Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit From An Old Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's still and always will be The Boss.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Genetically Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

October's Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Existentiality Is Not Just For Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the poem she referenced.

Wednesday’s Child          by Jim Landwehr                                                                 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*From the poetry collection, Written Life

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shirking My Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Me and Billy Preston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Importance Of Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Hallmarkiest of Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 22, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's on your nightstand?

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just What I Didn't Need

On Monday, another rock star, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, died. Earlier last week, Eddie Money a rock star of my era also died. All of this has caused me some angst, as the death of a rock star does, apparently.

The Cars were my absolute favorite band for years in the early 80's I saw them four times over the years, 1979 to 1984. I idolized those guys. Ric went on to have a pretty successful solo career to, which I followed to a degree. So when I saw the news that he'd passed away I was shocked and saddened. I guess I didn't know he was 75, which is shocking in its own right. But the point is this kind of thing keeps happening and it's a sucker punch to me every time.

After I got through the initial alarm of it, I talked through the meaning of life with my wife and a couple of friends/ I said to my wife, "What's the point if everything in life keeps dying?" Her and I have had a lot of mortality talks lately, for some reason. I think some of it is has to do with having both of the kids out of the house. We've just got each other from day to day now, so we tend to go beneath the surface of each other's angst. Some of it may have to do with having passed the age of 50. And I know some of it has to do with dying rock stars. I mean, why wouldn't it?

My wife and I are joking of course when we speak lightly of death and all that goes with it. Hopefully we'll have another 30 years together, but one never knows. It is a gift to have her to laugh in the face of death, though. It grounds me. We talk about going down in a plane when returning from Europe someday and think to ourselves that "at least we'll be together". There's a lot of truth there.

To continue working out Ric's death, the brevity of life and my own mortality, I reached out to my friend, Pat. He and I go back to grade school and are on the same page spiritually and many other things. I brought up the book of Ecclesiastes to him because it goes on about "There is a season for everything" and he reminded me that we need to remember how God sees us and that should be sufficient. Quit worrying about death and live harder for the here and now. 

So I have to ask, am I going crazy or does everyone over 55 think this way? I hope I have a healthy outlook about it. I can at least laugh about my obsession with it. At the same time it has ramped up the urgency of living each day like it's my last. I've said it before, I need to have coffee with everyone soon, so we can catch up before one of us isn't around anymore. A chance to say, "Hello. How have you been? You feeling good? Take care of yourself."

I'll text you all tomorrow and set a date. If I don't, please know I'm thinking of you and are glad you're in my life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fixing The World One Cup At A Time

Every Thursday morning I have coffee with 2 or three friends at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. I look at this time as some of my favorite discussion time every week. It is a group I was invited to years ago by one of the regulars, and thinking it was another myopic Christian men's Bible study, of which I was still in recovery from, I rightfully declined. Within a week, I got another invite after running into another regular of the group at a different coffee shop.

I took this as a sign that maybe I should give it a shot.

Well, suffice it to say it was not at all what I feared. When I first joined, I found out that these guys sometimes did a book study, but with very loose rules to it. If you didn't get to the reading for the week, there was no shame, heck some guys never got around to buying the book. That's about as loose as you can get.
A few Thursday Coffee Guys. -Photo Courtesy of RoostMKE

It is not always a religious book either. We've read books by Buddhists, hippies and recovering evangelicals. Put another way, we are NOT reading the likes of Purpose Driven Life.

Anyway, sometimes it's not a book at all, like the current moment. We are "between books" and just get together to talk, laugh and have coffee. And it is interesting the subjects that come up from week to week.

This week, one of the guys expressed his guilt at having just traveled to Scotland for vacation. He said he was feeling guilty for the "irresponsibility" of the air travel he'd just undertaken in the name of personal entertainment. Now, to be fair, this guy drives a hybrid vehicle that gets 50 miles to the gallon. Despite that he was still feeling guilt because we are all dreadfully aware of all that is going on with the climate and carbon buildup.

It was then that one of us pointed out that a plane burns 17 gallons of fuel a minute. 17 gallons a minute!* I was horrified. How could anyone travel internationally anywhere with a clear conscience I wondered?

Well that led to how we take car travel for granted and that the real problem is too many cars. We noted that in the 70's, a 20 minute ride across town was a lot! A distance that made you think twice, not due in part to gas prices. Now, people think nothing of a 40 minute commute. Daily!

