Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Demise Of The Corner Grocery

Since today marks 2 years since the release of my book, The Portland House, I thought I'd take a walk back to the old neighborhood.

I saw a post recently on the Old Saint Paul Facebook site that triggered some great memories. It was on the subject of Corner Grocery stores. This post will likely date me because these places are a thing of the past. The Woodmans and Walmarts and Krogers of the world made sure of that. 

We had one near us when we lived on Portland Avenue in St. Paul. I'm not sure, but I think it was even called Corner Grocery. It was on the corner of Grand Avenue and Dunlap, about 3 blocks from our doorstep. 
Site of former Corner Grocery on Grand Av.

As kids we spent many summer days walking to Corner Grocery with our allowances or other change we'd begged from Mom by leaving her a note to read before she left for work everyday. We bled her dry one quarter at a time in the summer - nickle and diming she used to call it - all in the name of a sugar fix. Sometimes it required a chore like weeding the gardens for a dollar, but sometimes it was just out of sheer exhaustion she'd leave change.

The store was a mom-and-pop owned place, I'm sure, not much larger than the ground floor of my current house. It had shelves stocked with a few cans and boxes of everything. The place was a fallback whenever Mom needed a loaf of bread or a half gallon of milk in a cardboard carton. Gallons were too heavy to carry the full 3 blocks, plus back then, they were only packaged in carboard too. 

But more often, we never got too far past the front area near the register which was where the candy was kept. They had it all at Corner Grocery, candy bars, licorice, Dots, Whoppers, Boston Baked Beans, candy cigarettes, tootsie pops and Charms suckers. 

I remember the Charms the most, They kept them in a vertical holder and if you picked one that happened to have a red mark on the bottom of the stick, you got to pick another free one. I didn't really care for Charms much, but being a cheap kid, I managed to try my luck at it a few times. 

Along with the candy were the sports cards and collectibles, like Wacky Packages. This was my little heaven. At a quarter a pack, I almost always spent at least a portion of my money on football cards. Some marketing genius figured that one out early. Tease kids by putting one player from their favorite team in every 5th package or so, so they buy them until they're broke. I held up my end of the bargain for sure.

It's funny what you remember about those old places. I remember the smell and the cramped aisles and the friendly clerk who put up with our .50 sales one kid at a time, almost every day, as there was always a kid from the neighborhood doing the same thing I did. 

So it's kind of sad that these places went the way of the video stores and drive in theaters. I think they were a sort of cornerstone (pardon the metaphor) for our communities. They brought kids out of their homes and were a draw from blocks around for what they had to offer. This particular place was bought by a hairdresser, Ernesto. He styled Mom's hair once a week for years and probably did a much more lucrative business than Corner Grocery. 

Ernesto's was eventually bought out by something else, further proof that nothing is forever. It's a shame these places don't exist anymore, but it sure is fun looking back at them. I'm grateful they were a part of my childhood.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Battle Of The Bays

Between the two teams I cheer for, Minnesota and Green Bay, today will mark the 17th NFC Championship game that I've watched actually means something to me. The Packers will meet the Forty Niners to determine who goes to the Super Bowl as the NFC representative.

Seventeen. That's a lot of games.
My copies of the XXI & XXXII Super Bowl programs

Of those games though, I've only been on the winning side six times, three each for the Packers and Vikings. That means my disappointments outnumber my euphoric moments by a margin of almost 2:1.

There have been some heart breakers for sure, almost too many to list.

For the Vikings there were:

  • The Cowboys Hail Mary pass
  • The Gary Anderson missed field goal in the Randall Cunningham years
  • The 41-0 stomping at the hands of the NY Giants during the Randy Moss years
  • The infamous Brett Favre interception versus New Orleans
  • The recent beating at the hands of the  Eagles
And as a Packer fan, I've had my heartbreaks too:

  • The pounding by Emmit Smith and the Cowboys
  • The infamous Brett Favre versus the NY Giants (I see a trend here)
  • The Seahawk meltdown of 5 years ago. What a disaster!
  • The 44-21 thumping laid on by the Atlanta Falcons
For the Vikings, their NFC Championship victories were so many years ago, I barely remember what I felt, but I am sure as a young boy, I was thrilled. I lived and died by Tarkenton, Foreman, Osborn, Gilliam, Washington, Eller, Page, Marshall and the rest. It was idolatry at a young age. 

I remember my mom, stepfather and sister once met Gary Larsen at a bar in northern Minnesota when we were at the cabin. (Gary Larsen was the relatively unknown "fourth" Purple People Eater lineman for the Vikes.) He was sweet on my sister and I was introduced to him. I shook his hand and stood there relatively awestruck. But I digress.

Because they are more recent, I do remember vividly the Packer NFC victories however. The first one was when they beat the Carolina Panthers to get to the Superbowl with Brett Favre, Reggie White, Edgar Bennet, Andre Rison, Don Beebe and Desmond Howard. I'd lived in Wisconsin for 10 years and most of them were with brutally bad to mediocre teams, so this one seemed like it was for real. 

That win over Carolina was a fantastic feeling, eclipsed only by the eventual win over New England in Superbowl XXX1. 

This year's Packer team has surprised me again and again. I picked them to go 9-7 this year and they proved me wrong, finishing 13-3. 

And while I realize it's a boys game played by men and the Packers are underdogs today, I will still watch in hopes that they can pull out an upset. They did it against Chicago in 2010 to go on and beat Pittsburgh in Superbowl XLV. Besides, I have a win/loss ratio that needs to be evened out.

Go Pack!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Booking Of Revelation

I was the featured poet last night at Mama D's in Wales. I've been looking forward to this evening for a long time, as it was a chance to showcase my two latest poetry books to a new audience.

When I scheduled it, I took the month of January for myself because I figured that if turnout was low because of the weather, I'd be the one to take the hit. I'd rather the other poets I schedule get a decent crowd than myself.

Well, as expected, the event was lightly attended. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated very much those that did come out, but to be truthful, as I started, it stung a little to see so few people.

But by the time I left, I had a different take on the evening. Like so many of these events, the best part of the evening came in the connections I made. For example, a middle school teacher I'd worked with on a student writing camp last year. Her name is Nancy and she came because she'd seen my posts on Instagram and had always wanted to come to a reading. She brought her kids and we had a wonderful chat about writing and its importance in the early years of students. I was touched that she thought enough to come out on a rainy night to hear me.

Another surprise was a woman, Grace, who's come to a couple of my readings now. She is looking to get into writing more poetry herself, so we had a great chat about the intricacies of getting a poem published and how that can pave the way for a book. A great connection with a person I hardly knew a few months ago.

