Thursday, October 20, 2016

Out Of Dodge

I am writing this from a conference on the edge of Nowhere Wisconsin and while that sounds like a complaint, I am happy to be here. I am normally just coming off a muskie fishing weekend this time of year, but this year it didn't happen. My fishing buddy Steve took it upon himself to go to Italy with his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary, and it ran dead into the muskie weekend. So it goes...

Anyway, my point is, I'm glad to be here because here is at least travelling and I am happiest when I have the road under my feet. As it turns out I'm just north of Spooner, Wisconsin at a remote lodge that involves at least 3 county roads and a stretch of deer-lined gravel roads. A fun ride at night with my mapping geek cohorts in a county van.

This comes while the rest of the world is overseas it seems. As I mentioned, Steve and Jill are touring Italy, end to end, and of that I am insanely jealous. They'll see Venice and Rome and a bunch of other great things

At the same time, my brother in-law and his partner are in Europe as well, They are doing Denmark, Paris, Edinburgh Scotland, London and back to Copenhagen.

It hardly seems fair.

These are all places I want to see someday. And unlike my wife who would prefer to do a single country really well, I would be the one that wants to see as many countries in two weeks as I could. It would probably kill me, or at least exhaust me, but it would be worth it.

Mark and Jake posted pictures from Notre Dame today. The pictures of the stained glass made me gasp. My brother Paul once visited Notre Dame and said it was so beautiful it actually moved him to tears. So I add that to my bucket list.

I don't know when or if I'll ever get "across the pond" to see any of Europe, but it certainly is on my radar to do in the next ten years or so. With one child in college and another one headed there next year, I doubt I'll be able to go much farther than Sheboygan in the next five years. Which is painful because, as I said, I'm not happy unless the ground is moving under my feet, or I at least have a plan to go somewhere.

We may be at that phase of life where local trips are the best we can hope for.

So for now, "somewhere north of Spooner" will have to do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Election Rejection

As you have seen, I do not get political on this blog. I loathe politics and all that goes with it and feel it is increasingly dividing our country and bringing out the worst in people. 

Because of this, watching our Presidential election cycle play out like a car fire has been nothing short of painful. We've all seen mudslinging in the past, but never with two candidates that are almost equally disliked. A friend of mine said the only way he could ever imagine Hillary Clinton in office is if there was a Donald Trump as an opponent. And the only way he could ever imagine Donald Trump in office is if there was a Hillary Clinton as an opponent. 

Well said. 

And the wonders of social media have raised the rage level to new heights. As things get said and countered, it takes everything in me not to chime in. Like I said, I don't like being outwardly political, despite having definite opinions about who I think should be President. 

But I typically don't say anything. Because there are things that demand my energy that are important and as near as I know, nobody on Facebook has ever changed political allegiances based on a Meme or comment from someone on the other side.

As I said, there are things that demand my energy that are far more important to me. 

  • My Family. Laughing with my wife and kids, texting my daughter and telling her I love her and bantering with my extended family on Facebook. It's all good and all better than political vitriol.
  • My Causes. I look forward to serving at the Guest House of Milwaukee every couple of weeks. This place and its mission give me purpose.
  • My House. Fall seems to ramp up the urgency of things I wanted to get done "this summer." I've been priming and painting our new stairs, cleaning the garage and getting ready for the onslaught that we call winter.
  • My Church. Our new church, Collective MKE is small, but challenging and beautiful. We had such a great discussion today about the role of the Bible in our faith, the translations of it and how it is used as a club to hit people. These people remind me that there are earthly rulers that, in the big picture, are insignificant. There have been for years. 
  • My Writing. If I am denied the usual spaces to write throughout my week, I feel cheated. I've come to NEED it, whereas I used to just like to do it. Writing, editing, submitting and even talking about writing gives me a great sense of purpose. 
And so I aim to continue to steer clear of the political arena for another 3 weeks or so. Frankly, I can't wait for the whole election to be over. It's like a tire fire. Polluting and out of control. I will continue to pray for our country and our leaders nonetheless. Because Lord knows, we can use that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 13, 2016


For a number of reasons, tonight and into this weekend is typically one of my favorite times of year. The past six years running, I typically go up to northern Wisconsin for three days of muskie fishing with my buddies Steve and John. Because muskies are such elusive trophy fish, it is always a weekend filled with anticipation and what I consider the last fishing outing of the year. (I don't do ice fishing.)

This year is different though. My buddy Steve is going to Italy for a couple of weeks and leaves tomorrow. (Some people should have such a dilemma...Italy or northern Wisconsin. Hmmm). In any case, this leaves me hanging high and dry. There is talk of possibly going up in November, so I'm holding on to that little light.

But there's a few other reasons it's a great time of October.

Today is the birthday of my nephew Nicolas. He's 34 today and, being my godson, we have a pretty tight relationship. I did a lot with him as a boy when I lived in the Twin Cities and tried to get together when I could after moving to Wisconsin. Then, when he went to college, for a time he was at UW Madison and so we saw him a little more frequently.

Now he's in the Air Force and has grown into someone my son looks up to. Ben loves Nick's story and his past and thinks of him as a mentor I think. I saw the full manifestation of Nick's maturity when he went to the BWCA with us in 2012. He helped out with everything from packing to helping with meals. He rounded out the cousin scene quite nicely. I hope we get up there together again sometime.

So, our relationship has come full circle. I look up to a guy who used to look up to me.

L-R Me, Rob, Paul 1988
Another reason this weekend means a lot to me is it is my brother Rob's birthday. He would have been 53 tomorrow. The day always takes me back to 2011 when, with the help of Steve, (my brother from another mother) I managed to catch a Muskie on Rob's birthday while wearing the sweatshirt he'd given me. This was a mere 2 months after he'd passed away. I talk about it more in another post, but suffice it to say, it was a pretty great day.

The last reason it is such a memorable time of year is that it is typically the weekend of the traditional Landwehr Hunt. For years my uncles (and my dad, way back in the day) gathered at a farm in northwestern Minnesota to play cards, drink, break bread and reconnect. The rule for a while was "n
34" muskie caught 10/14/2011
o guns at the hunt." Over time that rule has relaxed and there are a couple of guys who actually hunt at the hunt. (What's with that?) The one year I attended the hunt the highlight was "Shotgun Bowling" which sounds as redneck as it is. I also shot (at some) clay pigeons. It was shocking how bad a shot I was. It explains though why I fish and don't hunt.

Usually when I'm up muskie fishing, I think of those cousins and my uncle Tom, my dad's twin and the only remaining living uncle at the hunt carrying on the tradition of my father. And I think there will likely come a day when I bring my son to the hunt or to our muskie fest to catch a trophy of his own.

Because that's what makes a tradition a tradition.

In lieu of going muskie fishing tomorrow I am taking the day off work and going kayak fishing in my brother's sweatshirt at a favorite local lake.

He would want it that way.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Purposeful Words

This past Friday I was part of the quarterly AllWriters Friday Night Free For All. It is put on by the AllWriters studio and features five different writers all reading some of their work. The cool thing about it is that every writer reads a different style. It features poetry, nonfiction, short story and novel. They always have a "featured speaker" at each one, someone who either travels, is outside the AllWriters circles or a recently published author.