The discussion digressed from there, as they sometimes do and turned to how we all should resort back to ship travel if we're going to go international. It is at least more economical.

I mentioned how the president of ESRI, the software company we use at work, donated enough a few years ago to plant a tree for every person at the conference, thereby offsetting the carbon used to get people there. I thought that was a novel concept.

I told them that I have environmental guilt too, but that now that I've been to London, I have a travelling bug and want to go back to Europe. So, basically, while I feel bad about what it takes to get there, I still want mine. That is the way entitlement feels. I know it and I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up. I am, therefore, the problem. I shoudl ideally bend to my guilt and stay in my neighborhood for the rest of my life. And wow, that is so fun.

So, instead of flying as a tourist or even taking a ship overseas, my friend said I should go to Africa, and plant some trees when I get there. When I asked if I could do it in Scotland or Italy, as I'd rather go there, he said, "They don't need trees. You have to go to Africa."

So that is how the conversations go from serious "How to save the planet" to lightening it up in the name of keeping our sanity. I am at least happy to be among company that thinks at this level. One week we are talking about micro-plastics in our water, the next about the military war machine, and the next about solar arrays that will one day soon will provide 7% of a California city's power need. Not only that, but you can plant crops in the shade of these solar arrays, that could not formerly be grown there because of the sun. Ideas on top of ideas.

I told these guys if we met for coffee every week, we could achieve energy independence and global peace.

And I believe that, if only everyone else in the world would listen.

Blogging off...

*(I later looked it up and it turns out it a 747 burns one gallon a second. One a second! At the same time, when spread over a 500 person plane, it turns out to be more efficient than a car. Well, who knew? I feel slightly better. See the article here.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Working Up The Food Service Corporate Ladder

In my work in progress book about my days at Cretin High School I talk a little about another job I had at The Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul. The manager of the place at the time, Don Ryan, actually lived across the street from us. His kids were pretty good friends with our family, so pretty much any of us who wanted to work there had a job if we wanted one.

I think it was late in my sophomore year that I applied and got the job as a dishwasher. Dishwashers were also called pearl divers, for some odd reason, but it was pretty much the starting position for any teenager at the place. You could work your way "up" to salad chef, busboy or even waiter if you worked hard and didn't piss off the management too much.

It was hard work, especially on busy Friday nights. Busboys brought in trays stacked with dirty dishes almost faster than you could clear them. There was always two dishwashers and a pot washer. The dishwashers would split duties, one working trays and the "clean end" of dish runs, the other was relegated to the hole, as it was affectionately called. The hole was where all the dirty dishes went and were rinsed and the resulting garbage sent into the garbage disposal.

I worked the hole enough and occasionally pulled some interesting things out of the garbage disposal. Bottle caps, bones and cocktail forks. The best find though was a pair of dentures. Well, it was the bottom ones anyway. It sorta skivved me out to tell you the truth. I can see how it happened though. Probably took them out to eat and wrapped them in a napkin that got shook out to the "hole."

Good times.

I remember the industrial dishwasher that sent dishes out the clean end at about a zillion degrees. We had to quickly stack them and get rid of the rack because another rack was usually right behind it. It  was a little like Lucy and Vivian n the chocolate line. Between the heat and the industrial detergent, my hands peeled, cracked and dried.

But the job taught me a good work ethic. You had to work fast, hard and long hours. Some weeknights they'd stay open till 11:30 or so and after running our last load, we'd go home and try and get 6 hours of sleep before school the next day. It was brutal, didn't help my grades any, but the money was good.

I eventually worked my way up to Salad Chef. It was an upgrade from the heat and garbage of pearl diving, but had stress of it's own. I worked there a few months and then went over to "the dark side" as busboys and waiters were called. The kitchen help always called them that. As a busboy I made great tips, but again, it was stressful. Lots of heavy trays of food and dirty dishes. Then there was the time my armload of soups got caught in the "automatic" doors that were finicky to open and time your walk-through.

My days at the Lexington helped pay my way through Cretin, which was not cheap. And while it taught me that hard work can make you rich(ish), it also taught me that there was no way I wanted to work in the food service industry. It also taught me the value of getting a good education so I wouldn't have to.

The restaurant still stands today. Check out their website here.