Then, later, my friend and fellow author, Bob Goswitz came up after the reading and we caught up on his writing endeavors. Bob is a Vietnam vet who published a fictionalized account of his experience in the war. In talking to him about the ups and downs of writing, we both concluded that although we are both fledgling authors, we wouldn't trade any part of our lives. While we both are working on our next book, we agreed that if nothing ever came of them, we'd still exceeded our expectations by getting that first book published. He's a great guy and it was so great to see him.

On top of these folks - friends from my literary circles - the poetry reading experience is always one I treasure. With these small groups of people the setting becomes even more intimate, like people gathered in a living room. To me it is art of the spoken kind, meant to be enjoyed, and then it vaporizes. I love being a part of that process.

Furthermore, there were the familiar faces, Sara and Ed, Colleen and her husband, who come through thick and thin and support whomever is behind the microphone. They are the ones who keep me going when these doubts creep in.

As I said, I walked in with a set of hopeful aspirations. But, after the interactions transpired., I walked out with an entirely different outlook. Poetry has never been about selling the books. I need to get past that. It is about the art and creativity and immediacy of it all. It is performance and interaction and beauty and friendship and connection.

So, in that respect, it was a memorable night and I'm glad I had the opportunity to be part of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Showing It, Not Acting It

Evidently, I'm not 23 anymore.

I sometimes forget that I am closer to sixty than to college. Sometimes this reminder comes on stronger than others. I'm not ready to admit my limitations yet, but the other night was a good example of the difference between my cerebral age and my actual physical abilities.

As part of our church's holiday party, we were allowed access to a gymnasium on the old Concordia College campus in Milwaukee. I'm told that the Milwaukee Bucks used to practice in this particular gym back in the early 70's when they won their championship. That statement piqued my interest knowing that I might be playing in the shadow of Kareem Abdul Jabbar - a long shadow indeed.


Anyway, I've determined that something in my brain snaps when I get in a gymnasium. I don't quite drool, but I feel an instant rush and a need to prove my basketball prowess. I was NEVER a good basketball player, but that didn't stop me from trying. People always assume with my height that I must be good.

Well, ya gotta shoot good too.

So after a half hour of random bucket shooting, I challenged Ben to a game of PIG. The game requires you to make the shot of your predecessor from the same spot, or suffer a letter. First one to spell PIG is out.

Ben and I are equally bad at hoops, I discovered, it must be a genetic defect of some sort. We struggled mightily and went back and forth. I decided to try a reverse layup, a bit trickier than a regular layup but nothing I haven't done a hundred times before.

As I approached the basket at top speed, my foot got caught underneath me.

This was the start of what seemed like a 3 minute fall. My ankle twisted and I landed hard on my butt, with limbs crashing all around me as I spun and fizzled. I broke my fall with my good shoulder and a shock wave went through my whole upper torso. My glasses fell off and skittered across the floor, as I narrowly missed landing on them. I lay there in an inglorious heap of humanity.

And the only thing I could think at the time was, "What is happening? It was only a simple reverse layup!"

Ben and a friend who witnessed the fall came rushing over and asked "Are you okay?"

I jumped up quickly, embarrassed by my ungainly shot, and said, "Yeah. Oww. I think so, yeah."

I went on to shoot a few more shots, but they were much tamer. To be truthful, I'm still a bit sore from the evening, some of it the result of the fall.

Now, in my defense, I was in bad sneakers, jeans and a long sleeve shirt, hardly the attire for a hoops star. But at the same time it was a humbling wake up call that I need to temper my enthusiasm and remember that I am closer to an AARP member than a Bucks practice squad member.

The hardest part is, I've always loved sports, ball sports or outdoor sports. So, I think I have to come to grips with the fact that I can't just go from 0 to 60 when I see a court like I could at 23.

Part of the issue though is recent effort to lose my winter weight. I have about 10 pounds to lose, which you may not see, but I do, and my clothes remind me.

The moral of the story is, while I've come to recognize my need to move in the winter months, maybe a better way to do it is to get a bike trainer, which I did. I've set it up upstairs and have used it the past couple of days. I feel better already, and chances are I won't break a hip putting my miles in. This makes my wife happier than crashing to the gym floor.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Raising The Literary Art Bar

Last night I attended a book launch for a poet friend of mine. Kathrine Yets' chapbook is titled, So I Can Write, and it is her first published book of poetry.

The event was held at Art Bar in Riverwest. I'd never been there, but I love the whole Riverwest scene, so was glad to be able to attend. Having lived on the East Side of Milwaukee many years ago, I miss the nightlife and eclectic crowds that were part of living in that area. The suburbs are so blase' in comparison.

The Art Bar features a lot of art within it, obviously, and was hoppin' busy when I got there at 6:15 or so. It was a diverse, youngish crowd with a great vibe. I'd say these are my people, but I'm probably a bit too old and suburban to get away with it. It's fun trying though. Despite my age difference I felt comfortable enough - I think the Riverwest crowd is cool with you no matter what your makeup is, old, white, bald dudes included. It sure seemed that way to me.

Anyway, I wanted to be there for her launch because she has supported me over the years. She is a talented poet currently teaching at the university level. I can also attest that a first book is pretty huge for any author/poet, so there's that as well..

She read from her work and then held an open mic downstairs afterward. There were a handful of people that read, young and old, including me. It is my hope to get down to the other open mic poetry venue in Riverwest, Linneman's sometime. Anyway, it was a cool evening all the way around. I'm glad I went.

If you're interested in her book, you can get it here.


And, finally, she and I will both be reading at the AllWriters' Friday Night Free for All event a week from tomorrow. Check it out here.

Blogging off...


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Comings and Goings

I have some public appearances and readings lined up that I am pretty excited about. And frankly, 10 years ago, I never would have thought that would be something I would be saying. I once was a shy boy - still am actually - but duty calls and part of being an author/poet requires reading/signings, so I try and honor that. Every time I do it I get a little more comfortable, so it's not as terrifying as it once was.

The first will be on January 15th at Mama D's in Wales where I'll be the featured poet. As you may know, I organize that event every month and after a few years since I did it last, my turn has come up again. I scheduled it after the release of my two new poetry books, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV and Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood

Mama D's is a quaint setting and a cool coffee shop in Wales. Attendance has been really good at the past few readings, but this being January in Wisconsin, I'm not sure what to expect. The event features an open mic afterward for anyone who wants to read a poem or two of their own work. There have been some memorable moments from some notable performers here, so it is a lot to live up to.

The second appearance will be a couple of days later on Friday, January 17th at Cafe de Arts for the AllWriters' Friday Night Free for All. I'll be reading with other local published authors and poets from AllWriters' studio.