This event featured Cristina Norcross a poet, from Oconomowoc who also is publisher of the Blue Heron Review, a beautiful publication featuring national and sometimes international poets.

The theme for this event was "Never Give Up." Because writing for publication or any kind of recognition or even personal enrichment is such a difficult thing at times, this gathering was built around writers who had all had books accepted in the past year. Because mine was a poetry collection, I was asked to do the poetry. The other writers were Lila Schwenk, Susan Huebner and Kathie Giorgio.

As with any public speaking event, I always wrestle with pre-event nerves. Public speaking is not my favorite thing, but as I've done more of it for Dirty Shirt, I've gotten more comfortable with them. On this night I daresay I even had a good time with it. I always keep my presentations light and sprinkled with humor, because that's who I am. My poetry reflects that humor if you've ever read it, you'd know that. (If you haven't, let me know. I know a guy who can get you some.)

At the same time, some of my work can be quite heavy and heartfelt too. I always say that I like to hook people in with humor and then hit them in the chest with some emotional gut punch. I have a friend who is the funniest guy I know, but his deal was, that he said that sometimes people never knew the real him. They couldn't get past his constant joking to see that he was a human being with much greater depth.

That's why I try and mix my work up a bit when I read. I'd like to think that people know me as someone who just writes funny little poems. Don't get me wrong, I love that side of me and I feel it's a gift in it's own right. But I also feel the craft allows for so much more. Cristina read some poems that just about took the crowd's breath away - as did some of the other readers that night. That's what writing, good writing, does. It makes people react.

The other thing that I took away from this event was that each and every one of these readings is an artistic expression - albeit a temporary one, as much art is - that everyone there is a part of. Something that cannot be recreated. I used to lament that I couldn't be part of the Beat generation - that time in the 50's and 60's when poets, writers and dreamers were reshaping the way we looked at literature. What I forget is that this is my chance to be part of that same experience in 2016. We're dressed differently, we're in a digital age, and most of us aren't living the Bohemian life that those men and women did. It's my chance to try and evoke an emotion, to entertain and maybe even in some small way, change the world for the better with my words.

So that's what I aim to keep doing.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Objection Rejection

I have always prided myself for having never been in court. I've had my share of traffic violations and a few parking tickets, a few close call run-ins with the boys in blue, but managed to keep my nose clean for 54 years. When I did get ticketed, I always just paid my fine and never chose to fight it in traffic court. I've heard that they will reduce your fine and in some cases, even change the charge from speeding to something like failing to signal a turn if it means a slightly lower fine.

I always thought that was a bit of a mixed message. A court lying about a charge.

Recently I was asked to serve Jury duty for Federal Court in Milwaukee. This is only the second time I've been asked to serve. The first was years ago and I was an "alternate" who simply had to call in the day of the jury selection. I was not needed, so that was that.

This one required that I show up downtown at the Federal Courthouse at 8:15 on Monday morning. When I got there I was signed in and told to take a seat with the rest of the 26 potential jurors. We sat there watching CNN reading over the Juror's Handbook until a woman explained what we were to expect over the course of the selection process. One thing she made very clear was that we were not to turn our cell phones on when we were in the courtroom

The first thing they did was assign us all numbers, albeit randomly. Of course I was number one! I was doomed to serve, I thought to myself.

Next we were escorted into the courtroom and seated in the jury box. (There was some spillover into the gallery, as the jury box only held 12.)

Then the Judge introduced himself and explained what we'd experience if we were selected. He mentioned it was a police excessive force trial. He swore us all in and then started asking us all questions that might tip the attorneys off that we weren't a good match for the case. These questions were fascinating.

  1. Do you own more than one gun?
  2. Do you have any relatives that are law enforcement officers?
  3. Do you know any of these people? (name1, name2, name3 etc)

And so on...

I was fairly nervous during this questioning, for some reason - almost like I was on trial.

Anyways, he asked the question, have any of you been victim of a crime? Well, I have on a few occasions. All of them involve burglary, but the one I mentioned took place in 1991 when I lived in Milwaukee. I said the guy broke in while we were home, then fled and was never caught.

The rest of the potential jurors answered the questions as applicable. It's funny, but a couple of the people were wildly under dressed for a courtroom. In fact one had shorts, sneakers and a snot green shirt on that had a mummy movie logo on it as near as I could tell.

Like someone once said, if this is what people wear to a court appearance, I wonder what they wear casually. Frightening, actually.

After questioning, we were all to answer 8 questions on a board about our age, work, city, etc. Then the judge and attorneys went to the chambers to decide who the jury would be.

That is when Clueless Cathy, as I like to call her - the woman who definitely didn't want to be there - took out her cell phone and started taking pictures of the courtroom. When the mummy guy saw her doing it, he took out his flip phone - because what else would he carry? - and started snapping pictures too. The Court Officer told them to stop after he saw them, but not before they both had a shot or two. People are so stupid sometimes.

US Federal Courthouse (Milwaukee)
When they returned from the selection process, the Judge called out eight names (6 jurors and 2 alternates.) I was not one of them. I felt a little offended. I wondered what would exclude me from being chosen. I'm an honest, hardworking person.

I reasoned it had to be that I mentioned being a victim once. I think they must throw every juror out that is even remotely tainted by anything they didn't want to hear.

But frankly I wanted to see the process run its course. I was looking forward to the trial. I was intrigued.

The whole process gave me a new appreciation for our Justice system. I was schooled up on the makeup of the Federal District court system, the jury selection criteria and civil vs. criminal trial process. Heck it even made me wish I'd studied a little law in college. I have a few friends that are lawyers and it gave me a new appreciation for the work they put into their careers as well.

I am "on retainer" for the next 90 days and can be called up at any time for duty. So there's that.

The experience also made me realize I don't ever want to be on the other side of the jury box any time soon. No sir.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Annual Round Of Golf

Yesterday I golfed for the first time this year. I am a fair weather golfer and usually only golf when provoked. I love/hate the game, mind you but I try and do it at least once a year to keep me loose, remind me of the etiquette and to keep the folks at the Nike ball manufacturing company employed and covered with health insurance.

My buddy Steve and his family organize what is known as the Greater Krey Open every year around this time. He and I share very similar stories in that we lost a brother within a few months of each other in 2011 to cancer. Every year, all of the proceeds from this fun tournament are donated to cancer research. This year they raised more than $3600 for the cause and I can only say I was happy to be a small part of it.

But that is just the background for the hijinks that go on once the first guy tees off. I've determined that what I like about this "scramble" tournament is that everyone on the team contributes. Even on my worst day I can still help our team with eight or nine good shots. I the big picture, that's nothing, but none of us is out to win the Ryder Cup here. Most of us are just trying to get out without losing a club along the way.

And, let me tell you, there is just a titch of smack talking that goes on. Just a smidge. Most of it coming from me. I try and keep things light and keep everyone loose.