And if you should go there, tell them busboy Jim sent ya.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Thoughts From A Cover Reveal

So here is the cover to my forthcoming poetry collection. I can't say enough about how happy I am with it. It is perfect!

For starters I have to give full credit to the artist. His name is W. Jack Savage, a fellow native-Minnesotan now living in California. I have touted his work on my blog before, right here. You should check out his work if you get a chance. He is also a prolific writer and a Vietnam Veteran, making him a hero at many levels, in my eyes.

His artwork has always fascinated me and I am lucky to have a couple print copies that he has sent. One is in my office at work, the other in my home writing office. I'm not sure what you would call his style, but it looks Impressionistic to me, and I've always favored the impressionists. I don't claim to be an art expert or historian, but I know what I like.

I approached him and asked first for some pieces for ideas and secondly for permission to use one for my cover. He was gracious enough to both requests. He sent half a dozen images all with the theme of a line of some sort. I had two that I really liked but ultimately chose this one.

It has been a goal of mine for some time to collaborate with either a graphic artist or fine artist friend of mine with a book, so this fits that goal nicely. The fact that we both hail from Minnesota makes it a little more special as well. His work has appeared on many magazine covers as well, so I am fortunate to be able to share his work as part of my own.

Once I sent the images to the publisher, Kelsay Books it was only a matter of a couple days before they had something back to me. The text alignment on the cover fits with the "line" theme and the back cover blurbs speak to the books content nicely. I'm just so pleased with all of it. Kudos to W. Jack Savage and the team at Kelsay Books for everything.

The book marks my sixth since 2014, with number 7, another chapbook (Genetically Speaking) pending for later this fall on Local Gems Press. It's funny, but what keeps coming to mind through all of this are the lyrics from the Talking Heads' song, Once In A Lifetime:

"And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

How, indeed. LOL.

The book is not due out until November, but as I've said before I am so excited about the breadth of poems in this collection. It is my best work. A number of them have been previously published so are road-tested so to speak. When the date becomes firm, I will let people know where it is available as well as where I'll be promoting it with readings. Looking forward to all of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

That First Job

My memoir in progress (MIP) is coming along well. I'm just over 70,000 words into it andI've got the chapters roughed out. Now the hard part of slogging through edits comes into play.

Tenatively titled, Cretin Boy, it is about my teenage years in an all-male, Catholic, military (JROTC) school in the late '70s. The book is not solely about the school, but also about all that comes with being a teenager and all the changes that life brings.

One of those changes of course is a kid's introduction to the working life. Once you hit 15 back then, you were expected to start looking for a part-time job. It was in part to keep you off the street but also a way of teaching you work ethic and helping take the load off of Mom and Dad's need to supplement your income (or lack of it).

In the book I talk about my first job at Tu-Way Car Wash on Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was a freshman in high school and my brother Tom worked there and got me the job. I think it paid about $3.85 an hour or so, but was decent income for the work.

The job required pumping gas when people drove up to the pump, back in the day when that was the way gas stations worked. Now it's "Do it yo-sef, chump!"

The other part of the job was running the car wash, which was the equivalent of the automated ones you drive into now, except it required some human intervention. Well, there was something wrong with the switch that stopped the upper brushes from spinning. Or maybe it was just me. But it seemed every time I tried to stop the brushes, it didn't work.

This operator error usually meant the car aerial was wrenched to new, ungainly angles, or in some cases snapped off altogether. Aerials were mostly hard mounted to the frame and not nice and flexible like they are today. I'd prefer to call them less-forgiving. In some cases, they could be bent back to their original tilt, but in others, the owner of the station got a phone call the following week.

Of course there were some folks that, if I didn't tell them, didn't notice the aerial pointed toward Shanghai, China, and that was okay with me. I'd rather deal with it after they had some time to cool off and fire a letter to the owner or come back and chew me out the next day.

I didn't much care for the job actually. It seemed like a lot of responsibility to dump on the back of a 15 year-old, especially at the end of the night when you had to reconcile the gallons pumped with the money in the till. I was grateful when track season rolled around and I had the perfect excuse to bail on the job and just practice my high and long jumps.

I figured there would be plenty of work ahead of me later in life, I might as well get one last shot at a life of relative leisure. It didn't last long as I took a job at a restaurant late in my sophomore year.