The focus of my reading there will be my 2018 book, The Portland House: a '70s memoir.  Each of the readers at this event have different credentials, like first published book, first accepted manuscript, etc. My category is multiple books. I'm flattered to be part of this event and again, if you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd be featured as a multiple book author, I'd have laughed you out of the room.

The last event I wanted to share is actually an international reading. I will be part of a multi-poet event at The Poetry Cafe in London in September! When my publisher, Kelsay Press, mentioned they were forming a group to read in London, it piqued my interest, because we were thinking about taking a trip to Scotland anyway. As it stands now, we (my wife and I) will be flying into London for 3 days and then taking a train up to Scotland for 10 day afterward.

This trip is still being planned and fleshed out, but I am very excited about the prospect of saying I'd read my work in London. It is a bucket list item I'd never put in the bucket. The event happens on Saturday, September 26th at 2:00 PM. Stay tuned for more on that.

So, my writing life is busy again and that is good. I'd love to get a few more readings scheduled, so lets hope something cracks that way. Until then, I'll keep writing and working away. This gig is rewarding in ways it is hard to describe. When I'm not weeping and gnashing my teeth, it is a sort of Zen-like experience. LOL.

Blogging off...


Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Return To Routine

I returned to work today after a 9-day vacation for the holidays. I always look forward to those "break" weeks every year, but every year, by the end of them I'm pretty much ready to go back to work.

It's not that I don't like being home, nor is it that I wouldn't like retirement. It's more a matter of having a more complete plan for the break than "writing as much as I can". That goes great for the first seven days, but after that, I get sort of lost.

This past break I binge-watched the Netflix series The Crown. Well, when I say binge-watched I mean a couple of episodes a day for a few days. Watching TV is something I rarely do except when I have nothing else better to do. This week seemed to be a good chance to knock some of them out.  The thing is, I don't like myself when I do something this passive. It's not who I am. At the same time, I had to admit that it was a nice break from the things/goals I had set for writing and house projects.

The other thing I discovered is I have a bit of a vacuum obsession. I typically vacuum the whole house on Saturday morning, so it's always been my job. But when I'm around the house like every day is Saturday, I always see it as an opportunity to touch up the living room with a quick once-over with the Shark. I'm glad I know this obsession about myself, but it might be something to watch over time.

Dirty dishes in the sink is another habit I can't take too much of. All things must go in the dishwasher. So I scrape and rinse and load as I make them. It's not a bad habit, but again, something worth keeping in check.

I got some decent, normal, fun things done over break too - it wasn't all aprons and pearls. I managed to get to see the new Star Wars movie with my son, which was really good. I finished some poems and a bunch of edits as well as entering a few poems/books in contests and/or journals, and managed to get two late December bike rides of 10+ miles in. I slept in a couple of days and took an occasional nap as needed.

But it was a 9-day reminder that I need a plan for retirement - still a handful of years away - before I can safely say I'm going to retire and not drive my wife mad. I have lots of goals that way, guitar, fly fishing and maybe even pursuit of an MFA, but none of those are hobbies I much have time for until that day I hang up my real job.

So, while it was tough to go back to work today, in a little way, it felt pretty good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 29, 2019

An Even Dozen

As I close out 2019 with my final blog post, I looked to see how long I've been blogging. The history feature of Blogger tells me that I've been doing it since 2007. Twelve years! I started sporadically, but since 2010 I've been doing two posts a week.

I guess it doesn't seem that long, but lately time passes so quickly that nothing really surprises me anymore.

I started this blog by a different name, "MrMomForAWeek" in 2007 when my wife went on a mission trip to Guatemala for church. I wanted to track the events of the week as a single parent. I did it partly as a writing exercise, partly as a documentation of events and partly to entertain my friends and family.

And if I think about it, those three precepts still hold true today. I still use this space to keep my creative writing muscles limber and to hold me accountable to write at least twice a week. I haven't wavered too far from it, though have missed a post nearly a dozen times this year. For example this post is #94 and if I was doing it twice a week, it should be #104. So it goes.

There have been several occasions where I've considered stopping, but the disciplined me won't seem to let me. I am committed to doing it, and as a writer, one should really have a blog as part of their entire platform.

So I keep at it, keep mining my thoughts and my days for material, with the hopes that I'm keeping it fresh and interesting. I've had more than a few readers of my books say that they first started following me on my blog. Encouraging to know this, as sometimes it seems I'm shouting down a hole.

It is my hope that 2020 holds for me even a shadow of the success I experienced in 2019. I doubt there will be two books released in 2020, but if I continue to get published in magazines and journals and press hard on my memoir in progress, well, that would be sufficient to hold my interest.

I hope you all have goals and interests of great pursuit in 2020 as well.

Happy New Year!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Keepin' It Real

The Christmas tree I got this year looked bigger on the lot. It was a phenomenon similar to how fish look bigger in the water than when you get them in the boat. Or, it looked bigger in your imagination this year than it did in your boat six years ago when you caught it.

In any case we got a tree and after we decorated it and put the lights on, it looks fabulous. Sometimes smaller is a nice change. I know I'll thank myself when it is time to haul it out to the curb, so I have that going for me.

We have always had a real tree in this house, and even in the apartments we had before we became homeowners. We both grew up with real trees and never saw the reason to change. This year we gave a passing thought to an artificial tree, but passed on the idea. It has always been my job to pick out the tree and I don't really mind the task, so we can't use the excuse that it's too much work. The family used to come along with me to choose it, but that stopped about 6 years ago, so I go to Steins and try and get one in 15 minutes or less.

Shopping for them always brings back to mind the trees of my past. Mom always took one or more of us to get a tree. Usually it was at the YMCA on University Avenue in St. Paul, where they had a lot called "Y's Men's Trees." Because we didn't have a van, it usually meant tying it on top of the car. I do remember at least one trip home where we had to stop and re-tie one of the ropes because we nearly lost the tree. At least I think that's what happened. Maybe it was just a fear and I ended up making it real in my head.

There were many years we 'd catch the cat trying to scale the tree. One year it actually brought ol' Tannenbaum down when it was climbing. Mom walked into house one year after picking my brother Rob up from the airport to find it laying on its side. She was mortified. Of course we propped it back up, but no good Christmas tree ever looks the same after it's fallen. This was no different.

It did lead to a trend every year afterward of tying the top of the tree to the stair banister spindles using fishing line to keep the thing from toppling over. This is a tradition I've used on more than one occasion myself. No one ever sees it!

Back in the early 70's Mom used the big bulbs that clipped onto the branches and proceeded to get real hot. We never started a fire, but there was a carpet burn or two in there somewhere. Thankfully they went out of fashion before we managed to burn the whole house down.

