Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fathered By Inspiration

My Dad and Mom. 
I thought it might be relevant to post a poem for Father's Day. I'd recently taken part in a 30 day "Poem a Day Challenge" where I'd chosen the theme of Fatherhood. I figured I'd go back to that collection and pull one from it.

As I sifted through the 30 poems, the emotions were a little all over the place. The whole exercise at the time was fairly revealing about some deep seated perspectives of the various fathers in my life, as well as my own experience. Having been away from the collection for a couple of months, it was weird looking back through them.

Father in Law, Dick

They were about my three fathers, blood, step and in-law. Each hits their own nerve or dredges up feelings of joy and angst.

There is even reference to my mother-as-father as well as other "fill ins" like older siblings, uncles and the like. When you don't have a steady father, you tend to find other ways to fill that void. And finally there are a few that address others in my life who have lost a father.
My stepfather, Jack and Mom
And I am waiting to see if that collection wins/places/shows in the contest that comes after they were all written and submitted.

The thing is, if they don't I have a decent feeling that they will get published elsewhere. It is too relevant and universal of a topic to not have broad appeal. Not to mention I think some of these are really strong works. They certainly came from within and from the heart. I can't wait to find a home for them. I think they need to breathe.
My whole heart.

To be sure, some of them cut to the core. I don't mince words, when maybe I would have in the past. But I think that's what makes a good poem a better one. As I said, I was a little taken aback looking back through them. Some real hurt coupled with tons of joy and good moments.

So on this Father's day I'll be spending it with my wife and son serving ice cream at the Purple Door Flavor Contest in Milwaukee. And I will appreciate every moment with him - as I do these days - recognizing that neither of us is getting any younger. I can only say that being a dad is the biggest legacy I can claim to leave the world, namely two great kids. I am filled with pride every time I speak their names. I love you Sarah and Benjamin.

Here is one that speaks to that.

114 Reasons I Love Being A Dad               

I saved a school assignment of
my daughter’s that reads
114 Reasons My Dad is Super

It ranges from the obvious
He reads to me.
He nice.
He takes me to the park.

To the hearfelt
He dances with me
He’s a speisal dad
He takes care of me

To the admittedly hilarious
My dad sings in the sower
My dad fixed our toilit.
He reads adult books.

And even downright fabrications
He makes me cookies (Lie! Ask my wife)
He jogs with me (I did?)
Dad feet smell. (Hey!)

These 114 memories of hers are
now memories of mine and serve
as a reminder that the days are
long and the years short.

Never underestimate your
actions as a parent

they are watching.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rebel Without A Bike

A buddy of mine recently joined a motorcycle gang. Well, it's not what you think. The gang is titled Rebels On A Mission (ROAM). The group is centered around advocating for kids that have been bullied. I didn't get to talk to him at great length about it, but it sounds like they seek out kids that have been bullied or physically abused in school or at home.  Then they will do things like escort them to school on their motorcycles or other protective things.

They recently had a call for a used (pedal) bike donation so they could give away bikes to inner city youth at an event later in June.

It is a great cause, but it got me thinking about a motorcycle again. My brother recently sold his Harley Davidson, and so the subject keeps coming up. I used to ride a lifetime ago, though my bikes were all small, Japanese things, Hondas and Yamahas.

Tall man on a little bike!
And while I haven't ridden in years, I won't go so far as to say I'll never ride again. I used to REALLY love the feeling of freedom I had on a bike, the wind in my hair, when I had it. Yes, I know they're dangerous. I still stand by the argument that anyone who says, they won't ride because it's dangerous has probably never experienced the exhilaration of riding one. Because there are some dangerous things in a lot of things we do, one just has to weigh the price.

A few of my old friends still ride. One who used to own a Japanese bike back in the day finally  bought a Harley that he'd always wanted about 10 years ago. I give him credit for following through. And while I don't necessarily have to have a Harley, I would consider a large imported bike or maybe an Indian or Victory motorcycle.

Of course any pursuit of that aging dream will probably have to wait until I retire. There's still too much on the line to risk it.

But there are days when it sure would feel good.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Slaying Dragons

I gave a presentation at Muskego High School last Tuesday. The daughter of my ex-boss is in charge of the Media Center and recommended my books to a teacher of Applied Composition an English elective for seniors. She gave the kids three options for memoirs to read, one was Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck, there was my book Dirty Shirt and there was a third one. Six of the students chose Dirty Shirt and so the teacher asked if I would be willing to come in and talk about the book.

Now, any time I have an audience where people took the time to buy, then read my book, I always jump at the chance. This is how you build an audience, but for me its as much about the personalization that comes with knowing an author. I know the readings I've gone to with some big authors have allowed me to put a face and a personality to the book. That takes the author/reader relationship to another level, in my opinion.

So I brushed off my PowerPoint presentation for the book, updated it and brought it into the classroom. There were probably 18-20 students whose attention I had for 50 minutes. I ran through the slides and inserted my jokes, stories and reading snippets throughout the presentation. I also showed the book trailer that we made for the book five years ago (Yikes!).

I can only say I was very, very impressed with the level of attention and engagement I had with the students. They were quiet, respectful and courteous. (And no one fell asleep, a bonus.)

But what occurred to me is how far I've come with regards to presenting in front of a group. What once struck the fear of God in me is now just another gig. As I've been forced to do it more and more with both of my books and my poetry, it has become much more natural and relaxed for me.

Sure there are anxious moments here and there, but overall, it is almost always a very positive experience for me. Part of it is being hyper-prepared. I always have a script or PowerPoint to go from and I work through the event in my head before taking the podium. Then, as with most of my public persona, I try and lighten things with a little humor. It warms up the audience and lets them know that this will be no TED talk, but it will be a lot of fun.

