Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jam Packed For Good

Some days are packed from end to end.

Friday was one of those days for me.

It started with heading up to Madison for a college tour of UW Madison with Ben. He's looking at that as one of three possibilities, and since I was headed up there for a poetry reading later that evening, we built a tour into the itinerary.

After a forty minute parking adventure (next time we bike up there) we sat through the spiel and then took an hour and a half walking tour. Ben came away with a new appreciation for the university and could totally see himself as a student there, should he get accepted. My daughter on the other hand, made UW her third choice with Carelton and Minnesota being #'s 1 and 2. I always find it interesting how our kids see through such different lenses at times.

Anyways, after the tour, we went to lunch at Ian's and then on a tour of the Capitol building. We were fortunate to get into a tour group and saw all three chambers, Judicial, Senate and Assembly. The building is beautiful - with no expense spared for anything, near as I could tell. We also got to go out on the veranda that encircles the capitol near the 5th floor. It was spectacular!

From there, we went to the Henry Vilas Zoo to kill some time before the poetry reading I was reading at. The zoo is a great little "old school" zoo in the heart of the city. We walked around until they kicked us out to close the place.

On our way to the poetry reading, I told Ben to brace himself for what might be a drudging two hours for an 18 year old. Poetry readings are not for everyone as I am well aware, especially a young man of the "digital generation."

Well, there were 8 readers and we pretty much covered the gamut of styles. Everything from poetry inspired by "Up North Wisconsin" to a woman who'd written a piece she called "Rural, Goth Feminism."

After the event, I asked Ben what he'd thought about the reading and he said he enjoyed it. He said it wasn't as bad as I had prepped him for and that he'd definitely go to one again. He really enjoys English and writing anyway, so it was a good fit. I'd misjudged his maturity level - again. I do that a lot.

When we were driving home, I was totally wiped out. The day seemed like it was three days all jammed together. At the same time, I came away with a good feeling about the day. It's not often I get the chance to experience such a range of cool things in a single day with my son. There was a little for him, a little for me and a lot for both of us.

And I'd call that a win.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Time Warp

Photo credit: Roost Photography
Very soon, my son Ben and I will be touring the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I am not sure when we moved out of the diaper stage into the college visitation stage, but I am pretty sure it happened overnight. And I'm even more sure that a year from now when he's away from home I will be just as befuddled by the quickly passing time as I am today

As part of the whole senior preparation, we had his senior pictures taken by our friend, Brandon, of Roost Photography.

Let's just say looking at these pictures of my grown son did not help matters. It was kind of like a kick in the gut. Here he is, all grown up.

The pictures, as you can see, are pretty amazing and totally capture his spirit. But his spirit is 18 - a real, live adult - and I can dislike that just a bit.
Credit: Roost Photography

I miss his little buzz-cut face and sort of resent that he now shares shaving cream with me. Not because I don't like to share, but because I don't think he should be old enough to shave.

A few weeks ago, he took a camping trip with a bunch of friends. It was his first trip without any parents along. I understand these things happen, and helping him pack was more work than I had intended, but I was still kind of sad that he could take an adventurous trip of this kind without me. They had a blast, as expected, which is almost unbelievable considering I wasn't there to orchestrate it all, but they did. (A bit of sarcasm there.)
Credit: Roost Photography

This whole growing up thing has me looking back. For both of my kids, I have kept a journal of significant or memorable days in his life - through my eyes. This is a passage from one of those days.

Entry from April 29, 2003 (Ben was not quite 5)

While I was putting you to bed tonight you asked me how my dad died. When I told you how, you said that you hope he feels better where he's living with Jesus. I told you that I'm sure he does. Then you said "I miss him," and I said "I do too, Ben. I do too."

I love you,


So, rip my heart out and stomp on it, right there.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Coming Attractions

Things are getting busy in the literary world again, so I thought I'd give a synopsis of what's coming up from an event standpoint.

  • Interview on The Write Stuff blog radio Tune in this Tuesday evening September 20th  at 5:30 PM for my interview with radio host, friend and fellow eLectio author, Parker J Cole. Parker was kind enough to interview me about my book, Dirty Shirt a while back and offered to have me back on the show to talk about my poetry books. She is an engaging host and I haven't really had a chance to talk about my poetry much in a radio setting, so am really looking forward to talking to her. I am always surprised when someone says that they heard about me from a radio interview, but it's happened quite a few times with Dirty Shirt. In book publishing you need to make yourself available whenever an opportunity arises for publicity. I see this as a good one of many avenues for exposure.
  • Tupelo Press 30/30 Reunion Poetry Reading This Friday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM, I will be reading with eight other poets at the Arts and Literary Laboratory in Madison. This is a reunion of poets from around the Midwest who have taken part in the Tupelo Press' 30 poems in 30 days challenge. I participated in this in January and found it to be one of the most challenging and stretching writing exercises I've ever been a part of. When I took the challenge I had a plan all along that I would come out of the 30 days with enough material for a chapbook (a short collection of poems.) Well, I added a few to the 30 and ended up with my collection, Reciting From Memory. I'll read from that collection, so if you're in the Madison area, stop by and check it out.
  • AllWriters' Friday Night Free For All Reading On October 7th at 7:00 I will be one of a number of writers reading some of their work. I was asked to read from Reciting From Memory, so that will be my focus. If you've never been to this event before, (FNFFA) it is a fun way to hear from writers of all genres, including poetry, novel, short story and nonfiction. It usually features a guest writer and is always a big draw. The event was recently moved to Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha to accommodate the bigger crowd as well as to allow people to purchase coffee and baked goods. This is a fun group for sure, so please join us!
  • Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books Panels  This event is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's biggest author showcases and takes place on November 4th and 5th at the University of Wisconsin - Waukesha. I am sitting on two different panels, one dealing with crossing over genres, the other on the interplay of family experiences and writing. My writing mentor, Kathie Giorgio will be moderating these discussions and, as in the 2014 event, I really look forward to talking about my experience as well as networking with other authors. It is a GREAT event and I hope to see you there. 
And so, I have a busy fall coming up, and that is the way I like it. These opportunities to get out in front of readers are just invaluable. As I've done more and more with Dirty Shirt, I've become much more comfortable in front of a group and have actually come to enjoy the experience and, more than anything, connecting with readers afterward.

As always, you can keep track of what's coming at my events page, Click Here.

Hope to see you out there somewhere!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Part Of The Whole

I've mentioned in the past that I meet with three or four other guys for coffee every Thursday morning at Cafe De Arts. We talk about everything under the sun - lately a lot about the good and bad in our political system - but we always kind of have a book study going. Sometimes it's half hearted, other times more serious.

