Sunday, August 18, 2019

Natural Restoration

Just back from another week at Pine Forest Lodge with family. This trip saw the four of us plus Sam, my daughter's boyfriend, and Van a friend of my son's.

We've been going up to this cabin on and off since about 2003 or so. Lots of great memories over the years, fish, fun and family.

This one came on the day after my son's 21st birthday, so we celebrated with a birthday apple pie, a gift opening and a few drinks because, well, 21!

The week was full of lots of reading too. Four of us had books we were well into throughout the week. My wife actually finished more than one. It is refreshing to have so much downtime that you can read without guilt or interruption. It is a habit that I am happy our kids have adopted. Even Sam commented how much he'd enjoyed reading a book instead of peoples' crap on Facebook.

What struck me most about the trip was the continuous outdoor quiet. There's something healing about the wide open spaces and the way it seems to muffle the few sounds there are. It is also comforting to be away from the noise of traffic that is so much a part of our life in the city. I don't know of a way to fix that short of moving up north or out in the country, but it sure was nice.

The fishing was about what we expected. Spider lake is tough to fish and never fails to disappoint. The good news was everyone got something, albeit sometimes tiny.

The highlight of the fishing was on Thursday night at dusk. The bugs had just started to come out, so I was beginning to think about going in to shore. As I was tending to something else, suddenly my fishing rod jerked. I thought we were snagged, and when I grabbed the rod, I realized it was a fish. A big one. The scramble for the net was hampered by the fact that it was under the leech bucket, a beer can and a tackle box. The whole thing was a comedy of errors actually.

When I got it to the side of the boat, I realized it was a big Walleye and determined I could get it in without a net. At 23", it turned out to be the biggest fish I'd ever pulled out of Spider Lake. I've caught larger ones in Canada but my son and his friend were stupefied by the size of it. The biggest Walleye they'd ever seen. It capped off a relaxing week rather nicely.

All in all, it was good to be around our kids for a week. The best times were dinner meals together. Lots of goofiness and laughter. It's weird to relate to our kids as adults, but we have a ton of fun laughing with them over food.

The highlight of the outdoors element was our hike along the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains wilderness. Trees over 400 years old, waterfalls, lots of cool rock formations and plants and flowers. It makes a person feel really small.

So tomorrow is re-entry into reality. It's good to be refreshed though and being out in our natural world was a good part of helping it happen.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Personal Woodstock

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, "three days of peace and music." Much like the Green Bay Packers Ice Bowl, I would love to say I was there, but I wasn't. At 7 1/2 years old, I couldn't find a ride. Even my older brother was only 14 at the time, so none of us was of the age to go.

If you know me though, you know I am a music lover. I tend to romanticize big events like Woodstock and its California equivalent Altamont. From what I've seen of the history of the event, it was a poorly organized, understaffed and underprepared event, set in the middle of a rainstorm. There have been some good articles about it recently, as well as a PBS special that was well done. Both talk about how it was about more than the music. It was a community of sorts. More importantly, though, it was a statement about a generation. Hedonism? Probably. Hippies, for sure. But a gathering in the name of peace, by any standards, is something worth striving for.

So, feeling that I was denied the chance to participate in a little bit of history, I had to try and think of my own version of Woodstock. There were a few close candidates:

1. The Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley in 1987. The parking lot was a "community" of its own. The concert itself had a tinge of Woodstockness to it with the trippin' naked guy running through the lawn seats. I'm glad I went with my friend Allison, because there's nothing quite like the Dead at Alpine.

2. George Thorogood, Robert Cray and Short Stuff at Trout Air in 1984. Rock n Blues in the open air with throngs of people.

Night, The Cars and The Doobie Brothers, 8/17/1979

But if I had to call one my own personal Woodstock, it would be this concert at Midway Stadium on August 17th, 1979. Part of what makes it significant is that it was exactly 10 years after Woodstock (and incidentally, 40 years ago this weekend!)  This was a mega-venue, totally outdoors and was a little poorly planned itself. For starters it was General Admission, except for the field seats which required a special ticket (if I remember correctly.) I vividly recall there were not enough bathrooms and featured, like most rock concerts of the day, a few ladies crashing the men's bathroom because they were sick of waiting in the women's line which was typically 3X longer than the men's line.

In a look at how concert tickets have skyrocketed, the whole event cost $11.00!

