Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dealing With It

It seems I'm approaching that angsty time of winter where I exude my discontent with darkness and cold weather. Yesterday I saw the forecast calling for snow and possibly some sort of "Polar Vortex Split" that is going to throw parts of the country into a deep freeze.

This is not happy news. Neither item.

Now, understand that we have had a weak winter thus far. A little cold in November and December, but almost no snow. Literally none on the ground right now and it is mid January. So, what am i griping about? I mean really, it could be worse.
January 17th, 2019. Wha?


These past few years have been adjustment years for me. I have begun to give into slowing down during the winter months. For eight months of the year I am outside as much as I can be. It always made me angsty to be cooped up like this, but I'm growing into it. I think the winter season is a reminder that we need to rest and recoup.

One of the biggest adjustments has been heading to bed and shutting the lights out earlier. I have this warped sense of needing to "be productive" until 10 o'clock every night, particularly in regards to my writing. So, giving that up at 9 o'clock to go up and read has taken some work. You know what though?

I really, really like it.

Besides, I think to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. I'm just doing what I believe in, right? I need to stop feeling guilty for slowing down for a few months.

I've also learned that I can still be active (weight lifting instead of biking) without being outdoors. Lifting weights is about as benign and boring activity ever invented, but I had to do something or gain thirty pounds instead. (Step away from the eggnog!)

And if nothing else, it IS staying lighter with each passing day, so that's some serious hope I'm going to latch onto and run with. There's something like 63 days till spring, so yeah, that's another point of light.

I'm also trying to appreciate the here and now a little more. We talk about it every week at coffee, both my Thursday group of guys and my Saturday coffee with my wife. As much as it's hard to see in the day-to-day grind, every day really is a gift. How we use it determines our happiness, so I'm going to try and take each one as far as I can and quit my grumbling.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Other Peoples' Kids

I don't often talk about my nieces and nephews, but I have a whole lot of them. One of them, Alison, just graduated from Winona State University and it spurred me to think of how much I appreciate them. Each has their own unique gifts, personality and demeanor.

Because my sisters started their families first, with quite a break before my brothers and I did, there is almost two generations of nieces and nephews. My sisters' kids are all in their thirties and forties, while my brothers and I all have kids that are twenty-somethings.
The coolest thing is they all get along great. My kids love their cousins and really enjoy being around them. They grew up together. They are like the siblings you visit a few times a year. My son Ben even went so far as to say that at Christmas Eve he felt cheated, that we all had to leave by 10:30 PM, so he didn't get enough time with his cousins. That is when you know you did a good job exposing your kid to their cousins.

3 of four of my sister's kids live in California. Because of this my kids don't know them as well as their "Minnesota Cousins." But when Ben and I went out to San Diego a couple of years ago, Ben clicked with Erin and Johnny like he'd known them his whole life. I remember him saying "Johnny is hilarious. He's cool. I really like him."

And the "first generation" of cousins sort of raised this second generation. Now that they are all adults, they can reminisce about those trips to the cabin, or their own college years or whatever, with their younger cousins. It does my heart good to see them get along so well with so much love.

So as this second generation of cousins all go through their college years, it is fun watching them interact and share their experiences. One is in South Dakota, one in Illinois, one in Minnesota and my son is at Madison, Wisconsin. All unique experiences, but all sharing a common goal.

On the other side of the family and the other side of the country, we have nieces and nephews in New York. They also grew up with our kids and are very close in age. The whole college experience is shared by them at the moment. When they get together there is a lot of reminiscing about trips to Myrtle Beach, the Adirondack Mountains and other places. Their friendships are as close as their Minnesota cousins.

While I had some good experiences with my Minnesota cousins, fishing at White Bear Lake being primary, it was nothing like the relationship these kids have with their cousins. I'm not resentful, just happy that they have each other to lean on and share life with.

Blogging off..


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Oneness, Meditation And The Zen Of Paper Straightening

In the past I've mentioned that I have a group of guys I have coffee with at Cafe De Arts for one hour every Thursday. I once jokingly called them the Thursday Theologians because often times our talk is religious or spiritual in nature, though not always.

They're a hard group to summarize, really.

I would call them my "best-friends-for-an-hour-each-week" but that would be sappy and besides the name is too long.

They are friends though. Most of them are part of my church CollectiveMKE, but not all. It certainly isn't a requirement, though as I said, our conversation often drifts into spiritual discussions.

We usually pretend to be sort of a book study, though we're all slow readers and take forever to get through a book. The book is more of a reason to show up than anything we really delve deep into. If we didn't purport to have anything "in progress" there might be impetus for someone not to show. We need an anchor, so a book it is.

Our discussion is willy-nilly and meanders on random tangents and rabbit holes. Today was a good example when we started down the path of meditation. It led to a sidetrack of "paper straightening" and how a certain level of that is healthy, or even meditative, but if you do it too much, it becomes an unhealthy OCD thing. It is these sorts of extrapolations that make the conversations interesting.

Then I asked if anyone in the group had ever meditated. It met with a lot of head shaking. Some guys offered alternatives that they would consider meditative. Methods I'd never thought of that cleared their minds, which is part of what meditation is, I suspect.

Later, one of the guys today asked "How do you know if God is speaking to you?"

Uh...

It was the source of some deep discussion. Everything from people not hearing God to those hearing him in nature, to those experiencing him when they're in their friend group. But we also concluded that we can't really refute someone when they say "God told me," because, well, how do we know he didn't? It is really a personal thing, if it's a thing at all. We also agree that people may even be using the "God told me," line to justify something they don't feel comfortable about. Maybe, maybe not.

We are currently reading a book by Ram Dass, titled Grist for the Mill. It is about experiencing oneness. Dass was kicked out of Harvard in part for hanging out with Timothy Leary and, well we all know what he was famous for.

In any case the book is one we're just getting into. We're all looking to expand our worldview in hopes of increasing our faith, and this book is an extension of that exploration. In the past, if we don't like a book, we sort of agree to move on. Maybe this book will do that to us, I don't know. So far, I like what I've read.

Anyway, I digress. What I started out this post wanting to say is how fortunate I am to have this hour every Thursday to talk about everything from automotive maintenance, to engineering feats, to political postulating to paper straightening.

We are literally all over the map.

We're not a Bible study, but the Bible comes up almost every week in some capacity.

We're not a book study, but we touch on the book almost every week.

In fact, I'm not sure what we are. I do know that each week I come away asking a new question or in some way challenged or enlightened. (No, not like Timothy Leary enlightened. Just drug-free  enlightened.) I also know that I look forward to my Thursdays more than any other day during the week (except Fridays, of course.)