At the moment, we are muddling through a book by Leslie Newbigin titled Christ Our Eternal Contemporary. It is one of those books where you read a paragraph, then re-read it because it is so heady, then take a break because your head hurts from thinking so hard about what you just read.

Anyways, this week we read a chapter that caused a bit of an existential crises for me. The gist of the message was that there are two camps of thought about our lives on earth. Basically the one says that we are here to advance the whole, but our lives are expendable in the process. The other is that what matters is the human person. As he writes, "The only thing that really matters is that in the little span of life that is given to him, he himself becomes or achieves something significant."

To me one seemed nihilistic (we don't matter) the other seemed self-serving (we're all that matter.)

It kind of got me down until later in the chapter where it all made sense in two phrases. One by Albert Schweitzer that reads: "Every act of a Christian should be an acted prayer for the coming of the kingdom." Newbigin goes on to say, "That is the true Christian understanding of action."

The other sentence was "Everything that we have, everything we do with all our hearts, is offered to him in the faith...the faith that God is able to make out of this the offering of the new heaven and the new earth.

Those two sentences talked me off the ledge, so to speak.

I started thinking about the ramifications of our mundane day to day things and how it may have long lasting impacts.

  • How going to work allows me to raise kids who can be part of some of the solution to some of the problems that my generation created. This goes for my mother as she did for us and her mother for her.
  • How giving $5 to a homeless person might lead to him/her buying beer or cigarettes. Or, they might use it to buy a sandwich. Is one wrong? Maybe. I can hope and pray for that person to use it for good, but good to them may be something that helps them through the day. Give for giving sake. 
  • My vote matters. If my candidate doesn't win, I walk away with a clear conscience. I still pray for whoever is in office. Some terms I pray harder than others. LOL. 
  • What I say, what I create, what I consume or don't consume, my attitude and energy -positive or negative - all matters and has an impact. Choose wisely.
  • That saying nothing is sometimes okay. In fact a lot of times it's better than saying anything at all, especially if what you're saying is tearing someone down. 
  • That walking my dog daily gives him such joy that comes back to me in his unending love for me. Stupid small stuff, I know, but it's all part of life and is one of my favorite parts of my day to gather my thoughts.
Of course I had much greater plans for this post. When I was formulating the thoughts earlier today, I had some great ideas on how to extrapolate out simple things becoming much bigger. Most of them escape me now, but suffice it to say that if you look hard enough, it's all there. Having faith makes it a little easier to keep it all in perspective too. 

And so my existential crisis had been averted for now. And I can thank God for that. 

Blogging off... 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Guest In The New House

This past Thursday we volunteered to serve the guys at the Guest House. If you know Donna and I, you know this is often the best evening of the month for us. It is such a blessing to be able to serve dinner to 86+ guys once or twice a month. (We do one night with our Facebook group and one under the auspices of our church, CollectiveMKE.)

I need to preface this with the fact that Donna does the lion's share of the work for this every month. I only help serve it, whereas she solicits donations, plans and cooks the food and gets it ready for transport. I am just happy to help in whatever capacity I can.

Anyways, my point is that they have done some serious renovations to the Guest House kitchen, office space and living quarters. As a point of reference their old kitchen was smaller than my kitchen, so when we heard their plans for upgrades, we were ecstatic.

On Thursday we were literally the first group to prepare a meal in the new kitchen. They did a spectacular job with the remodeling. Everything is stainless steel, state of the art and new. I would guess the kitchen is about four times as large as the old one. It was a joy to work in.

That's not to say the meal went perfectly. There were some issues with not enough table space and some flow issues. To add to the matter, we tried a new meal - spaghetti - which posed some unexpected issues. We timed things a bit poorly as well, so were scrambling at the end to get the food out.

None of this dampened our spirits, though. We were excited to be in such a nice space. At the same time, the downside of a new space is everything is NEW and you want to keep it looking new. So we were overly conscious of spills and slops - all of which we cleaned up at the end.

Despite all of our new space SNAFU's we got it done and the guys loved it. As I said, I am grateful to be able to help where I can and it is such fun serving alongside our good friends. They are all "worker bees" who make it seem hardly like work at all.

I am thankful too for the friends and people on Facebook who contribute money or food every month to this great cause. You are instrumental in changing men's lives. Realize that, and own it. It may seem silly to say that giving soda or pasta, or condiments is changing lives, but it's all part of it. You are all spokes in the wheel to getting these gentlemen back living independently and turning their lives around. Thank you.

And I am super thankful for all of the donors and agencies who contributed financially to enable the renovations/addition. A project this big costs big money. Not to mention that there were some unexpected costs of the addition when the construction crew encountered human remains while digging the basement. It turns out there was a graveyard on premise before the church building went in. It seems they moved the headstones, but not the graves. It required getting an archaeological and forensic crew to move and document the remains.

If you'd like to find out more about the Guest House of Milwaukee, Click Here to visit their website. It is one of many agencies that treats people with dignity and respect as they struggle to reshape their lives. Great stuff!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Fairly Distant Universities

Labor day weekend was another one of those thousand mile weekends, or at least it felt that way. We needed to take our daughter back to the University of Minnesota and that always starts and ends with 300 miles each way. This is her third year and she knows the ropes, so the preparation going in was easy. Our plan was to fill the car-top carrier so we would have room for some items we left in River Falls at our nephew's place.

Well, as many of you have experienced, when you're pulling a trailer or have a load on your roof, you tend to forget it's there. 

Or, maybe that's just me. 

Anyhow, as I'm pulling into the parking garage at her dorm, my car-top carrier scraped the "not to exceed" height sign. I almost didn't notice, but my wife promptly let me know. "Stop, stop, stop!"

You see, she's done this before, the hard way. She once entered a garage without one of these and on the way out ended up scraping the luggage rack for the entire distance. Ouch!

After a few seconds, I back out of the garage, knowing full well, that the warning sign is forgiving, solid concrete is not so much. So I pull over down the block a ways and start formulating a plan, What to do?

Empty the carrier and abandon it on campus for an hour while we unpack, seemed like an option. Given today's terroristic world though, it wouldn't take long for something that big and suspicious to attract the local Minneapolis Detonation Squad. 

"Hey, don't blow up my Ex-Cargo, dude!"

A better option was to empty the carrier and then bring that into her dorm room. With it being student move-in day, I guess moving a large plastic container in a four wheeled cart doesn't attract undue attention - or the Detonation Squad.