I was an absolute maniacal Cars fan at the time. Even though the Doobies were headliners, for me, it was all about the Cars. Besides, at this point I considered the "Michael McDonald Doobies" a bit of a sellout. I loved their old stuff, (China Grove, Jesus is Just Alright, Black Water, etc.) but the "smooth jazz" sound of McDonald was not for me. But, I was willing to put up with it to hear my favorite band.

It was a pretty great concert. The cars played about 15 songs after a warm-up set by a relatively new, obscure group named Night. It was the first of 5 total times for me to see the Cars over the next 8 years or so. They actually put on a dull stage show, don't really play to the crowd, but I loved their music enough that it didn't matter.

The Doobies followed up with a decent show of their own. I vaguely remember fireworks shooting out of stacks during China Grove, near the end. And as a nod to Woodstock, I also remember it beginning to sprinkle near the end of their show.

So instead of three days of peace and music, I had to settle for 5 hours of people, traffic and music. Instead of brown acid, we altered our minds with overpriced monster cups of budweiser. Thank goodness for small blessings that way.

I realize even the suggestion  that this is anything close to Woodstock is musical heresy, but I am nothing if not a sap for nostalgia. That night was far from anything historic, but memorable to me as a teenager trying to rebel and rock out for a bit. And at the time that's all that mattered. In that way it was really groovy.

Here's links to the 8/17/1979 set lists from

The Cars
The Doobie Brothers

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Legal in 50

Tomorrow my youngest turns 21. We will celebrate it together as a family on Saturday in one of our favorite places on earth, Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer WI, aka, "The Cabin." We have gone to this resort on and off for almost 20 years. We took a year off last year, but missed it so much that we booked it again this year.

Ben has said that one of the things he is looking forward to doing is ordering a beer at the bar in the lodge. I guess I can't argue with that logic anymore. He is 21 after all. It's as legit as it gets.

But nevertheless, it is weird to say I have two adult children who are relatively self-sufficient. You slog it out in the trenches for so many years, then deal with elementary, middle and high school, and before you know it you're watching them navigate college and adult life.

There are too many good memories of Ben as a young kid to put in a single post. One of the forever memories will be when he was a little over a year old, he'd walk past the oven and catch a glimpse of himself in the oven window. Then he'd stop and admire himself and mug a little and keep walking past. He was always a bit of a ham, big with a cheesy smile when a camera was pointed his way. He's a photogenic kid too, so it was a good combination.

His dramatic episodes of injustices laid forth by his sister earned him the title of "airhorn." It wasn't so much a nickname as a term for his behavior, "Ben's airhorning right now," Donna would say to me on the phone at work. The video below is a good example of what it sounds like.

Ben always liked sports too. Like his father he was a solid 2nd or 3rd string football player, and an apt soccer player. His best sport though was swimming. He took it on as a sport his junior year and I swear it helped him grow up. He suddenly was more disciplined with his time and energy. I credit his swim coach and his teammates for that.

So now he is in turning 21 and we will be spending a week fishing and kayaking with him and the rest of our family. My wife and I have both come to the realization that having adult kids is a whole lot of fun. When they start relating to you as adults, you laugh about things you never could before. I do a whole lot of that with both of my kids.

Our family has nothing if not a similar, sarcastic sense of humor. And at the cabin, I am looking forward to lots of laughs this next week.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin!

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Current Situation

After a day like yesterday in our country, it's a little hard to put together an upbeat, funny or positive blog. Nothing is funny in light of what appears to be a systemic problem with guns and racial divisiveness in this country. And while I place much of the blame on the fear-rhetoric of our current administration and the spinelessness of our congressional leaders to face up to it and do something about it - everything from gun control to condemnation of the Twitterer in chief fanning the flames with his thumbs on his phone - the spineless swamp is wide and deep in Washington.

Sorry, it's been a tough go for me lately.

The worst part of it is the sense of powerlessness and the resulting despair that comes with it. It seems all I can do is wield the power of the pen. So, I'll keep it short and leave this post with a couple of poems I wrote on the subject of guns a while back during, oh, I dunno, the 39th mass shooting of 2019, or so. We're up to 249 in August for those keeping score. And I can't help but ask God's mercy on this country. I'm not so sure He's all about blessing America right now.

Named            by Jim Landwehr

Each kid had a name
and a story to tell
now stories untold
because these bullets
lead to nothing
but screams of grief
an ocean of sorrow.