It is my one hour, caffeine fueled, mind-bending, deep dive. It's cool!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Art Appreciation 101

One of my latest obsessions is art. Don't get me wrong, I've always appreciated it and I credit my college Art History 101 class with helping shape that appreciation. Art is one of those things that helps me appreciate the human race. Our innate desire to create accompanied by some wildly talented people makes good art happen.

Now while I claim to be a writer, I lay no claim to any artistic skills outside of words. I not only have no sense of proportion or depth, but when it comes to thinking of something to create/draw/paint, I kind of draw a blank. It's certainly a gift that God gave to some and skimped on with others. I would fall under the latter category.

My wife and I like to support local authors and have a few friends who are crazy talented in that realm. Names like Sara Risley, Jill Kenehan-Krey, Walter Jack Savage, Stacey Ball and others come to mind. Because the best way to support artists is to buy their work, we've made it a point to try and do just that. When a coworker pointed out that my office walls needed some art, I took it as a chance to get some prints and class the place up a bit.

Here's a few of my latest acquisitions and a little about why I like the particular piece.


Birch Forest (My title) Tape Art by Sara Risley
Sara Risley is an artist and friend whose style has always captivated my interest. Her styles change over time. She was once into using photography as her base. Then for a time she moved into using tape as a medium. Since then she has branched into using alcohol inks, another amazingly colorful technique. The piece above, a tape painting, was one that captured my eye as well as my wife's. She mentioned it looked like birch trees. As with all of the art on this blog, the picture doesn't do the piece justice. Her website is Here. Check it out.


St. Paul Skyline, by Walter Jack Savage

Walter Jack Savage is a friend I found on Facebook. His artwork has appeared on several magazine covers and books. When I saw this piece, a downtown St. Paul scene with the familiar 1st National Bank building, I knew I wanted it to remind me of home.

Fishing by Walter Jack Savage
Savage is retired and is also a prolific writer as well as a Vietnam Veteran. He hails from the Twin Cities and now lives in California. 

I've followed his work and so when I saw the piece with a fisherman show up in his feed, I knew I wanted that one as well. Because he's sold or given away many of his more popular pieces, I was only able to obtain a copied print. Because I love to fish, this piece holds special meaning for me. It puts me in the boat. Walter Jack Savage's website is here. Check it out.


And finally, there is a piece by Steve Kilbey. Kilbey is the lead singer and bassist for the Australian prog-rock band, The Church. I wanted his piece in part because they are my favorite band and also because I admire artists who are adept at more than one art. Kilbey is a singer/songwrite/artist and poet. This piece is psychedelic and reminds me of the dreamy nature of their music. His website is Here.

So, while I'm not an art collector - far from it - I don't think you need to be to appreciate the talents of artists. Like writers, they pour a little bit of their soul into all of their work. I'm grateful that they do and my way of showing my appreciation is to support them 

They make the world a little more beautiful.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fighting Back At Winter

Well, it's officially 2019 and we are in the dark cold months of winter. If you know me, you know I am a shorts and t-shirt kind of guy. I like to come home from work, get shorts on and take a 45 minute bike ride to decompress. In the spring/summer/fall months I do that as often as I can.

So when winter rolls around, I go into a sort of inner-funk. It's not a depression per-se, but I can certainly see it from here. There's something about the dark/cold combination that wears on me. If I had an unhealthier nature, I could become a real slug and never do anything from November until March. I've found I have to work at staying active or pay the price with pants that are too tight and butt prints embedded in my living room chair. Not good, either of them.

In an effort to keep my sanity and not sleep for 15 hours a day, I do a few things. All of them are "fake it till you make it" solutions to staving off the blues. So far so good.


  • I walk to work pretty much every day except Thursday. This is largely because if I didn't I literally wouldn't see the sun for more than 10 minutes a day. This way I get at least an hour.
  • I take a vitamin D tablet every day. I call it my happy pill. I don't know if it helps anything, but it is sort of my sun replacement. Once we're past the Winter Solstice, my mood improves ever so slightly. Knowing we're on the upside, is motivational.
  • Because my pants were tight at the waist,
    I started lifting weights in my basement. My basement is a dank, cold place, so you get a feeling for how desperate I am to have to resort to going there to get a workout in. I don't do gyms because the only place I'd be less likely to go to than my basement is a gym where I'd have to get in my car and go workout.
  • I've become a fan of going up to bed nearly an hour earlier than I do in the summer. From there I'll read for a bit and then sometimes shut the light out a half hour earlier than in summer. I've decided its OK to not have to stay up and "be productive." Rest is okay and I think in some respects that's why God gave us winter. A time to slow down.
  • A friend gave me a Lambeau Field Stormy Kromer hat that I have taken to wearing indoors when the wind is bad. It is very warm and despite looking like a 6'4" Elmer Fudd, I've come to love it.
  • I drink a fair amount of herbal tea, egg nog and dark beer in these months. Part of this habit has triggered the need for working out and I understand that it's cyclical, BUT I NEED IT! Ha!
  • This weekend I will attend the All Canada show. It is an indoor expo where I'll go with a friend to plan that trip for 2020. Sometimes just looking at pictures of unfrozen lakes and people holding big fish to keep a person going.
  • I surround myself with lots of friends on occasion. It helps.
  • I count every day without snow as a blessing. 
  • Same for every day above 32 degrees.
  • If it does snow significantly, I plan on getting out cross country skiing. If it doesn't though, I am really okay with it. Really, I am.
  • Wool socks. Big fleeces. Slippers. They help.
So that's a little of what I do to keep from putting my head in the oven during the dark months. If you've got additional ideas, I'd love to hear them. Because we're still about 90 days from any kind of relief.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Guest Appearance

Well, it's almost new years eve, and all of my teams have ungracefully bowed out of the NFL playoffs. I've watched less football this fall/winter than I have in recent memory mostly because the Packers and Vikings were playing such mediocre ball this year. I am of an age that barely has time for good football, let alone mediocre. Thankfully I was part of something bigger today.

Today I was part of a Guest House meal assembly with eleven other people. This is an event organized by my wife, funded by donors and assembled by volunteers. She sets up about four of these assemblies every year and because I'm a bit of hack in the kitchen, I never really took part in one.

As I've mentioned before, the Guest House is a transitional housing agency for 86 men. They provide job training, help with residency, AODA counseling and health care for homeless men.

Donna assured me she could use my help, so I went along. I was put on sandwich duty with my brother in-law. It was so cool to see the kitchen buzzing with activity. These are folks who gave up a Sunday afternoon to help others and you'd have thought it was a party. People who'd never met were getting along like old friends. Everyone was helping and within two and a half hours we knocked out five meals for 86 men.

It feels good to give back. It feels good to help. And it beats the heck out of bad football.

I love so much about our work with the Guest House. And I hope to do more of it in 2019.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Put To Words

Today was the start of the second half of my Christmas/New Year break. I took advantage of it doing what I love to do most during down time, namely writing. I managed 1500 words over a few hours at it, not too bad for a day's work. I know to some 1500 words seems measly, but I'll take a 5 page day anytime.