We probably looked a little like the Beverly Hillbillies go to College, but we got it done. 

Later that night, we recognized the 5 year passing of my brother Rob by going to the Spot Bar with my brother and two sisters in-law. He frequented the Spot, one of St. Paul's oldest bars, way back in the day. It's hard to believe he's been gone for 5 years already. 

Then on Sunday we went to the Minnesota State Fair. I cannot say enough about how I love this event. It is every state fair you ever went to - but on steroids. The day we went there were about 230,000 other fairgoers that made for crowded conditions, but hey, that's the fair. Half of the fun is spectating and seeing all the people that shouldn't have left the house dressed like they were. As I said before, I go to the fair to feel better about myself. It works every time. 

As usual, we had all the favorites. Pronto Pups (Corn dogs with white batter instead of corn batter), Tom Thumb Mini-Donuts, and the family favorite deep fried Cheese Curds from the Mouse House. We always take flak from our friends back home in Wisconsin about how they can't be better than the ones at the Wisconsin State Fair. I have to say, I've yet to find any ANYWHERE that can compete with these. It is the highlight of the fair for us every year. 

Throw in some Labor Day traffic on the way home and, well, it was quite a weekend. It was so good to see my daughter happy in her familiar surroundings at a place that holds such fond memories for me, an '85 U of Minnesota grad. I get so dang nostalgic walking around the campus and, later the state fair that I could definitely see myself moving back there someday. There's only three things holding me back from doing that.

January, February and March.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Last First Day

Today marked the first day of classes in the Waukesha school district. In our case, as my wife pointed out, it was also the occasion for our last "first day of school" for our kids. Ben is a senior in high school this year and so there will be no more first day pictures or first day front door dropoffs.

I asked her if she cried when she dropped Ben off and she said no. She said she was really alright with it and she was ready to be done with getting kids off to school. I countered that I probably would have gotten a little misty eyed, but that's because I'm a big emotional sap when it comes to nostalgic things like this. We've always said that I'm the sentamentalist in the family, this was proof.

So the day was uneventful, according to Ben. "Kinda boring," I think were his exact words. A little change from grade school where the enthusiasm of learning and being with friends sort of oozed out of his pores.

It made me think back to his days in elementary and middle school. Like most families, our kids are wildly different creatures from one another - Ben a raging extrovert and Sarah more reserved and introverted. He and his posse of neighbor friends used to walk to school backpacks in tow and cell phones just a distant reality. Where does the time go?

I think back even farther to when I was in Kindergarten. Back then there was no pomp and circumstance picture taking on the first day of class. You walked to school and that was that. I remember nap times on our little rugs we had to bring. Later when we switched schools from Mississippi Elementary to St, Agnes, I remember my Tarzan lunchbox, the one that the latch failed on one day while I was crossing the street, only to have my glass-lined thermos go crashing to the street.

My days in the Catholic school system from St. Agnes, to St. Luke's and eventually to Cretin High school were mostly good. I look back with very few bad experiences, and many good ones. Being that mom raised 6 of us more or less on her own, we were left to figure a lot of stuff out on our own.

She made sure we had stuff to make our own lunches, that we had clean school uniforms and that we were well supplied with notebooks, pens and glue. Over the years there were many "lost" permission slips, innumerable sick days - some of them faked - and occasionally a lost book, but somehow we all made it through. There's a reason I refer to her as St. Mary.
Freshman Year - '76

And so to think that all of that is behind us as parents is a mixture of gratifying and sad. We've done okay - and super-kudos to my wife who bore the large brunt of much of the off-to-school duties - but this begins a new chapter in our lives and it feels weird. Sometimes I don't like it so much.

Well, at least until we get that first "I forgot my lunch/note/swimming coat/permission slip" call from Ben.

In nine months it will all be over, and I guess I'll have to be okay with that.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trees, Water and Stars

As I mentioned in my last post, I was on vacation last week. It was our annual trip up to Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin for a week at the cabin. This trip was different in that none of my extended family was able to make it up during the week we were up. While I missed having them around, it lent a different feel to the week in some cool kind of ways.
Some of the more memorable moments of the week include:

  • Muskie fishing with Sarah on two separate mornings - just her and I. She has been asking for a while when we were going to go Muskie fishing again, so this was the perfect chance. I think I am incredibly blessed to have a daughter that loves to fish, but I think it's even more amazing that I have a daughter who is willing to learn how to throw a bait caster with heavy lures in an effort to catch one of the biggest freshwater fish in North America. She learned the technique almost without error and never complained once, this includes hoisting and dropping the anchor. While we never caught a big muskie, I realized that there is a LOT to be said for spending time talking and laughing with my daughter in a boat on a calm morning in God's Country. The whole experience made me realize we did something right along the way in raising her.
  • Fishing with Ben and his friend Van on a couple of evenings. Same deal here. Ben also learned how to cast the big lures with a bait caster without incident. Then, on the last night as we were fishing with a big "sucker" minnow, we had a big fish pull the bobber down. Unfortunately as I handed the rod to Ben, the fish spit the sucker out. We lamented our near-miss for a while and then got back to laughing, joking and enjoying each other's company. They cracked me up. 
  • One night around the fire, another couple we know broke out a guitar and started playing. Then another camper brought out a saw - yes, a wood saw - and started playing it with a bow. If you've never heard a saw, it is an eerie, cool sound. Combined with a guitar it made for some interesting arrangements. Before we knew it most of the people, including me and my son and his friend, were singing "Horse With No Name" and "Wish you were were here" around the fire with a guitar/saw accompaniment. It was spontaneous, imperfect art, and one of the coolest things I've been around in a while.
  • That same night we saw the distant northern lights. It was not the spectacular show we'd seen in past years, but was cool nonetheless.
  • Stargazing every night was nothing short of breathtaking. Ben said it's almost like you could tell the earth was rotating if you watched the stars hard enough. I had to admit it was true. Throw into that mix a half a dozen shooting stars and they were nights to remember.
  • We were part of a kayak trip that the resort owner set up. Every year he has a "wheelchair week" where his resort focuses on serving disabled adventurists. Near as I know he's one of the few resorts in the state that is committed to doing something like this and I think it is such an awesome thing. We packed seven kayaks into the back of a pickup and went out to a chain of lakes. At some points we were bushwhacking through bullrushes to make our way. It was an unexpected twist to an otherwise ordinary trip, but one I'm glad we ran into.
  • I got to help a bunch of our friends' kids fish, kayak and pedal boat. There is nothing I like better than helping kids fish. If you've seen me in action, you know that I spend as much time baiting hooks, untangling lines and taking fish off as anything else, but it's all good. This is the next generation of adventurists/outdoor lovers, and I need to do my part.
  • I enjoyed watching my two kids and Ben's friend interact with adults and carry on adult conversations with them. It made me so proud to see them be respectful, interested and engaged with other people and not the "sulking teenager" that you sometimes see at these types of venues. 