Bullets 1-3 hit Matt
who would have been
a programmer
while 4-6 hit the whiteboard
and 7-12 took
out Kristi, a future
-a great one at that-
if not for those six bullets.

13-23 were used
to terminate forever the
friendship of Charles, Justin
and Miguel who
were talking about
the coming weekend
just a minute earlier.
a weekend that would pass
without them.

Rounds 24 through 27
were errant shots of mercy
splintering the desktops
of higher learning
once graced by those
of generations where
assault rifles were
weapons of war
not a means for
violent revenge.

Bullets 28-33
entered Mr. Goldman
killing him for
shielding Na’Quala
a survivor
scarred for life
who would never
emotionally recover.
She’s still dying
a different sort
of death.

Bullets 34-86
took from this earth
eleven other
bright lights


and with them went
beautiful smiles
dinner conversations
birthdays and
weddings never held
goodbyes unsaid

Last I love yous missed.

These children
were taken
from us
by an assaulting
weapon of war
good for
one thing.

Killing dreams.

Talking Around The Problem                     by Jim Landwehr

When geometry takes a backseat
to active shooting drills
and lockdown exercises
We could have us a gun problem.

Or, when the student body
means one lying in the classroom
instead of the corporate whole.
We may have a gun problem.

Maybe when the suggested solution
to stopping the next school assassin
is to arm the English teacher.
We might just have us a gun problem.

If people speak about knives and bricks
as potential weapons of mass murder
“So are we going to ban those too?”
We certainly appear to have a gun problem.

When students become survivors
and stand up to NRA politicians
but still laws don’t change.
It’s safe to say we have a gun problem.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Of What Is Seen And Unseen

I managed to lose my glasses last week. I don't know how it happened or where I lost them. I came out of work a week ago and when I got home I realized they weren't in my backpack. I frantically searched my backpack about a dozen times then drove back to work and checked to see if I left them there.

No dice.

They've got to be around, I thought. I never lose-lose things like glasses, keys or wallets. Of course I misplace them around the house all the time, but I never lose them. (Is there a difference?)

Well, I've been looking for a week straight. It's weird what losing something will do to a person as obsessive as I can sometimes be. I start looking in the strangest places. Last week I actually looked under my hat hanging on a hook by the back door.

Because that's where everyone puts their glasses, right?

I checked the lost and found at work and have retraced my steps to and from the car several times, checking in the flower beds and parking lot stalls to see if they got brushed under a car. (Like that happens all the time.)

Anyway, after having given up on them, my wife said I should look online at Warby Parker. They have a 5 pair try-then-buy deal where you get 5 pair of frames sent to you for free, you try the frames on and if you like one, you send all of them back and buy the pair you liked for less than $100. You need a copy of your prescription, but that is all.

It seems too good to be true, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. My vision doctor can't even get me in for an appointment for 3 more weeks, so I did what I needed. I ordered them tonight and figure I'll have them by Monday afternoon. Not a bad deal. This is a classic case of the internet changing everything.

And, hopefully I'll have seen how it has a week from now.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Living Out The Ninth Life

So our house got just a little quieter yesterday. We were forced to put down our nearly fifteen year-old cat, Chester. Chet, as he was affectionately nicknamed by my father in-law, had been losing weight for the past six months and we all knew the end was coming. When he lost function of his back legs yesterday, we figured this was it. We've had other cats and knew that the typical lifespan is about 15 years. (He would have turned 15 tomorrow.) So none of this was a surprise.

That it wasn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier when the time comes.

We took him to the Vet and were present when he was peacefully laid down. It was sad and painful, yes, but being there when he died was a form of closure for us too.

That's not to say that the rest of yesterday wasn't hard, as I suspect the next few days will be. Death of anything close to me always hits like a gut punch. This was no different. Last night I was walking the dog and dragging my own corpse around the neighborhood feeling the weight of death in all its heaviness. Everything takes effort. Death saps a person.

And even though this was just a cat, it dredged up feelings I'd not had since the loss of my brother in 2011. Death re-reads stories you'd finished and hated. That bottomless pit feeling of loss is soul crushing and you don't realize how a small fur-covered animal can stir up memories of people and other past pet deaths.

At the same time, Chester had a good life, a good run, if you will. He was a polydactyl cat with one extra toe that made him look like he had little baseball mitts on his paws. We think that was the reason he was one of the last of his siblings left when we adopted him.