In any case, there's all of this and many more tales in the book of my days at Tu-Way and Cretin. It's been fun recalling them and I can't wait until it's done.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

August Fondly Remembered

Another August has gone by and the unrest has settled upon me again. This is always a weird time of year for me. If you know me, I am happiest in shorts, a T-Shirt and sandals, so any time that fashion feng-shui is threatened by the dreaded long pants and flannel shirts, well, you're going to get some blowback from me. If you're one of those "I love the cool fall weather" people, we probably can't be friends. It's nothing personal, oh, wait, yes it is.

Don't get me wrong, I love fall as well, all 3 weeks of it. The problem lies immediately following fall. Namely the 'W' word. In my eyes, Fall and Spring are equals, only spring holds the hope of summer following it. Winter, well, I'm going to stop saying it for now.

But as I said, Labor day weekend is the stake in the heart of summer. Around here. the Carroll University students are back in the neighborhood and with it, increased foot and street traffic. I don't mind that so much, in fact in a lot of ways it is nice to have more people around. (Although my dog barks at anything that moves outside, so that gets annoying.

So I am trying to live this season one day at a time, appreciating it for what it is without thinking too much about what lies just a few months ahead. There will be more warm days for a few more weeks, and I am committed to taking advantage of each one, as I can. I'll get out on my bike, walk my dog, and get outdoors as often as I can. Tomorrow there's talk of going for a hike along Lake Michigan, so I look forward to that.

At the same time, I will miss those nights sleeping with three fans blowing and the windows wide open. I'll miss the sun staying up until nearly nine o'clock every night and all the long shadows that come with it. And believe it or not, I'll miss changing my shirt because it's been sweated out over the course of my day.

Back in the day in Minnesota, I had a friend who called me "Beach boy." It was a backhanded nickname he gave me because I was often the shirtless kid trying to soak in the sun when I could. I think there's still part of Beach boy in me.

Unfortunately his season is waning, and I'll be back to "Fleece boy" before too long. Until then, I'm going to take what I can get.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Week Of Everything And Nothing

It has been a week of randomness around here, so rather than focus on a single subject, I'm going to do some free thinking and see where it takes me.

Random Thoughts:

1. Monday mornings are always harder when you wake up to rain. They get infinitesimally harder when you step in a puddle of water by your kitchen sink on your way to the fridge. We had a leaking faucet which we traced to a spot that couldn't be reached without replacing the whole faucet. That was tonight's job (Yes, we lived with it for 3 days, that's how we roll.) and I completed it with good results. Running water is good.

Menomonee Falls Landfill Hillshade/Alcohol Ink by S. Risley
2. I got word that my publisher is starting on my poetry collection formatting and cover design. That's the good news. The bad news? Its release has been pushed back to November. Nonetheless, it is all good that they are starting to look into it.

3. I got my "GeoArt" (my term) artwork from artist Sara Risley and finally got to hanging it in my office. It looks really good and I am super pleased with the way it came out. The art was created using a hillshade model of various county landmarks that I created with ESRI software. Then, I sent the image to Sara and she added her artistic flair to it using alcohol inks. She is an amazing artist and has said that she'd be willing to do more of these if people have specific geographic regions in mind. If you're interested, contact her Here

4. You know it's a bad week when you visit a Physical Therapist and a Dermatologist in the same week. I've got issues with rotator cuffs and some skin blemishes (benign) that have required me to recognize that I'm not 28 any more. I continue to dispute this fact as I do my PT exercises and cover my gaping flesh wounds.

So, on the upside, I do have some good things coming up this weekend to make up for all of it. 

1. Tomorrow is a Fish 'n' Paint vacation day. Fishing in the morning, garage painting (or prep) in the afternoon. The days are getting short, have to take advantage of that.

2. Saturday night is the Mark Knopfler concert at the Riverside. I love his guitar work, so cannot wait. Live music in a great venue after a nice dinner with my wife. The good life.

3. Monday afternoon we are slated to go up to Lion's Den park near Port Washington. It is a beautiful area for hiking and Donna's said we need to get up there for a while. So be it.

It figures to be a good weekend. I hope you enjoy yours!

Lake Country by S. Risley

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

My 4 Years Of Military Service

This past weekend was my high school class of 1979's 40th reunion. The event was held in St. Paul and because of recent travels and other commitments, I was unable to attend. A couple good friends from high school did go and kept me posted via text and phone calls on how it was going. There were two events, a social on Friday at a bar on Grand Avenue, and a multi-school social/mixer at The Lexington Restaurant, a place where I worked many hours in order to pay tuition and afford movies, records and all of the other things a 17-year-old finds to use his money for.

