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?" 

No.

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

Wrecked

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...

Wrecked

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...

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Composite Zen

I have learned many things and re-learned a few during the construction of my front steps and walk over the past few weeks. Some are good life lessons, some are project specific and some just address insecurities I have in my own abilities - most of them unfounded. Here are a few of the more obvious ones that jumped out during those long hot hours behind a drill or on the handle of a chop-saw.


  • Measure twice cut once.  Better yet, measure twice, line up for the cut and then, measure a third time. Then cut. This goes for life too. Having a plan and checking it along the way helps make the experience go smoother. Not always, but mostly. 
  • Cut on the far edge of the pencil line. Along the lines of the previous suggestion, when you do cut your composite board, better to err on the side of too big. It's hard to add length to a cut board, easy to take away. Same goes for getting places on time. Better to be early and wait a few minutes than to show up late because you cut things too close.
  • Two make a better team than one. On more than one occasion, one of the two or three of us corrected another on a detail the person had gotten wrong - a wrong measurement, a detail missed, etc. No man does life well as an island. We need folks walking alongside us, giving advice, checking our errors and occasionally even correcting. These are what good friends are for.
  • Straight lines are good, crooked bad. If you are not using a T-Square and a level, that overlooked angle or off centered piece will compound the problem as you go. If you ignore that problem in your personal life or around your house, it tends to not go away, but heaps more trouble on top of the next pending issue. Deal with the problem when it happens - you'll thank yourself later.
  • When people are helping, respect their time. I am not good at asking for help. Every once in a while I have a big project like I did with the fence and the steps. Because I know people value their time, I made sure I had things ready, materials bought and lunch and beverages provided. The same holds true for parties, hosting, etc. If you invite people over, feed them, water them, listen to them, then let them go back to their lives. Respect their cues, tell them you appreciate them taking time out of their life to be with you. Thank them profusely.
  • Projects will almost always go over budget and take longer than expected. Everything looks easier on paper. Paper doesn't account for the things you run into along the way. You can plan your day/week/month out ahead of time, but you will inevitably be less productive than you expected because of the co-worker that blathers, the unexpected task, the forgotten appointment, or the hidden cost. Get used to it, it is called life.
  • When you're drilling or sawing, mind your fingers. It's easy to get lazy or comfortable when you've been at something all day. That's when bad things happen. Take frequent breaks to keep yourself sharp. If we remember that our words can be as sharp as a saw, we'd be better people if we watched how we used them. I need help in this daily. It is my biggest sin.
  • Problems that can be hidden are not problems. There are  a certain percentage of things in every woodworking project that only the carpenter know exist. They are shortcomings or imperfections that do not matter because they have no effect on the outward appearance of the finished product. Okay, so there is no real life situation where this is a good thing. You got me.

So that is my carpentry philosophy that came out of this project. I'm still learning things as I go. One thing that has become clear is that I'm not as big a hack as I beat myself up for. I like perfection but am not a perfectionist. I understand planning, yet fail at planning some things in life. Like this project, and like many people I know, I am a work in progress. I am working on squaring things up, keeping my life level, sanding down the rough edges and trying not to get drilled. 

It's simply complicated. It's called life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Securing The Fort

The Downside of Summer's Warmth

It appears that fifth season is upon us. No, not road construction, but rather Bee season. It visits my house every July and keeps me on my toes protecting this old castle of mine.

This years onslaught actually started last week while I was in San Diego. Evidently, Ben saw the wasps going into and out of a couple of small nests by our back door.

And we certainly cannot have that.

While I'm a big fan of honey bees, I have no time for hornets and wasps. I'm sure they serve a purpose, but frankly they scare the heck out of me, and I don't want them around. These past few years the long legged paper wasps have taken to various nooks and crannies of my house and garage. They typically start to establish a pretty good paper nest before I break out the killing techniques.

I typically have one two-step technique. Blast them with bee killer jet spray and run like hell.

Hey, it's effective.

So I hit the first three nests over my back door thinking I had them all. I later found another five bee "starter homes" hanging from the house and garage. All of them are overhead which means that I usually get dusted with bee killer spray fallout, which I'm pretty certain will manifest itself in the form of a tumor or pancreatic cancer in a few years. I consider it the price I pay for securing the perimeter.

