities. My mom and stepfather knew I was a big Viking fan and made it special by taking me across the border into Hudson, Wisconsin where the game was being shown. As I recall, even there the screen was fuzzy and snowy because, well, TV wasn't what it is today. I drank soda and ate beer nuts and well, the Vikings didn't get the memo and lost to the Packers 23 - 7. It was a good day nonetheless.
  • I don't recall much about my 16th "sweet 16" birthday. I'm not sure it was much of a thing back then - maybe so.
  • One of the best birthdays on record was my 30th. I was back home visiting with Donna because Mom wanted to take me out for dinner. Leading up to dinner, I sensed something was up because the phone kept ringing - more than usual, anyway. By the time dinner was done, I had kind of forgotten all the suspicion, and when I walked into Mom's house on Larpenteur, there were probably 40-50 friends and family, Surprise! It was so great talking to everyone and having some laughs. My brother Rob kept pulling me into the laundry room for secret shots of Yukon Jack - a Boundary Waters traditional spirit. Before the night finished out, I was telling my wife and Mom how to hunt Snipe at night using a burlap bag. That might be the Yukon talking, there. In any case my 30th was harder for me than 40 or 50. It was then that I realized I'd never play in the NFL (not that I could have at 25 either), and that I was leaving my youth behind. 
  • For my 40th birthday, my wife did something kind of cool. She told people to send cards, stories and pictures of me. It was fun reading some of the things people remembered. 
  • My 50th was a small affair, just how I'd asked for it. We spent it with a handful of good friends. with dinner at our house and a few beverages. The best part about it though was the surprise of a significant chunk of money toward my purchase of a fishing Kayak. I have my wife to thank for making that happen. It has been the source of so much fun for me that it's hard to imagine life without it.
In between each of these were the "average" birthdays, filled with chocolate covered angel food cake (a favorite), treats at work and hand made cards from the kids. All good. 

And so, as I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror today with an ice pack strapped to my elbow (tendinitis), swabbing my eyes for my blepharitis (eye condition) and my face for my rosacea, and remembering that Thursday I get my hearing aids, I took stock and thought, this must be what 55 looks like.

Well, at least I've got my health.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Its Beginning To Look Like Not Quite Solstice

Well, the BIG winter jacket came out this week.

The polar blast has swung into Wisconsin with a vengeance. Temps aren't even that bad, low to mid twenties. It's the wind that is killing us. We've had a steady 10-20 mph wind for the past three days. It makes a feel-like temperature in the low single digits. The other day I was walking home and faced a strong head wind for much of the walk. I began to wonder if I would make it home without sustaining a frostbitten nose. Thankfully I had a great jacket with a decent hood and made it home unscathed - albeit delirious and out of breath.

And so we've come upon that time of year. The jig is up, the furnace is howling - shaking the whole house - and there's no turning back. Time to gas up the snow blower, ready the shovel, bust out the wool socks and cotton long johns and brace yourselves.

I am determined to make the best of it this winter and try and not be a depressed whiner about it all. Every day is a blessing I'm told, even if my skin has all the suppleness of a Nevada salt flat. I aim to look at it that way even if I AM looking through the periscope hole of my parka hood. It's winter dang it. Joy to the world, right?

I'm looking for the good in the little things. Things like:

  •  The clear blue skies of the morning walk - when it's not cloudy and battleship grey. Though clear skies usually mean cooler temps. But the clear blue skies. Yay, that!
  • The fact that Christmas is coming. The lights are beautiful and the tree is purchased and up. I only lost a couple of fingers picking it out last night, but it was worth it. It's beautiful. Yay for the tree!
  • That, despite our howling furnace that shakes the house, we are slated to get a new one installed a week from today - at great expense mind you. It won't fit under our Christmas tree, but we will be putting a bow on it - To: Donna and Jim from Donna and Jim - for the next three years! Yay, heat.
  •  In two weeks, the days will start getting longer. I know this is a simple joy, but it is the start of a climb toward June 21st when it is light out until nine o'clock - and I love that. I know it's only longer by 3-5 minutes a day or something ridiculous. but hey, I'm struggling here. Work with me. Yay, longer days in two weeks, after a ridiculously short December 20th. 
  • Both of my cars have batteries less than 3 years old. Yay, cold cranking amps!
  • We had an extremely mild November and, so far a fairly dry December. That much closer to April. Yay, meteorology!
  • I've found that dark beer helps. Yay, beer!
So, it's one day at a time around here. Lots of winter ahead, but I'm counting on you all to keep hounding me about how it's not that bad - even when I know you're lying. 

Because, I love winter! Love it!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pushing For The Wall

Friday night marked the start of my son's senior year of swim season. As you recall, he decided to join the team last year after not playing any sports in high school in the previous years. It was such a good experience for him that he decided to do it his senior year as well.

The meet was held at Waukesha North, a competing school in the city. It was a "compass meet" which I think means all the Waukesha teams South, North and West. There were a handful of other teams as well, including Mukwonago and Homestead.

Of course I went to the meet to cheer him on. I always forget how much I enjoy watching swimming events. The summer Olympics always find me glued to the swimming events watching Michael Phelps break records and take home medals. They help me appreciate what really goes into the training and competitiveness of the sport.

I am a fledgling swimmer - one who loves the water, but can't do much more than crawl/back float out to the island every year at the cabin. This is not an insignificant distance, but crawling/back floating is not really swimming. Or is it?  I don't know.