By the second hole, my teammate Butch said he already had a ton of quotes that you'd never hear Tiger Woods say on the golf course. Things like:

"If that shot was straight, it would have been awesome."


"We finished two-under par, and I think those were your two."

Obviously, we don't take our golf too seriously. We all try our best, without a doubt, but we all recognize that this was a sport invented by some Scottish masochist who had too much time on his hands and a penchants for coarse language, mosquitoes and occasional strong drink.

I consider myself a pretty capable player at most ball sports, but golf is different. It is the great equalizer. Even the best in our group had some clunkers. At the same time, even I had a few moments of greatness. None of us is ready to quit their day job though.

So, I don't anticipate taking up the sport as a hobby real soon, but I really do enjoy playing it with guys who can take some decent smack talk or joking critique. A couple of times I was doubled over in laughter, be it at someone's shot, their comment after the shot or some snide remark from the gallery. There are parts of me that love being part of a team, something I haven't done much since getting soured on it during a softball league in like 1985 or so. (It's a long story, and I obviously hold things entirely too long.)

Ours is a team of duffers -like two Bill Murrays a Rodney Dangerfield and a Jack Daley thrown in to keep us honest. We're mostly about trying to not embarrass ourselves or the team from hole to hole all the while trying not to rip divots that are more than 4 inches deep. (and we missed that mark a time or two in the rain yesterday).

My nine iron looks like a scythe, but those divots weren't my fault. The rain was in my eyes.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Blogging off..

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Summer's Passing

Tomorrow is the last day of September, so I can no longer deny that the Fall season is upon us. I look at fall every year with mixed emotions. There are things I love about it and things I hate. Here is a running list of both.

  • I absolutely love the color changes. A sure sign that I'm old and getting older, is my appreciation for the fire burst of color that makes up late September until late October. It almost makes the season worth it. But...
  • I strongly hate that I can no longer comfortably wear a T-Shirt and shorts. If you know me, that is my summer attire from May until mid-September. Long pants and shirts are confining, so I put off the transition to pants for as long as possible. At this writing, I am in shorts and a long sleeve shirt. Making the move slowly.
  • I really like the smell of fall. Outdoors whether it's dead or burning leaves, and indoors whether it's apple pie, soup, bread or pumpkin anything.
  • I hate that I have to close my windows because it's too cool. I also miss not being able to use my window fan as white noise. 
  • I like not having to close all the shades in the house because I know it's going to be a blistering hot day.
  • I absolutely hate the fact that it gets dark by 6:45 now. I will hate it more each month until April when there's some hope. I may need to seek counseling this year. I go into a near depression late in every winter and it seems to get worse with age. It's my goal to make a somewhat regular habit of going Cross Country skiing at least a couple of times a week - just to get me outdoors. I live for being outdoors, but not when it's five degrees out.
  • I love the coming holidays. Halloween is my least favorite, but I do like carving pumpkins and giving candy out to the seven kids that come to our door every year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are great times of connecting with friends and family.
  • I dislike that going anywhere requires a sweatshirt at a minimum, and preferably a coat.
Maybe Fall is your favorite season. It would probably be higher up on my list if it wasn't followed by the meanest season of all. Anyway, it's my goal to try and get through this fall and winter with a better mindset. If you have any suggestions on how to do this that doesn't involve a sun lamp or a drinking habit, I'm all ears.

Happy Fall! <<

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jam Packed For Good

Some days are packed from end to end.

Friday was one of those days for me.

It started with heading up to Madison for a college tour of UW Madison with Ben. He's looking at that as one of three possibilities, and since I was headed up there for a poetry reading later that evening, we built a tour into the itinerary.

After a forty minute parking adventure (next time we bike up there) we sat through the spiel and then took an hour and a half walking tour. Ben came away with a new appreciation for the university and could totally see himself as a student there, should he get accepted. My daughter on the other hand, made UW her third choice with Carelton and Minnesota being #'s 1 and 2. I always find it interesting how our kids see through such different lenses at times.

Anyways, after the tour, we went to lunch at Ian's and then on a tour of the Capitol building. We were fortunate to get into a tour group and saw all three chambers, Judicial, Senate and Assembly. The building is beautiful - with no expense spared for anything, near as I could tell. We also got to go out on the veranda that encircles the capitol near the 5th floor. It was spectacular!

From there, we went to the Henry Vilas Zoo to kill some time before the poetry reading I was reading at. The zoo is a great little "old school" zoo in the heart of the city. We walked around until they kicked us out to close the place.

On our way to the poetry reading, I told Ben to brace himself for what might be a drudging two hours for an 18 year old. Poetry readings are not for everyone as I am well aware, especially a young man of the "digital generation."

Well, there were 8 readers and we pretty much covered the gamut of styles. Everything from poetry inspired by "Up North Wisconsin" to a woman who'd written a piece she called "Rural, Goth Feminism."

After the event, I asked Ben what he'd thought about the reading and he said he enjoyed it. He said it wasn't as bad as I had prepped him for and that he'd definitely go to one again. He really enjoys English and writing anyway, so it was a good fit. I'd misjudged his maturity level - again. I do that a lot.

When we were driving home, I was totally wiped out. The day seemed like it was three days all jammed together. At the same time, I came away with a good feeling about the day. It's not often I get the chance to experience such a range of cool things in a single day with my son. There was a little for him, a little for me and a lot for both of us.

And I'd call that a win.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Time Warp

Photo credit: Roost Photography
Very soon, my son Ben and I will be touring the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I am not sure when we moved out of the diaper stage into the college visitation stage, but I am pretty sure it happened overnight. And I'm even more sure that a year from now when he's away from home I will be just as befuddled by the quickly passing time as I am today

As part of the whole senior preparation, we had his senior pictures taken by our friend, Brandon, of Roost Photography.

Let's just say looking at these pictures of my grown son did not help matters. It was kind of like a kick in the gut. Here he is, all grown up.

The pictures, as you can see, are pretty amazing and totally capture his spirit. But his spirit is 18 - a real, live adult - and I can dislike that just a bit.
Credit: Roost Photography

I miss his little buzz-cut face and sort of resent that he now shares shaving cream with me. Not because I don't like to share, but because I don't think he should be old enough to shave.

A few weeks ago, he took a camping trip with a bunch of friends. It was his first trip without any parents along. I understand these things happen, and helping him pack was more work than I had intended, but I was still kind of sad that he could take an adventurous trip of this kind without me. They had a blast, as expected, which is almost unbelievable considering I wasn't there to orchestrate it all, but they did. (A bit of sarcasm there.)
Credit: Roost Photography

This whole growing up thing has me looking back. For both of my kids, I have kept a journal of significant or memorable days in his life - through my eyes. This is a passage from one of those days.

Entry from April 29, 2003 (Ben was not quite 5)

While I was putting you to bed tonight you asked me how my dad died. When I told you how, you said that you hope he feels better where he's living with Jesus. I told you that I'm sure he does. Then you said "I miss him," and I said "I do too, Ben. I do too."