The whole idea of bringing a tree into your house is pretty weird anyway, if you think about it. It is part of our tradition though, so as long as I can put up with the needles, the watering, and the tree-lot shopping, I plan to keep having a real one.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Panic Shopping In The '80s

There was a time when my brothers and I were all single and in college and living with all the irresponsibilities that come with those parameters. Paul and I lived at home and commuted to college at the University of Minnesota, while Rob was in New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

And I'm not sure when it started, but there were times when two or three of us banded together on Christmas Eve to do our Christmas shopping. It sort of defies any rational thought, waiting until the 11th hour to embark on getting presents for everyone, but as I said, we were young and untethered to conventional rules.

Our trips to Daytons or Rosedale Mall were usually launched on the downside of a couple of beers to get us in the mood to brave the insanity. When we arrived, we were usually in the company of other wide-eyed men looking frantically for a good sale or a size for something that sold out two weeks prior. It was a fraternity of futility, but we always made it happen, one way or another.

The best part about it though was spending time with one or both of them, laughing at the position we'd put ourselves in again. The three of us must have been a sight, twenty-somethings, all over 6'2" wandering the aisles laughing and price checking everything. It was an inexact science but reflected how much we really hated shopping and the whole mall scene - so much that we'd prolong doing it until nearly the final buzzer. We may have even capped off the spree with a beer somewhere on the way home, or maybe back at home during the wrapping frenzy.

My mom always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. For many years we had her sister and families over, but it just got too big, so she retrenched it back into a family-only affair. With six of us kids and our eventual spouses and kids, that too grew into a mob scene, one that continues today, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Those trips to the mall or a department store and all the camaraderie that goes with it have given away to online shopping via Amazon, which is sort of a travesty when I think about it. It's been reduced to a point and click thoughtlessness for myself and an entire generation. It might be a better, more efficient way of shopping, but it certainly won't be as memorable as those days in the aisles with the brothers.

Blogging off...


Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Day Unlike Other Days

I celebrated my 58th birthday a few days ago. As one gets older, birthdays are more and more just another day at work, albeit with a little special edge to it. This one was no different. It was one of those days where work was one meeting after another with a holiday party thrown in at the noon hour to make it just a little more upside down. The nice thing about the busyness was it made the day go by quickly.

But as I said, there were some things that made it special, like:


  • Cupcakes from my wife for both the GIS staff and the County Christmas party. Everyone deserves cake (or pie) on their birthday. 
  • A text from my daughter wishing me a happy birthday.
  • A call from Ben in Madison, wishing me the same.
  • When I got home a gift from Sarah awaited; a much-needed pair of slippers!
  • Over 100 Facebook birthday wishes. There is much to hate about social media and Facebook in particular, but it does serve this purpose very well. I very much appreciate my Facebook friends and love scrolling through the many wishes.
Perhaps the best part of the day though was joining some good friends at a nearby Irish pub for a couple of beers. It was a spontaneous sort of thing, in celebration of both Donna and my birthdays and one I'm glad we followed through with. 

When we arrived, it turned out we walked into something called "Whiskey Club" where a group of whiskey aficionados was taste-testing multiple brands of Whiskey. They brought us about four half-shots before we could tell them that we were not part of the club!

Outside of the whiskey club interruption the rest of the couple hours we spent were good. We talked and laughed and speculated on what we were all going to do in retirement. It was really good to close out an otherwise average birthday with good friends. 

As every year passes, I appreciate the people in my life more and more. They keep me laughing and young at heart as we struggle to figure out this thing called life together. I hope to spend many more with them!

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Radio Shift

I took a county vehicle from work to a meeting downtown today. It was a Chrysler Pacifica. The vehicle has some interesting quirks for sure, some of which I found confounding and borderline ridiculous.

Now, I know it's highly un-American, but I've been a fan of foreign cars for years. To me they are better engineered, run longer and need less maintenance. The two American cars I've owned as an adult were fairly disappointing machines. The first, an 83 Escort that was ready for the junk heap at 90,000 miles (Head Gasket + a myriad of other less major issues.) The second a Plymouth Voyager, a slightly less disappointing machine that was ready for the junk heap at 112,000 mi. (Too many issues to list. Am happy they gave me anything for it.)

Because I've driven largely Japanese and Korean I've become accustomed to the layout and functions of the cars - not to mention they work well for a long time.

But I digress. I am talking about the Pacifica here and thought the layout of the thing was so bizarre it deserved mention.
Shifter on left, radio on right.

Starting with the shifter, which is a big knob on the dash. Nice concept, but for me it is precariously close to the radio and heating control KNOBS. The last thing I want when I'm looking for a better station is to shift into Low gear and blow my engine up. Now, I trust they have controls in place to prevent drivers from doing this; Maybe an electrical shock if you touch the big dial while moving or something of the sort. I wasn't about to test it.

But my point is, why put it there in the first place? Was it ever a good idea?

Then there is the heater. The thing is driven by another knob with "Mode" printed on it. A bit unintuitive perhaps. It only took me about 5 miles of driving to figure out how the thing worked.

When I got going I realized there were two speedometers, one analog, one digital. I don't know if it they are covering the bases between the digital and analog ages, but I thought it was sorta stupid. Why not two tachometer readouts too? Heck, I'd settle for one good heater readout over the second speedometer.

The seat didn't go back far enough for a guy my height - thanks Chrysler. Add to that my knee hits the console in front, so my options to stretch my leg are limited. Thanks again.

The light switch is yet another knob on the dashboard. I thought they did away with those about 15 years ago. I'm so used to it being on the blinker stick that it took me 3 minutes of looking to find it on the dash.

The county also gets their vehicles installed with back-up beepers for liability reasons. It's safe, but adds another level of annoying to an annoying vehicle.

There was one nice feature about the car. It has a little light that comes on in the side mirrors when another car is in your blind spot. It's ingenious. They need to pay that engineer more and have him redesign the entire dash.

So that's my review for the day. But don't let it sway you!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Art and Appreciation

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. It was also a really, really good day.

It started, as most every Saturday does, with our weekly coffee date at a local coffee shop. This time together is where we talk through what has transpired during the week, we look to the future, talk about our kids and our friends, and ruminate about politics, culture and our world. It has become sacred time to both of us. We both miss it on those weeks we have other commitments or are traveling. It grounds us and sets the stage for the coming week.

From there, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We have a membership that we bought last May and haven't used, so we thought we'd squeak a visit in. The nice thing about a membership is you can see the special exhibits any time they come. We strolled through three of them, taking our time and admiring the art. Then we moved into the Portrait of Milwaukee portion and stepped back in time through the black and white photos of the city we both love and call home now. These trips to the Museum are always cathartic; a chance to slow down, appreciate the gifts of a multitude of artists.