This time of year I always like to look back on my writing accomplishments. I never really know what to expect from year to year, as I still look at this as a part-time gig, fitting it in around the edges where I can. That said, any and each published piece is a small victory in my eyes, and in that respect 2018 was a pretty good year, maybe the best yet.
Journals, magazines, books and
newspapers with my work.

From a book standpoint, any year where I have two books released is a good one. In January The Portland House was released by Electio Publishing. I tell people it is the second memoir I never dreamed I'd write, let alone get published.

Then, in October, my third poetry collection/chapbook, On a Road was released by Unsolicited Press, my third different publisher. (What?)

If you'd ever told me I'd have two books and three poetry collections within 10 years of starting to write, I'd have said you're nuts. Seriously. Frankly, the whole journey seems like a really long, really good dream. It also feels so out of control that I'm just hanging on for dear life. And when people ask me how I do it, all I can say is that I just throw my all at it - my heart and soul - and then I just let what happens, happen. Most of it is good, but like anything that is good, there are some downers too. It's all part of it.

It was a good year for getting my work into magazines and journals. I had nine poems, two nonfiction stories and one flash fiction piece accepted for publication in a number of different journals. I am grateful for each and every acceptance, and take none for granted. These acceptances fuel me. It's hard to explain, but I can't imagine not doing it, submitting that is.

I try buying at least one copy of every publication I'm in, so I can keep a visual log of what I've done. It's shaping up to be a body of work, I guess. And while it's important to look back every once in a while, I can only think about the works I have in progress.

Which takes me back to where I started this blog. I'm currently 56,000 words into Cretin Boy, a book about my high school experience. I had big aspirations for finishing it in time for my 40th class reunion in the summer of 2019, but I can safely say that is not happening. Nonetheless, the book has become my latest obsession - the cute new girl on the block, if you will.

Throw into that my appointment as poet laureate for the Village of Wales, a few book signings, this ongoing blog and a couple of co-authored events and, well, it doesn't get much better for someone of my sub-atomic micro fame. As best I can, I'm livin' it.

So I press on, hoping that 2019 is at least half as successful as 2018 was. Even if it isn't, I am having fun just sorta winging it. And that's all that matters.

Blogging off...


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Together - Wherever

Christmas celebrations have been an evolving thing in our family these past several years. As kids get older and houses are bought and sold, we move things and people and dates around to accomodate everyone as best we can. Our BIG family Christmas has moved from;


  • Aunt Helen's house in White Bear
  • Portland Avenue
  • Mom's new house on Larpenteur Avenue
  • Tom and Patty's house in Shoreview
  • Rob and Jane's house in Shorveiew
  • Sister Jane's house on Sterling
  • A Maplewood community center
  • Sister Jane's new house


So the location changes, but the occasions are steeped in family togetherness. Over the years we've had boyfriends/girlfriends who became spouses, and some who did not. We've had friends who had no family in the area that we've invited in over the years.

But the strength of our holidays has always been that everyone knows Christmas Eve is reserved for getting together with mom and the aunts and uncles. This year brings three new babies and two new boyfriends to the mix, so it stands to be the biggest gathering in recent history.

It will be chaotic and loud and joyful and, most of all, filled with love. We have been incredibly blessed over the years to still get along with one another. The death of our brother Rob seven years ago only served to strengthen the bond. We are all grown now, successful with beautiful families and each of us is flirting with the idea of retirement in the next 5 years.

So we continue to meet at this once a year holiday gathering because we know how important it is to laugh and catch up with one another. We know that every year with good health is a gift, so we celebrate that while we celebrate the birth of our savior.

I'm fortunate beyond measure to have both my immediate and extended family my life. I look forward to tomorrow's gathering with both a fondness for past Christmases as well as hope for future ones.

I'll leave you with a poem I've written about the holiday that speaks to these thoughts.

The Visitor                 by Jim Landwehr

If the ghost of my Christmas past
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see ribbon candy and mixed nuts
and a living room buzzing with relatives.
I’d smell rib roast and potatoes
beneath a haze of cigarette smoke
I’d taste pumpkin pie with cool whip
and egg nog from a dainty glass.
I’d hear shouts of “Thank you, Mom!”
“It’s perfect!”
and “Save the bows!”
And I’d feel like I was enveloped in love,
I’d feel safe and warm, and I’d feel
like I never wanted the night to end

If the ghost of Christmas present
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see my two twenty-something kids
in their pajamas on Christmas morning
I’d smell coffee and ebelskivvers
and the scent of evergreen.
I’d taste the marshmallow and fruit
of our chocolate fondue tradition.
I’d hear carols seeping from the stereo
Bing, and Perry and Nat King Cole.
And I’d still feel enveloped in love,
I’d feel grateful and fortunate
like my heart was given a great gift.

If the ghost of Christmas future
paid me a visit
what would I see?
I’d see that family always comes first
I’d smell the victory in Christ’s birth
I’d taste the sweetness of a life well lived
I’d hear the call to be present and love big
and I’d feel like I’d lived a beautiful dream.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Blogging off...


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Friends Of Old

Having had three days in Minnesota during my concert visitation/book signing, I made it a point to reconnect with old friends.

The day after the Bob Seger concert, my friend Pat and I went out to eat at Perkins. Back in the day, we spent many late nights at Perkins, usually after a night out. It was our go-to location to catch up on life and share a meal. Our discussions over food were always deep, but were also sprinkled with lots of laughter. Neither of us knew what our future life would look like, so all we could do was talk about what was going on at that point in time, give advice and show support. But most of all what we did was listen. Neither of us needed to dominate the conversation, so we went back and forth as friends do.

At this particular outing, we pretty much picked up where we left off, even to the point of Pat ordering his trademark Omelette and me ordering a strawberry croissant french toast platter. It seems the more we'd changed, the more we were the same.

We talked and managed to go through the usual pot of coffee.

After breakfast we went to shoot a little pool at the place we used to play. When we were in high school and our early college years, we spent hours in Lee's Billiards shooting pool. It was our way of killing time back then and Pat thought it would be cool to revisit the place.

The ownership has changed and now it is called Al's Billiards. When we walked in it was like going back in time thirty plus years. The place hadn't changed much at all. The tables were the same and as I chose a cue, I laughed at the thought that it might be the same one I used in 1982.

I can't say enough about how fun it was to spend the day with a friend doing the things we did as a couple of young guys so long ago. I'm a nostalgic nut, so these kinds of things resonate with me. We put My Sharona and George Thorogood songs on the "iTunes" Jukebox and it was like getting in the Delorean and going back to '82.

Fun stuff.