I love you,


So, rip my heart out and stomp on it, right there.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Coming Attractions

Things are getting busy in the literary world again, so I thought I'd give a synopsis of what's coming up from an event standpoint.

  • Interview on The Write Stuff blog radio Tune in this Tuesday evening September 20th  at 5:30 PM for my interview with radio host, friend and fellow eLectio author, Parker J Cole. Parker was kind enough to interview me about my book, Dirty Shirt a while back and offered to have me back on the show to talk about my poetry books. She is an engaging host and I haven't really had a chance to talk about my poetry much in a radio setting, so am really looking forward to talking to her. I am always surprised when someone says that they heard about me from a radio interview, but it's happened quite a few times with Dirty Shirt. In book publishing you need to make yourself available whenever an opportunity arises for publicity. I see this as a good one of many avenues for exposure.
  • Tupelo Press 30/30 Reunion Poetry Reading This Friday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM, I will be reading with eight other poets at the Arts and Literary Laboratory in Madison. This is a reunion of poets from around the Midwest who have taken part in the Tupelo Press' 30 poems in 30 days challenge. I participated in this in January and found it to be one of the most challenging and stretching writing exercises I've ever been a part of. When I took the challenge I had a plan all along that I would come out of the 30 days with enough material for a chapbook (a short collection of poems.) Well, I added a few to the 30 and ended up with my collection, Reciting From Memory. I'll read from that collection, so if you're in the Madison area, stop by and check it out.
  • AllWriters' Friday Night Free For All Reading On October 7th at 7:00 I will be one of a number of writers reading some of their work. I was asked to read from Reciting From Memory, so that will be my focus. If you've never been to this event before, (FNFFA) it is a fun way to hear from writers of all genres, including poetry, novel, short story and nonfiction. It usually features a guest writer and is always a big draw. The event was recently moved to Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha to accommodate the bigger crowd as well as to allow people to purchase coffee and baked goods. This is a fun group for sure, so please join us!
  • Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books Panels  This event is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's biggest author showcases and takes place on November 4th and 5th at the University of Wisconsin - Waukesha. I am sitting on two different panels, one dealing with crossing over genres, the other on the interplay of family experiences and writing. My writing mentor, Kathie Giorgio will be moderating these discussions and, as in the 2014 event, I really look forward to talking about my experience as well as networking with other authors. It is a GREAT event and I hope to see you there. 
And so, I have a busy fall coming up, and that is the way I like it. These opportunities to get out in front of readers are just invaluable. As I've done more and more with Dirty Shirt, I've become much more comfortable in front of a group and have actually come to enjoy the experience and, more than anything, connecting with readers afterward.

As always, you can keep track of what's coming at my events page, Click Here.

Hope to see you out there somewhere!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Part Of The Whole

I've mentioned in the past that I meet with three or four other guys for coffee every Thursday morning at Cafe De Arts. We talk about everything under the sun - lately a lot about the good and bad in our political system - but we always kind of have a book study going. Sometimes it's half hearted, other times more serious.

At the moment, we are muddling through a book by Leslie Newbigin titled Christ Our Eternal Contemporary. It is one of those books where you read a paragraph, then re-read it because it is so heady, then take a break because your head hurts from thinking so hard about what you just read.

Anyways, this week we read a chapter that caused a bit of an existential crises for me. The gist of the message was that there are two camps of thought about our lives on earth. Basically the one says that we are here to advance the whole, but our lives are expendable in the process. The other is that what matters is the human person. As he writes, "The only thing that really matters is that in the little span of life that is given to him, he himself becomes or achieves something significant."

To me one seemed nihilistic (we don't matter) the other seemed self-serving (we're all that matter.)

It kind of got me down until later in the chapter where it all made sense in two phrases. One by Albert Schweitzer that reads: "Every act of a Christian should be an acted prayer for the coming of the kingdom." Newbigin goes on to say, "That is the true Christian understanding of action."

The other sentence was "Everything that we have, everything we do with all our hearts, is offered to him in the faith...the faith that God is able to make out of this the offering of the new heaven and the new earth.

Those two sentences talked me off the ledge, so to speak.

I started thinking about the ramifications of our mundane day to day things and how it may have long lasting impacts.

  • How going to work allows me to raise kids who can be part of some of the solution to some of the problems that my generation created. This goes for my mother as she did for us and her mother for her.
  • How giving $5 to a homeless person might lead to him/her buying beer or cigarettes. Or, they might use it to buy a sandwich. Is one wrong? Maybe. I can hope and pray for that person to use it for good, but good to them may be something that helps them through the day. Give for giving sake. 
  • My vote matters. If my candidate doesn't win, I walk away with a clear conscience. I still pray for whoever is in office. Some terms I pray harder than others. LOL. 
  • What I say, what I create, what I consume or don't consume, my attitude and energy -positive or negative - all matters and has an impact. Choose wisely.
  • That saying nothing is sometimes okay. In fact a lot of times it's better than saying anything at all, especially if what you're saying is tearing someone down. 
  • That walking my dog daily gives him such joy that comes back to me in his unending love for me. Stupid small stuff, I know, but it's all part of life and is one of my favorite parts of my day to gather my thoughts.
Of course I had much greater plans for this post. When I was formulating the thoughts earlier today, I had some great ideas on how to extrapolate out simple things becoming much bigger. Most of them escape me now, but suffice it to say that if you look hard enough, it's all there. Having faith makes it a little easier to keep it all in perspective too. 

And so my existential crisis had been averted for now. And I can thank God for that. 

Blogging off... 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Guest In The New House

This past Thursday we volunteered to serve the guys at the Guest House. If you know Donna and I, you know this is often the best evening of the month for us. It is such a blessing to be able to serve dinner to 86+ guys once or twice a month. (We do one night with our Facebook group and one under the auspices of our church, CollectiveMKE.)

I need to preface this with the fact that Donna does the lion's share of the work for this every month. I only help serve it, whereas she solicits donations, plans and cooks the food and gets it ready for transport. I am just happy to help in whatever capacity I can.

Anyways, my point is that they have done some serious renovations to the Guest House kitchen, office space and living quarters. As a point of reference their old kitchen was smaller than my kitchen, so when we heard their plans for upgrades, we were ecstatic.

On Thursday we were literally the first group to prepare a meal in the new kitchen. They did a spectacular job with the remodeling. Everything is stainless steel, state of the art and new. I would guess the kitchen is about four times as large as the old one. It was a joy to work in.

That's not to say the meal went perfectly. There were some issues with not enough table space and some flow issues. To add to the matter, we tried a new meal - spaghetti - which posed some unexpected issues. We timed things a bit poorly as well, so were scrambling at the end to get the food out.

None of this dampened our spirits, though. We were excited to be in such a nice space. At the same time, the downside of a new space is everything is NEW and you want to keep it looking new. So we were overly conscious of spills and slops - all of which we cleaned up at the end.

Despite all of our new space SNAFU's we got it done and the guys loved it. As I said, I am grateful to be able to help where I can and it is such fun serving alongside our good friends. They are all "worker bees" who make it seem hardly like work at all.