Like every pet, he had his quirks and rituals. He loved to lay in the bathroom sink when it got over 80 degrees outside. It was probably the cool marble that attracted him. He also waited outside the bathroom every day for when I finished showering. Then he'd slink into the bathtub and lick up the water. He was a fresh(?) water junkie and liked it anywhere outside of his very available water bowl.

He loved his sister Isabelle, and the two often slept curled around each other sometimes forming a cat heart. His latest trick was to sit in one of the two kids' chairs at the dinner table and watch us eat. Once in a great while we'd feed him a bit of meat from our plates and he'd chew it and wait for more. We'd become the weird cat owners, but we knew his time was not long, so babied him a bit.

As with any cat, he came at a price. There was the endless vacuum containers full of hair, the countless cat yaks found everywhere around the house and, more recently, the naughty boy pissing around the house. We hated that more than anything.

So with the passing of him and eventually his sister Izzy and probably his brother Toby the dog, in the next few years, our house will grow quieter and more lifeless. My wife always said that cats - love them or hate them - do bring a life to a house that would not be there. She is right about that.

And Chester, with his big paws and his sweet face will be missed greatly.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sorting Through The Quiet

This empty nest thing has left me lots of time and headspace to do some thinking about how I got to this point, where I've been and where we're going. When we had kids around you sort of crash through life putting out fires, meeting physical and later, emotional needs and falling into bed at the end of the day. With our daughter in another state and Ben 70 miles away, it's all over now, except for the worrying...a lifelong thing, of course.

Thankfully I had a significant change in my work situation in the past year, which occupied much of my time and thoughts. Even that has settled down now (a bit) and I have even begun to assess how I got to this place in my career. Don't get me wrong, I still love my job, it's just, like most people, you never know where your career path will take you. It's a winding road.

I think about the series of events that brought me to Wisconsin. I think about the twists and turns that brought my wife to me from NY. I think about friends that have come and gone and come back again.

Every Saturday morning, my wife and I go for a coffee date. It has become a ritual I cherish, but the topics have become significantly different than they were even two years ago. Lately we've been talking about our future together, where we want to live, what we want to see (travel-related), our expectations for personal growth, post-retirement and even what would happen if one of us died. It is a great source of reconnection and gives me someone to talk about the deeper things in live with.

I just find it a little odd talking about old people things when I'm not old. (Sarc.)

It is a coming to terms with the fact that life is a vapor and we need to seize what's left of it. I am more conscious every day of how lucky I am to have it. And while the struggles of the day, (people, money, job stuff, cars, kids, dealing with this godawful political climate, etc) are not to be ignored, I know that there is a higher purpose to all of it.

So I do what I can. I am increasingly cognizant of my face-time with others. At the end of the day, it is one of the richest parts of life. Coffee with friends, a listening ear, a word of encouragement. I refuse to fall into the negative social media crap that is SO prevalent these days. (If you're doing it to "help raise awareness" you're doing it wrong. I don't go there to get a hard shine on my world view. That is set and you aren't changing it. -end of rant.)

I don't know when the introspective effects of our empty nest will taper off, but I am using them for reflection and forward looks. I realize I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be alive and doing fine in middle class America. I take none of it for granted and am aware that all of it could change in one heartbeat or unfortunate accident. So I plan on continuing to live it hard and make sure people know how much they mean to me. Because in the end, they're all I've got.

So thanks to each of you. You bring depth and richness to my life and I'm lucky to have you in my life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bee Wranglin'

This time rolls around every year, and every year it's the same story. As I lay there in backyard hammock, looking skyward in hopes of maybe an afternoon nap, I inevitable see the activity I dread most with an old house.


I lay watching them come and go with great flurry from either their current nest, or their nest in progress. Every year they seem to find a new nook or cranny to roost, and with an old house, nooks and crannies are the norm.

Two weeks ago I found a few paper wasp nests-in-the-makes in my garage eaves as I was scraping the trim readying for paint. I grabbed my ever-present can of wasp killer and set to work. It is a dance of aim, spray, adjust, duck and, sometimes run.

After I'd done away with the two small honey combs being started on the garage, I looked at the flat roof area outside our back door. There was a sizable nest there, on the order of a small cantaloupe.

Well, dangit all!