The next night I spent with a bunch of friends I used to work with at Montgomery Wards. One of them owns a Tiki bar in Stillwater called the Tilted Tiki. We met there and reconnected with each other. It is a fun establishment with lots of delicious tropical drinks and cool decor.

This was the first time a couple of us had seen each other in years. It felt so good to talk about where we were, what had happened over time and what our kids were up to. These guys have always been a fun group, so we had some laughs - to the point of near tears at times for myself.

With both of these outings, it was like picking up exactly where we'd left off last time we were together. I think that is how you can tell a good friend from a more casual friend.

On my drive home I reflected on how lucky I was to have these friends. We share a past that wasn't perfect, but it made us who we are.

And I can appreciate each of them for who they've become. Old friends!

Blogging off...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Still The Same

These past couple days have been one of connecting with an old friend, Pat. I've talked about him in the past. He and I were best buddies in high school and much of our college years. He was in my wedding in New York, and I was in his in Tulsa.

Over the years, as we were growing our families and living our lives we dropped out of touch. There was an occasional letter, and then an email, but for the most part we drifted.

This last reconnect was driven by a text exchange we had last summer. He was texting about how a Bob Seger song, Like A Rock, had a big impact on him one night on his deck. We'd seen Seger together in 1980 and, like our friendship, we just sort of lost touch with his music over the years.

Well, just for grins Pat looked up to see if Seger was still even alive. When he did he saw that he wasn't only still alive, but he was in the middle of his "Final Tour." Pat was always "spontaneous" so he pulled the trigger and got tickets for us, mine as a birthday present.


We found a lot right across the street from the Exel Energy Center. On an interesting side note, when we went to the show at the Met Center in Minneapolis in 1980, two tickets cost $24. This time, parking alone was $30! The two tickets were $258.00.

Times have changed.

We went to dinner at Patrick McGoverns on West 7th and had a great time catching up with one another.

When we got to the concert, Pat was a little shocked at the age demographic of the crowd. He hadn't been to a concert in years, so was unprepared for the old, grey, balding crowd that made up 70% of the audience. I told him we might be part of that demographic, but I wasn't sure. Ha!

We found our seats which were the equivalent of where we were in 1980, namely, upper level about 5 rows from God.

The concert was awesome. I'd venture as far as to say it was better than the 1980 show, though memories fade things. Seger was in good voice and is still a great performer, playing acoustic guitar, piano and of course his gravelly vocals. As I said, I've sort of fallen away from his music over the years, but it was so great to hear the songs that I grew up with. This was a greatest hits show and did not disappoint.

The whole thing was just cool. It was a step back in time, with a foot clearly in the present. Both Pat and I have become brutally aware of the brevity of our time on earth, and we are of an age where you just don't let things like this pass by. You jump on them. We were both well aware that this $400 venture was a frivolous luxury. But we also knew that life is too short to miss something like this. And in doing it we created a memory we will both have and cherish the rest of our lives.

We might have both been part of that over 50 crowd, but for a couple of hours we were both 18 and carefree again. To some it probably seems sappy and nostalgic, but to me it was moving, powerful and epic. During my stay with Pat we talked about what we might have changed about how we grew up. We both kind of agreed that while we were not A students and not perfect kids, we were the best we knew how to be.

Our pasts shaped our present.

And our present is pretty dang good.

"I was eighteen
Didn't have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Solid everywhere
Like a rock

My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock"

-Bob Seger from Like a Rock.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Shockingly Normal

So I will turn 57 on Tuesday. This is both a non-event and a shock to me.

I say a shock because it is hard for me to believe that I am on the far side of fifty. I tell my wife that most days I feel like I'm twenty eight. On those days I do too much around the yard, house and on my bike, I am quickly brought back to reality that I am every bit of my 50 plus years. Those days are usually followed by mornings when I wake and every joint needs a little encouragement to get moving.

But I can't complain. My weight is the same as it was 20 years ago. Ever since I turned 40, it has been much more difficult to keep at a constant weight, but I've managed fairly well. It's an ongoing goal of mine not to increase my waist size on my jeans, (like Jerry Seinfeld) because, well, it's a slippery slope. Before you know it, it's sweatpants all the time, including at the grocery store.

And I am fairly healthy too. Sure I have some chronic things, like numbness in both my feet caused by a back injury at 40. But I suspect most people do, and considering some of the issues of this age, well, a little numb foot ain't so bad.

I say it's a non-event because, except on the decades and to a lesser extent, the fivers, birthdays are just another day. As I get older I have a harder time thinking of something I don't have that I would like for a gift, so it's low key from that perspective. My wife's birthday is on December 7th so we usually agree to not get each other gifts.

Instead, we've made it a tradition to go out to dinner with a couple of friends, whose birthdays are near ours. We used to go to the same restaurant every year, but that got old, so now we switch it up.
Last night we went to a classic Milwaukee establishment called Thistle and Shamrock. The establishment was rated one of the top 10 places for fish fry in Milwaukee, so we thought we'd check it out. It was a delicious fish dinner with great service and even live R&B music in the bar area. The owner even gave us each a bottle of wine. He said it was what he did every year to recognize his customers in lieu of having a full-on Christmas part. The place was old-time Milwaukee cool and was everything we'd hoped. It made for a really great meal.

So, it may be tell-tale when you start looking at birthday experiences like this as a bigger deal than cake and gifts. It's probably a sign that you're old, but frankly I don't much care. We talked and laughed our heads for a few hours together. It was one of those nights that made me realize how rich our lives are and how lucky we are to be able to enjoy a good meal in December with longtime friends. 

Today another old friend of mine sent a quote from GK Chesteron that kind of sums things up.

“Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?” - GK Chesterton.

At almost 57, this is my new mantra.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Confluence Of Adventure Stories

A week from tonight I will be in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I am headed back for a couple of reasons, one of which is to co-present with another author at Subtext Books. Barb Geiger and I will be presenting our books, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and Paddle For A Purpose.

This promises to be a fun event as we discuss our adventures on, off and IN the water. Most of you know that Dirty Shirt chronicles trips I took up to the area in remote Minnesota with friends, brothers and, later, our children. Barb's book has a similar adventure theme to it. It is the story of how her husband's idea of paddling the length of the Mississippi River went from an half-joking crackpot idea to the actual pursuit of carrying it out.

But their journey takes on a noble purpose when they decide to volunteer for service projects at various stops along the way. While the boat carries just what they need to live on, at many of the stops, they put their hands and feet to work for non-profit and church-based agencies.

During the process they discover that in trying to bless others with their work, they in-turn are blessed. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the form of what they call "River Angels." These are complete strangers who open up their homes and offer food, money and resources to the Geigers as they progress. These angels seem to come along at opportune times and make the trip easier to bear for Barb and her husband.