So while this may seem like a little thing to any of you who are energized or super proficient at public speaking, know that it is a huge thing for me. I still feel I am an introvert even though my wife claims I have moments of ambivert in me. For me it still takes everything in me to get up there and talk.

In the past, when the presentation was over, I was usually drained. That has changed a bit to where I am now almost a little energized. That is a huge shift for me.

At the same time, while I may seem totally comfortable talking to people, I am much more in my element alone on my laptop with my ear buds in writing the story I am telling you about. I fully realize though that the public speaking part of the craft is completely necessary and I'm committed to doing it the best I can.

It's a dragon I will slay, one talk at a time.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Driftlessly Appealing

It has been a whirlwind week of travelling for me. After a two day conference in Eau Claire, Donna and I took a vacation in the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin. For those unfamiliar, this is a hilly region of the state that was "missed" by the last glacial period. It is one of those areas I've only really visited once or twice, and then it was just to go camping at Wildcat Mountain and Canoeing down the Kickapoo River.

In a nutshell, the place is absolutely stunning. Hills, coulees and valleys are dotted with idyllic agricultural vistas, horse and cattle in pastureland and lots and lots of streams. There is a fairly high Amish population in the region and it was so cool to see them farming using a team of horses and a sit-plow/tiller. The area was green, and lush, and fertile. Frankly the whole place gave me a sense of hope and made me ashamed of the whole concept of mega farm agribusiness. I know these places are not the norm, nor could they feed large populations, but it sure seems like they're doing everything right. The cows looked happy.

The proprietor of the cabin we stayed in said there are over 250 miles of Class A streams in the driftless region. Now, I'm not a trout fisherman, but with all of the Class A Trout streams in the area, I had to give it a try.

So, I took my non-trout fishing ultralight rod and spinning reel out yesterday with the goal of catching a fish. One fish would have been one more than I expected. Trout are hard to catch, and stream fishing is difficult and tricky.

Well, I successfully landed 5 fish and lost a couple more. A couple of the ones I managed to bag would have made a good meal, but alas, I am a catch and release guy. If I knew more about how to prepare them, I'd have given it a go, but I had no bag, nor a stringer. As I said, I'm not a trout fisherman.

But the whole experience was so much fun. I think of trout fishing as a "thinking man's fishing." It takes a special breed to strap on waders an whip a fly rod hundreds of times to catch the elusive trout. But that same challenge makes catching one even more special. I did all of my fishing from shore, but I think I still would like to learn how to fly fish and see what the secret is. I've done most every other kind of freshwater fishing, so maybe it's time.

I do know that I've fallen in love with a new part of the state. The resort we stayed at was the Kickapoo Valley Ranch near La Farge, Wisconsin. The host Cowboy Joe was gracious and helpful. His partner Cowboy David, is a baker and makes phenomenal cookies, among other bakery. I can't say enough good about the place.

To top off the trip, we had dinner at the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. I have one word of advice. GO! I had the beef tenderloin with potatoes, gravy and kale and it was off-the-hook! Certainly one of the top five meals I've ever had dining out. I enjoyed it with a traditional Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was dang good too.

All in all, it was a really cool couple of days. It is hard to put into words what the experience meant to me. Some quality quiet time with my favorite travelling partner, Donna. It's trips like these that rejuvenate a marriage - a reminder of why we chose each other.

They are also a reminder that it's good to be alive.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

North Of Wausau

In a matter of minutes I will be heading north to go fishing with a couple of longtime fishing buddies. It's hard to describe how happy this makes me. It has been a brutal winter and a not-so-nice spring, so this entry into God's country is well timed.

The species of the day will be Smallmouth Bass, though, like most good fishermen, we will take whatever will bite. There will be much smack-talk, a little solving of world problems and an adult beverage or two along the way.

It is my absolute happy place. Sprinkle some of my ashes up there if I don't make it back. (JK!)

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Small Things

Ed Werstein
Yesterday I was part of a gathering of poets in Riverwest. It was an event called the Bards Against Hunger. It is a Wisconsin version of the movement that was started in New York.

The story behind it is the Bards Against Hunger solicited poems about hunger and poverty from poets all over the U.S. It turns out a large number of poets from Wisconsin submitted poems to the anthology. Through some connection with the editor, Ed Werstein a poet from Milwaukee felt moved enough to take on the task of creating a Wisconsin anthology for the Bards Against Hunger.

I submitted a couple of poems, and the poem, The Guest House, was accepted for publication. While it is nice to have my poem in a book, there is an even greater cause to it.

Ed has made it a point to hold several readings around Southeastern Wisconsin where the contributing poets are invited to read their work. As part of the reading, the poets and the people in the audience are asked to bring either 3 food items or make a small donation. The collected food and money then goes to a local food bank or pantry.

This was my third time reading at one and it was as moving as the other two. The organizer mentioned that over $200 and two bags of food donations were raised through contributions and book sales. I realize this isn't a big deal. At the same time, it IS a big deal. I love the idea of people coming together for a cause, big small or otherwise.

People might say poetry can't change the world, but I would argue different. Yesterday was a small example of a group of people trying to impact the city in a small way. In a conversation with one of the poets there, she said something to the effect that she noticed poets always seem to gravitate toward social issues and social justice. I said I think it's due in part to the empathetic nature of poetic people.

I think there is an element of compassion that goes into writing poetry, and that compassion organically comes out in our actions toward others as part of our common humanity. Maybe I'm making more of it than it is, but I've seen it time and time again. Just this week I talked with Truth Thomas, a famous poet living in Washington DC who has written about social justice - especially with regards to racial relations, and he and I concluded that as a culture and a country, we have to do better. It was a refreshing email discourse.