I am thankful too for the friends and people on Facebook who contribute money or food every month to this great cause. You are instrumental in changing men's lives. Realize that, and own it. It may seem silly to say that giving soda or pasta, or condiments is changing lives, but it's all part of it. You are all spokes in the wheel to getting these gentlemen back living independently and turning their lives around. Thank you.

And I am super thankful for all of the donors and agencies who contributed financially to enable the renovations/addition. A project this big costs big money. Not to mention that there were some unexpected costs of the addition when the construction crew encountered human remains while digging the basement. It turns out there was a graveyard on premise before the church building went in. It seems they moved the headstones, but not the graves. It required getting an archaeological and forensic crew to move and document the remains.

If you'd like to find out more about the Guest House of Milwaukee, Click Here to visit their website. It is one of many agencies that treats people with dignity and respect as they struggle to reshape their lives. Great stuff!

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Fairly Distant Universities

Labor day weekend was another one of those thousand mile weekends, or at least it felt that way. We needed to take our daughter back to the University of Minnesota and that always starts and ends with 300 miles each way. This is her third year and she knows the ropes, so the preparation going in was easy. Our plan was to fill the car-top carrier so we would have room for some items we left in River Falls at our nephew's place.

Well, as many of you have experienced, when you're pulling a trailer or have a load on your roof, you tend to forget it's there. 

Or, maybe that's just me. 

Anyhow, as I'm pulling into the parking garage at her dorm, my car-top carrier scraped the "not to exceed" height sign. I almost didn't notice, but my wife promptly let me know. "Stop, stop, stop!"

You see, she's done this before, the hard way. She once entered a garage without one of these and on the way out ended up scraping the luggage rack for the entire distance. Ouch!

After a few seconds, I back out of the garage, knowing full well, that the warning sign is forgiving, solid concrete is not so much. So I pull over down the block a ways and start formulating a plan, What to do?

Empty the carrier and abandon it on campus for an hour while we unpack, seemed like an option. Given today's terroristic world though, it wouldn't take long for something that big and suspicious to attract the local Minneapolis Detonation Squad. 

"Hey, don't blow up my Ex-Cargo, dude!"

A better option was to empty the carrier and then bring that into her dorm room. With it being student move-in day, I guess moving a large plastic container in a four wheeled cart doesn't attract undue attention - or the Detonation Squad.

We probably looked a little like the Beverly Hillbillies go to College, but we got it done. 

Later that night, we recognized the 5 year passing of my brother Rob by going to the Spot Bar with my brother and two sisters in-law. He frequented the Spot, one of St. Paul's oldest bars, way back in the day. It's hard to believe he's been gone for 5 years already. 

Then on Sunday we went to the Minnesota State Fair. I cannot say enough about how I love this event. It is every state fair you ever went to - but on steroids. The day we went there were about 230,000 other fairgoers that made for crowded conditions, but hey, that's the fair. Half of the fun is spectating and seeing all the people that shouldn't have left the house dressed like they were. As I said before, I go to the fair to feel better about myself. It works every time. 

As usual, we had all the favorites. Pronto Pups (Corn dogs with white batter instead of corn batter), Tom Thumb Mini-Donuts, and the family favorite deep fried Cheese Curds from the Mouse House. We always take flak from our friends back home in Wisconsin about how they can't be better than the ones at the Wisconsin State Fair. I have to say, I've yet to find any ANYWHERE that can compete with these. It is the highlight of the fair for us every year. 

Throw in some Labor Day traffic on the way home and, well, it was quite a weekend. It was so good to see my daughter happy in her familiar surroundings at a place that holds such fond memories for me, an '85 U of Minnesota grad. I get so dang nostalgic walking around the campus and, later the state fair that I could definitely see myself moving back there someday. There's only three things holding me back from doing that.

January, February and March.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Last First Day

Today marked the first day of classes in the Waukesha school district. In our case, as my wife pointed out, it was also the occasion for our last "first day of school" for our kids. Ben is a senior in high school this year and so there will be no more first day pictures or first day front door dropoffs.

I asked her if she cried when she dropped Ben off and she said no. She said she was really alright with it and she was ready to be done with getting kids off to school. I countered that I probably would have gotten a little misty eyed, but that's because I'm a big emotional sap when it comes to nostalgic things like this. We've always said that I'm the sentamentalist in the family, this was proof.

So the day was uneventful, according to Ben. "Kinda boring," I think were his exact words. A little change from grade school where the enthusiasm of learning and being with friends sort of oozed out of his pores.

It made me think back to his days in elementary and middle school. Like most families, our kids are wildly different creatures from one another - Ben a raging extrovert and Sarah more reserved and introverted. He and his posse of neighbor friends used to walk to school backpacks in tow and cell phones just a distant reality. Where does the time go?

I think back even farther to when I was in Kindergarten. Back then there was no pomp and circumstance picture taking on the first day of class. You walked to school and that was that. I remember nap times on our little rugs we had to bring. Later when we switched schools from Mississippi Elementary to St, Agnes, I remember my Tarzan lunchbox, the one that the latch failed on one day while I was crossing the street, only to have my glass-lined thermos go crashing to the street.

My days in the Catholic school system from St. Agnes, to St. Luke's and eventually to Cretin High school were mostly good. I look back with very few bad experiences, and many good ones. Being that mom raised 6 of us more or less on her own, we were left to figure a lot of stuff out on our own.

She made sure we had stuff to make our own lunches, that we had clean school uniforms and that we were well supplied with notebooks, pens and glue. Over the years there were many "lost" permission slips, innumerable sick days - some of them faked - and occasionally a lost book, but somehow we all made it through. There's a reason I refer to her as St. Mary.
Freshman Year - '76

And so to think that all of that is behind us as parents is a mixture of gratifying and sad. We've done okay - and super-kudos to my wife who bore the large brunt of much of the off-to-school duties - but this begins a new chapter in our lives and it feels weird. Sometimes I don't like it so much.

Well, at least until we get that first "I forgot my lunch/note/swimming coat/permission slip" call from Ben.

In nine months it will all be over, and I guess I'll have to be okay with that.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trees, Water and Stars

As I mentioned in my last post, I was on vacation last week. It was our annual trip up to Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin for a week at the cabin. This trip was different in that none of my extended family was able to make it up during the week we were up. While I missed having them around, it lent a different feel to the week in some cool kind of ways.
Some of the more memorable moments of the week include:

  • Muskie fishing with Sarah on two separate mornings - just her and I. She has been asking for a while when we were going to go Muskie fishing again, so this was the perfect chance. I think I am incredibly blessed to have a daughter that loves to fish, but I think it's even more amazing that I have a daughter who is willing to learn how to throw a bait caster with heavy lures in an effort to catch one of the biggest freshwater fish in North America. She learned the technique almost without error and never complained once, this includes hoisting and dropping the anchor. While we never caught a big muskie, I realized that there is a LOT to be said for spending time talking and laughing with my daughter in a boat on a calm morning in God's Country. The whole experience made me realize we did something right along the way in raising her.
  • Fishing with Ben and his friend Van on a couple of evenings. Same deal here. Ben also learned how to cast the big lures with a bait caster without incident. Then, on the last night as we were fishing with a big "sucker" minnow, we had a big fish pull the bobber down. Unfortunately as I handed the rod to Ben, the fish spit the sucker out. We lamented our near-miss for a while and then got back to laughing, joking and enjoying each other's company. They cracked me up. 
  • One night around the fire, another couple we know broke out a guitar and started playing. Then another camper brought out a saw - yes, a wood saw - and started playing it with a bow. If you've never heard a saw, it is an eerie, cool sound. Combined with a guitar it made for some interesting arrangements. Before we knew it most of the people, including me and my son and his friend, were singing "Horse With No Name" and "Wish you were were here" around the fire with a guitar/saw accompaniment. It was spontaneous, imperfect art, and one of the coolest things I've been around in a while.
  • That same night we saw the distant northern lights. It was not the spectacular show we'd seen in past years, but was cool nonetheless.
  • Stargazing every night was nothing short of breathtaking. Ben said it's almost like you could tell the earth was rotating if you watched the stars hard enough. I had to admit it was true. Throw into that mix a half a dozen shooting stars and they were nights to remember.
  • We were part of a kayak trip that the resort owner set up. Every year he has a "wheelchair week" where his resort focuses on serving disabled adventurists. Near as I know he's one of the few resorts in the state that is committed to doing something like this and I think it is such an awesome thing. We packed seven kayaks into the back of a pickup and went out to a chain of lakes. At some points we were bushwhacking through bullrushes to make our way. It was an unexpected twist to an otherwise ordinary trip, but one I'm glad we ran into.
  • I got to help a bunch of our friends' kids fish, kayak and pedal boat. There is nothing I like better than helping kids fish. If you've seen me in action, you know that I spend as much time baiting hooks, untangling lines and taking fish off as anything else, but it's all good. This is the next generation of adventurists/outdoor lovers, and I need to do my part.
  • I enjoyed watching my two kids and Ben's friend interact with adults and carry on adult conversations with them. It made me so proud to see them be respectful, interested and engaged with other people and not the "sulking teenager" that you sometimes see at these types of venues. 

Northern Lights (Photo Courtesy of Roost Photography)
All of it made me realize that my kids are growing up fast. I hope they will want to come up again next year, but I know if they can't, we will all make it back up there someday. Pine Forest Lodge is a special place for all of us, and this trip was a reminder that as we all get older, it's important that we make time to be together in nature. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

T-Bird Country

In keeping with my twice a eeek blog commitment, I wanted to post from up north, on my phone, no less. Suffice it to say it has been an amazing week in so many ways. Perfectio. More on Sunday. Now, back to business.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Duane And All His Friends

I was at an annual party called Brewfest this afternoon. My friends from twenty plus years ago host the party every year. He brews his own beer and wine and usually has a handful of homebrews on hand for people to try as they feel inclined. They always have a huge spread of food and as part of the celebration they always have a pinata for the kids.

At this party I always sit and talk with co-workers I haven't worked with in twenty years. We catch up on our family lives, laugh at how old we are all getting and talk about the old times with the old gang.

It was just another party today, but it reminded me of how rich my life is. These are people who genuinely care about my well being, and I theirs. They are the ones you "lose touch with" for 11 months out of the year, but then you pick up the conversation right where you left off last year. There is a comfort level and, it might be a stretch, but a level of love as well - maybe one you never mention or talk about, but it's there.

My wife always warns me about my inner extrovert Duane coming out at these functions. This title dates back to when we were on a horseback ride on vacation in Colorado. On the ride, for some reason, I talked at great length to the tour leader, named Duane, who had a fascinating life story, and Donna wondered, what the heck? Jim never talks this much. At the time it was the beginning of my writing focus and I found people's stories to be way more interesting than my own. Ever since, I have these extended "extrovert flares" in social settings where I find people fascinating. (Is this normal?) Anyhow, while at the time I can't get enough of the dialog, when it's over it usually results in introvert overload where I need to withdraw into seclusion for three days - but I digress.

I have the same kinds of interactions with my writing group, my colleagues in GIS, my Collective MKE church body and my family. I always come away from them appreciative of the people, the battles their raging through and the stories I've heard. I carry their grief, I linger in their joy, and I share in their loss. Each of them are fighting their own battles and are carrying on through it all - powering through life.

Anyways, I'm rambling here. My point was that while we get all caught up in the important and sometimes unbelievable things in life like the sorry state of politics, Olympic heroes and imbeciles and the issues facing our police force and black community, we need to remember what we have. People aren't perfect, but most are doing what they think is right. Sometimes their views and beliefs are radically different than ours, but that's what makes the world so interesting. They think and feel as strongly about their opinions as I do about mine. Let it go. Love them, give them a hug and tell them to press on.

Because I'm telling you, they might not be around at the party next year.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Super Charged

I am currently working on a story involving a couple of clowns and a stolen Dodge Charger. Well, actually a couple of stolen Chargers, one vintage, one modern. The story was inspired in part by my obsession with classic Dodge Chargers/Challengers.

I've also just completed a poem about a ride I had in one back in the day. We hit 100 MPH in it, which seems as reckless as it was - though 100 was different back then than it is today with our 70 MPH (and in some cases 80 MPH) speed limits.

I have loved these cars since I was a kid. Of course, back in those days, they were the muscle cars. The closest I came to ever owning one was the Hot Wheels version.

So when Ben and I go to our annual car show, I tend to focus on finding the Chargers and other muscle cars of the 70's and 80's. If you know them, they are the GTO, the Super Sports, Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and the like.

We went again last Sunday to a show in downtown Waukesha. We only had an hour before Ben had to leave, so we did sort of a sprint through. And it was funny because every time I saw a different model of car that I really liked, it spurred a story. I'm sure this probably bored Ben after a while, but if it did, he didn't say anything.

It has become one of our "things" that we try and do together every year. We go, we gawk and we talk about how I should buy one in my retirement and take it around the country and try and win prizes at various shows. He even says that he'd like to restore on one day. I tell him his Uncle Steve used to restore cars. He always joked about how he'd have to "save up" his spending money to by an alternator or bumper or blinker stick.

When we got home he jokes that one day 30 years from now we'll joke about seeing a Hyundai Santa Fe in mint condition and go "I remember when we had one of those!"

Well, that might be a stretch. But we will likely look back at this period of history as that "time everyone had to have an SUV."

And so, until that day in retirement when I take the plunge and do something as blindly foolish as buying a 50 year old car, I guess I'll have to continue to go to car shows and dream.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Micro Diaries

As I was helping my son pack for his camping trip to Devil's Lake this past weekend, we were rummaging through the camping bins when he came to a bin with my High School yearbooks in it. He looked through a couple to find me and after that he came to something I'd forgotten I kept. It was six years worth of my Pocket Appointment Calendars from my days at the University of Minnesota.

Why six years worth you ask? Well, I was part-time for a while, changed my major a time or two and added a double major near my Junior year.

But that aside, the bigger question is, why did I keep these? It has been 31 years since I graduated and the fact that I not only kept them, but moved them to about a half dozen residences is even more puzzling.