I've only made it to two reunions in 40 years, my 5 year and my 30th year. Because I am working on a memoir about my years at old Cretin High, it would have been nice to make it to this one and talk the book up a bit. As it turns out, I left any promotion of my writing and my books to my good friends Pat and Peter who did an admirable job of plugging for me, from the sounds of it.

My years at Cretin were not bad in any way. I'm sure there is no one alive who would say their high school years were the best of their life, and I am in agreement. It was an awkward time of puberty, change and discovering who we were and what our life pursuits would be.

Cretin Father/Son Banquet
L-R Me, Timmy (Step bro), Pat Kopp
Some people come away with a few lifelong friends from their high school years and I am among them. Two of the tight-knit group of five of us friends have reached out and reconnected with me on a couple of occasions. (One of them has even blogged about his Cretin Years. Check it out here.) It appears our friendship lives on one chance meeting after another over the years. Also, the power of Facebook has brought a few of my old classmates back into my world view after having lost touch for years.

There are many things that I remember vividly about my days at Cretin. Things like

1. The fall mornings on the football field marching to the timing of a snare and bass drum.

2. The awkward excitement of "mixers," dances held in the auditorium with the intent of mixing the boys of Cretin with the girls of Derham.

3. Religion and Military classes in the same day - a strange mix of church and state.

4. Pizza Fridays at the cafeteria, Proms, Inspections and so much more.

When I was in high school, long hair was still around and as military students we were forced to keep it short. So much of my identity at that age was tied to my hair and I wanted nothing more than to grow it out. Then, when I graduated short hair was back on the way in. Just my luck. As fate would have it, during my late college years, I started losing it altogether. Today it is just a fleeting memory - all of it.

My friend Pat termed my nostalgia for the past and my regret for missing the reunion with a beautiful acronym, FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. He pretty much nailed it. Because, despite my tendencies toward aloneness and introversion, I do have an extroverted side that needs feeding occasionally. Plus the fact that in 5 years when the next reunion happens, one or more of us may not be around. I take none of that for granted anymore.

So to those of you that did attend, I hope it was a good time of reconnection and a great look back. They weren't our best days, but they are part of our story - a story I intend to revisit with my book,Cretin Boy, when it is finished (2021?)

Until the next reunion, (2024) we are all tasked with continuing to write our story and hopefully give something back to the world we get to live in.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Sub Atomic Micro Fame

So, it's been quite a month from a writing standpoint around here. It started with a couple of acceptances by a cool little publication out of Chicago called Coexistence. I'd heard about the journal from a Facebook friend of mine who is fond of my writing and made a point to reach out to the editor. He was then kind enough to reach out to me with a free copy of the journal and a nice personalized note soliciting my work. It's not often that an editor does something like that, so I was sure to follow through. I sent him a fiction story from my work-in-progress memoir, Cretin Boy, as well as a couple of new poems.

Within a couple of days, he wrote back accepting all three. Two for the September issue, and the third for a future issue. I was both grateful and a little shocked. He seems like a straight up guy, so I respect his judgement and am elated to be part of his publication.

Today I found out my poem, Unqualified, received an honorable mention for the WI Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters annual poetry contest.

Then, yesterday, I got some really great news. Big news. But news that will have to wait until the first of September, to announce. Again, the editor called me to tell me about it and was really forthright and nice. I'll post about it on Facebook when I've been given the green light.

And about a month ago I found out one of my poems was nominated to be included in a "Best of the Net Anthology." This is the closest I've come to a major recognition, so of course I was ecstatic. It is so nice to be recognized.

But this post is not intended to be all boastful. Rather, all of it is causing me to ask, How did I get here?

I am just incredibly lucky I am to be where I am with my "After 5:00 craft" these days. Trust me, I do not take for granted for one minute all the good fortune I seem to be having. I work hard at both my poetry and nonfiction, and part of that involves a ton of submissions. It is hard, sometimes thankless work. For every one of my acceptances, I receive on the order of two rejections. Frankly, if I was selling refrigerators, I'd be broke. (Well, I am anyway, but I'd be even more broke.)