So I fetch the extension ladder climb up to the flat roof, and blast away. Let me tell you, all of the chaos that ensues on the ground when eliminating these buggers is ever-more perilous when you're on a ladder 10' off the ground.

Once they were convinced there was no entry to the nest, I blasted it with our hose and pulverized it to bits. I know honey bees are good, but these are not those. These are the ornery stinging kind that annoy. If I was more environmentally conscious about them, I would surely get a bee outfit, some smoke and bee-whisper them all to a safer, less house-attached area.

But a hose works too.

So after a couple weeks of no bees, I'm laying there today and lo and behold, there's activity into and out of the soffit/roof above my back door.

Well, dangit again!

I get out of my hammock and carry out the routine. The bees are confused when they return to a poisoned opening. I then went to the basement and got my caulk gun and ladder. I climbed a couple of steps and started filling the entry hole, thereby sealing in those that would be dead from the spray, and sealing out the ones out annoying people at their picnics.

So I figure I either have to stop taking hammock naps or get a new house with zero potential beehive areas to it.

For now though, the naps need to happen, so I'll have to settle for caulk and spray. 

Note: No bees were killed in the making of this blog.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Black And White Moon

Tomorrow we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of landing on the moon. It's hard to believe it was that long ago because that would make me old. There are a number of celebrations around Milwaukee and Waukesha as well as the rest of the country, I imagine.

For example, my wife's employer, Purple Door Ice Cream is selling their "Purple Moon," ice cream at UWM on Saturday for a Lunar Party. More locally at Retzer Nature Center, they are having a festival called Apollopalooza. These parties are justified in revisiting the incredible feat of actually landing a spacecraft on the moon.

I remember the night the moon walk took place. I was only 7 years old at the time. We had a black and white TV set and I can remember watching the lander sit on the surface for an hour, with nothing much happening except a lot of bleeping and some commentary from the news crew. As the wait for the astronauts to get out of the Lunar Module went later and later into the night, I grew antsy. 

And the record gets fuzzy from there. I'm not sure, but I recall being told to go to bed, because no one knew how long or late it would be until they deboarded the module. The other possibility is that I just didn't have the patience to watch nothing happen for another hour or two. I'm not sure which story is correct, and while I didn't resent it too much at the time, looking back, I guess it would have been cool to say I saw it live, but I didn't. I guess the one thing I can say is I saw the LM sitting on the surface of the moon in all its black and white, (with static) glory. I remember the night, just like I remember the night MLK was assassinated. One doesn't forget events like that.

Space was all the rage back then. I remember my brother Tom buying and building an Apollo rocket that stood over a foot tall. The thing was amazing, but everything Tom managed to spend time on was amazing. I remember having an Apollo coloring book and seeing moon/Apollo stuff everywhere. It was a world changing event.

A number of years ago I went to Huntsville, Alabama to the NASA Museum down there. The software company we used was based in Huntsville and they threw a big party every year at the Space Center. It was fascinating walking through the exhibits and seeing just how small and tight everything was for those men. It gives a person a real feel for how miraculous the whole thing was, especially given the technology of the times.

Of course I remember the Apollo 13 near-disaster as well. I remember hearing that these astronauts could end up orbiting in space forever. And I remember the relief the country had when they made it back down.

And I recall where I was for each of the space shuttle disasters. One was at my first apartment out of college, the other was at a men's conference for church. Both incredibly sad events in our space history. Unfortunately cutting the edge of our reach to the stars requires loss of lives.

So as we look toward Mars, maybe there will be a day my great grandchildren will be sent to bed before we walk out onto the Martian surface. I hope not, but if they are looking for people to head that direction in the next 10 years, I'm in line.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

On Deck

I've been thinking a lot lately about what's next from a writing standpoint. I realize I have two forthcoming poetry books, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, and Genetically Speaking and ,another major memoir in the works, but like any good writer, I'm always looking ahead.

Of course finishing memoir #3 is first on the agenda. The Cretin book is at 65,000 words or so, and just in need of some attention and commitment. I may have sent it to its room for misbehaving. I'll let it out when I've had a chance to step away for a bit. It's going to be quite good, but right now I'm thinking the book and I should see other people. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

While I don't want to commit just yet, my ideas are threefold.