After the Museum we went to IKEA to look for window treatments. We're not really shoppers, but still we go in with a target item in mind and almost always come away with a couple extra items.

When we got home, I went off to write, while she watched a movie. After that we moved a heavy dresser into our newly painted bedroom and got that situated. We closed out the evening watching the Badger football game together with the pets on the the couch.

The day sort of signifies what our marriage is all about. We enjoy each others' company over coffee, while taking in art, culture, sports and even shopping on occasion. We also recognize that we need time apart pursuing our own interests - too much time together is never good, and I say that with great respect, not to be cutting. And with regards to the dresser, we recognize the importance of working together to make our home what it is - as humble as ours is. And, trust me, we have a humble little house.

I don't proclaim to have a perfect marriage - I don't know of anyone who does. I do think it takes work and sacrifice and patience. We need to recognize the rhythms of each other and roll with them. It isn't always easy, but when you have a good day, it can be really, really good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Eagles, Gophers and Badgers, Oh My

We had a great Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota, despite a snowfall that went on and on and on. It was never debilitating, but certainly could be categorized as annoying.

After a nice dinner on Thursday, we hung out at the hotel most of the day Friday. I took a brief walk at a local regional park and had the privilege of seeing four eagles roosting in the same tree. One had flown off only seconds before I got there otherwise there would have been 5 in a picture I took. It was as majestic as it sounds; an almost spiritual experience.

That night we had our traditional chocolate fondue with Christmas gift opening at our daughter's apartment. When we were younger, Donna's parents often came to town for "Thanksmas" where we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and Christmas on Friday. Now that we have kids in other states, we are doing the same thing, it seems. The important thing has always been that we are together, not so much the date, so this is a great compromise.

On Saturday afternoon we watched the Gopher/Badger football game. As a gopher alum, I hoped for the best, but sort of had a feeling that they'd struggle with the Badgers, as they often do. It was an exciting first half, but true to form, the wheels came off in the second half as the Badgers rolled on to win it very decisively.

Much like the Packers, I've become a Badger fan due to proximity over the years, but I was really pulling for my Gophers this year. They've been so mediocre for so long, I thought this year might be different. Alas. Nonetheless, it was a great year and maybe they'll get some good recruits for next year. (Though I"m sorta sick of saying, wait till next year.) In any case, I'll now root for the Badgers to beat Ohio State and go to the Rose Bowl and for the Gophers to win whatever bowl they end up in. It's nice to have options.

In any case, Thanksgiving was a good warm up and I am looking forward to the Christmas season.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Beyond Turkey and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of the prologue holiday for me. The warm-up act before the headliner Christmas. The holiday with a dash of a letdown. I remember as a kid, appreciating the fact that we were all together as a family, but when all was said and done, what was the point of a big, delicious meal, if there was no gift exchange afterward. Of course, my thinking was antithetical to what Thanksgiving was all about, namely being thankful for everything. Your family, your house, your school, your government and even the food before you.

As a kid, those holidays were always big affairs. Of course everything seems bigger when you're young. A couple of times we held it at my grandmother's community room at the Lexington Apartments on Jefferson Avenue. She had some of the affair catered and for some reason, my wife remembers the chef in charge of cutting the turkey had a missing finger, victim of his own knife skills perhaps.

My cousins from White Bear Lake came to these "off site" Thanksgivings and between the two extended families and kids, it grew into a mob affair. The football game was always on the TV and one year even featured the Vikings and Cowboys - It may even have been Herschel Walker years - it's unclear. In any case, it never felt completely the same as when mom or Aunt Helen hosted the holiday.

Thanksgiving on those years at the Portland house set the bar for how to do a  big family dinner, and Mom did it with middle-class elegance and grace. She'd put the bird in the oven at 10:00 it seems, sometimes maybe earlier, it's unclear. She always cooked the dressing inside the bird with sausage and spices that made it moist and delicious - a point of contention amongst those that prefer it cooked separately. I'm sticking with what I know - inside the bird deliciousness.

Everyone invited to Thanksgiving was charged with bringing a dish of some sort. In the later years when we were all adults, my sister Pat became known for bringing the "Green Stuff", a Cool Whip, marshmallow fluff, pistachio pudding concoction with maraschino cherries and other surprises in it. It's a dessert/non-dessert travesty of a recipe, but for the sweettooths in the family, it is a favorite. I love the Green Stuff and eat mountains of it every time I get the chance.

My other sister Jane has built her Thanksgiving notoriety on her dessert selections. She not only overwhelmed the table with a selection of goodies, but she always made enough so everyone had their fill + seconds. The display was photo worthy and a bit of a miracle considering she had three kids to take care of and keep out of dipping into them before the trip to Mom's.

Younger brother Paul always brought his trademark vegetarian lasagna, offering a meatless option for those so inclined. I think it was the product of a spell where he was vegetarian, but I think he's since reverted back to his carnivorous tendencies (though somewhat more selective).

The rest of the family filled in around the edges. Grandma Dagney always brought the much dreaded oyster casserole, an unsavory combination of oysters, mushroom soup, green beans and Lord-God-in-heaven knows what else. My stepfather, Jack, once complimented her on them and she took that as a sign to bring them every year. The adventurous among us would dip into them only if coerced by Mom out of courteous obligation. We recognized that they were prepared with love and good intentions, despite the appearance otherwise. After she passed, they've become the running joke every year.

In the years since Portland, the affair has moved around the family, from sisters to brothers. It has landed squarely at the eldest brother, Tom's house the past number of years. He has a split level house that is conducive to breaking up the mob a bit and spreading the noise and chaos to two levels.

And it seems no matter where the affair is held, it is always shrouded in the love of family, siblings, cousins, grandkids, in-laws, outlaws and friends. There are conversations on who's graduating, who's pregnant and the trials of young parenthood. The uncles tend toward job issues and trials. the fishing season of the past year, the Vikings playoff hopes and the environmental cause of the day. No real problems are solved, but it feels good to have someone who's been there listen for a while over a beer or pumpkin pie.

Because that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. It's not so much the food as it is the person across the table from you. It's taking a few hours out of our frenetic lives to say, these are the important people in my life. And from year to year, the faces change. As a family, those of us in Wisconsin only make it every other year. This year my nephew Nick is in the Middle East in service to our country in the Air Force. He will be missed, especially by his wife and new little boy, Roy, named after his great grandfather, another soul not around the table.

So as you gather with your own family this year, be sure and look around and take it all in. Because if we are not thankful for what we have today, we are probably doing it wrong.
The Green Stuff!
Happy Thanksgiving All!