Northern Lights (Photo Courtesy of Roost Photography)
All of it made me realize that my kids are growing up fast. I hope they will want to come up again next year, but I know if they can't, we will all make it back up there someday. Pine Forest Lodge is a special place for all of us, and this trip was a reminder that as we all get older, it's important that we make time to be together in nature. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

T-Bird Country

In keeping with my twice a eeek blog commitment, I wanted to post from up north, on my phone, no less. Suffice it to say it has been an amazing week in so many ways. Perfectio. More on Sunday. Now, back to business.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Duane And All His Friends

I was at an annual party called Brewfest this afternoon. My friends from twenty plus years ago host the party every year. He brews his own beer and wine and usually has a handful of homebrews on hand for people to try as they feel inclined. They always have a huge spread of food and as part of the celebration they always have a pinata for the kids.

At this party I always sit and talk with co-workers I haven't worked with in twenty years. We catch up on our family lives, laugh at how old we are all getting and talk about the old times with the old gang.

It was just another party today, but it reminded me of how rich my life is. These are people who genuinely care about my well being, and I theirs. They are the ones you "lose touch with" for 11 months out of the year, but then you pick up the conversation right where you left off last year. There is a comfort level and, it might be a stretch, but a level of love as well - maybe one you never mention or talk about, but it's there.

My wife always warns me about my inner extrovert Duane coming out at these functions. This title dates back to when we were on a horseback ride on vacation in Colorado. On the ride, for some reason, I talked at great length to the tour leader, named Duane, who had a fascinating life story, and Donna wondered, what the heck? Jim never talks this much. At the time it was the beginning of my writing focus and I found people's stories to be way more interesting than my own. Ever since, I have these extended "extrovert flares" in social settings where I find people fascinating. (Is this normal?) Anyhow, while at the time I can't get enough of the dialog, when it's over it usually results in introvert overload where I need to withdraw into seclusion for three days - but I digress.

I have the same kinds of interactions with my writing group, my colleagues in GIS, my Collective MKE church body and my family. I always come away from them appreciative of the people, the battles their raging through and the stories I've heard. I carry their grief, I linger in their joy, and I share in their loss. Each of them are fighting their own battles and are carrying on through it all - powering through life.

Anyways, I'm rambling here. My point was that while we get all caught up in the important and sometimes unbelievable things in life like the sorry state of politics, Olympic heroes and imbeciles and the issues facing our police force and black community, we need to remember what we have. People aren't perfect, but most are doing what they think is right. Sometimes their views and beliefs are radically different than ours, but that's what makes the world so interesting. They think and feel as strongly about their opinions as I do about mine. Let it go. Love them, give them a hug and tell them to press on.

Because I'm telling you, they might not be around at the party next year.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Super Charged

I am currently working on a story involving a couple of clowns and a stolen Dodge Charger. Well, actually a couple of stolen Chargers, one vintage, one modern. The story was inspired in part by my obsession with classic Dodge Chargers/Challengers.

I've also just completed a poem about a ride I had in one back in the day. We hit 100 MPH in it, which seems as reckless as it was - though 100 was different back then than it is today with our 70 MPH (and in some cases 80 MPH) speed limits.

I have loved these cars since I was a kid. Of course, back in those days, they were the muscle cars. The closest I came to ever owning one was the Hot Wheels version.

So when Ben and I go to our annual car show, I tend to focus on finding the Chargers and other muscle cars of the 70's and 80's. If you know them, they are the GTO, the Super Sports, Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and the like.

We went again last Sunday to a show in downtown Waukesha. We only had an hour before Ben had to leave, so we did sort of a sprint through. And it was funny because every time I saw a different model of car that I really liked, it spurred a story. I'm sure this probably bored Ben after a while, but if it did, he didn't say anything.

It has become one of our "things" that we try and do together every year. We go, we gawk and we talk about how I should buy one in my retirement and take it around the country and try and win prizes at various shows. He even says that he'd like to restore on one day. I tell him his Uncle Steve used to restore cars. He always joked about how he'd have to "save up" his spending money to by an alternator or bumper or blinker stick.

When we got home he jokes that one day 30 years from now we'll joke about seeing a Hyundai Santa Fe in mint condition and go "I remember when we had one of those!"

Well, that might be a stretch. But we will likely look back at this period of history as that "time everyone had to have an SUV."

And so, until that day in retirement when I take the plunge and do something as blindly foolish as buying a 50 year old car, I guess I'll have to continue to go to car shows and dream.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Micro Diaries

As I was helping my son pack for his camping trip to Devil's Lake this past weekend, we were rummaging through the camping bins when he came to a bin with my High School yearbooks in it. He looked through a couple to find me and after that he came to something I'd forgotten I kept. It was six years worth of my Pocket Appointment Calendars from my days at the University of Minnesota.

Why six years worth you ask? Well, I was part-time for a while, changed my major a time or two and added a double major near my Junior year.

But that aside, the bigger question is, why did I keep these? It has been 31 years since I graduated and the fact that I not only kept them, but moved them to about a half dozen residences is even more puzzling.

They are actually kind of an interesting peek into my life as an undergrad. In essence, they are like a micro-diary of 6 years of my life. While nothing is detailed, there are some notable and some not so notable events. Things like:

  • 1979-80: In the Identification section I include my name, address and phone as well as emergency contact. Under Medical Information I list my Dr. as "Seuss" and my blood type as "B or A." In the 1980-81 book I get more specific with my blood type and declare it as "B" which is great, except that my blood type is actually A positive. When you're young, these things don't matter as much as when you're old, obviously.
  • 1980-81: I have December 9th penciled in as the last day of classes, and right underneath it I wrote, John Lennon shot. A dark day for sure.
  • 1981-82: Because I was such a music freak, most of my books have the dates of various concerts I attended. One notable one penciled in was November 21st, 1981 when I saw the Rolling Stones. I had main floor seats for their Tattoo You tour. Mick and the boys killed it.
  • 1982-83: I marked "Nicky's Baptism" for December 5th, 1982. Nick is my godson and if you would have asked me what month, let alone what day, he was baptized on, I wouldn't have had a clue. Well, it was a Saturday in December, 1982. So, there ya go. 
  • 1983-84: This was when some of my friends started to marry off. Most were graduated from college and had had steady girlfriends/boyfriends for many years. I have Peter and Beth both getting married a month apart in June and July. I wouldn't marry for another six years. 
  • 1984-85: By this time I was a part time student, and also President of the Anthropology Club which is a much more important title than the title would dictate. LOL. 
  • 1985-86: Evidently I dated a Karla a couple of times in the spring of 1985. I can honestly say, I have NO memory of Karla. How does that happen? I don't know.
My college years created some of the best memories of my life. I will always remember them as being very rich. These little glimpses into those years help remind me how lucky I an to have had the experiences I did. 