So, while this is small, small things add up. With as many issues in the world it's hard to find hope. But I find some solace in doing one small thing at a time in hopes that it can have an impact.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Corporate Laddering

So my daughter got her first "real" job out of college this week. She will be working for the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. It was one of two U of M jobs she interviewed for last week. She was offered both, and took this one, as it seemed more challenging and like a better fit. As a parent, there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of your kid getting a job. (A paraphrase from a friend.)

That first job after an education is always the hardest. Convincing a potential employer that you are better than the part time job you're currently working is the tricky part. Once you do that and successfully land a job in a career field, you have a leg up as you begin to build experience. You're "in the system" so to speak. It's all skill building and networking after that.
My friend Bill in the CADD room at Intelligraphics Inc. in 1988

My first job out of college was not nearly as lucrative as my daughter's, but it was equally rewarding. I was dating a girl who saw an ad for a mapping job that paid $5.00/hr. I was making more than that at Montgomery Wards, but I saw it as a great opportunity to get some experience.

My friends thought I was a little out of my mind to take a job for so little out of college. They were probably right, but I have not one regret about that job, and here's why.

  • I loved the work. At the time Markhurd Corporation was doing a lot of Department of Defense mapping for the Federal Government. I was manually augmenting contour maps for a warm place in the Middle East where political tensions were high. (Iran). It was the manual process on the front end of a resulting 3D digital map.  
  • It provided the experience I needed to get the next job I got in Wisconsin, doing digital mapping. It didn't pay much more, but as I always told people, I loved mapping so much I joked that I'd do it for free. That job got me the next job and the next one, etc.
  • It grew my network of fellow Geographers. In fact it was one of the guys from Markhurd that gave me the lead on the job in Wisconsin. He and I ended up working three different mapping jobs together, Markhurd, Intelligraphics, and SEWRPC.
Having been blessed with working in a field that I went to school for - a longshot field, at that (Geography) - I am a huge advocate for people doing something for the love of it rather than the money. As the saying goes, if you do it for the love, the money will follow. 

With almost 35 years of experience in the field of Mapping and GIS, I can say that that saying is nothing short of truth. Because, while doing something you love for little pay is nice, a little cushion is even better.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother Love

So, it's Mother's Day, and I am reminded again how lucky I am to still have my mom around. She is 86 and still going strong. I know this because I called her three times last week and she wasn't home. When I finally talked to her last night on the phone to wish her happy mother's day, she said that last week was so busy! She had cards on Monday night, work on Tuesday, cards with church on Wednesday and book club somewhere in there, too. While I talked to her, she was talking to a neighbor about bringing the brats to the cookout. On the go again, so we had to cut our conversation a little short.

It's funny, but it reminded me of the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle. "When you coming home Dad, I don't know when. We'll get together then." (I joked about this all the time with my kids when they would go out with their friends instead of staying home with the parents.)

But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying her busy lifestyle is a bad thing. Frankly, I think it is awesome. It is something to strive for. Forget wanting to be "Like Mike." I want to be like Mary when I get old.

When I was at a preparing for retirement seminar a few years back, they said the single most important thing in retirement is staying engaged socially. It is key to keeping mentally sharp and fundamentally engaged and happy. Well, if that's the case, Mom's going to live forever.

There are many stories of mom's thoughtfulness - too many to count - but one in particular comes to mind. After Donna and I were engaged, we got a small apartment on the East side of Milwaukee. Donna was still out in New York, and I was trying to settle our apartment. Mom and my sister Jane drove down to visit me. When they showed up, she had brought a braided rug, a wastebasket, some cleaning supplies and a few other household items. "It's a housewarming gift, sorta," she said.

Now one would say that any mother would do this, and maybe that is true. I only know that as the "kid that moved away," I had done life on my own and was stubbornly independent. So it meant a ton that she would travel 300 miles to help me and my fiance start our life together. It was proof that you can be a 28 year old adult, but you're still someone's kid. And family is family. You help each other.

If you know my story, or have read my books, you know the background behind my mom and our family. She faced a lot of adversity as a young mother and it fueled her will to persevere and raise us despite it all. When I think of the grief I went through losing my brother, it makes me even more cognizant of her strength to carry on.

And while she had help along the way from my stepfather and other family, there were still incredible stresses she faced when none of them were around. If you ask her how she did it she will say it was her faith, and I can't deny anyone that claim. I would add that she was just doing her best as a mother to set the bar for the rest of us to stretch toward.

I can only hope to do half as much for my own kids.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Postpartum Impressions

It is an interesting time in our lives with both of the kids being out of the house. Things are quieter around here lately, that is usually good, though some days I miss the din of activity that kids bring with them.

But they go on with their lives, living separate young lives, one in Minneapolis, the other in Madison. It is exciting watching them navigate the life of young adults, one in the workforce the other in college. I try and emphasize that these are some of the best years of their lives and that they shouldn't take it for granted, but I think they know. They seem to be making the best of it.

My daughter has not one but two interviews this week, both for positions at the University of Minnesota. One was yesterday - a secretarial job, and the other as an administrative assistant for a supercomputer consortium of some sort. Both look like steps up the employment rung, so we hope and pray for her success. So much of that first real job out of college hinges on getting into a system. From there, one works their way up building experience and employability.

So we cheer from the sidelines and try and get text updates as they happen. As parents, we know the potential of our kids, so we hope and pray that they do well to boost their position in life. When I look back on my own employment journey, I owe much of it to a woman I dated a few times in college. She pointed out an ad for a mapping job in Minneapolis that sounded too good to be true, albeit for a pittance of a salary. I followed up on it and got the job. We broke up shortly thereafter, but I feel God puts these people in our lives sometimes to move us along. Strangely enough, I've been in mapping ever since, going on 34 years now.