They are actually kind of an interesting peek into my life as an undergrad. In essence, they are like a micro-diary of 6 years of my life. While nothing is detailed, there are some notable and some not so notable events. Things like:

  • 1979-80: In the Identification section I include my name, address and phone as well as emergency contact. Under Medical Information I list my Dr. as "Seuss" and my blood type as "B or A." In the 1980-81 book I get more specific with my blood type and declare it as "B" which is great, except that my blood type is actually A positive. When you're young, these things don't matter as much as when you're old, obviously.
  • 1980-81: I have December 9th penciled in as the last day of classes, and right underneath it I wrote, John Lennon shot. A dark day for sure.
  • 1981-82: Because I was such a music freak, most of my books have the dates of various concerts I attended. One notable one penciled in was November 21st, 1981 when I saw the Rolling Stones. I had main floor seats for their Tattoo You tour. Mick and the boys killed it.
  • 1982-83: I marked "Nicky's Baptism" for December 5th, 1982. Nick is my godson and if you would have asked me what month, let alone what day, he was baptized on, I wouldn't have had a clue. Well, it was a Saturday in December, 1982. So, there ya go. 
  • 1983-84: This was when some of my friends started to marry off. Most were graduated from college and had had steady girlfriends/boyfriends for many years. I have Peter and Beth both getting married a month apart in June and July. I wouldn't marry for another six years. 
  • 1984-85: By this time I was a part time student, and also President of the Anthropology Club which is a much more important title than the title would dictate. LOL. 
  • 1985-86: Evidently I dated a Karla a couple of times in the spring of 1985. I can honestly say, I have NO memory of Karla. How does that happen? I don't know.
My college years created some of the best memories of my life. I will always remember them as being very rich. These little glimpses into those years help remind me how lucky I an to have had the experiences I did. 

And to Karla, I'm sorry.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Morning Well Spent

It is 4:45 on Saturday, August 6th, and my alarm clock shrills and wakes my wife and I with a start. She shuts it off and continues her sleep as I drag myself out of bed with anticipation. This morning I am going fishing with my daughter Sarah and my brother from another mother, Steve. We always try and get on the water at 6:00 AM to get the early bite and avoid the later morning launch lines.

After I eat breakfast and start brewing the much deserved coffee, I rouse Sarah, who, like any teenager, can be a tough one to get moving in the morning. When I check on her five minutes later, I am surprised to see she is up and getting dressed.

The girl likes to fish - she's not missing this chance.

We pile into the Santa Fe for the half hour drive to the lake in Racine County. Ten minutes into our drive we realize she doesn't have her fishing license on her, so we turn around and trek back home to get it.

Once we're back on the road, we talk about how our summer has been and how we're both looking forward to going up to the cabin in a couple of weeks. We both love that we can do whatever we want for 6 days, including unlimited fishing.

Steve meets us at the launch and after we get the boat launched, we cross the lake to try our first spot. Sarah takes her seat on the front deck - the Queen seat today, while I take the middle and Steve runs the motor.

As we cast we chat about our lives, Steve tells us he's back to school teaching with kids returning next week. Sarah fills him in on her summer of babysitting our friends' three kids, and I talk about my home projects and my last fishing outing. As we struggle to find the fish, Steve steps up the challenge and says "First fish gets a buck."

An hour into it, Steve gets a strike and after a feisty fight, lands a nice 17" largemouth bass. It is always nice to get that first fish out of the way. Steve reminds us that we both owe him a buck. These bets get made every trip and are rarely fulfilled. Everyone knows that, but we continue to make them anyway. It breaks the monotony and creates incentive.

With the first fish out of the way, I pose another wager. "First northern gets five bucks from Uncle Steve."

"Your dad is always quick to try and take my money, isn't he?" Steve says.

Sarah laughs and says "Yep."

Over the next hour and a half Steve catches two more bass and I manage to lose one shortly after I set the hook. In customary form, Steve questions whether it was really a fish.

"Oh, it was a fish alright," I say in my defense. I am used to this kind of question and defense, because I am on the questioning side as much as the defense side. It's how we relate in the boat. We are both comfortable enough in our friendship that we can chide each other and know no feelings will be hurt in the process.

Sarah is next, as she catches one and ten feet into her fight it gets off. She is happy to finally have some action, albeit a getaway.

We take a break, pass granola and bottles of water around and comment about how it's heating up as the morning progresses.

Steve motors us to the channel where I finally get a smallmouth into the boat. It's a 15" fish, but a few minutes later I claim that I thought it might have been a little bit bigger than Steve's fish. This claim draws another laugh from both he and Sarah, who know better.

Hey, it's worth a try.

Within 20 minutes Sarah catches the biggest fish of the day, a twenty inch Northern Pike. I grab the slippery, slimy fish and hand it to her for a picture. She holds it proudly as Steve snaps a couple of shots. She drops the fish back in the water and it swims away to fight another day.

After another twenty minutes of futility, the speedboats start revving up a sure sign that the fishing is done for the day. Steve packs the boat up, fires the Mariner 20 horse motor and opens it up. I tell him to "Open her up!" He screams over the whining motor "She's wide open!"

All three of us laugh at our little boat that could trying to keep up with the other flashy boats around us.

It may not be pretty, but it holds a ton of great memories and always gets the job done.

We trailer the boat, rinse it free of invasive debris, say our goodbyes and chalk up another successful outing.

It is days like this that - one at a time - get etched in the slate of my mind. Days and memories that are always easy to recall and that frame an important part of what I will forever treasure. Time spent with loved ones laughing, fishing and keeping it real.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.

When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Living Dangerously In Suburban America

One of the things I did with fair frequency in my youth was mountain biking. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically biking in the woods, sometimes at high speed and sometimes at a crawling pace during the more arduous hill climbing. There is something about the mix of speed, woods, rock, danger and adventure that makes it a great draw for me.

Last summer I took Ben out to the trails at Minooka Park here in Waukesha. The trail system out there was recently developed and provides a fairly technical ride as well as being a GREAT getaway right in the middle of the city. Ben seemed to really like it last year despite one near accident where he took a hit to the shoulder. He came out of the incident laughing though, which is what Mountain Biking does. It makes your adrenaline rush and gets you so psyched that even the falls are sometimes fun.

Well, we've been talking about getting out for a few weeks now, and finally did today. I was going to go out on my usual flat trail (Non-Mountain Bike) ride of 10 miles, but when I asked Ben if he wanted to go mountain biking, he said sure. It was a break in the monotony of my flat trail riding that was much needed.

I let Ben lead the way and we started out with an "easy" loop through the green trail. This trail level is simple enough that even a beginner could probably do okay on it. Trails are a little wider and more forgiving with not as many shoulder-width tree passes. It was a nice 1.5 mile warm up.

Then we progressed on to the blue trail. It was a blast! I know that much like downhill skiing, Mountain Biking holds a dangerous allure to me - especially at my age. I am certainly in good enough shape to tackle most of what gets thrown at me. I was barely winded during the 7.5 miles we did today- pretty basic stuff.