When Barb was writing her book, she was part of the same writing studio (AllWriters) that I was. I was fascinated to follow her progress as she got closer to finishing it. At submittal time, she asked if I thought it would be a good fit for my publisher, Electio Publishing. I replied that I thought it would be a PERFECT fit. Electio accepted her book and Barb was ecstatic.

I had the privilege earlier this year to speak at Subtext Books for my second memoir, The Portland House. I am hoping we will pack the store and have a good showing of support. Small bookstores make a community more vibrant and Subtext is proof of this.

The format for the evening will be loose. There will be introductions, readings from our books and short interviews of each of us regarding the writing process and how our books came to be. Then we'll open the event up to questions from the audience. Of course we'll have books to sign afterwards.

And nothing makes a better holiday gift than a book signed by an author. But that's just my opinion.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 13th, at 7:00 PM
Subtext Books
6 West 5th Street
St. Paul, MN, 55102

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Littlest Brother

So it is my brother Paul's birthday today. He's three years younger than me so let's just say he's in his early fifties and I'll leave the math up to you.

In our family of seven kids, Paul is the youngest. He always touts, correctly so, that he was at the absolute tail end of the baby boomer generation. Of course, the youngest kid always get called the spoiled one, the one who had the road paved for him by their elder siblings. With seven kids, there was plenty of road paving in our family. There wasn't much Mom hadn't seen by the time Paul was in high school, so the leash was probably as long there as any of us.

Like any of my siblings, I owe much of who I am to Paul. He taught me a lot over the years. Because of our age difference, we didn't hang around much in high school, but I felt we got closer in our college years as we both muddled our way through the University of Minnesota.

If I had to narrow down the thing that I learned from Paul that stuck with me the most, it would have to be the love of music. Paul was always bringing home new albums and pushing the edge of new styles and forms. A good example of this was on the porch of the Portland house one day. Paul had this strange music blaring out of his big boom box. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. When I asked him what it was, he said it was a kind of music called Reggae and it was by Bob Marley.

Being a rock and roll fiend, I was skeptical. I wasn't sure what to think. After I gave it a chance though, I was hooked.  And, in an instant I was opened to a brand new genre of music - world music -of sorts. It led me to later follow UB40, Black Uhuru and, more recently, Stick Figure.

But Paul also taught me a little bit about how to turn a wrench. Unlike me, there wasn't much that he was afraid to take apart. He spent most of his high school days with a dirt bike in stages of tear-down and reassemble. He helped me with a couple of motorcycles I had and with each task, my confidence grew. These are some of the intangible benefits of being raised in a big family.

One sort of hilarious story about Paul took place right after we were married. I was slated to go out with Paul and Rob and some other friends while Donna stayed home for the night. For some reason, Paul was worried about her protection. So, before we left, he got an unloaded shotgun out of the closet. He showed her how to pump it and fake like it was loading a shell.

"All you have to do is pump it like this, and the sound will send the bad guy running for his life. Jim will kill me if something happens to you." Paul said.

Donna was both equally shocked and humbled that he cared enough to show her how to work a gun. It's when she knew she was a valued part of our family and she has never forgotten that about Paul.

When my brother Rob passed away, it was a terribly traumatic time for our whole family. One of the few positives it brought forth though was a greater appreciation of the siblings we had left. The four of us boys were always tight, and this tragedy brought us even closer together.

And I feel there is a little bit of Rob's character and influence in each of us kids, just like there is a little bit of Paul's personality and character in me. I'm lucky to have the siblings I have and I thank God every day for them.

And while I have to hate him just a little bit for being in Florida as I sit watching the snow in Wisconsin, I do have to say...

Happy Birthday, Brother!!!

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Writing For My Life

I have taken a session off at the writing studio I have been involved in for the past 9 years or so. I was a little burnt and just needed to take some time to write new material and rest. Like any hobby or pastime, I think you can get into a rut and I just needed to break things up a bit.

That doesn't mean that there are a not a lot of things going on in my writing circles, because there are. I don't sit still well, so have been working on new things, promoting, submitting and networking. 

Here are a few things happening.

  • On December 9th I'll be reading my poem Guest House at the Bards Against Hunger reading at Good Harvest in Waukesha. This event charges a $5.00 admission or two food items which goes to the Waukesha Food Pantry. The collection of poetry, all about hunger and poverty will be for sale at the event as well. Very happy to be included in it. 
  • I was asked to do a guest blog for a website focused on art in the country of Georgia. My first post is here, with more to come as I feel led. This is a great chance to get a little international exposure, so I'm glad I followed through. (I was referred by the owner of Paperbacks Plus in North Saint Paul, MN.) 
  • I will be taking part in an interview by Brainhackers.com in mid-December. They solicited me for a 15 minute interview on their website. I've sent them the Portland House book, so we will be discussing it, the writing process and more. 
  • I will be in St. Paul Minnesota on December 13th with friend and colleague, Barb Geiger talking about our outdoor paddling memoirs. I love this little bookstore and it is always good to go back home and see friends and family. 
  • I have a couple of entries into contests that I am extremely hopeful about. The contests are paying, but I'm in them as much for the notoriety they might bring. So, fingers crossed.
  • I also have several other poems and nonfiction pieces submitted that I am waiting to hear about. 
So, despite not being enrolled, I'm still hard at the writing thing. Life is good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Minneapolis, Madison, Me And Mom

Well, another Thanksgiving holiday is in the books. Ours was spent with family and friends in differing numbers over the course of the last three days. It was relaxing and recharging. It was laughing until my stomach hurt, kid hugs and amazing conversations with everyone.

It was a time of quality moments with my wife and two grown kids, albeit fleeting at times.

And as I sat there listening to them talk about their lives, their encounters, their worries and anxieties, I realized they've arrived, and in a sense, so have we. They have begun adulthood -for real adulthood, not the "I'm 18" adulthood. The one where they are shopping for groceries and calling their mom for advice on what spices to put in their homemade chicken dumpling soup.

It is funny because I can remember those very moments when I was in their place so many years ago. I remember shopping for groceries and wondering if the green bananas I was buying would ripen okay or should I skip them that week and wait for better looking ones next week.

My daughter bought a used Kia Rio from us and she was tasked with taking the title to the DMV to get it transferred. She also has to line up insurance for the car. Both of these are adult tasks that we would love to help her with, but know that those are the things that make you an adult. These are sometimes the hard things, but they need to be done and are part of cutting the cord.

We listened to our son describe the habits of some of his roommates that drive him a little crazy. He claims to pick up the slack for some of the more slovenly guys in his apartment. (Sounds like a parent, to me. LOL)  He is beginning to realize that it takes so little work to take care of your own dirty dishes, clothes etc., but not everyone at that age is as aware of that. Getting along with others in a living space is a taste of Adulting 101.