All of this comes at the expense of other things and responsibilities in my life, but I feel led to push it as hard as I can. I am still trying to catch up for lost time. Time is precious, no one lives forever. My writing instructor has a coffee mug that has a quote on it that I sort of live by. It reads, Write like a M*****r F'er That's pretty much what I'm doing in my free time. Some might see it as kind of sad, but for me it is escape. Some escape in TV or sports, for me, it's right here in the glow of the laptop. If that makes me a loner/loser, well I'm okay with that. People like different things.

And finally, at the poetry reading last night at Mama D's it occurred to me the other intangible benefit of my writing, namely, the huge network of poets and writers that I've been exposed to. I am sworn to this pastime for the long term, if for nothing else, the great people that make up my peer network. So much support and encouragement. My life is immeasurably richer because the words I put to paper have brought me to this incredible resource of friends and acquaintances.

So as cliche as it is, and as much as some hate the term, I feel blessed to be able to write, rewrite, submit, and succeed. As always, my only regret is not starting sooner.

Instead of looking back with regret, I'll write like a...

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Natural Restoration

Just back from another week at Pine Forest Lodge with family. This trip saw the four of us plus Sam, my daughter's boyfriend, and Van a friend of my son's.

We've been going up to this cabin on and off since about 2003 or so. Lots of great memories over the years, fish, fun and family.

This one came on the day after my son's 21st birthday, so we celebrated with a birthday apple pie, a gift opening and a few drinks because, well, 21!

The week was full of lots of reading too. Four of us had books we were well into throughout the week. My wife actually finished more than one. It is refreshing to have so much downtime that you can read without guilt or interruption. It is a habit that I am happy our kids have adopted. Even Sam commented how much he'd enjoyed reading a book instead of peoples' crap on Facebook.

What struck me most about the trip was the continuous outdoor quiet. There's something healing about the wide open spaces and the way it seems to muffle the few sounds there are. It is also comforting to be away from the noise of traffic that is so much a part of our life in the city. I don't know of a way to fix that short of moving up north or out in the country, but it sure was nice.

The fishing was about what we expected. Spider lake is tough to fish and never fails to disappoint. The good news was everyone got something, albeit sometimes tiny.

The highlight of the fishing was on Thursday night at dusk. The bugs had just started to come out, so I was beginning to think about going in to shore. As I was tending to something else, suddenly my fishing rod jerked. I thought we were snagged, and when I grabbed the rod, I realized it was a fish. A big one. The scramble for the net was hampered by the fact that it was under the leech bucket, a beer can and a tackle box. The whole thing was a comedy of errors actually.

When I got it to the side of the boat, I realized it was a big Walleye and determined I could get it in without a net. At 23", it turned out to be the biggest fish I'd ever pulled out of Spider Lake. I've caught larger ones in Canada but my son and his friend were stupefied by the size of it. The biggest Walleye they'd ever seen. It capped off a relaxing week rather nicely.

All in all, it was good to be around our kids for a week. The best times were dinner meals together. Lots of goofiness and laughter. It's weird to relate to our kids as adults, but we have a ton of fun laughing with them over food.

The highlight of the outdoors element was our hike along the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains wilderness. Trees over 400 years old, waterfalls, lots of cool rock formations and plants and flowers. It makes a person feel really small.

So tomorrow is re-entry into reality. It's good to be refreshed though and being out in our natural world was a good part of helping it happen.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Personal Woodstock

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, "three days of peace and music." Much like the Green Bay Packers Ice Bowl, I would love to say I was there, but I wasn't. At 7 1/2 years old, I couldn't find a ride. Even my older brother was only 14 at the time, so none of us was of the age to go.

If you know me though, you know I am a music lover. I tend to romanticize big events like Woodstock and its California equivalent Altamont. From what I've seen of the history of the event, it was a poorly organized, understaffed and underprepared event, set in the middle of a rainstorm. There have been some good articles about it recently, as well as a PBS special that was well done. Both talk about how it was about more than the music. It was a community of sorts. More importantly, though, it was a statement about a generation. Hedonism? Probably. Hippies, for sure. But a gathering in the name of peace, by any standards, is something worth striving for.

So, feeling that I was denied the chance to participate in a little bit of history, I had to try and think of my own version of Woodstock. There were a few close candidates:

1. The Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley in 1987. The parking lot was a "community" of its own. The concert itself had a tinge of Woodstockness to it with the trippin' naked guy running through the lawn seats. I'm glad I went with my friend Allison, because there's nothing quite like the Dead at Alpine.