From On High

One of the nests was developing on the second floor, which meant getting out the extension ladder. What could possibly go wrong with a can of poison in the hands of a man terrified of heights on a ladder 20 feet in the sky?

Nothing right?

Rock solid plan.

So up I went with a broom in one hand and bee killer in the pocket of my cargo shorts. The broom was to attempt to tuck in one of my siding shingles that was askew. Figured I'd just nudge it back into place. Up the ladder I went and about 3/4 of the way up I got the old heebies. Then the voices come to the surface.


Cripes sakes it's high up here. 

If I fall, I'm dead.

Is the top of this ladder sliding toward that window?

Good times.

Needless to say the shingle tuck did not go as well as I'd anticipated. The broom provided just enough reach to knock it into "better" position, but not "ideal" position. When you're at that height, it's amazing the compromises that can be made in my mind. I made one here, in a hurry.

Do It Yourself Extermination LLC.

Finished with the broom, I dropped it to the ground. I didn't need anything more to think about than my 10 fingers losing their color as I gripped the ladder and started working toward reaching the spray in my pocket.

Once I got it, I took aim and blasted away. Again I got rained down on by the spray's fallout.

My pancreas hates this time of year.

After that blast, I slowly inched my way down the ladder. There were a couple of anxious moments where I wasn't sure I could move. Gridlocked to my ladder.

The whole experience was a reminder that I will not be painting this house myself, when we decide to paint it again.

So I have the bees to thank for that.

Blogging off...

Friday, July 1, 2016

My Final Frontier

More blogging from the road, or maybe tarmac is a better term. This time I'm in the Denver airport, which is beautiful if you're into malls and busy places. I'm not, but hey, I have an electrical outlet to myself tucked away from most of the main traffic, so I am happy. There is a great peace to anonymity for this introvert.

So, when I set up tickets for this trip, the only airline I could get a decent rate for along with an early arrival time in San Diego, was Frontier. I'd traveled with Frontier before, and didn't remember anything overly awful or traumatic about the trips, so I figured what the heck, how bad could it be? All flying is awful, so this couldn't be any worse, right?

Um, yeah.

It started with the paying for your bag. It seems that if you don't pay for your bag online ahead of time, ($30) it goes up to $40. Luckily, I checked ahead of time, so didn't have to pay the additional $10.

My trip started out with a thud. I was supposed to leave Milwaukee at 6:30 AM on Sunday. Because the plane had technical issues in Las Vegas, it was almost 3 hours late getting out of Milwaukee. Fortunately I had a 3 hour cushion in Denver.

So, no worries...I thought.

Due to slow departure, we didn't leave until 9:15. It's a two hour flight, and my flight from Denver was scheduled to leave at 11:19.

Now, I'm no math whiz, but I saw the writing on the wall.

The pilot was kind enough to hit the gas and we got to Denver at 11: 05. When he taxied to the gate, he got on the microphone and informed us that there was a plane parked at our gate and it would be about 10 minutes until we could deplane.

When I got at 11:21, I asked the gate agent if my plane had left for San Diego. "Oh yeah, that plane is gone, go ask the customer service agent to reschedule a new flight."

I moved down the line and the customer service rep said "No, your flight is still there, waiting for you to board."

It was difficult to believe that these two people worked for the same airline.

So I took off sprinting and just made it under the wire. They held the plane for the alleged luggage transfer and so we were slated to get into San Diego 10 minutes late.

Whew, that was close! Disaster averted.

The real disaster came when I found out that my luggage didn't make the flight. The execution of it's recovery was where Frontier clearly fell off my radar for ever using them again.

I was directed to a counter with about eight other poor saps whose luggage had the same fate. We were given scraps of paper (literally scraps of paper) and told to write our names, addresses, hotels, and the color of our bags. The clerk then proceeded to re-ask us each of those questions as we stood there helpless.

When she asked the guy ahead of me for the hotel's address, I thought he was going to blow a gasket. He looked it up on his phone and then read it to her. Then she asked for it's Zip Code. I wondered if they were going to mail the luggage to us or what?