My first idea is to write another memoir about Milwaukee, my move to it and the life I've built once I got here. It would be in large part a book about moving away from Minnesota, finding out who Jim really is, establishing a career, and my blooming relationship and eventual marriage to Donna. I've already got a couple of stories started there, stories that could serve as standalone stories if I decide to start submitting them.

The book would certainly give me plenty of material and thus is my first choice. All I need to do is start hacking away and see what happens. If it becomes something, I'll follow through with it. If not, I might have some decent stand alone stories.

My second idea would be to re-work my uncle Jack's book and try and get it published as a co-authored book. It is an intriguing idea, but would take a whole lot of work, with all of it being in the fiction genre, which is not my area of great experience.

And finally, my other thought is to work on an entirely new fiction novel. Not having done much fiction writing though, this one seems the most daunting of all. It would probably be a dark humor sort of novel - possibly science fiction with a humorous twist. Lots of possibilities.

So, like an unfocused kid, I can't keep my train of thought on any one of those for very long. I think I will just start hacking away at #1 and see where it goes for now.

I've often said my only regret is not starting my writing sooner in life. Now I'm trying to catch up for lost time and writing like a maniac.

And that's a good place to be. At least for me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Coffee And Lightning

As usually happens at my Thursday coffee discussions with my buddies at a local coffee shop, the conversation took twists and turns that one couldn't have predicted if they tried.

In this particular case, the conversation started at a discussion of reparations for Native and African Americans, but ended with a discussion of hearing the voice of God.

It was a winding path, to say the least. I can't recreate the thread that got us on to that topic, but it was an interesting one indeed. Basically, one of the guys said that if the Bible is the only way some people say we hear from God, does that mean He's not talking to those people, or are they just not attributing a moment, an experience or an emotional reaction to perhaps being the voice of God. The whole discussion started on the topic of the Originalists with regards to the Constitution and went on from there.

But the best part about the conversation was how these two guys and I all told stories of our artistic pursuits, music, art and writing that led us to have either emotional reactions or a feeling of unwarranted inspiration. The question for all of us was, was that God moving in some form? The answer is, who are we to say it isn't? If you put God in a small box and say He doesn't operate that way, then, you're talking about a different god than me, (and my friends would probably agree.)

We talked about our old days as more conservative people of faith when we had God (and God's word) boxed up pretty tight, mostly out of fear of the lightning bolt. (Some of which still exists, mind you.) We joked a little about the days when a friend said they didn't like to do Christian book studies because it was just someone else's thoughts about God, and why shouldn't we just stick to scriptures?  (Wow, okay)

We kick around our understanding of the Bible and all of its good and bad. We talk extensively with both reverence and a bit of healthy questioning about what the "Good Book" really is and should be used for. Because none of us claims to know what it really is, and most are a little scarred by the way it was used to drub us in the past. We know its good, but we also know it can be used for harm. {Waits for the lightning bolt...}

I could go on and on, but the crux of my story is these guys, every Thursday, help me work things in the world out. We talk politics, world issues, religion, family life, art, and pretty much anything else. I would say it never ceases to go way deeper than any conversations I have the rest of the week. And for one hour a week, I am challenged to look at my faith, my country, my world and myself.

And I've said it before, it is one of the best hours of my week.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Genetically Speaking

While I don't have too many memories about my dad, I do have several of my stepfather, Jack. He and my mom dated for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. While he was by no means a perfect father, (I mean, who is?) he was all I had growing up, with maybe the exception of a few father figures that played various roles in my upbringing.

Perhaps Jack's most redeeming quality was his sense of humor. He was nicknamed Happy Jack because of it. It carried over into his drinking where he was known as a happy drunk. (Believe me, I've seen both happy and mean drunks, and I'll take a happy one any day.)

But his sense of humor was what carried him through life. It made him more tolerable and someone whom people loved to be around. I credit much of my own lightheartedness to him. One of his famous phrases was "Not to worry," said with a hint of an Irish accent. I use that as my mantra most days of the week.

I bring Jack up because this past week, I had a poetry manuscript accepted for publication. It is centered on the theme of Fatherhood and is a product of a 30 poems in 30 days contest that took place in April. As part of the contest, we submitted our final 30 poem manuscript for judging. Mine took an Honorable Mention so was offered for publication as a chapbook (chapbook = a short collection of poems).

Frankly, I am ecstatic about it because as a collection about fatherhood, it is intensely personal yet, I feel it will resonate with practically anyone who has had (or been) a father. (Which about covers the whole world, right?)