They are both back in their separate cities now, Madison and Minneapolis. Both of these places are dear to my heart, especially now, knowing they are home to my kids. The house is quiet and clean again. But frankly I miss my son flopping into the recliner with one leg over the arm and checking his phone while we talk about music or sports or whatever. I miss my daughter sitting on the couch with her legs pulled up under her watching a movie on Netflix with her boyfriend, me and Donna.

And I realize our lives are travelling in different different, though slightly parallel trajectories. Our kids are setting the stage for the rest of their lives in the hopes of happiness and fulfillment.

Meanwhile we are gently pushing them out of the nest and beginning new phases of our lives, as well. Phases of finishing strong, of creativity and love, of having a sense of purpose and calling.

And while there are days of melancholy sadness like yesterday, where for no reason, I felt on the edge of tears a dozen times, (I can't explain why) I also know they will be fine. They are beautiful, compassionate, loving individuals who make the world a better place. I'd like to say we set the stage for that at some level, but also know it was a bit of dumb luck mixed with God's grace.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Nineteen Eighty Something

It was a zillion years ago, but my brothers and I used to have a sort of tradition on Thanksgiving eve. After dinner was over the three or four of us would go out to a local tavern and shoot pool. Sometimes it was the Grand Tavern (aka the old O'Connell's, on Grand Avenue) other times it was the Spot Bar. I also remember one time we ended up at the Highland Tap (aka the Highland Trap) which was a 3.2 joint serving only 3.2% beer and wine. A neighbor guy we'd grown up with was tending bar and thought it was cool to see the Landwehr boys all together.

When we got there Paul and Rob would say hi to the locals, with Tom and me just along for the ride. We'd put quarters on the table and in the jukebox and spend a couple hours critiquing each others' shots, as brothers are prone to do. We were usually still in our Thanksgiving clothes, so were looking as spanky as we probably could.

And as weird as the tradition sounds, I can remember thinking that I would always remember these spontaneous trips on a sacred family holiday. There was something unifying and connecting between the brothers on these once a year outings. We were all beginning our careers and finding our way in the world, so this was a good chance to get below the surface a little and have some fun while doing it. Between all the backslapping, storytelling and laughter, it was a nice addendum to the pleasantries we'd all shared with the rest of the family earlier.

Sure it felt a little dirty going to a bar on what should be a family holiday, but if you went with family, well, wasn't that sort of the point? None of us had kids at the time and the three youngest of us were still single, so it seemed like a normal thing to do. The important thing was we were together, solving world problems and enjoying each others' company, if only for a couple hours.

I realize these brotherly gatherings were not the Norman Rockwell painting we all dream of as our Thanksgiving celebrations. At the same time, I don't know that I would change the way we did them. I love my whole family and the bonds between me and my brothers are forged of memories that span from fishing and camping, to growing our families together, to hanging out on Thanksgiving shooting a little stick for fun.

And this Thanksgiving I'm especially grateful for them.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Gobbling off...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Of Chainsaws And Sonnets

Yesterday saw two sides of my life that one might see as polar opposites. Some days I think I have a Jekyll/Hyde persona with regards to my interest or skills. It doesn't make me ashamed of who I am and certainly one side is not better than the other. I just find it funny when both sides happen to occur on the same day or the same week.

I was slated to help a couple of guys cut down some trees yesterday. The trees were dead ash trees, victims of the Emerald Ash Borer, and they were over forty feet tall. I've cut wood with my friend Claude before, so I knew we would be safe and smart about it, but there is always my sense of trepidation and excitement that go with running a chainsaw and a little dangerous tree felling.

So we got to it and focused on the biggest problem tree. Claude had the chains hooked up when I got there and he was trying to take the first of two main trunks. After some key notches were cut and the chains were tightened, the first fell with a great crash, a perfect cut.

While he and Kevin started setting up the second hoist & chain, I started buzzing the felled section into 15" chunks. There is nothing as much fun or as dangerous to a hack like me as running a chainsaw. It is nothing short of a manly adrenaline/testosterone rush. It sounds stereotypical - and probably is - but it makes me feel manly. A real lumberjacky feeling. Which is funny because I work a desk job and most days I'm pushing a mouse and typing a lot.

So, to a white collar dude, this is some cool stuff.

After a few hours of noise, two-stroke exhaust and a lot of back breaking lifting, I had to take off to tend to the other side of my life.

I drove to the Milwaukee Public Library for a poetry reading hosted by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. They hold a reading locally every year for those poets who contributed to the annual calendar that they publish and sell.

The event was well attended, largely by the over 50 crowd and was one of quiet attention to each person who got up to read. Each poet was given quiet, appreciative applause at the end of their couple of poems. The poems focused on the "People of Wisconsin," so was applicable to everyone there and, as I said, it was a quiet, cultured affair.

As I sat there though, I was brutally aware of the disparity between the two activities of my day.

Chainsaws and Poetry.

It sounds like a good title for a book.

At the same time, I can appreciate both sides equally. I'm an muskie fisherman and an author. I love football and theater. I cut down trees and soft clap for poetry. I lift weights and do yoga.  (Oops, that might be more information than you needed.)

I'd like to think all of this makes me a little more three dimensional as a guy. I'm not ashamed of any of it. It does give me pause to laugh at the dichotomy of it sometimes though. At the same time, it's who I've become and I ain't apologizing to anyone.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Plugging Away Despite

If you're scoring from home, my presentation on The Portland House today was a slam dunk. There was a good crowd of people, 35 or so. They were engaged and laughed at all of my humor. They asked some great questions and I got great applause. Furthermore, the feedback from the people who came up to me afterward was that they loved my style and my presentation. A couple even said they hope I come back.

So, score this as a win for the author, right?

Well, I managed to sell four books. 

Four. 

If you're still scoring from home, I would have been better served staying at work for the afternoon. It certainly pays better. 

When the talk was over I felt great, because I held their attention for over an hour. No one dozed off and as I said, right until the end they were really engaged. However, unlike the last time I presented at this location, people didn't linger. The place cleared out, I sold my few books and packed up and left.

On my ride home, I'll confess, I felt a little defeated. I started to question why I am trying so hard. I wondered what I am doing wrong to captivate people during a talk, but fall on my face at sales time. 

Of course, I realized this is the old inner critic seeping in again, so I started to try and pull myself out of my funk. I know quite well that I've never been in this writing gig for the money, so I don't know why that bothered me today. I also know that even authors as famous as Michael Perry have had "intimate crowds" where he only sold a handful of books.

What it boils down to are a few core tenets of my choice to write - things that I cannot compromise, or if I do, I'd better be okay with the outcome.

  • I have to remember that I write because I love to write. Publication and books and notoriety are nice, but they were never what drove me to write. I write because I cannot not write. Especially now that I've had some success. I realize it's a gift - albeit at a level that I have to accept - and to ignore a gift is the cardinal sin in any artistic pursuit.