And to Karla, I'm sorry.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Morning Well Spent

It is 4:45 on Saturday, August 6th, and my alarm clock shrills and wakes my wife and I with a start. She shuts it off and continues her sleep as I drag myself out of bed with anticipation. This morning I am going fishing with my daughter Sarah and my brother from another mother, Steve. We always try and get on the water at 6:00 AM to get the early bite and avoid the later morning launch lines.

After I eat breakfast and start brewing the much deserved coffee, I rouse Sarah, who, like any teenager, can be a tough one to get moving in the morning. When I check on her five minutes later, I am surprised to see she is up and getting dressed.

The girl likes to fish - she's not missing this chance.

We pile into the Santa Fe for the half hour drive to the lake in Racine County. Ten minutes into our drive we realize she doesn't have her fishing license on her, so we turn around and trek back home to get it.

Once we're back on the road, we talk about how our summer has been and how we're both looking forward to going up to the cabin in a couple of weeks. We both love that we can do whatever we want for 6 days, including unlimited fishing.

Steve meets us at the launch and after we get the boat launched, we cross the lake to try our first spot. Sarah takes her seat on the front deck - the Queen seat today, while I take the middle and Steve runs the motor.

As we cast we chat about our lives, Steve tells us he's back to school teaching with kids returning next week. Sarah fills him in on her summer of babysitting our friends' three kids, and I talk about my home projects and my last fishing outing. As we struggle to find the fish, Steve steps up the challenge and says "First fish gets a buck."

An hour into it, Steve gets a strike and after a feisty fight, lands a nice 17" largemouth bass. It is always nice to get that first fish out of the way. Steve reminds us that we both owe him a buck. These bets get made every trip and are rarely fulfilled. Everyone knows that, but we continue to make them anyway. It breaks the monotony and creates incentive.

With the first fish out of the way, I pose another wager. "First northern gets five bucks from Uncle Steve."

"Your dad is always quick to try and take my money, isn't he?" Steve says.

Sarah laughs and says "Yep."

Over the next hour and a half Steve catches two more bass and I manage to lose one shortly after I set the hook. In customary form, Steve questions whether it was really a fish.

"Oh, it was a fish alright," I say in my defense. I am used to this kind of question and defense, because I am on the questioning side as much as the defense side. It's how we relate in the boat. We are both comfortable enough in our friendship that we can chide each other and know no feelings will be hurt in the process.

Sarah is next, as she catches one and ten feet into her fight it gets off. She is happy to finally have some action, albeit a getaway.

We take a break, pass granola and bottles of water around and comment about how it's heating up as the morning progresses.

Steve motors us to the channel where I finally get a smallmouth into the boat. It's a 15" fish, but a few minutes later I claim that I thought it might have been a little bit bigger than Steve's fish. This claim draws another laugh from both he and Sarah, who know better.

Hey, it's worth a try.

Within 20 minutes Sarah catches the biggest fish of the day, a twenty inch Northern Pike. I grab the slippery, slimy fish and hand it to her for a picture. She holds it proudly as Steve snaps a couple of shots. She drops the fish back in the water and it swims away to fight another day.

After another twenty minutes of futility, the speedboats start revving up a sure sign that the fishing is done for the day. Steve packs the boat up, fires the Mariner 20 horse motor and opens it up. I tell him to "Open her up!" He screams over the whining motor "She's wide open!"

All three of us laugh at our little boat that could trying to keep up with the other flashy boats around us.

It may not be pretty, but it holds a ton of great memories and always gets the job done.

We trailer the boat, rinse it free of invasive debris, say our goodbyes and chalk up another successful outing.

It is days like this that - one at a time - get etched in the slate of my mind. Days and memories that are always easy to recall and that frame an important part of what I will forever treasure. Time spent with loved ones laughing, fishing and keeping it real.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.

When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.

When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Beginning To See The Light

I went to the eye doctor today. It had been about a year and a half and I figured I was due. To top it off, I have been struggling with an ailment that I thought he might be able to address, so the time seemed right.

Now, I am 54 years old and my eyesight isn't what it used to be. The upside to that is that as all of my friends and loved ones age along with me, their eyesight is failing in many of the same ways. My wife is the queen of the on-again, off-again cheaters that she has on hand at any given moment of the day. They are propped on top of her head 80% of the time, the rest of the time they're by the sink, or in the bathroom or, or, or...

In her defense, she is practically legally blind without her glasses or contacts. Glasses are the first thing she reaches for in the morning and the last thing she takes off at night. 

My situation is different, I could almost drive without my glasses - save for those blurry street signs. I am nearsighted, so only need to wear my glasses for distance. So, instead of the annoying on-again, off-again cheater trick, I am the guy annoyingly looking under his glasses. I guess we all have our gigs in this world. 

About a year ago, I was experiencing what felt like really tired eyes, or puffy eyelids. (Oh no, He's telling us about his ailments!) I remember my mom telling me that problems like that are more suited to an opthamologist than an optometrist, so I set up an appointment with an opthamologist. His diagnosis was that I was suffering from Blepharitis

Uh, BlephaWhatIs?

Like most medical terms, I first mispronounced it as Blefartis, which made my family crack up. They still call it that, mostly because they like to say fart.

Anyways, this doctor told me to do 4 things daily. Hot compresses on my eyes 2-3 times a day, use eyelid pads to clean the eyes daily, put a small amount of antibiotic ointment in my eyes at night and use artificial tears when necessary.

If I did all of these things every day, I'd have little time to do much else. 

That was his treatment path and "come back in 3 months" which I did for 9 months until I realized I was paying $125 out of pocket for him to tell me it was a "chronic condition" that seemed to be about the same or maybe a little better.

After a year of this, I consulted my optometrist, who also happens to be a long-time friend. When I told him about my history and the $125/appt. cost, he just shook his head and said "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, you should have come and seen me."