2. George Thorogood, Robert Cray and Short Stuff at Trout Air in 1984. Rock n Blues in the open air with throngs of people.

Night, The Cars and The Doobie Brothers, 8/17/1979

But if I had to call one my own personal Woodstock, it would be this concert at Midway Stadium on August 17th, 1979. Part of what makes it significant is that it was exactly 10 years after Woodstock (and incidentally, 40 years ago this weekend!)  This was a mega-venue, totally outdoors and was a little poorly planned itself. For starters it was General Admission, except for the field seats which required a special ticket (if I remember correctly.) I vividly recall there were not enough bathrooms and featured, like most rock concerts of the day, a few ladies crashing the men's bathroom because they were sick of waiting in the women's line which was typically 3X longer than the men's line.

In a look at how concert tickets have skyrocketed, the whole event cost $11.00!

I was an absolute maniacal Cars fan at the time. Even though the Doobies were headliners, for me, it was all about the Cars. Besides, at this point I considered the "Michael McDonald Doobies" a bit of a sellout. I loved their old stuff, (China Grove, Jesus is Just Alright, Black Water, etc.) but the "smooth jazz" sound of McDonald was not for me. But, I was willing to put up with it to hear my favorite band.

It was a pretty great concert. The cars played about 15 songs after a warm-up set by a relatively new, obscure group named Night. It was the first of 5 total times for me to see the Cars over the next 8 years or so. They actually put on a dull stage show, don't really play to the crowd, but I loved their music enough that it didn't matter.

The Doobies followed up with a decent show of their own. I vaguely remember fireworks shooting out of stacks during China Grove, near the end. And as a nod to Woodstock, I also remember it beginning to sprinkle near the end of their show.

So instead of three days of peace and music, I had to settle for 5 hours of people, traffic and music. Instead of brown acid, we altered our minds with overpriced monster cups of budweiser. Thank goodness for small blessings that way.

I realize even the suggestion  that this is anything close to Woodstock is musical heresy, but I am nothing if not a sap for nostalgia. That night was far from anything historic, but memorable to me as a teenager trying to rebel and rock out for a bit. And at the time that's all that mattered. In that way it was really groovy.

Here's links to the 8/17/1979 set lists from

The Cars
The Doobie Brothers

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Legal in 50

Tomorrow my youngest turns 21. We will celebrate it together as a family on Saturday in one of our favorite places on earth, Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer WI, aka, "The Cabin." We have gone to this resort on and off for almost 20 years. We took a year off last year, but missed it so much that we booked it again this year.

Ben has said that one of the things he is looking forward to doing is ordering a beer at the bar in the lodge. I guess I can't argue with that logic anymore. He is 21 after all. It's as legit as it gets.

But nevertheless, it is weird to say I have two adult children who are relatively self-sufficient. You slog it out in the trenches for so many years, then deal with elementary, middle and high school, and before you know it you're watching them navigate college and adult life.

There are too many good memories of Ben as a young kid to put in a single post. One of the forever memories will be when he was a little over a year old, he'd walk past the oven and catch a glimpse of himself in the oven window. Then he'd stop and admire himself and mug a little and keep walking past. He was always a bit of a ham, big with a cheesy smile when a camera was pointed his way. He's a photogenic kid too, so it was a good combination.

His dramatic episodes of injustices laid forth by his sister earned him the title of "airhorn." It wasn't so much a nickname as a term for his behavior, "Ben's airhorning right now," Donna would say to me on the phone at work. The video below is a good example of what it sounds like.

Ben always liked sports too. Like his father he was a solid 2nd or 3rd string football player, and an apt soccer player. His best sport though was swimming. He took it on as a sport his junior year and I swear it helped him grow up. He suddenly was more disciplined with his time and energy. I credit his swim coach and his teammates for that.

So now he is in turning 21 and we will be spending a week fishing and kayaking with him and the rest of our family. My wife and I have both come to the realization that having adult kids is a whole lot of fun. When they start relating to you as adults, you laugh about things you never could before. I do a whole lot of that with both of my kids.

Our family has nothing if not a similar, sarcastic sense of humor. And at the cabin, I am looking forward to lots of laughs this next week.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin!

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