My son finished his last final at Madison for his sophomore year. He had four classes, a fairly full load for a student at UW, and did well in most of them. I swear kids have it much harder than we did as students, but maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. I do know that his GPA last year made me incredibly proud. These kids are WAY better students than I was. It's a different time though too.

Meanwhile my wife and I continue on with our lives, reacquainting ourselves with each other after raising kids for 23 years or so. It has been a weird adjustment, but we've actually done better than I thought we would. One of our standing dates is going for coffee every Saturday morning. It orients us for the coming week and gives us a little undistracted time to work through life. Frankly our discussions of travel and downsizing our house are very attractive subjects for us, so I really look forward to those hours every Saturday.

Despite the sadness that goes with having a kid-free house, we've adapted well. Thankfully we have so many ways of keeping in touch with our kids, that they're never too far. I guess you never stop worrying and cheering for your kids, but we've got a couple that seem to have good heads on their shoulders.
Photo by Roost Photography

I can't wait to see where their lives take them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Good Fatigue

Well, it was a weekend that provided some hope for the coming of summer. Waukesha actually experienced two consecutive days of high 60s and low 70s. This is a Wisconsin equivalent of two months worth of San Diego weather, where 72 is the norm.

This weather is energizing for anyone with a pulse in these northern states. After five months of wooly sweaters, long pants and hats, we can - at least momentarily - venture out without debating whether we should take our heavy winter coat or our medium weight one. I was even compelled to break out my sandals. This is likely a curse, but it happened.

Our grass is getting unruly and our mower of 20 years use is about beat, so I was tasked with getting a new one. There is something satisfying about a brand new mower. When I mowed today, I didn't have to stop mid cut and tighten the back wheel.

Furthermore, the oil replacement nozzle on the mower is actually in a logical place which should  make the whole maintenance job easier. Like any aging tool or appliance, you kind of get used to accommodating the quirks of a beat product, so it is nice when you just use it the way it was meant to be used, with no hassle. What a concept.

Other than that we've been busy getting the backyard ready for summer. Adirondack chairs are out, hammock stand is setup, picnic table with umbrella is ready to go. Bring it.

My wife laughs at me because when it gets warm like this, I sort of turn back into a kid again. I want to wear shorts, go fishing, go for bike rides, walk the dog and be outside as much as possible. I am even writing this from my backyard because the sun called me out here. It is heavenly.

So as we scurry around "getting stuff done" we end up at the end of the day feeling a fatigue that doesn't happen during the winter months. That is a different kind of fatigue, usually a lethargic, food-coma fatigue that comes with too much darkness and not enough physical exertion.

Now, I hope to get a few more things done before the rain sets in at 7:00 PM, so I gotta go!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Sunday Sadday

Sunday was a bad day for me. I woke up sad and despondent for no good reason, and sort of stayed that way all day. I kept trying to bust out of my funk, but nothing seemed to work. I searched around for what I was sad about and couldn't really find anything specific. I was sad about everything. 

I hated my writing and labelled all my successes as a sham, I was sad about my kids being out on their own, I didn't like my house, I hated the weather, felt bad about my aging pets and was even sad that I was still a ways from retirement. I hated everything.

Like I said, I was in a funk. And I never get in funks.

There were a few times during the day I was near tears. For no reason! What the hell is that all about?

Sundays, especially near the evening, are typically the worst day of the week anyway, so this was not a complete surprise. There is the looming Monday morning rat race gun that creates an angst that isn't there the other days of the week. That certainly played a role, but what was weird was the fact that I had NOTHING to be sad about. I have about the best life going a person my age could hope for. 

I have a forever wife, two amazing kids, a job I love, a house, a loving extended family and friends that I would kill for. So, why do I feel like a blanket of despair is over me? Why so sad?

The answer is, I don't know. I chalked it up to "well, these things happen once in a while."

At the same time, there was part of me that knew it was only a temporary state. I am too positive a person to let that kind of thing linger. I knew Monday would be better - as much as that sounds like an contradiction in terms.

And to be truthful, it was. It started a little like a Monday, but got significantly better as the day went on. It piqued with serving the guys at the Guest House, the high point of my day. A bit of advice: If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, serve dinner to a bunch of guys in transitional housing once. It is an instant attitude adjustment.  

The whole sadness experience made me realize how fortunate I am to never have struggled with depression. I know people who have and I feel for them. I can't imagine being that way for more than one day, let alone so despair filled you can't get out of bed. What a horribly debilitating affliction. 

The good news is I had a decent week. Every day has it's ups and downs, but I have a sort of happiness middle ground line that I walk most of the time. It is my healthy place and I aim to keep walking it. 

Because the other end of that spectrum sucked. It's not me and hopefully never will be.

Blogging off...(Happily)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Paint Versus Prep

Painting is a love/hate thing with me. I love the newness of a freshly painted room, but hate all the work to get there. And for me, the worst part of any painting project is not the actual painting, it's all of the crappy prep work that you have to do before dipping a brush.

We have an upstairs back porch area that is south facing. Because it is poorly insulated and located in the nether regions of the house, the room has always been under-utilized. It started as an empty room, was converted to a sort of game room/movie room for the kids for a bit and most recently served as Ben's hangout room, with his gaming computer taking up much of the space.
Before primer

The room has beautiful tongue-in-groove woodwork on the walls and ceiling. The window panes however were starting to show their age, so we decided to paint. The thought was to spruce up the room and possibly use it as an office for me for my writing. We decided to paint the windows and door frames an off white to brighten the room and give it a new feel.

And then the not-so-fun part begins. Prep.

It starts with a trip to Home Depot for primer.