  • I have come to recognize that as much as I claim to dislike public speaking, I actually do get a little rush out of giving an entertaining or informative presentation. The fact that people comment about how well I do means I don't give myself enough credit. (Shocking, I know). The best compliment of all though is my peers, colleagues and spouse telling me that I have a very good stage presence. It is an intangible benefit to my whole writing experience. It is something I used to hate and now, sorta like it. 

  • There are people out there who would love to have my problems. People working on getting their first book published or those struggling to get anything published probably kinda hate me, and certainly don't want to hear me gripe about flat book sales at this week's event. They'd probably kill for the opportunity. So, I need to recognize my good fortune and shut up about it.

  • This whole thing is a marathon, not a sprint. As I work toward the next book, or article or story, I have to remember that, just like my son improving his time in the 50 meter freestyle swim, all I need to focus on is writing my next better story. I do realize I am beginning to develop a body of work and all I need to do is keep doing it better.

  • Help others have my problems. Writing is an isolated practice. By surrounding myself with cool, supportive, creative colleagues who kick me when I need it and rejoice when I need it is yet another tangible benefit of my writing journey. I am grateful for each and every one of them and I am doing my best to help them be successful at the craft. Whether it's with advice, support or occasional short editing, I want them to feel the joy I feel when I get an acceptance or speak to a group and get applause. It makes it all worth it.

  • Like anything, writers have good days and bad days. Today was a mix of both. From hallelujah to this sucks. Move on. Tomorrow will be different.
When I look at the items above and focus on the fun I'm having 95% of the time, I can't feel anything but hope and gratitude. And I'll keep doing what I'm doing until I don't love it anymore, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. If you've been there for me (or other writers/authors) I thank you. You make it worthwhile whether you buy a book or not. 

Because for me it's all about the ride.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Subtle Moments Of Great Brilliance

There is plenty of bad news happening all around us. Fires in California, political vitriol, mass shootings, political lies and posturing, racial tensions spurred by racist groups and individuals, silencing and reprimanding of legitimate media, and so much more.

So I'd like to focus on some moments of gratitude that I've seen in my life in the past week in the hopes you will reflect on some that may be in front of you.

It's simple things like:


  • My son, a sophomore at UW Madison, randomly texting me "Goodnight dad, love you." Four words. The best four words of the day in this case. It only takes a minute to do this for people. I regularly do it to my kids as well. 

  • A half hour phone call with my mom, who's 85. Trust me when I say I don't take this privilege for granted. We talk about what's new in her life, how my kids are doing and what's coming down the road for the holidays. We end every call with "Take care. I love you." I'm 56, but it feels as good saying that as it did at 14.

  • Enjoying going into work as a supervisor of three cool, competent, hard working staff members. I'll be honest, this was a transition I was highly worried about. After the initial three months of chaos and disruption, I am as happy as I've been at my job in 15 years.  

  • A quiet library and three hours to write. To turn on my music, dive into my head and escape all the problems of the world. This is my "television escape" without the TV.

  • Having a guy who's new to the area show up for beers with boys night last Thursday. He stepped into our lives because he'd heard about our church from his daughter. A nice guy on a spiritual journey, looking for more than church was giving him. Looking to meet some friends. Looking for space to share his story. Hopefully he'll come back and will connect with us.

  • Having two different writing colleagues contact me during the week, one for advice, one to say they miss me in class. My communities are many and I appreciate them all.

  • Watching a Vietnam veteran struggle with his emotions while reading from his novel based on his stay of service over 40 years ago. Everyone in this world is fighting a battle. Be kind. 

  • Coffee with my spouse every Saturday morning. We go to a local coffee shop and see all the regulars there every week. The woman lovingly toting her two year old and her infant for an hour of mothering and coffee. 

  • A couple of longtime friends complimenting my poetry chapbook, On a Road. The book was written about them and a road trip we all took. Fond memories of long ago. Supportive words from people I connected with closely for a short period of my young life. Blessings in my long life.

  • Coffee with three close buddies on Thursday mornings. We talk through our lives, the ills of the world, Jesus and his goodness, mechanical engineering, politics and auto maintenance. Sixty minutes of streaming consciousness that helps ground me. 

I hope these simple moments I noticed help you see the beauty and goodness in your own world. If we dwell in negativity, evil and despair it drags us down. Life is short. Don't waste it in worry and nonsense. Look around. Be grateful. Give back. Love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Honda Astronaut

It happens every ten years or so. We are forced to cross the threshold of a car dealership and begin the process of self-loathing that comes with buying a car.

I hate everything about it.

Everything.

It always starts at the desk of the guy who is selling cars between jobs who I'll call Soulless Steve. I guess that's a little harsh because they might have a shred of a soul left because they want you to say yes, you'll buy a car from them.

And it always ends at the desk of the finance guy who used to sell cars between jobs but then got a raise and a promotion to financial henchman. This guy gave up having a soul as part of the promotional ceremony.

Of course the financial guy had to give us the hard sell on the "extended warranty." A couple of classic lines were:

"Ya know, I read the other day that the space shuttle was programmed with only 500,000 lines of code and that todays cars are programmed with over 100 million lines of code. So, you might want to consider that warranty on those facts alone."

or better yet:

"This right here (Points to stapler), this is your car now. This right here (stacks smartphone on stapler) this is the car you're buying."

Thanks for the kindergarten lesson, dude. Can we go now?

In any case, we didn't budge when the financial guy gave us the threatening scare tactics of why we needed an extended warranty. The only person cheaper and more stubborn than me was my wife sitting next to me. She has no problem hurting feelings.

But to be truthful, this time wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. We got out of the place with a decent trade on our 2004 Santa Fe, and only an up-sell of the exterior/interior coating protection. I say decent trade-in amount, only because we got way less than we would have with a private sale, but $200 more than I thought they would offer us. I consider that a win.

I know it's not right to feel sad when you're trading in a car, especially when you've had as much trouble with it as we have with our Santa Fe over the past 3 years. But I always get a little wispy saying goodbye to an old vehicle.

Being a sentimentalist, why wouldn't I? I tend to think of all the trips we've taken in the car. In the case of the Santa Fe, there were countless trips to New York and Minnesota, a couple of Myrtle Beach trips and even a Boundary Waters trip. It survived two teenage drivers and a couple of fender benders.

It also served to disappoint a few times too, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. We replaced the "Rack" steering twice - a $1300.00 item. The engine light was the cause of multiple trips to fix "sensors" that evidently are made of platinum or some other precious metal. The exhaust is practically new from front to back - multiple hundreds again. The paint is peeling badly on the hood and roof and the tires were showing their wear.

So I guess I'm over my nostalgia after listing that stuff out. I'm super excited to be back in the Honda Family as the three we've owned have been some of the best cars ever. (BTW, the new car is a 2016 Honda CR-V. It is what is called a compact SUV. The car has more bells and whistles than I could ever imagine, including a screen that is as big as my laptop. It should serve to great distraction while driving, I'm sure.