So when I see these boys doing a stroke as difficult as the butterfly and the backstroke, I have nothing short of great admiration for them. My sister in-law who coaches girls swimming once tried to give me some pointers on doing the butterfly but I ended up looking more like a man who'd just seen a shark and was trying to notify people. It's actually on a videotape somewhere, I think.

My admiration holds true for the breast stroke and freestyle. None of them look easy. I've often mentioned that I would like to one day learn how to swim freestyle (or any of them, really) because it is such a great sport for your health. Maybe in retirement.

And I might be a big sap, but there were a number of times I got kind of choked up at the meet. Like the time the Freshman from a competing school was struggling as the last kid in during the 400 meter freestyle. The whole natatorium was cheering him on as he floundered and pushed himself. It reminded me of Ben's first 200 yard backstroke race, where the whole place was cheering him on. It sounds weird I know, but in these days of political yuck, things like this restore my faith in humanity at times. Maybe if we all plugged for one another a little more instead of insulting one another's political party in the comments of the latest expose, we'd be a better world.

Swimming as a unifier!

Or the multiple times I saw teammates cheering on their teammates, regardless of what place they were in during the race. I also really like it when the winner of a race is congratulated by the second place guy - or vice verse. It is the ultimate Team/Individual sport, much like Track and Field. These boys are trying to improve their personal bests and help their team at the same time. It is a beautiful show of sportsmanship and something that is refreshing compared to all the chest thumping and grandstanding we see in football and basketball.

And then there was the fact that this was the first of the last. The last few times I will see my boy compete in a high school sport. That reality is one I'm having a hard time dealing with. Talk to me next fall when the house is deathly quiet. Those will be strange days.

Plus, I get really wound up watching some of the close races. Waukesha South has a really good swim team, one of the top in the state, and many of their races have them finishing 1, 2 and 3. It is fun to see them competing even against their own teammates.

Ben did well in his first meet of the year. His times were up a bit from the end of last year, but that's to be expected given that it's been 9 months since he swam competitively. He'll improve and finish strong, of that I'm certain. He really enjoys his friends on the team and loves being part of it all.

And, if you ask me, that's what it's all about.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Party On The Iceberg

Well, I had my hearing test/evaluation today, and let's just say that if it was the ACT exam, I'd definitely want to retake it.

I pretty much failed with flying colors. 

Now, I;d had my ears tested about 8-9 years ago, I would guess. Back then they told me there was some loss and that I should probably consider a hearing aid somewhere down the road. Now, when you say this to a man, "down the road" means 8-9 years down the road. Not a big fan of doctors...

Anyways the whole experience was fairly stressful in a strange way. 

Once I filled out all the paperwork asking questions like what types of situations I would like to hear better in and things of that nature, I was taken back to the soundproof booth. There the Doctor and her intern asked the same questions. (Why?) Next she told me how the exam would be conducted. It was basically 3 parts.

  1. A series of ascending sounds - Click the clicker when they start.
  2. A sentence - repeat the sentence back (or as much as you can recognize)
  3. A sentence in a setting with steadily increasing background noise - repeat back as much as you can hear.
It was clear, this wasn't my daddy's hearing test with just a series of beeps.

As they started making the noises I strained to focus and listen. For the first few notes, I clicked away. They seemed to be timed roughly the same length apart from one another, so I could almost fake it. Until I couldn't hear anything....and I was pretty sure she was making sounds, because when I didn't respond, she kept reacting in a way that was telling. A couple of times I faked it when I thought I should be clicking. 

Because lying on a hearing exam, well, that helps make me look not so deaf right?

It was clear I was taking this exam personally. To me they were grading on a curve and I was shooting for a C+, because I know my ears and they're not honor-student ears.

We moved on to the second test. I got most of those right - I think. The one I may have made up had something to do with a party on an iceberg. That might have been a guess on my part. Haven't heard much talk about iceberg parties - unless maybe the test designer was from Antarctica. That could happen.

The best/worst part of the test was the last part. I had little issue when they had just a few people as background noise. "The footpath to the lake was well lit." No problem. But as they turned up the ambient noise, suddenly I was hearing things like "...occupied territory...on the dogs."  (Was there a "niner" in there?)

Now, this pretty much sums up my past couple of years at any party. I do a fair amount of what is known as the "deaf nod". Yeah, I heard you (no I didn't).

I told the doctor that by the time they had reached the "peak volume" of background noise was around the time that I left the party. I then asked her if people can really hear the sentence of the speaker in that last situation. She said, "Yep! People with normal hearing could hear that fine." 

So much for my C+.

When she gave me the results she mentioned that I had "moderate to severe" hearing loss, especially of high frequencies. Most people start hearing speech in the 8-12 DB range, I am in the 25ish range. She may have said I had a 60 DB loss, but I'm not sure. There were a lot of numbers, graphs and facts flying around at that point. I was a little like the cancer patient after diagnosis. The whole room was kind of spinning. (Just kidding, but it was eye opening.)

In any case I'm going to be fit with a pair of very expensive behind the ear hearing aids. And by the time I walked out of the office, I'd come to the realization that vanity is stupid and that I should have done this 5 years ago because it will be good to hear again.

Ironically enough, later tonight when I was walking the dog, the song "Hear that sound" by INXS came on my iPod.

The answer is, no, I don't hear that sound. 

But I will soon enough. No more occupied territory on the dogs for me.

Blogging off..