Because the wood has a coat of polyurethane on it, it required a light sanding before priming it. Then, because I'm a slopper we had to tape it off. Next, all of the shades and hardware needed to be removed. And finally, because there were 50+ years of curtains, valances and blinds hung, there were a couple dozen holes to be filled with wood filler.

This of course requires a second trip to the hardware store for wood filler and more sand paper.


Once it was done, though the meditative part of actually laying down paint began. I don't actually mind the actual painting process. I put on some music and just start painting. I am one of these guys that can't stop until it's finished, so I did one coat on Friday, one on Saturday. When it was done, I am reminded that, like any project, preparation always precedes a job well done. This pertains to house projects, writing, art and pretty much everything.
After primer

And while it's still only primer, I am really happy with the way it is looking. It is exciting to think that we may finally be transforming a part of our house into a more useful space. Maybe it will make me a better writer. (Ha!)

One thing is for sure, it feels good to get it cleaned up.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Leaning Into The Tape

Today marks the twenty fifth day of my National Poetry Writing Month challenge of a writing poem a day. I'd like to say I'm energized and ready to finish strong, but that would be a lie. The theme for these poems is Fatherhood and while it's not been easy, it is nearing the end and it has revealed much. 

It probably doesn't help that I started a week ahead of time in fear of having to miss some days. So technically I have about 32 poems already, but I am determined to finish out the month. The challenge was for April, I do April.

What I like best about the challenge is not knowing what each day's work will bring. Some days are just "meh," producing poems that are just average. But every third day or so, I get a poem that, by my standards, I can hardly believe I've written it. Really, really good. You've got to break a lot of rock to find the gold I guess.

The pressure to create every day, regardless of how tired I am, how busy or how non-creative I'm feeling is a LOT like working out after work. But in some ways, working out is easier because it involves my body and not my mind. At the same time, I've become better at it as I've gone. It has pushed me to try new styles, to mix it up between humor and heart, and to change it up between long and short. 

I've branched out into Father in-law, Stepfather, Godfather and, of course, lots of my own fatherhood experience. The variety has kept my work fresh and as I said, it has revealed things about each of those roles. I've had poems that were happy, angry, sad, introspective, hilarious and playful. It has dredged up emotions from my childhood about each of my fathers and in some ways, was therapeutic. Almost like talking to my dad(s) at times. I seriously don't know what each session is going to turn out. 

As I mentioned, at the end of the challenge, we are invited to submit our collection of 30 poems back to Local Gems Press and from those submissions they will choose a winner for publication and two $100 runner-up winners. I can't wait to step back and look at the collective body of work and organize it for submission. My intent all along is to submit it to other presses if it doesn't pass muster at Local Gems. I think the subject matter is appealing enough for some to warrant a look. But, I've been wrong before.

So that is my April angst at the moment. It is a love/hate affair, but one I'm determined to finish out. No one stops running a marathon at the 22nd mile. 

Because if there's one thing this father is, it's disciplined.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter 2019

It is Easter Sunday and this is just a short post.

I spent the weekend with my Sarah, her boyfriend Sam and my son Ben. It was a few days of down time, lots of food, laughs and hugs. We reminisced a little, talked about the present and the future a lot. We hung out with friends and family at restaurants and homes. We Skyped relatives in New York which, technical hacks aside, is really a technological miracle of its own if you think about it.

This morning I saw the sunrise with my church family on top of a Drumlin in a nearby park. It was church of the holiest kind.

Photo credit: Roost photography.
So my soul is full with the multitude of things I have to be thankful for. Family, friends, a job I love, a home to share and, not least of all, my faith. I thank God for all of it, as I deserve none of it.

And as my kids return to their distant homes away from home, the house is quiet again and Monday and the requisite rat race looms. But knowing I have such a blessed life makes it so much easier to look toward tomorrow.

Happy Easter to you.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Moving Verses

As you may know, April is National Poetry Month. Or, you may not. But I do.

It is a month that is designed to increase the exposure to and awareness of poetry and it's impact in our world and our culture. There have been a number of events around town, some of which I've been able to attend, some not. There were a couple of events this week that were interesting and inspiring.

The first was a reading by Wisconsin's poet laureate, Margaret Rozga at the New Berlin Public Library. I've gotten to know Peggy over the last few years as we've run into each other through our poetry circles. She and I sit on the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books planning committee, so I've seen more of her lately.

For those who don't know, she was very involved with the Fair Housing Marches that happened in Milwaukee in the late 1960's. These were racially tense times in the city and along with Father Groppi they marched for racial justice, the inspiration for her poetry book, 200 Nights and One Day. James Groppi later left the priesthood and the two married and raised their family.

Her readings were from her new book, Pestiferous Questions, which is historically based as well. Part of her presentation involved soliciting one line per person from the audience to form the basis for a collaborative poem on her theme of Opening Doors. I thought this was a cool exercise to engage the audience in something creative.

Then, last night I was at Mama D's for the monthly poetry night. This one featured Tom Montag, a prolific poet from Fairwater, Wisconsin. Tom has published too many books to count with his most recent book, Seventy At Seventy. I'd only known Tom from Facebook, although he was a gracious contributor to the signed poetry book solicitation I did earlier this year for Kettle Moraine High School as one of my poet laureate initiatives.

Anyway, I am so glad I got to hear some of his work and have come to appreciate his style and stage presence. His words are minimalist but impactful. He is an approachable guy with a list of credits that include having one of his poems inscribed in the Milwaukee Convention Center. It was a great night.

I continue to write a poem a day as part of my National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) challenge. My theme is on fatherhood and as I mentioned, it has been both challenging and revealing. I never know what is going to happen from day to day, but it appears to be all good.