And I drove the thing to work today and needless to say there are enough distractions in this new car to make a person forget they are driving. I may need one of those Space Shuttle programmers to show me how to work half of the electronic wizardry. More on that in a future post perhaps.

Blogging off...




Sunday, November 4, 2018

Books And The People Who Write Them

This weekend was a celebration of one of my favorite literary events of the year. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books was held for the ninth year in a row at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha. Like many of my colleagues, I was fairly involved this year, taking part in three events as well as donating a couple of books to a couple different raffles.

My Friday morning was spent at Waukesha South High School with two other authors, Barb Geiger and Colleen June Glatzel. We held a panel discussion with two class periods of students, one about 60 students in size, the other about 40. We had a series of pre-canned questions that we took turns talking about.

One of the more memorable moments was when Colleen talked about her struggles as a teen and twenty something with some mental health issues. She said the book was a bit of a working out of those issues. I could see a visible reaction from several of the students who seemed both empathetic and compassionate. While Barb and I were the old-timers who still had a good time with the kids, it was Colleen who may have reached them the most completely. A strong personal story does that.

We finished up with a Q&A followed by a raffle of a couple of our signed books. This was my second year talking to students and I can say nothing but good things about the attentiveness and respect we got from most of them. There's always a couple of sleepers, but hey, that's high school I guess.
Signed Book Basket Raffle

Friday night I went to the keynote event featuring the very successful author, Nick Petrie. This guy's the real deal. His success is humbling. Check him out if you like crime fiction.

Saturday was off to the races at the Book Festival. I got there in time to attend the "Great Lakes Water Wars" presentation by Peter Annis. It was a fascinating talk and gave me a much better understanding of freshwater diversions and the surrounding controversies.

At one o'clock, I gave my presentation on "How to Write Nonfiction." If you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be leading a workshop on that topic I would have laughed you out of the room. I guess I've sort of arrived enough to be able to talk at a certain level about my experience.

Of course I was terrified of getting up in front of people again. Always am. And I did fine. Always do. In fact, I felt super relaxed and really had fun with the 16 or 18 people present. They asked great questions and afterward 4 or 5 came up front to talk a little more.

Rob Goswitz reads from his novel
One of those folks was a playwright, Dianne Sposito from New York who complimented me about my book trailer and thanked me for my authenticity and genuineness. She said the trailer looked professional and made her want to buy the book. Her compliment sort of blew me away because I just get up there and sort of fake it till I make it. I'm just telling my story - telling people what works for me. And, evidently it's helpful to some. I'll take it.

Later in the afternoon I met a nice guy who sought me out. He is a poet from Milwaukee named David Southward. We had a great chat and I bought his chapbook. That is one of the biggest benefits of this conference is the cool people you meet or run into. My closet extrovert was in high gear. I love talking to other writers and sharing stories.

I also introduced to a Vietnam Vet who sought me out for advice on what to do about a memoir he was writing about the war. I hooked him up with my friend Bob Goswitz who I was interviewing later that afternoon. Just another case of the power of connection that the Festival brings to the table.

To finish out the day, I interviewed Bob Goswitz about his novel, The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune. Bob and I have become good friends over the past couple of years, so this was a complete honor for me. (I've blogged about him before here.) His answers were honest, forthright, insightful and at times emotional. It was proof that the stress and shock of war is a lifelong battle for people. It was a moving hour with a brave man. I only wish it had been held a little earlier in the day so more people could have attended.

I came home from the event mentally tapped, but socially filled. As I said, I love networking with people at these types of things, be it a GIS conference or a writing/book festival or retreat. It is a reunion with old friends mixed with a litany of new acquaintances. It motivates me to write better, write more and become the best writer I can.

So to the organizers, benefactors and volunteers of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU. Your work was well done and appreciated.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Insanity Reset

It has been a four year drought since I managed to get a musky into the boat. This is despite great efforts once a year fishing hard for them for two straight days, and one or two other instances where I tried twice in a season during a second trip up to Pine Forest Lodge.

It is well known that they are hard fish to catch. Outside of sturgeon, in Wisconsin at least, they might be the hardest fish to catch of any species. They are hard to find and sometimes finicky when you do find them. They are the most active in Fall when they start their winter feed, so fishing for them often means cold, windy or rainy conditions. It is the price you pay for pursuing them.

Well, as many of you have seen on Facebook, this fall during what I call Muskyfest, I got one.

Let me preface it by saying that I would probably have zero muskies to my credit without the help of my friends Steve and John. Steve was the guy who initially convinced me to try musky fishing despite my reluctance as what I called myself; a "fair weather fisherman." Any fishing where you needed to bundle up like I'd seen in his pictures with the chance that you might not catch ANY fish, didn't sound appealing. But in 2009, I decided to give it a try.

And I caught one.

And to use a fishing metaphor, I've been hooked ever since. I went on to catch on for the next four years in a row. Then the drought started.

During it, for four years I cast until my arm was like a wet noodle, to no avail.

In fact, after the first day of no fish this year, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever catch one again. I started to question my commitment to the sport. The old definition of insanity thing came up again and again, namely, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

But when this fish hit and the fight started, I realized it was ALL worth it. All of it. But first, the story of the catch.

So we went to one of our two favorite lakes (it's a secret) and after a couple of hours of casting I sort of dropped into my "inattentive reeling" trance. You do this stuff for long enough and it happens, your mind wanders, in this case to the Wisconsin Badger game on the radio in the back of the boat.

Midway through my 486th cast of the day, a fish slammed the lure. I set the hook with a vengeance and said "Fish on!" My two buddies were in their own Badger game trance and were kind of stunned by the statement. "Get the Net!" I said as I fought the beast toward the boat.

Now this time after the strike is something I refer to as 60 seconds of chaos. While I'm wrasslin' the fish, my buddies are getting stuff ready, reeling in their own rods and/or the suckers on bobbers in the back and generally, offering words of advice on what to do.

In other words, it is a one minute, full-on adrenaline rush.

Well, to their credit, they netted the fish. It was a 40+ inch, 15+ pound beauty. After unhooking it and getting a photo of me with it, they released it healthy into the deep to live another day.  These two guys are the ones who have my back whenever it's crunch time. They are the best of friends who know I would do the same for them (and have). Not to mention, they put up with my banter in the boat, which is sorta relentless.

And so, while any trip to the area is a good one - after all this is God's country - it is ALWAYS better to have a fish to my credit. When I first started musky fishing, I got fish for 5 years straight. Then the 4 year drought. Now I'm back on the board. Is it the start of another 5 fish run?

I sure hope so. And I aim to find out next year.

Blogging off...