When it was my turn, I had all of that information handy and got the same questions, including Zip Code. I was told that my bag might be in on the 6:00 flight and they would bring it to the hotel, but if not, it would be on the 11:00 flight and they'd bring it the next day.

Evidently customer bags aren't as important as a good 8 hours of sleep for their van driver.

Later that day about 8 PM, I got a phone call saying my bag was at the airport. I asked if it would be at my hotel within an hour then. "No...3-4 hours," was their reply.

I assumed it was coming by camel, or perhaps one item at a time by a flock of carrier pigeons.

Then the agent asked me which hotel I was staying at. IT'S ON THE SCRAP OF PAPER, PEOPLE! I told him it was the Omni.

He asked which one.

Of course, I'm thinking, THERE IS ONLY ONE! It's the big tall one overlooking Petco Park. You know that right? It's where your baseball team plays. You can almost see both of them from the airport.

Instead I calmly told him the address again,

"Oh yes, sir, he said."

But wait, it gets better. Next he asked:

"And what's the Zip Code with that?"

Needless to say, I didn't get my luggage until 7:15 the following morning. But hey, it only cost me $30 to NOT get it on time.

So it goes...

Blogging off...


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Men At Work

As I type this, I am sitting in the Milwaukee airport getting set to fly out to San Diego for the annual ESRI Users Conference. Per the usual travel snafus, my flight is delayed for 2.5 hours so I am left to connect to my phone's wifi hotspot and write this post. There are worse problems in the world, and I am blessed to be promised that my connecting flights are still intact.

Walk and post set.
Part of me writes this because I've always wanted to say I'm writing from an airport. A jet setter from Wisconsin, I am.



There's Clowns under there!
Anyways, I spent the better part of the past 2 weeks rebuilding my front walk and steps. I should qualify it and say that my son and I assisted two of my friends in the rebuild. Claude and Steve are good friends who both have mad construction skills. In the past, I've helped Steve build his deck and put in a wood floor and I've helped Claude with building an ADA accessible ramp.

They are both great at big picture and equally skilled at the small details. Add to that that that they work like dogs until the job is to the "finish point" for the day. One might even say they are obsessed.

So when the prospect came up for my rebuild, they both offered to help. Between the three of us and my son Ben with his strong back, we decided we could get it done.

Three weeks ago, Ben helped me hack out the old sidewalk. It gave us a good taste of what prison life is probably like. Breaking rocks at San Quentin had nothing on us. Hot, heavy, hard work. I was proud of Ben who worked at it without complaint.

Nearly done!
Then, last weekend on consecutive days, my buddies helped frame out and then pour the new walk. When that was done, they set four posts in concrete. This required a manual post hole digger and and interesting array of short single syllable vocabulary words. Again, gut busting hard work on a hot day and these guys did it with nary a complaint.

Yesterday we were all at it again for eight hours. This time we focused on closing off the underside of the porch - rumor has it that there was everything from a clown costume to a skeleton under the porch - and stair construction. If you haven't ever done deck/stair construction lets just say there's a lot of  the following things going on:


  • Dropping of screws at inopportune times.
  • Magically disappearing tape measures.
  • Measure, remeasure, cut, refine, and fit.
  • Grabbing the drill with the wrong bit loaded. Repeatedly.
  • Magically disappearing hammers.
  • A few near misses with various power tools and select hand digits.
And so by, 5:30 we were as done as we'd put our minds to. Exhausted, dirty and fully satisfied with all that we had set out to do. I owe these guys, to which they reminded me that I've helped them out just the same. But still, I am incredibly blessed to have friends willing to give up two weekends to help out a guy who never could have done it alone. I learn from these guys every project, and with Ben watching over and taking part in his own ways, he learned a few things too. 

So to Claude, Steve and Ben, I say, THANK YOU. You guys killed it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Slightly Shorter Day Than The Longest Day.

A couple of days ago was the longest day of the year - the Summer Solstice. Sunlight stretches up to nearly nine o'clock this time of year and I try not to take it for granted one bit. I am a person who loves to live in shorts and sandals, so from late May until early September, that's what it is for me. I often refer to Summer as my favorite season of the year - until the really hot days when I swear that I love Fall and Spring better.