So he put me on a treatment path that is sustainable and I am forever grateful.

But the whole experience made me realize how much we take our eyesight and our corrective lenses for granted. When the assistant was testing my eyes, I'll be truthful, I took some wild assed guesses about what I was seeing a few times. W X Y Z - L M N O P. 

Of course they know the chart and can humor us when we give our WAG's. Their jobs are to fix it so that I can read my pill bottle or those directions in small print without decoupling my arms from their sockets to see them. Or maybe using a selfie stick to read the ingredients on a chip bag. 

So next time you see me, hopefully I'll see you too,

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Meaning In A Meaningless Game

I had the chance to attend my first Brewers game of the season a couple of nights ago. I won free tickets in a drawing at work for Bike to Work Week in May. The tickets were valued at more than $60 each, so this was clearly one of the better sets of seats I've ever had. I won four, but every person we asked to join us was busy it seemed, so it was just Ben and I. This was a good thing for many reasons,  the best one being that we just had some great laughs and together time, something we don't seem to get near enough of these days.

Now, neither of us are big baseball fans. I literally did not know more than 1/2 the guys on the field, and Ben knew even fewer. We both admitted that watching baseball on TV - with the exception of maybe postseason playoffs/World Series - is just something we've never enjoyed. At the same time we agreed that watching it live is much different, much more engaging. But, as many of you know, attending a game is not cheap. It is usually $150+ per game for a family of four after tickets , parking, snacks and a steeply overpriced beer or two. So, we typically don't get to a game unless we have discounted or free tickets. It takes the edge off a fairly expensive outing.

Anyways, we went and had a blast. Our seats were right along the third baseline 20 rows from the field. It was funny, but when I went to get my tickets from the Will Call window, Ben saw me at Window #6 which said VIP Seats and said "Dad, you're in the VIP line."

I said, "I know. I told you these were good seats. You don't expect us to sit with the rest of those Plebeians, do you?"

To top it off, it was T-Shirt night, so we both got Brewers T-shirts out of the deal.

July 29, 2016

Thankfully the Brewers were on their game and were playing the one team that they can consistently beat, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As the game went on, I explained some of the strategies, nuances and differences between National League and American League ball. We talked about batting averages and laughed about some of the crazily computed stats, like:

  • The Brewers are 4 - 2 versus opponents when they play on Tuesday afternoons when the roof is open, the temperature is above 74 degrees and both starting pitchers are left-handers from Japan.
Then we talked about all of the crazy acronyms in baseball. Things like OBP (On base percentage) HBP (Hit by Pitch) BB (Base on Balls) and the ever lovable OPS (On base Plus Slugging). I thought Geographic Information Systems (GIS) had a lot of acronyms.

Because he has a wicked wit, Ben can keep right up with me when we joke about sports like this. We love watching them together, especially the Packers and more recently, Admirals hockey, but when it comes down to it, these are men playing a boy's game and making millions in the process. So we look at it as our job to keep it real.

I can remember showing a baseball I'd caught at Brewer's game in the 80's and we got to talking about the sport. I said that the Brewers were kind of lousy at the time and certainly not going to the playoffs to which she said, "Yes, but it's all about the game you're at. You want them to win THAT game. It doesn't matter what place their in." 

That always kind of stuck with me, for some reason.

So the Brewers (and Twins, my other team) are going nowhere again this year, it appears. But we wanted them to win anyway. And as I said we were fortunate they played well. There was a two run homer in the first inning that gave us an early lead. Then, Junior Guerra, the Brewers pitcher pitched out of his head and ended up throwing one batter short of a complete game. Both of us were hoping they'd leave him in for the last batter, but he was starting to look shaky and giving up bases, so they pulled him.

Ben and I - Miller Park, 2004
The whole decision to keep him in or pull him though, gave an interesting storyline to an otherwise nothing game. When the reliever got the final out, the stadium erupted. It was a cool ending to a great night. 

It was a night I was so glad I got to experience with my son.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Work In Progress

I've never been one for enjoying yard work. It is a necessary evil to owning a house in both my and my wife's perspective. I know some people love it and they have beautiful yards to show for it.

God bless 'em.

But it isn't me. There was a day or two when I actually liked raising tomato plants. We bought our plants at the farmers market in Madison one year and had a great crop. We were successful urban farmers. So, the next year we bought a few more tomato plants and what happened? They contracted some sort of mold wilt disease.

So we stopped that nonsense.

I realize there's some people out there who would call us lazy, but I don't think that's fair. It's just that we loathe gardening and yard work. It doesn't trip our trigger. If I we had our way, we'd pave the entire back yard - maybe make it a skateboard park. Better check my insurance policy on that first. I'll get back to ya.

We've recently added some artwork to our garage in our attempts to make it more visually appealing. The dragonfly above was made by a friend and the two planters were creations my wife designed and I assembled. The next project is to build a patio out of what was once covered by a building attached to our garage. It has been 10 years in the "design formulation stage," but may not make it until 2017.

So, despite all appearances, we're trying. Baby steps, people.

Having said that, my latest thing is sitting in my back yard with my dog for an hour near dusk, writing, checking email and the like. It's been a good summer weather wise for this new habit. It's been too hot to stay inside and with daylight lingering as long as it does, it seems sad to waste it sitting inside.

I've also discovered that my back yard is a decent haven for me and a sort of animal refuge for lots of different critters. In a single evening I spotted cardinals, swallows, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and countless sparrows and finches. Of course I have to overlook the fact that the invasive creeping charlie has overtaken my grass, but I've gotten used to it and am okay with letting nature run it's course. I am one of those green freaks who cannot see using all kinds of poison and fertilizers that will end up in the bloodstream of the very critters just mentioned or the watershed of tomorrow's ice tea.

The other night I sat in my Adirondack chair with a pen and paper and wrote two pages for my book with my dog at my side. It was freeing to be away from my computer, phone, tablet and iPod. I know I wouldn't typically get two pages written if I was on my laptop. There is still something therapeutic about writing in longhand - a dying art, to be sure. As I sat there channeling my thoughts I watched my dog snap at bugs. When it approached dusk, I watched the fireflies rise out of the grass.

I know my time in the back yard is limited. Fall looms and the days are getting shorter, so my urgency is ramped up more these late days in July. Also, my dog has become used to the routine to the point of lingering at the back door after dinner in hopes that I might invite him out with me. If I don't he whines until I do. He's become a creature of our habit.

