Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strawberry Roll Ups and Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spell Check Insights

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

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

Things like:

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

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

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

But I draw the line at subtracting Brrrraaaap!

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Late Winter Yard Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for today, it felt good to be young.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time Well Spent

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

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

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

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

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

He's a city boy like his dad.

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

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

It was a great night.

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

The first course in college is Adulting 101.

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lining Up Future Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ode To Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Almost Showtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Maps And The People Who Love Them

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

These are map geeks. 

These are computer geeks. 

These are my people. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February Bugs

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Shifting Sands Of Parenthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Party Of The First Part

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off... 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mind Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off...

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.