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Having Fun With It

Yesterday I launched my two new books into the world. In a sense, I had a twin birth. Though these twins are as different as my own two biological kids. One serious, self-motivated and introverted, the other creative, whimsical and a socialite.

I've been looking forward to debuting these two books since about June when I found out I would have two released at the same time. By the grace of God, I received my copies of Genetically Speaking on Wednesday of this week, just in time for the Saturday event. My publisher assured me they would be here probably by the 21st. I worried myself sick until they came on the 20th. God has a sense of humor sometimes.

There was a great crowd at Cafe de Arts, I'd estimate there were more than for The Portland House debut. I was pleasantly surprised by a few faces I had not expected to show up. These are the little joys one needs to focus on in our day to day life. People coming out to support you on a hugely busy Saturday before Thanksgiving.

One of these was a fellow author and colleague, Nancy Jorgensen. She and her daughter Elizabeth both co-wrote a book, Go Gwen Go, about her daughter Gwen who won a gold medal in the Olympics for the triathlon. I've run into one or another of them at three different events recently and was so happy to have Nancy there.

There were so many other surprise showings as well as the faithful dozen that show up to all of my signings. It was a great reunion.

I was humbled by Kathie Giorgio's heartfelt introduction. At one point she referred to me as a "reluctant hero" which I thought was an interesting term. I'd never heard it before, but it seemed appropriate, I guess. I never expected to have one book to my credit, so these last couple have come as sort of a wake up call to the fact that I've built writing into my life. She and her studio got me into this whole writing gig and I've never looked back. I think I'm a better person and have a richer life because of it, so am grateful to the AllWriters community.

The reading went really well, save for a spilled bottle of water that I clumsily tipped over during my talk. The poems were well received  and the audience seemed engaged with their laughter and attention. I first read from Thoughts from a Line at the DMV and finished with half a dozen books from Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood.

There was a mix of humor and heart throughout the reading, something I like to do to keep interest, but also to show people that I have a serious side to my writing. One never knows what people really think until it's over or until weeks later when they say, "I really enjoyed your reading a while back." We writers perseverate on the perception of people, so to hear a positive comment after the fact is uplifting to say the least.

All in all it was a fantastic afternoon with friends over coffee. Great thanks go out to all of those who showed as well as those who wished me luck despite not being able to make it. A gracious thank you to Ayhan Munzur for opening his shop, Cafe de Arts Roastery for the event. Purveyor of the best coffee in Waukesha, and always a gracious host.

To anyone looking to get books, please email me and I will mail them for the cost + shipping. They make great holiday gifts!

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Performance Art

Last night was the monthly Poetry Night at Mama D's in Wales. These affairs have grown in size over time, and depending on the featured poet, there can be a problem finding a place to sit.

Well, last night we had a poet, Colleen Nehmer, who has quite a following. She had a number of fellow supporting poets come from Milwaukee to hear her read as well as reading their own stuff. It was the most eclectic gathering of personalities we've had there since I've been coordinating it.
Tim Kloss and The Fall of the House of Usher

I was surprised to see Ken Woodall there. Ken is a Milwaukee poet who I saw at a GIS Day event a few years back. I had a great chat with him and found out about his own poetry night at a coffee shop in Riverwest.

Then, there was a 16 year-old who'd never read her stuff in front of a group before. She nailed it and did it with confidence and conviction. Very cool.

But the capper on the night for me was watching Tim Kloss, a well known Milwaukee poet, recite the first several paragraphs of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." He did it without reading a line, all from memory. It was nothing short of amazing. I admire people who can do that kind of thing, as I can barely memorize my PIN number for my debit card most days.

Like I've said before, these spoken art events, like sand art on a beach, are cool in that if you weren't there to experience it, you miss it forever. That's true of any concert or theater event as well. Being there when the energy is good, well, there's nothing better. So, I'm glad I was.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poetically Speaking

As many of you are aware, I have two new poetry books that were recently released. The first, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, came out in late September. This is a collection of 50+ poems about all sorts of subjects. It is the culmination of about three years worth of work, and I love everything about it.

But it is accompanied by a more recent release, Genetically Speaking: Poems on Fatherhood. This is a much smaller collection of 30 poems, called a chapbook. It was the product of last April's NaPoWriMo, which stands for National Poetry Writing Month. NaPoWriMo is a challenge to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. I entered a challenge by Local Gems Press where, at the end of the month, we were to submit our manuscripts for consideration for publication. Well, mine was one of the ones selected and suddenly I had two books "in-process" at one time.

So the publication process began, and proceeded along at the pace these things usually proceed. Ever since I submitted the final edits, I've been checking Amazon to see if it was up there for sale yet.

Well, at last, on Friday I found it was. (Get it here.)  And though this is my seventh book, there is still a wave of excitement that comes over me when I see my work out there. There is nothing quite like either seeing your book on Amazon or getting that first shipment of books in the mail.

Because of the subject matter, this book holds particular significance and meaning for me. You all know my family story by now, and this book touches upon all the sensitive touchstones of fatherhood for me. Every level of fatherhood is touched upon in it. Biological father, stepfather, father in-law, father figures and, of course, my own fatherhood experience.

Without giving away all of it, suffice it to say the book revealed some deep-seated emotional issues for me, for every level I mentioned. It is not all happy stuff. There is some deep sadness, a little anger and other fun emotions that I don't usually express well. I don't know where it came from as I wrote, I only know I wrote it from the heart. No one has, or is, the perfect parent(s). So, the book addresses the good the bad and the ugly. It is a little outside of my stylistic tendency, but that's maybe what I like about it. It shows the joy, the rawness, and the beauty of fatherhood.

I might add that I am ecstatic about the cover. When the publisher asked for images, I sent them three, two pictures were of the cabin we go to every year, and the third was a picture of my dad with 5 of us 7 kids. The one chosen was my favorite and it came out great. I'd love to know what you think of it.

So, this Saturday, November 23rd, I'll be launching both of these books at Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha at 3:30 PM. It will be a lot of laughs and I hope you can make it out. If not, I am also willing to ship one or both signed books for the cost + shipping. Just send me your address.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

GIS For Everyone

Yesterday was GIS Day. For those who don't know, GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. And if you don't know what that is, you probably don't know what GIS Day is. Well, I'm here to tell you.

GIS Day is a day focused around getting the word out about GIS, what it is, what it can do and why we need it. The running joke is that it is an ESRI sanctioned holiday. ESRI is the company that makes the most-used GIS software in the world. They are based in Redlands California and I actually have a niece and nephew that work for ESRI out there. 