And finally, I found out my forthcoming poetry collection, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, is due to be released this October, which is about as exciting as it gets!

So, I would challenge you to check a book of poetry out of the library this month. Many people say "Poetry is not for me," to which I say there is something for everyone. You can find mine here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Creativity Under Fire

I am taking part in a 30 day poetry challenge that requires writing a poem a day during April on a particular theme. I chose Fatherhood as my theme, in part because I was curious what it would reveal. Over my life I've had a father, stepfather, father in law, grandfathers, and I've been a godfather and a father myself.

Each of these titles brings its own inspiration for me. I knew the challenge would be difficult, it always is when you're sort of forced to be creative for 30 consecutive days. But what I am finding is that it is revealing and insightful. I sometimes struggle with a piece at the beginning and by the end I am looking at something that I can barely believe I wrote. I think it is a combination of the pressure to produce and the topic of interest that makes for such inspiration.

It has caused me to remember the good, the bad and the difficult in all of my fatherhood/sonship  experiences. While my childhood experience might have been somewhat unique, I know that my story is only one of many. 

I have intentionally chosen not to let my bitterness about the death of my father at such a young age dictate who I am or become a part of me that I wear as a badge. At the same time, I have come to realize it is a glass-dropping story when I tell it to people. But, because it was so long ago, I have shoved it to the corner of nonchalance, a bit. 

The story is what it is. I have a great life and that is as much a credit to my mother, and to a limited extent, my stepfather, as it is to the strength of my family's spirit. She carried us through in his absence, as many other mothers have through divorce or death. We plod on, and I am thankful that my mother didn't give up, was too proud to lean on others for help, and loved us enough to expect the same level of hard work and success from us. And it worked.

As I've said multiple times in the past, everyone has a story. Everyone started with at father. Some know theirs, some never did. Some were shrouded in love, some were abusive. My own had a tragic twist early followed by some years of trial with a stepfather but all of it set the stage for how I wanted to raise my own kids. 

And in the end, I knew what I didn't want for my kids and I also knew that being there, being present and loving them hard, was the best thing I could do.

Now, back to work!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Glimpse Into My Softer Side

I went to the Art In Bloom event at the Milwaukee Art Museum today. It has become an annual tradition with Donna and I, one I have come to look forward to. If you're not familiar with the concept, it is gardening clubs and floral shops around the Milwaukee area that put together floral arrangements centered on a work of art at the museum.

My choice as the best in show.
Suffice it to say, there are some stunning displays of creativity from a floral/ekphrastic perspective. This year there were so many great entries. This year we bought a membership because we both love to go to the art museum, but never go more than this once a year. It is my plan to make it more regular.

I say that because as I looked at some of these paintings today, I was again floored by the work in front of me. These artists have a sense for light, shadow, depth, color and dimension. It is nothing short of brilliance. They have skills that a small percentage of the people in the world do. They call them masters for a reason. I am no art snob, but I know beauty when I see it.

My choice for the best display went to the display of Ed Paschke's work done by The Pink Peony. Colorful and eye catching.

But frankly they were all pretty cool. I can't recommend this event enough if you appreciate art at all.  GO!!! It is worth the trip and gives me hope for spring. I will let the photos speak for themselves for the rest of this post.

Another favorite.

Runner up, IMHO.
Blogging off...

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Phone Hostage

Last weekend I woke up and my phone didn't.

It was dead.



The night before, when I tried to access it, it would shut off as quickly as I turned it on. It was behaving badly. Facebook was wonky too. It would open, then close saying "Sorry, Facebook can't start," or some such message of hopelessness.

It was a nearly 4 year old Samsung Galaxy S6. I loved the phone, it rarely gave me problems and despite a battery that died halfway through the day, it worked pretty flawlessly. I had the oldest phone in my family, so was due for an upgrade anyway.

Now, understand that I have a love/hate relationship with these things, more hate than love, frankly. I think as a culture we've created devices of distraction and disconnection. There is a wonderful photo journalism article in The Sun magazine by Gianpaolo La Paglia that captures peoples' obsessions with their phones quite well. I feel that we've gone down a path we can't get back up, but I guess we'll just have to see where it takes us.

Anyway, knowing that my wife and kids are dependent on being able to get hold of me, I went to Best Buy to get a new phone. I am the world's biggest cheapskate so it took my phone being completely useless before I was willing to offer up $850.00 for a new one.

The buying process was about as painful as I feared. When I got there, they told me they were having a BOGO sale, buy one/get one free. This required a trip home to talk to my wife and son about what that meant to us. Ben needed a phone as well, and this looked like a good deal.

When I went back it was the usual hour and a half of typing my information into a slow application, calling ATT support and general jagging around. It is absolutely astounding to me how this process is not easier, but it never is. After that hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back, I walked out of the store with my new Galaxy S10e, and Ben's Galaxy S10 "on order" and due in at the end of the week.

Seems easy enough, right?

So two days later, at work, I'm showing a co-worker a picture of something and I noticed my BRAND NEW screen was cracked. I had a case and screen protector on order, but hadn't received them yet. I was horrified.

After looking closer, I realized it was only scratched. It still made me sick to my stomach knowing I hadn't paid the $40 for an overpriced Best Buy screen protector at the store when I bought the thing.

I then spent the next six hours of my life in obsessive worry and dread about my stupid new phone. After reading online, I saw where sometimes applying a screen protector will cover up a scratch. That night I went to T-Mobile to get a screen protector. They said that they cost $44.00. I knew I had two that were on the way from Amazon for $13.00, so I said I'd wait.

I then told the clerk about my screen and mentioned how fragile these stupid new phones were. She took a look at it and asked if I had removed the protective film on the screen?

The what?