But I think Summer is really it. I love having the windows open all day and all night, usually with fans roaring. Donna often complains when I get home from work and start opening windows. I'm like a claustrophobic psych patient. I need my air!

The dog has a love hate relationship with the season, that is for sure. He longs to be on the porch where he can bark at passers by and go ballistic when the mailman comes. He does this regardless of the season. I swear he can smell his uniform.

At the same time, his dog hair makes him hot to the point where I'm sure he favors those cooler months. The other day I was walking him and he just laid down in the shade when we were 3/4 of the way around the block. Kind of looked at me like, "Nah, this is good right here."

I walk a little slower with the dog in Summer. There's not the sense of urgency that the other three seasons bring. There's more time to stop and savor the lushness of the greenery. It is hard to have a bad Summer day, and if the sun's out, forget about it. Life is too good.

Summer is when projects get done. We're currently undergoing a new walk and steps - a project I'll post about when it's completed. This is also one of those projects that is best done when there's no particular urgency to it - Summer affords this relaxed approach.

It's about weeds, and grass, and thunderstorms and watermelon. Picnic food, and fishing and trips out for ice cream. Mini golf, Drive In movies and trips up to the cabin.

I'm enjoying these long days and I hope you are too.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ten From Twenty

Ten Great Moments In My Fatherhood(ness)

I have been a dad now for 20 years and it has been nothing short of the best period of my life. My kids are my pride and joy, as most parents would say, and I cannot imagine my life without them. It's  impossible to recount all the moments of joy and happiness from those twenty years, but in the spirit of Father's Day, I thought I'd recount ten of the more memorable moments. So, in no particular order, here are ten things that remind me how much I love being a dad.

  1. Driving home from Sarah's birth. Sarah was born on the leading edge of a 9 inch snowfall that fell progressively through the afternoon and evening. I drove home that evening around ten o'clock and about three miles from home I had to pull over because I was crying so hard. This coming from an emotional flat-liner. What was happening? I wondered. I was overcome with the joy of having someone new in my life. She was perfect!
  2. Fear of the unknown at Ben's birth. Ben was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. When he came out, his pulse was low and they took him away and immediately put him in the neo-natal ICU. They assured us it was precautionary, but we were scared to death. It turned out okay, but for some anxious moments there we weren't sure we were blessed with a son at all. It was a strange feeling having your baby taken away from you. It made the reunion that much happier an hour later when we got to see him again. He was perfect!
  3. Falling asleep in a chair with one of them on my chest. Parenting is exhausting, and you need to nap when they nap - as everyone tells you. There is nothing quite as calming as a baby's heart beating on top of your own.
  4. Watching them learn to walk. Sarah was slow to talk, fast to walk. Ben was slow to walk, fast to talk. I can remember one day Sarah stood up from an cross-legged sitting position and just kind of stood there amazed. Walking came shortly thereafter.
  5. The first day of Kindergarten for both of them. Yep, there were tears again. Not sure why. I just know I couldn't stop them. It was a bit of a relief to get them into school - it made things a little easier - but it also meant they were growing up FAST.
  6. Mom-less nights. Donna was deep into the Pampered Chef sales during our kids' early years. This meant a couple nights a week she'd be away at night doing shows. Left to kid duty, I was in charge of dinner, diapers, entertainment and bedtime. I LOVED IT. As a homebody, I kind of liked this chance to stay home all night and hang with my kids. We danced, we wrestled, we read books, played games and laughed. They were the best nights.
  7. Music recital. I went to a couple of Sarah's violin recitals and while most of the notes were mangled and screechy, they came together to make a song, which is way better than I could ever manage. I was so proud and it was my hope that she'd continue to play into adulthood. She dropped it after a few years, as most kids do. But those moments linger.
  8. Sports moments. Ben was always the athlete of the two. In his youth he's played Soccer, T-Ball, Flag football, Basketball, and most recently Swimming. While we showed up for every game, nothing made me prouder than to see him take on swimming as a Junior in High School and totally buy into it. He struggled a little early, but never lost faith in himself. By the end of the year he had shaved significant time off his personal best. "That's my boy out there!"
  9. Nights around the dinner table. Man, no one appreciates these moments more than Donna and I right now. We had another one tonight, over pizza. We laughed so hard about the stupidest things - things we wouldn't have if he'd gone out with his friends or if we'd eaten in shifts, like we do sometimes. Dinners with 4 are the best dinners.
  10. Watching them. As they progress into adulthood it is fun to see how they interact with other adults. So much of life is dependent on good social skills, and our kids seem to have a good feel for how to do it. 