We're buds, hanging out in my beautiful, tragically neglected back yard together.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fairly Full

I went to the Waukesha County Fair yesterday with my two kids, Sarah and Ben. I've written about the fair before and if you know me, you know I'm a big fan of fairs of all size. I love everything from the small Parish Festivals to County Fairs all the way up to the big boys - the State Fairs. I love the food, the noise, the smells and the cheesiness of it all. It brings out the strangest cross-section of humanity which makes people watching one of the better parts of the whole thing.

One of the reasons we went to yesterday's fair on short notice was to see the Demolition Derby. These events are twenty minutes of hillbilly crazy. There's something viscerally satisfying about watching cars smash into each other as they spin their wheels in the mud. It's probably some sort of redneck gene in me that attracts me to it, but I can't seem to look away. My daughter had never seen the spectacle and when she sent a video to a friend, he texted back and said "That's some hillbilly s#*% right there."

Pretty much.

After the derby was over, the skies turned dark so we moved toward the food stands to try and get our fill before the deluge. Before the skies opened up entirely, we were successful in getting:

  • Deep fried Oreos
  • A corn dog
  • Deep fried cheddar cheese
  • Mini Donuts
The mini donuts were a story unto themselves. All I wanted was a $5 bag of donuts to share with my kids. Well the guy "upsized" me to a $10 bucket of donuts for no extra charge. I let him be nice, but I also knew we would likely never eat 1/2 of them. And we didn't. The clerk also said if we brought the bucket back next year, we would get a refill for only $5.00. 

There's a $5.00 savings I don't want to have to remember a year from now. "Hey hon, where's the County Fair Mini Donut bucket from last year?" 


Anyway the rain drove us into the animal barns, which is probably as interesting as carnies barking at you in the midway anyway. We saw some beautiful animals, including some insanely curious pigs that reminded me how far removed we city-folk are from farming and what we eat. Farm creatures bring out the kid in me. Those that grew up around them are pretty much, "Yep, that's a cow." 

The rain also drove us through the exhibit halls where we saw everything from the Ginzu Knife demonstration to Window Replacement firms. Heck, we could even sign up for the Army or dispute Darwinian Evolution if we wanted. 

Nope. Just killing time thank you.

Which is what the fair is all about really. It's an alternate universe for me. The freakshow is in the Midway, but when you look at it closely, the freakshow is everywhere. 

And it's wonderful.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Best Days Are Now

I dropped the car off for yet another expensive repair today (I don't want to talk about it.) and on the walk to work afterwards, I came to Frame Park in Waukesha. For some reason, I was stricken with a pang of nostalgia for my days as a young father.

My two kids and I spent A LOT of afternoons and early evenings at this park. Any of you who have slogged through the days of multiple small children know that going to the park is like a micro-atomic vacation from the rigors of parenting. For the most part we get to turn our kids loose and let them run feral around a dizzying array of dangerous, perilous playground equipment while we try to use at least part of that time gathering our wits and trying to remember what day of the week it is.

It's a little bit ironic that my 20 year old daughter is spending a few days a week this summer babysitting our friends' 3 kids, all under the age of 6. She loves it, and brings home the best stories of her day with them, but they have convinced her that she will be putting off motherhood as a goal for at least ten years. As a father who has both been there, and is looking to get her launched into life relatively debt free and well educated, I'm totally on board with no grandkids for the next 10 years. (Though, selfishly, I wouldn't mind having a little one or two around, I know that for me it is Rent-a-Kid, for the parent it is ALL IN.)

I used to play "Monster" with my kids at this park, where when they got bored with the other kids, they'd make me chase them around the park. Up the ladders (with my 6'5" frame) and down the slides, just slightly behind them to get them running and tired out. It was all fun, but it was also a parental sneaky-ploy to run the energy out of them so they'd be tired out and fall asleep easier at bedtime.

It never worked out that way.

But I miss their small bodies. I miss their screams of fear when I would start after them in a chase. I miss watching them interact with other kids on the playground. There were a fair amount of regulars at the playgrounds - other parents looking for a micro-atomic vacation from the confines of their own homes, just like me.

But as much as I long for those days, these days are pretty good too. I don't have the physical rigors of feeding, lifting, changing, buckling, bathing, pottying and dressing anymore.

I do get nights like two nights ago though.

I went to Loew's with Ben as my heavy lifting assistant, as we were there to pick up a new washing machine. We get there and were told that someone was looking for our washer in the warehouse. After twenty minutes Ben said,

"Evidently the washer is in the Raiders of the Lost Ark Warehouse."

I cracked up so bad.

How did I get to a point between big boy pants and the sarcastic wit of a 17 year old like this? This is the beauty of having kids who are turning into adults. I get someone who gets my sense of humor, can crack me up and doesn't mind a little heavy lifting.

Then, as we're bringing the old washer out of the house, we were yelling commands at each other as we struggled with this behemoth white box that no longer held water. It was like Laurel and Hardy as we wrestled the thing out of the house and down the new stairs onto the curb. (It was gone in less than 20 minutes - THANK YOU, Junk Man whoever you are.)

Then we repeated the same folly moving the new one in. Scraping knuckles, yelling help, correcting each other, trying not to wimp out as we struggled through narrow doorways with differing opinions on which side of the box was more narrow. (It was square, there was no narrower side.)

And I thought, how nice is it that I not only have free back saving help, but we can have fun doing a task that one doesn't usually associate with fun.

The same goes for Sarah when she brings her stories of babysitting home with her. She tells me how cute little Levi (age 3) is when he says, "I'm not really tired for a nap." Also, she is right there alongside us laughing and holding doors open when Laurel and I are wrassling the new washer into the house.

So, it's a trade-off, I guess. I don't get to dance and wrestle with the kids on the living room floor any more, but I get these times of "life," of living day-to-day average, ordinary life, with moments of great fun and unexpected laughter that make me realize it's all a great journey.

Chapters in a book.

Stages of life.

Moments of family love - albeit unintended.

And I will take every one of those that I can get these days.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Think Time

I've been thinking a lot about meditation lately. Not the transcendental type that came to popularity in the 70's, but rather experiences that are meditative for me. I rarely make time for just sitting and meditating, though I think that would be a highly beneficial activity. What I have discovered however is that I need a fair amount of meditative, introspective activity even if I don't think of it that way.

Take for example my biking. I bike to work every day in the 7 months of the year that we can in Wisconsin. Thing is, that is only about a 12 minute ride. What I do though is I bike for roughly 30-45 minutes every night after work during good weather. On top of my ride home, it is part of what I call my "wind down" time. The rhythm of pedalling and breathing gives me time to think - or not think - depending on how my day went.