"Yeah, there's a protective film over the screen on the new Galaxys to protect them until you can get a screen protector."

This is the part where I am a man conflicted with both joy and embarrassment. Of course I hadn't removed the plastic film and the film was scratched, not the screen. The phone screen was fine.

I felt about as dumb as a person can be, but even more glaring was my awareness of how this worry had overtaken my life for six hours. What a stupid waste of energy. But, like everything else obsessive with these damn devices, it takes over your life, and I hate that about them.

To finish the sales story, I have been back to Best Buy twice in an attempt to pick up my son's S10, and we still don't have it. More life-sucking from the folks at ATT/Samsung.

I guess the moral of the story is we all have to take a step back and see where we are letting phones take us. This new phone has a "screen time" function, where it tells you how many times you've used it. When I checked, it said I'd had 46 unlocks.

46! in one day, and the day wasn't even over yet.

That is sobering data I could only get from a phone.

My name is Jim, and I'm a phoneaholic.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Portaging Without A Canoe

About six months ago, I was invited to be one of the two featured poets at an event called Poetry in Portage (PIP). This is an event that takes place monthly and features two poets, each reading for 30 minutes, followed by an open mic where anyone can read some of their work.

Portage is a city about an hour and a half from Waukesha, just up the road from where I-94 splits with I-39. I saw this as a chance to increase my exposure a bit as well as take a little road trip. If you know me, you know I love road trips, so I told the organizer I would come up and present.

The reading was held at Suzy's Steak and Seafood restaurant. When I got there, I was greeted by the other presenter, Jane McCarty Osypowski and her husband. Later we were joined by a friend of Jane's as well as June Paul, the event coordinator. We had a pre-dinner drink and got to know each other a bit. Jane is also an artist, so admitted that most of her recent artistic endeavors have been with paint, not pen.

Now, I only have steak maybe twice a year, so I thought it would be a nice splurge. I ordered the New York Strip, and it was fabulous! If you're ever in the Portage area, check out Suzy's. A good old surf and turf restaurant.

When it came time to read, we moved to a private room. The crowd was small but appreciative. After a quick introduction and lead-off poem by June Paul, I started the evening off. I read a "greatest hits" list of poems from my four books. The more I do this kind of thing, the more comfortable I get. Near as I could tell, my work was well received.

After my reading, Jane took over and read her work, which was moving and well presented. I always admire these cross-disciplinary artistic types, because it is a skill I don't have. (i.e. my artwork sucks!) . When Jane was done, there was a short open mic where a few poems were read.

Ultimately, I ended up selling a few copies of Written Life, which is always a good thing for any poet. While it is great to have people appreciate your work, its even better if they buy a copy.

At the end of the night, June read an emotional poem about her brother that is dealing with a serious illness. I can certainly relate to the pain of watching a sibling going through difficult health issues. It was a point of connection for us that I hadn't expected when I decided to agree to the poetry event.

These poetry events are often times small affairs, but they are something I will continue to pursue. The new friends I made at this event made the trip worthwhile unto itself. But sharing my work with others and hearing their stories is ultimately the reason behind the whole deal. For a few hours I was thrust out of my geographic bubble into a new arena with strangers who three hours later became friends. It's probably an introvert's nightmare, but I've learned to embrace these opportunities and turn them into lifetime events that I can look back on with fondness.

Because these things make life a little richer.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Art Of Noise

Donna and I went out and saw some live music with friends on Friday night. One of our favorite bands, Zach Petrini, an band that plays largely Americana, was playing at a new venue called the Ivy House in the Third Ward. It was a place we'd never been, so thought we'd check it out.

If you know me, you know I'm a music buff. I love live music because it is such an in-the-moment experience. Like theater, each show is an entirely different experience. If the band is having a good night and the crowd is into it, it can be almost a spiritual experience. (Speaking for myself personally.)

What I enjoy so much is picking out the different instruments as they play. Everyone has a critical role in the creation of it. If the bass player sucks, the whole thing sounds like crap. If the guitarist hits a couple of rough notes in a row, people cringe.

But if every member is in synchronicity, it can be downright stunning. Many of Petrini's songs have a distinct progression to them. They begin, with establishing a tempo, then have a pause in the middle and work into a frenzy near the end.
Photo credit: Jill Kenehan Krey

It is these moments when the band is fully extended, the drummer is hammering away, the bass is thrumming, the guitarist is ringing out, and the vocals are carrying the whole thing that I realize how much music is art. It is layered, textured, spontaneous and interpretive. When the audience is engaged it is a give and take thing. The whole room moves.

Years ago, I was in Milwaukee with a friend at a blues club on a Saturday night and we were listening to a band and the blues harpist (harmonica) player was just killing it. The whole band was smoking it up and it was just phenomenal. I've seen John Lee Hooker and the Coast to Coast Blues Band do the same thing at the Cabooze in St. Paul. They blew the doors off the place.

And all of it means both something and nothing. After all, some would say, it's only music. But I would argue that it fills me up. There's something about being a part of that moment. It's entertainment, sure, but like any art, it is part of the human experience and nourishes the soul. As I work to be more in the moment and deliberate, I appreciate these types of events.

Much of the quality of a show depends however on a good team at the mixing board too. The show on Friday had some serious mixing issues for the first half. At the beginning, you couldn't hear the lyrics. Then, the organ was too loud and in your face. Near the end, the drums were too prominent. It was like the sound guy was tone deaf. It made the first half of the show an exercise in frustration for the audience. Eventually they figured it out, but the issues took away from the overall experience.

Live music continues to be a way for me to appreciate those who have talents that I never profess to have. Like those who deal with graphic forms of art, I just don't get how they do it. It's nothing short of miraculous and beautiful to me.