In the book, I look at Fatherhood from all different angles including stepfathers, fathers in-law, godfathers, father figures and would-be fathers. Of course I build in plenty of my own fathering experience, having recently entered the empty nest phase of life.

The book was incredibly inspirational for me, causing great introspection as I wrote it. My experience as a young boy with the death of my natural father and the introduction of a stand-in surrogate for 10 years, then formal stepfatherhood provides plenty of diversity in my reflections. It was both healing and revealing for me, and not all the poems are happy-shiny fun. Some are raw and tough to chew. But the sum total of these makes for an interesting collection that I think people will love.

So, stay tuned as I await publication time frames and details. This will be my 5th poetry collection and my 7th overall book. And like all of the rest, I feel it's important and represents stories I think need to be told.

And I can't wait to see it in print.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 30, 2019

You Can See Kansas From Here

We had what some people might call a weather event here on Thursday.

It happened right after work and I was going to try and sneak a ride in before the rain came. I could see the skies were dark to the west, but that always happens. I really look forward to my rides, so was determined to get one in quick.

As I went west down College Avenue, the dark cloud covered the entire western horizon. It had a definite front line to it, so I thought I'd go to the edge of that front line and then turn around.

Well, every block I got closer to the death cloud the more I began to think I love my wife and kids and I should probably turn around. This cloud looked different. Menacing. So, I didn't even reach the bike trail and decided to double back.

I got my bike in the basement and within 10 minutes we had us a good old whippin' going. I've only seen wind come up that fast one other time. In 1998 we had straight-line winds blow through the city that had a similar intensity. That one was different in that it had a definite sound to it. The old saying "It sounded like a freight train," held true for that storm of '98. I see where everyone gets the correlation now.

This one didn't have a sound, but I was able to witness the whole thing. The storm of '98 was spent in the basement, because the sirens were going off. To watch the trees shake and bend and twitch like they did this year was pretty frightening. Wind speeds were estimated at 60 MPH.

Then, when I noticed our planters were tipped over and running the risk of blowing away, I opened the door to grab them. The door ALMOST got ripped right off the hinges...along with my arm, I might add. I've never experienced wind that strong. When I asked Donna to help me, she couldn't because she was fighting to close the porch door to keep the dog (who was going ballistic) at bay. But because the open screen door was creating such a vacuum, she had to pull with all her might to get it closed. It literally took both hands and all my strength to close the door once the planters were in.

The two of us looked at each other and said, "What just happened?" After we'd secured everything we had a good laugh, but there was a moment there when I was channeling the Wizard and Dorothy.

As it turns out our immediate area was among the hardest hit in this part of the state. Carroll University had a number of trees down and a few electric poles were bent to unsafe angles, to say the least.

It was all over in an hour or so, and the cleanup and post-mortem began in earnest. Carroll University had kids and staff out there picking up branches, rerouting traffic, etc. The city had work crews clearing trees and closing streets off immediately following. Police and fire were super responsive as well. It was a testament to the community's ability to work together.

Lucky for us, we only lost one major branch. Our neighbors weren't so lucky but it could have been worse.

The whole event was an unpleasant reminder of how loosely we should hold onto things.

Because at any given moment, the wind could blow it all away.

For more Photos click here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Prairie's Own Companion

My son has taken a summer job working for an environmental lab in Madison. It is a full time gig for the whole summer and involves working underneath a graduate student working toward his PhD. The job is a perfect fit for Ben as he is an environmental science major. This work is right up his alley.

The job near as I can tell, involves two days a week in the field collecting data and samples in a large prairie owned or leased by the University of Wisconsin. The area is near Viroqua, nearly an hour drive from campus. They are studying prairie plants, insect and animal life and the impact of various practices and climactic changes upon them. For instance they do controlled burns on some areas to see if that helps or hinders seed growth, output etc.

So as part of it, he frequently sends messages to us via text with pictures of the things he's encountering. Suffice it to say, it makes a desk job look as boring as heck. And while I know it's not all daisies and fields of gold - there are bugs and heat and poisonous plants - I do envy his experience a great deal. The closest thing I had to that was an archeology field school at the U of M where we were digging up the foundation of a house from the early 1800's.

In any case, as you can see from the pictures, it's pretty spectacular. Having just been in the driftless area a few weeks ago, I can testify to the awesome serenity of the place. It looks like he is enjoying time away from the bricks and mortar of campus life.