When I get into trouble, and where the danger lies is in my affection for speed which in many cases is not always on par with my reaction times and reflexes. It's like the kid who loves the water, but isn't a strong swimmer, (also me). It's a toxic mix, an accident waiting to happen.

But it can't keep me away, because no one wants a safe, boring, easy life. My brother Tom once said that it's his philosophy that everyone needs a little bit of adventure in their life. (And that doesn't mean the Motel 6 instead of the Holiday Inn.) I think that's part of the appeal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It takes camping to the extreme. Just like Mountain Biking takes biking to the extreme.

So, if you know me, I don't come off as a person who likes to live on the edge. I like familiar and routine and I'm a fairly unexcitable guy.

But every once in a while I need something closer to the edge of just a little bit risky, or maybe a tad dangerous. Fighting with Wisconsin's biggest species of fish, camping in Minnesota's most rugged terrain or biking on Single-Track trails in Waukesha are all my way of getting it out of me.

It ain't scaling Everest, paddling the Amazon and it sure ain't the Olympics, but for this city boy, it'll have to do.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Beginning To See The Light

I went to the eye doctor today. It had been about a year and a half and I figured I was due. To top it off, I have been struggling with an ailment that I thought he might be able to address, so the time seemed right.

Now, I am 54 years old and my eyesight isn't what it used to be. The upside to that is that as all of my friends and loved ones age along with me, their eyesight is failing in many of the same ways. My wife is the queen of the on-again, off-again cheaters that she has on hand at any given moment of the day. They are propped on top of her head 80% of the time, the rest of the time they're by the sink, or in the bathroom or, or, or...

In her defense, she is practically legally blind without her glasses or contacts. Glasses are the first thing she reaches for in the morning and the last thing she takes off at night. 

My situation is different, I could almost drive without my glasses - save for those blurry street signs. I am nearsighted, so only need to wear my glasses for distance. So, instead of the annoying on-again, off-again cheater trick, I am the guy annoyingly looking under his glasses. I guess we all have our gigs in this world. 

About a year ago, I was experiencing what felt like really tired eyes, or puffy eyelids. (Oh no, He's telling us about his ailments!) I remember my mom telling me that problems like that are more suited to an opthamologist than an optometrist, so I set up an appointment with an opthamologist. His diagnosis was that I was suffering from Blepharitis

Uh, BlephaWhatIs?

Like most medical terms, I first mispronounced it as Blefartis, which made my family crack up. They still call it that, mostly because they like to say fart.

Anyways, this doctor told me to do 4 things daily. Hot compresses on my eyes 2-3 times a day, use eyelid pads to clean the eyes daily, put a small amount of antibiotic ointment in my eyes at night and use artificial tears when necessary.

If I did all of these things every day, I'd have little time to do much else. 

That was his treatment path and "come back in 3 months" which I did for 9 months until I realized I was paying $125 out of pocket for him to tell me it was a "chronic condition" that seemed to be about the same or maybe a little better.

After a year of this, I consulted my optometrist, who also happens to be a long-time friend. When I told him about my history and the $125/appt. cost, he just shook his head and said "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, you should have come and seen me."

So he put me on a treatment path that is sustainable and I am forever grateful.

But the whole experience made me realize how much we take our eyesight and our corrective lenses for granted. When the assistant was testing my eyes, I'll be truthful, I took some wild assed guesses about what I was seeing a few times. W X Y Z - L M N O P. 

Of course they know the chart and can humor us when we give our WAG's. Their jobs are to fix it so that I can read my pill bottle or those directions in small print without decoupling my arms from their sockets to see them. Or maybe using a selfie stick to read the ingredients on a chip bag. 

So next time you see me, hopefully I'll see you too,

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Meaning In A Meaningless Game

I had the chance to attend my first Brewers game of the season a couple of nights ago. I won free tickets in a drawing at work for Bike to Work Week in May. The tickets were valued at more than $60 each, so this was clearly one of the better sets of seats I've ever had. I won four, but every person we asked to join us was busy it seemed, so it was just Ben and I. This was a good thing for many reasons,  the best one being that we just had some great laughs and together time, something we don't seem to get near enough of these days.

Now, neither of us are big baseball fans. I literally did not know more than 1/2 the guys on the field, and Ben knew even fewer. We both admitted that watching baseball on TV - with the exception of maybe postseason playoffs/World Series - is just something we've never enjoyed. At the same time we agreed that watching it live is much different, much more engaging. But, as many of you know, attending a game is not cheap. It is usually $150+ per game for a family of four after tickets , parking, snacks and a steeply overpriced beer or two. So, we typically don't get to a game unless we have discounted or free tickets. It takes the edge off a fairly expensive outing.

Anyways, we went and had a blast. Our seats were right along the third baseline 20 rows from the field. It was funny, but when I went to get my tickets from the Will Call window, Ben saw me at Window #6 which said VIP Seats and said "Dad, you're in the VIP line."

I said, "I know. I told you these were good seats. You don't expect us to sit with the rest of those Plebeians, do you?"

To top it off, it was T-Shirt night, so we both got Brewers T-shirts out of the deal.

July 29, 2016

Thankfully the Brewers were on their game and were playing the one team that they can consistently beat, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As the game went on, I explained some of the strategies, nuances and differences between National League and American League ball. We talked about batting averages and laughed about some of the crazily computed stats, like:

  • The Brewers are 4 - 2 versus opponents when they play on Tuesday afternoons when the roof is open, the temperature is above 74 degrees and both starting pitchers are left-handers from Japan.
Then we talked about all of the crazy acronyms in baseball. Things like OBP (On base percentage) HBP (Hit by Pitch) BB (Base on Balls) and the ever lovable OPS (On base Plus Slugging). I thought Geographic Information Systems (GIS) had a lot of acronyms.

Because he has a wicked wit, Ben can keep right up with me when we joke about sports like this. We love watching them together, especially the Packers and more recently, Admirals hockey, but when it comes down to it, these are men playing a boy's game and making millions in the process. So we look at it as our job to keep it real.

I can remember showing a baseball I'd caught at Brewer's game in the 80's and we got to talking about the sport. I said that the Brewers were kind of lousy at the time and certainly not going to the playoffs to which she said, "Yes, but it's all about the game you're at. You want them to win THAT game. It doesn't matter what place their in." 

That always kind of stuck with me, for some reason.

So the Brewers (and Twins, my other team) are going nowhere again this year, it appears. But we wanted them to win anyway. And as I said we were fortunate they played well. There was a two run homer in the first inning that gave us an early lead. Then, Junior Guerra, the Brewers pitcher pitched out of his head and ended up throwing one batter short of a complete game. Both of us were hoping they'd leave him in for the last batter, but he was starting to look shaky and giving up bases, so they pulled him.

Ben and I - Miller Park, 2004
The whole decision to keep him in or pull him though, gave an interesting storyline to an otherwise nothing game. When the reliever got the final out, the stadium erupted. It was a cool ending to a great night. 

It was a night I was so glad I got to experience with my son.

Blogging off...