So I aim to keep following the world of art and music, because it gives me an escape and hope at the same time.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hope Springs Eternal

It seems we are on the cusp of spring, for real this time. As with everyone else, this is a long awaited season of expectancy for me. The older I get, the more I need spring. This past winter was brutal, starting after one of the crappiest Novembers in a long time.

There are a few things that help ramp up the giddiness for the coming warmth.

  • Brewers Opening Day. I'm a fair weather baseball fan, but always appreciate the possibilities of opening day. Back when the Brewers played at County Stadium, I used to try and get to an opening day every once in a while. It was almost always a guarantee that it would be rainy, cold, or snowy for it, so the memories are of dressing warm, lots of beer, and more Brewer losses than wins. (They weren't very good in the late '80s.)
  • Kayaking Season. We sold our Santa Fe, SUV this past winter, so my kayak hauler of choice has become a minivan. Lord, help me. I rigged it with some roof racks that I got for a song on Amazon, so all we need now it ice-out.
  • Biking. I picked up my bike from Wheel and Sprocket today. I got it "tuned up" and had them put a new chain and sprocket on the back. Now, I'm old school. Back in the day I could get a tune up and the whole thing cost less than $60. This one cost me $179.00. The sticker shock of it just about knocked me over. I have a hard time paying that much for a CAR repair. What the heck? I guess it is just the new normal and I've got to get used to it.
  • Open Windows. In the car or in the house. I miss it and the fresh air gives me hope.
  • Walking Without Fear Of Falling. A friend pointed out that the ice this winter was the worst part. Worse than the snow, or the cold. I kind of have to agree. 
  • Fishing Season. This is probably the thing I miss the most. Alone in my kayak or together with a friend in his boat, fishing is my Zen. My friend has a new, bigger boat this year, so that's nice too. I'm not an ice fisherman, so this is my season. Unfortunately it has to wait until mid-may when the season opens.
So, it looks like we're going to make it. The last of the snow has melted in our yard and I even see green shoots around. I'm not sure, but maybe just maybe, spring is happening.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Travelling Vicariously

Both of my kids just finished up trips to California. They are 23 and 20 years old and these trips were completely orchestrated by them. 

They planned them.

They paid for them.

They lived them.

Sarah was out visiting her boyfriend's parents in Sacramento and managed to take a side trip to San Diego and Los Angeles. Ben was out for Spring break and managed to stay at a friend's uncle's place in Oceanside. 

I'll admit it was weird knowing that they were both in the same state, over essentially the same period of time. It was also sort of comforting in a way, knowing that they were within a few hours drive of each other if anyone should have any issues.
It is well known that San Diego is maybe my favorite city in the US. So when Sarah mentioned she was going there, I wanted to tell her all the places to see. I might have mentioned a couple of things that I thought were important, but ultimately, these trips are up to them. She made it to the San Diego Zoo and saw the pandas. She also made it to Balboa Park for the cherry blossom festival, which was beautiful in its own right.

Ben made it to Oceanside and from there took an Uber to various locations nearby. Then, later in the week, he took the Greyhound, alone, to Los Angeles to visit a friend from high school. That little side trip almost put my wife into cardiac arrest. The thought of my son navigating the streets of L.A. on his own, makes me both proud and terrified. At least my daughter is with her boyfriend. ALONE! In LA!

Seriously though, it was great getting text messages from them about their travels and adventures as they were living them. We were able to relive part of our own youth as we read them.

If there is one take away from the week, it is this. 

Our kids figure it out.

I did it when I was 23 too. It was a trip that is the basis for my chapbook, On a Road.

We've raised them with a suitcase in their hand for the most part. We've driven and flown thousands of miles with them in an effort to show them there is a big wide world out there. 

They have come to an age where they are taking travel matters into their own hands. 

And while it makes us happy and proud, there will always be a level of concern and worry that goes along with it. 

I guess that's called being a parent. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Restoring Wetlands And My Faith In Humanity

Nothing like clomping through a muddy farm field in March to restore my faith in humanity and remind me how much I like my job. I did just that today as part of a "field trip" of sorts for me and a fellow GIS guy as we followed our friend around for most of the morning.

Alan works in our Land Conservation department and was scheduled to do some GPS data collection as part of his work with the Waukesha County Land Conservancy. Megan, the woman in charge of the project told us the land we were walking on was 57 acres of farm land that was being restored to a wetland.

These wetland restoration projects involve a lot of factors including removing existing drainage ditches, clearing invasive species, planting native plants, etc. Then once the wetland is restored, the wildlife follows.
A Drone Selfie (aka a Dronie!)

So while the main function was to "GPS some points" and learn about how that ties into the mapping, I was more interested in the overall project. It gives my heart great satisfaction knowing there are agencies like the WCLC and people like Megan and her intern Abbie, that are passionate about birds, groundwater, flora and wildlife that is supported by a sound wetland.

As we walked the property, I heard the loud calling of the cranes, saw a hawk circling overhead, saw many deer prints and even heard an owl. It was positively heavenly. Because I live in the city, these are sites and sounds I don't get to hear near enough. I often forget these places exist within 20 minutes of my home. I need to get out more.

GPSing a Well Head.
The other cool part of the day was my coworker flying our drone over the property and taking photos and video. The video will help show a "before" shot of the land from a bird's eye view. They are pretty cool devices and have created another way to collect spatial data at a low cost. The thing was noisy but fun to watch. It got some great footage which I've embedded here.

I can honestly say in 22 years of working at the County, I've only been "in the field" about three times. I realized today how important it is to get out once in a while and see the land I've mapped for 22 years. It is really great to see projects like I saw today and know that GIS plays a small part in helping projects happen.

And I'm still convinced I have the coolest job a guy can have.

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