As with my daughter who is in her first "real job" at the University of Minnesota's Supercomputing Institute, I am elated to see my kids getting real-life experience and enjoying it along the way. It is setting the stage for a career path for both, or at least a good stepping stone to something else. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was in their shoes, stepping into my first job.

I realized how lucky we are to have these opportunities and am grateful that I've got kids who look for them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Pedaling For Life

I have enjoyed biking pretty much my whole life. Ever since my sister Pat taught me how when I was seven or eight, I've always liked the sense of freedom and wandering that a bike provided. I've written short stories and poems centered around the pleasure of pushing pedals.

My first bike was a gold stingray knock-off that my mom got at a Super America gas station, I think. I loved the bike with its 20 inch tires, metallic gold flecked paint and a banana seat. Unfortunately, a year or so after I got it someone stole it virtually right in front of me. A couple of teenagers were walking down the street, one on a bike, one not. The one walking just hopped on my bike while I was playing in the yard and they both sped off. It was an early lesson in how people are capable of brazen theft and meanness.

A couple of years later, I got a much bigger bike, a 26" 3 speed Huffy. It was a big, geeky bike that I made geekier by adding a battery operated headlight, odometer and a flag to the back. I was always jealous of other kids' cool bikes, but Mom always said, rightfully so, that I was too big for a bike like that. This was a much better fit.

Ever since those days I have owned a bike of one vintage or another. I've also owned a heavy lock as well. One doesn't make that mistake twice in a lifetime.

My current bike is a Trek mountain bike that I have grown to love. However, I am beyond the years where a lot of trail-crashing off roading seems appealing. I think if I were to get another bike, it would be a cross-bike - a hybrid between a mountain bike and a road bike. Get me to work and out on the paved trail, but keep me in an upright riding posture as well.

Today I went down and watched a little of the bike races in downtown Waukesha. It is a sport I enjoy watching but never aspired to do. I am not a group rider. I am not a team rider. I ride alone and I ride to be alone. I told some friends once, I don't even like to say "On your left," when passing a rider. I ride to think, to be introspective and to relax. Having someone pacing me or cheering me on is not what I need. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But watching these guys gave me an appreciation for all the training and discipline they have to partake in. It's a grueling sport of speed and finesse and position. I give them credit, they're better people than me.

And I'm okay with my 10 mile rides after work. It keeps me sane.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Keep On The Sunny Side

So I achieved a bit of a writing milestone this week.

For a while now, I've been trying to get published in one of my favorite magazines of all time, The Sun.  A few years ago when they were only accepting submissions by mail I sent a story or two only to get polite rejections back by mail a few months later.

More recently they have started taking digital submissions for their issues. This makes the submission process much easier, though I am guessing it makes the acceptance percentage much lower. Most of these magazines get hundreds if not thousands of submissions for each "Call for Submissions." Because of this their rejection or, "slush pile" as it is called, probably gets much bigger.

The Sun features a section called Readers Write, devoted to a topic that is structured entirely around readers' stories. Most of these stories are only two to four paragraphs long and take different twists on the theme at hand.

The topics are posted months in advance of the publication date which allows the editors to filter through the submissions. The theme for July of 2019 was "Smoking," so I thought I had the perfect story for it. Click here to link to the story.

So, I typed my submission and sent it in. Because I am submitting my work to multiple places at a time, I sort of forgot that I had sent this one in. It happens.

Then, on Monday of this week, my wife got the mail and said "Why are you getting a manila envelope from The Sun?" I wasn't sure, frankly, so I opened it up to two copies of the magazine and a note informing me that my piece, had been accepted and I was awarded a free year to my subscription! I remembered that I had submitted the article and I can't say how happy it made me.

Now, it was a short article, and not a feature story. But when you look up to a publication, like I do to The Sun, it's sort of a big deal as a writer. It's a decent source of validation for me. I am probably making more of it than I should, but hey, cut a guy some slack.

My next step, I guess is getting a full featured story into it. I've got a few ideas, but no time at the moment. It would only be like the biggest accomplishment of my writing life to have it happen, so I think I have to keep trying.

I have a bunch more submissions out and about, so I hold hope that they will get recognized.

But for the moment, I'm going to rejoice in this one a bit. Maybe I'll even celebrate with a cigarette.

Blogging off...

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...