The owner of the company is Jack Dangermond, a  Forbes billionaire who is as down-to-earth as they come. I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to him on a few occasions. In the GIS circles, he has a cult-like following and he makes it a point to meet as many users as he can at their annual Users Conference in San Diego. He's a big deal - at least to us GIS folks.

Anyway, I decided we should do something in recognition of GIS Day at work. Sometimes people remind me that we are a little known entity at the county, so I wanted to make a point of getting the word out. So, my team and I put together a weeklong event called GIS Awareness Week. It features daily presentations on a variety of topics and is aimed at getting the word out about some of what we do in the Land Information Office. The presentations showcase applications, maps and data. 

So far we've had a great week of interacting with other GIS users at every level. I have said it before, but I LOVE my job. I love telling people about GIS and using it to help people do their jobs better. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say I have spent my entire career in mapping and GIS. I have met a ton of great colleagues, smart folks who love the business as much as I do.

So, Happy GIS Day/GIS Awareness Week! 

Hug a GIS professional today!

Blogging off... 





Sunday, November 10, 2019

Figuring It Out

A few things have become apparent during these four days alone in my house. They are things that I might have already known in the back of my mind, but they became clearer as the weekend went along. Some are a-ha moments, others are just petty observations that bubbled up during my moments of painting or in the quiet where all I could hear was my tinnitus.

Some of the things that I've found.

1. Getting unlimited free time does not mean I'll finish my book, write 10,000 words or seven new poems. As much as I would like to devote eight hours of each of these days to writing, it just never seems to happen. My writing coach once said that life tends to get in the way with writing more often than not. In this instance, I had a painting project that beckoned me away after my morning write session. Sometimes I got back to writing, other times not.

2. Regarding that painting project, I realized that, like my mother, I get fairly obsessed with a project once its started. It is a bit of our work-ethic at play, but also some sort of weird OCD-manic-wet-paintbrush syndrome. As long as there is good music on the wireless speaker, it's hard to make myself stop.

3. I miss my kids. I was blessed to have Sarah and her boyfriend Sam come down and stay with me a couple of nights on their way to Chicago. I don't often get time alone with either of my kids, so it was a nice chance to hear what's going on in her life. Having them in the house took away some of my loneliness that usually sets in after my wife being away for 2 days or so.


4. I am fortunate to have an outstanding friend and colleague network. I spent Saturday night at a poetry reading of three poets who I highly respect, Cristina Norcross, Stephen Anderson and Dewitt Clinton. Though I only know them through my writing/poetry channels, they feel like old friends to me. They ask about my wife, kids, writing and even my fishing. We are a tribe of creatives, and we support one another when sometimes it seems like no one else does.

5. My house stays incredibly clean when I'm the only one here. Nothing moves out of its place. It's magical.

6. I miss laughing with my wife. We've had some serious changes to adapt to with having the kids move out, and one nice change is our ability to laugh with one another about our crazy day. We've rediscovered what brought us together and it has been all good.

So, these weekends alone are good for more than just projects and writing time. They remind me of who I am, how much I am loved and what a great network of people I've surrounded myself with. I am a lucky man.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Paint and Pablum

My wife went home to New York with her brother today. They are going to visit their mom who is suffering from dementia, as well as to see her dad, sister and brother in-law.

Meanwhile I have been tasked with painting the bedroom the two of us will be moving into this winter. When our daughter went to college, we decided we wanted the "big bedroom" she was in, because we thought it would be an upgrade. It's funny because over the past six or seven years we've been in it, we've never really taken to it. I guess we got used to the smaller bedroom and in a way it will always be our bedroom. So, we decided to go back to it.

Before we do, we are giving it a coat of fresh paint. I've lamented in the past how much I hate painting and it still stands. I might qualify it with not hating interior painting as much as exterior, but it's still not a favorite activity of mine. Some people say they love the fresh look, etc., that a coat of paint provides. Well, you know what? So do I. I just hate what it takes to get there.

But I realize it has to come from somewhere, so I paint.

As part of my prep for painting the ceiling, I put down tarps all across the floor. These are the plastic, crinkly kind that you get at Menards.

So, last night I was sitting downstairs and I kept hearing this crashing type sound, and I had no idea what it was. It came and went, wasn't consistent, so I wrote it off to the neighbors being noisy. I'm half deaf without my hearing aids, so I thought nothing of it.

Tonight as I was waiting for my dinner to cook, I heard a crashing again. I followed the noise up to the bedroom and saw a lump under the tarps. After a few seconds, out popped Isabelle the cat. She looked right at me like she'd been caught doing something horrible. If cats can look guilty, she was doing it.

I don't know what the point of all of this is. I do know that my house takes on a weird vibe when my wife goes away. The animals get all moody, I get manic after a couple of days and, well, it's just different, and not all in good ways. I always look forward to alone time, but after day two, I'm about ready to have her back on the loveseat across from where I sit every night.

29 years of marriage will do that I guess. You get to a point where you can't imagine life without someone in it. I guess that's what love does. I'm not going to fight it. I can be as happy alone as anyone, but we all have our limits. Talk to me in a couple of days and I'll let you know how it's going.

Until then, I'll paint to pass the time.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Festival Of The Bookish

Yesterday was day 2 of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, arguably one of my favorite days of the year. This was the 10th year of the festival and it featured over seventy authors presenting about their work, the writing process and what's next.

This festival always starts on Friday by hosting a series called Authors in the Schools. It features sending over a dozen authors into area high schools to talk to students about writing.

I've been a part of this for about four years now and have come to really enjoy it, despite my loathing of the spotlight. It's become clear to me that if you do enough of this you can achieve a comfortable level of discomfort in front of a crowd.

Laughter from the crowd helps.

This year I spoke to 55+ students from an AP Composition class at New Berlin Eisenhower High School. The talk went very well. I spoke for 55 minutes and took questions for 5 minutes. Students were courteous and engaged and none fell asleep, a plus for sure. The coordinator was kind enough to treat me to lunch as well. Perhaps the coolest part of it all though was the fact that they bought 5 of my books and put them into the library system.

Then, Friday evening and yesterday, I spend the day with colleagues, friends, authors and poets from all around Wisconsin at the book festival. Friday night featured Andre Dubuus III, author of House of Sand and Fog. He was an incredible speaker and I really enjoyed his keynote. He talked about how his tough upbringing in a violent, poor, lower middle class area of Massachusetts turned him to writing. He also described how he has a soundproof studio where he goes to write for 3-4 hours a day and starts every session by reading a poem to get his creative juices flowing.

Saturday was a full day for me. I started at a session on memoir by Lila Schwenk, Julie Beekman and Nancy and Liz Jorgensen, mother and sister of Gwen Jorgensen, the US Olympic Gold Medalist at Rio in 2016. It was fun listening to the struggles of other memoir/nonfiction writers. It's good to know I'm not alone out there struggling to tell the story correctly without offending family and friends. I also bought Go, Gwen, Go, the book about the Gold Medalist because the story sounds so compelling.