The old saying is that no one gives you a manual on how to raise kids, and that's for sure. So most of us try and figure it out on our own. We read books, we listen to advice, we watch how others parent, but when it comes down to it, we make it up as we go. That has been the most hair raising part of it all. Are we doing it right? Is this the right discipline for the offense? What would Mom have done?

But in the end our kids came out okay. And that is attributable in part to my Mom and Donna's parents who raised us right. That and a whole lot of prayer.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Love In The Little Things

Tonight my wife and I celebrate our twenty sixth anniversary. It was a stiflingly hot 90+ degree day in one of the quaintest small town churches I've ever darkened the doorway of, Gorham United Methodist. I remember my brother Paul jokingly telling the videographer that he hoped it would be over in 30 minutes to save us all from the heat. I also remember my best man Rob handing me a paper towel to wipe the sweat from my brow on the altar. Most likely sweating for a couple of reasons, least of all the heat.

So last year was the big, recognized 25th anniversary. There's something epic about making it a quarter of a century with your soul mate. I might add that we've had a stable relationship the whole time - never a point where either of us even considered walking. I was pretty definite that I was in this through thick and thin when I signed on the line and swore under a Biblical oath. Thankfully God has blessed me with a perfect companion, someone to thrash and flail through this life when the waters are rough and someone to skim along the surface with when things are calm.

While our marriage isn't perfect, (whose is?) we do have it very good in that we hardly ever fight and if we do, it's forgive and forget. It's funny when we do argue sometimes - not even seriously - our kids always jump in with a joking comment, "Divorce is not the answer!" It is so funny because the thought is so far from both of our heads that it catches us all off guard. It usually lightens the mood enough and brings us back to agreement.

What then are some of the things that help make it to 26 years?


  • Recognizing your differences. Donna doesn't like exercising or sweat. I hate cooking. We both know these things and so have learned to not expect the other person to change it. It took a few years of trying to convince the other to like something they didn't before we realized that it's really okay if they're okay with it. 
  • Your good qualities will sometimes rub off. Donna will admit that one thing I've brought to her life is being a little more laid back, a little more "in the moment." In turn, I would say that she has taught me how to be better prepared (for whatever) and that being organized and having a plan is a good thing. Those first few years of marriage these differences kind of drove us crazy. Now, we've both turned them to good.
  • Little things matter. Making coffee, cleaning up after yourself and the kids, doing projects unprovoked, recognizing when they seem anxious or preoccupied, texting them and "I love you" for no good reason other than you do, doing for them tasks they don't enjoy. These little things add up to one big thing. Love.
  • Recognize the hard times and grind them out. The first three years after Ben was born and Sarah was three years older was probably the hardest time in our marriage. Lots of physical demands on both of us and we were in the trenches of parenthood. Lots of great memories and quite a few trying times as well. We both knew it would get easier, and a few years later it did.
  • Practice your faith. In our 26 years of marriage we have been a part of three different churches. For a time, we were at different points in our journey, but have finally caught up with one another and have found that our faith brings us together and our love keeps us there.
  • Laugh. I can't say enough about how it is to have someone you can share your day with and laugh until you're doubled over. We have raised our children to laugh as well, and it keeps us all sane.
  • Communication. One of the things I look forward to the most is our weekly coffee date. Every Saturday we get together for coffee, laugh, and plan our week. It's one on one time that I cherish, but you have to make it a priority. 
These are just some of the things that bond us to one another. There are so many little things - day to day happenings - that help with the process. We're not perfect though. There are things she does that drive me crazy and vice verse. Sometimes we joke about them, other times we just eye-roll. But ultimately both of us know that we're in this for the long haul, so the quirks come with the qualities.
2016                                           1989

Here's to a happy marriage.

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