Donna has become accustomed to my need for a ride. She knows I'm a better person when I've had one, than when I've not. She says I'm like a dog, I need a good run. But as much as that, it's a chance to clear my head of the day's events at work. It preps me for home life and not to mention, it is my primary workout practice most of the year. Great aerobic workout that keeps my weight in check.

Another meditative practice for me, strange as it sounds, is walking the dog. I put in my iPod and take Toby out for a 20 minute walk every day. On weekends it's twice a day. The music and the pace of the walk and the fact that I'm outdoors just makes me happy. It's a chore that's not really a chore. It's funny, but the music brings a new element to the mix, so I think about entirely different things than when I'm riding my bike (which I do iPod-less.)

Believe it or not, writing is meditative for me. Again, most often I do this with music on, and the process of putting my thoughts to words helps me work things out. It is a strange phenomena but one that is explained much more eloquently right here.

Of course fishing in my kayak is maybe the most meditative of all. There's something about being on the water with the quiet, and the waves and the breeze. I was out there yesterday and fished for four and a half hours. The only words I uttered in that time were "Good morning" to a fellow kayaker. As a self-proclaimed introvert, this is just a bit of heaven. Like the BWCA, I get a little offended when people encroach in my vicinity. If they do, I always hope that they'll just nod and keep moving on. Does that make me a bad person? Probably. Ha!

I can't help it. It's who I am.

So all of these activities are meditative and great sources of introspection for me. I am a firm believer that EVERYONE needs time alone to look inward. I know it's torture for some, heaven for others. But I also think if we don't take time out to work things out, be it in reading, meditating, doing art or anything solitary and meditative, it manifests itself in the form of added stress in people and takes a toll over time. But that's just me.

Some need it more than others. In writing this post, I realized all of these things are check-out activities that help me through the rest of the day and week. They change over time as we evolve our habits and hobbies. But the important thing is we keep looking inward and taking time to take stock of life and slow down.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Spinning Plates

I have to take a little time and devote it to all that has been happening in my writing world of late. It is fast and furious at the moment and all of it is good, but there are days where I feel like I'm spinning plates. Most of my issues are good problems to have, so please understand that I'm not complaining, just very busy. That said, here's what's going on at the moment:

  • The tragic LUV story about my cat Tonto, was finally published in an anthology devoted to pets and pet rescues. The anthology is from the "Memories from Maple Street, USA" series. I've had a couple of other memoir pieces published in, including, Leaving Childhood Behind and The Best Christmas Ever. This one is titled Pawprints on my Heart. If you love pets, especially dogs and cats, this would be a great little read. Lots of heartfelt memories about pets. All of the books in this "Memories from Maple Street, USA" series are compilations of short memoirs and are quite affordable. Check them out.
  • I've been invited to speak on a couple of panels at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books in November. The panels are on Writing about Family and Writing Across Genres. The theme this year is Roots and Branches. I can't wait!
  • I recently found out that I was one of the chosen for publication in the Wisconsin Writers Association's Literary Journal titled Creative Wisconsin. This will be a bound paperback journal and includes my childhood memoir about neighborhood hockey in Minnesota in the 1970's. This was a really fun piece to write.
  • I've been asked to be a "frequent contributor" to the Flash Fiction Sunday Edition at 101
    Words. (My reviews will be featured this Sunday July 17th) 101 Words is a flash fiction site that requires that user-submitted stories be exactly 101 words in length. They also have a Sunday Edition that consists of an author posting links to four different flash fiction stories that they thought were good, and then providing a two or three line review. I was flattered to be approached for this, but it is another spinning plate. Ha!
  • I am awaiting the publication of the David Bowie Anthology titled 47-16 Volume II  (the years of his lifespan) that has my poem, "Not So Major Tom" in it. Volume I is out already, but I was selected for Volume II. Coming soon...
  • I still continue to promote my most recent eBook of poetry, Reciting from Memory. This is a fun collection of "poems for the working class." Nothing too lofty, just fun and introspective poems.
  • Of course the elephant in the room is my ongoing book about the family/house/neighborhood that I grew up in. I've been giving it more attention lately, trying to get serious about getting it done (first draft). These other things are fun distractions, but distractions nonetheless. Not arguing, it's all good, but if I had about two more hours each day...
  • I am an occasional guest blogger at our church, Collective MKE. Not a huge commitment, but another plate.
  • I am looking down the road at what's next too. I am still intrigued by re-writing/co-authoring a book my deceased uncle has written. As you may recall, I read the book and thought it moved a little slow, so was thinking I'd re-write every other chapter and see if I couldn't help make his dream come true. The idea thrills me - the work involed might kill me. Ha!
So that is most (but not all) of it. Throw into this a busy summer schedule and some quality fishing time, and, well, more plates.

Thanks again to all of you who take time to read my work, my blogs and offer words of encouragement and support. You are the reason I do it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 10, 2016


It was a tough week for our nation, so as a result this will not my typical kind of post. I made the mistake of watching the Philando video on Friday and, essentially, watched a man die. Then, in some sort of dark moment, I searched for the Alton Sterling video and watched it. In essence, I watched another man die.

It wrecked me. It continues to wreck me.

I do not want to start a big debate about who was right or wrong. I realize both men had guns - one with a permit, one for personal protection. I am a person who feels putting a gun in any non-hunting situation usually brings about bad things, but if it is within the parameters of the law, well, who am I to say.

At the same time, both of these men were shot multiple times at point blank range - one with a child in the car. That one was for a broken taillight.

The day after the second shooting, an armed forces verteran sniper starts picking off cops. An unspeakable tragedy spurred by two other unspeakable tragedies.

Again, I don't want to get into who was right or who was wrong. I also don't want to get into a Black or Blue Lives Matter. They both matter.

Part of the reason it wrecked me so badly was that we are still fighting about skin color in 2016. Next year will mark 50 years since my father was killed by a gang of black thugs in a bar near the Selby Dale neighborhood of St. Paul. This bar was literally less than 5 miles from where Philando was shot and less than a mile from the school he taught at. Granted it was an extremely racially tense time in our country's history, but I'm seeing the same kinds of things transpiring again, and I hate it.

I don't say this to garner sympathy or pity, but rather to point out that after 50 years, it's clear we still have a long way to go.

The hard question is what do we do now? Frankly, I don't know. I do know I will continue to try and see our humanness before our color or sexual orientation. I will continue to pray that our country can use these events to pull together and not build walls because of them. And I will continue to treat everyone with the respect I expect from them, including police officers.

Because I don't like being wrecked by the things I saw.

Blogging off...