The rest of the day was filled with words and friends. I had the privilege of moderating three accomplished poets, Angie Trudell Vasquez, Fabu, and Drew Blanchard, who read from their books and talked about their inspiration.

It was interesting to hear their stylistic differences. The poem that hit me hardest was by Fabu and repeated the line about an "Unnamed negro from Green Bay..." that spoke about the death of one of the first black residents in Wisconsin. She spoke about the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves on American soil from Africa. Some tragic visualizations and powerful words.

The day was filled from end to end. The last session myself and others read from the Bards Against Hunger poetry anthology put together by Ed Werstein. Again, some heart wrenching poems about hunger and poverty at the local level. Poetry speaking the truth and seeking social change.

A lot of thanks goes out to the many organizers, sponsors and volunteers of this great festival. I sat on the program committee and saw firsthand the amount of planning that goes into it. It is a credit to Barry Wightman and the rest for putting on a first class festival.

I can't wait for next year.


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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fishing With Veterans

This past weekend was spent fishing for muskie with my friends Steve and John, a tradition that is ten years running now, as I mentioned last post. I'll be honest, I had a bad feeling going in. I figured since I got one last year, it was back to the drought. 

It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within the first hour of the first day, we boated a 40" fish that my buddy hauled in. Then within an hour and a half of that one, I caught a 30" fish while casting. There is nothing quite like catching a muskie casting (as opposed to trolling), so I was elated to not be skunked. 

Then, while John was taking my fish off, the bobber started moving on one of the suckers in the water. It was what we call a "doubleheader" in the fishing world; two fish on at the same time. It's something that is almost unheard of in the muskie fishing world. 

Because my fish was much tinier than the 40" fish caught earlier, they decided to let me catch the one on the bobber. After about 10 minutes I landed my second fish of the day, a 36"er. It put up a tremendous fight and I shook for 15 minutes. It was a moment that I won't soon forget.

The following day we hooked into another 37" and lost a couple more that spit the bait. None of us could believe our luck.

To add to an already fantastic weekend, John, his girlfriend Jen and I all surprised Steve with showing him where his father's name would be engraved at the Presque Isle Wilderness Veterans Memorial. It is a beautiful memorial right outside downtown that features granite markers for each war and an "eternal flame" that funds raised by donors keep burning. 

The idea was John and Jens, and when they told me, I told them I was in for sure. I got a couple pictures of Steve's dad, Richard Krey and the dates he served etc. They sent it in and now his picture an service info is on the website

Steve seemed pretty touched and it was a cool moment between three guys who have fished together for 10 years and become pretty good buddies. I credit both of them for making my muskie experiences way better than I ever dreamed. It hasn't always been easy, but they sure do make it fun. I'm lucky to have them as friends. They both love to help other people catch fish.

Now, I can't wait until next October.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ten Years Running - Off The Grid

By the time this is visible, I will be on my way to my happy place in the great Northwoods of  Wisconsin. This will be my 10th year going up in October for what I term, Muskyfest.

My first trip in 2009 came with much trepidation. My friend Steve had asked a couple of times if I'd ever want to come up muskie fishing. I told him that I wasn't really into fishing for a single species with a high probability of not coming home with a picture of a fish. I'd seen a few of his pictures where he was dressed in a winter coat and hat holding a giant fish, and the appeal just seemed wane even more.


After a couple of rejections, I finally gave in to see what all the hype was about. We went up on a Thursday night in mid-October and gave it a go. On Friday, we had a gorgeous day, where we fished a favorite lake all day. It wasn't until about 4:00 when we'd just cracked a beer and were having a sandwich wrap when the "clicker" on the rod we were trolling with started clicking. Steve checked the line for tension and said, "Yeah, you might want to put down that beer and catch this fish."

It ended up being a small 34" fish, but suffice it to say that fish changed everything. After we'd photographed it and set it free, I still shook for 10 minutes afterward. The adrenaline rush that these fish incite in a fisherman is second to none.

I was hooked!

Needless to say I've been going up every year since. It's become a bit of an obsession with me. I've fished in rain, snow, sleet and high winds. The things you do for a minute long fight with a large fish. As for all my fears about the cold weather, well, it turns out you can dress for that! ;-)

Much of the trip involves a friendly, ongoing banter in the boat with my buddies, Steve and John. It helps pass the time, and the laughter is therapeutic. This is the place where I can let go of all the stress and routine of my life back in the cities. It is grounding and, I kid you not, this last fishing trip of the year is part of what gets me through the winter.

So, if I don't pick up my phone in the next 3 days, you'll know why. (Besides, the cell coverage up there is the worst!)

Going off the grid and,

Blogging off...


Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit From An Old Friend

Last night we went and saw the movie Western Stars with a couple of good friends. These friends are music lovers just like us, so when we saw that it was coming out, we set the date. We're all big Springsteen fans, and they had never seen him in concert, so thought this would be the next best thing.

I've seen him in concert twice in the 80's when he was in his prime. The first time was for The River tour. I went with some friends and were treated to one of the best concerts I've ever been to, and I've seen a lot of them. The second time was for the Born in the USA tour and again he did not disappoint. Both concerts were pushing 3 hours in duration. It was amazing and set the bar for every other performer I've seen, a bar that few if any have hit.



I know not everyone is a Springsteen fan, and that's fine. But regardless of what you think of his music, you cannot deny his legacy of songwriting and performing. His songs tell stories and are in every sense of the word, poetic. I remember when his Nebraska album came out - it was an entirely acoustic album, after a half dozen rock albums had established his name as one of the best. Lots of people panned the album. I happened to love it. Lyrically it was all Bruce, and I totally understood his need to stretch creatively.

So the movie was a concert he put on in his barn with a full orchestra and band. The music was entirely his new album, Western Stars, that has a country and Americana feel to it, mixed with a bit of Neil Diamond epic ballads thrown in. It's growing on me. In between each song, was a voiceover explaining each song. These snippets were accompanied by sweeping vistas of the American Southwest and or people interacting. His stories were authentic and provided some great glimpses into the heart of people and this country. It was a great movie, and I recommend it.

And of course, as with all of my rock heroes, he's showing his age (as am I!). He's 70 years old, and looks 55. But along with Bob Seger, who I saw last December, I can't think of a rock star who I looked up to as much as those guys. They are storytellers, phenomenal performers and yet vulnerable to the passing of time, just like you and I.

But for one night, it was great to see him back making music (albeit as a movie.)

He's still and always will be The Boss.

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