Friday, June 25, 2010

Plumbers Helper

We have been battling a slow draining bathroom sink for about 6 months now. I took it upon myself to fix the issue about 4 months ago by putting in a new "U" joint and all the related pipes below the sink. That promptly fixed the issue for the U joint and all the related pipes below the sink. In other words, it moved the problem to the pipe inside the wall. I was pretty proud of my handy work, but when I turned the water on, the sink showed no noticeable improvement. Argh!

Since the problem lay in an "unreachable pipe", I left it and hoped it wouldn't get any worse.

It did.

About two weeks ago it started to drain really slow. Disgustingly slow, esp. at tooth brushing time, if you know what I mean.

Break out the plunger! I plunged until my tennis elbow throbbed. Left handed, right handed, both handed, I plunged. And plunged. I succeeded in making a slow draining drain, even slower.

So I had to bring out the big gun. I went to the hardware store and got a can of "Drain Power" pressurized drain cleaner. This is pretty much a bazooka in a can. You've probably seen it in infomercials where all you do his hold it over the drain for a second or two and "Whoosh" the drain clog is whisked away seamlessly and easily.

I filled the sink to cover the cap, and then plugged the overflow inlet. I braced myself and put the can over the drain. Then, Pop, Whoosh, it went. Donna thought I had dropped over dead, and Ben jumped up and said "Wow, what was that?"

"Oh, just plumber in a can," I answered.

No results though. In fact it made a slow moving drain into a completely stopped drain. Wow. Seriously?

I popped it again. Got the same reaction from Donna and Ben. Evidently they could feel and hear the percussion of the thing in another room. No, it's still not me dying, though after seeing it not get fixed, I felt that wouldn't be a bad option.

I popped it 7 more times and had the same net result. No movement. At this point it's 7:30 on a Tuesday. What does one do at this point?

After consulting a couple of buddies, I went to Home Depot and got a "Snake Kit" which is really a long snake that is operated by attaching a power drill to the end. I brought it home and hooked it up.

The first attempt was a complete bust. It ended up getting so snarled outside of the drum it was stored in that I spent 5 minutes coiling it back up into the drum. Then, with Donna's help, I gave it a second shot. After uncoiling what seemed like the entire 25 feet, the drain suddenly started draining rapidly.


We let it grind away for a bit longer just to make sure we had a good clean opening. Viola! It now drains better than it ever has.

The moral of the story is, never give up, I guess. Plus it helps to have a couple of good friends to consult when the going gets tough.

Otherwise it was a long, strange week. As I get ready for Canada, every day leading up to today seemed like it was 30 hours long. Throw onto that that Sarah was at Bible Camp
and a tornado missed the camp by a matter of a couple of miles and well, it was a long strange week.

Hopefully I'll get around to another, more inspired post before I leave for Canada on Monday June, 28th.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mission Accomplished!

Well, the 5K run for cancer was yesterday and we all made it through. I finished in 23:25, and Donna in about 38 min. It was an awesome event; a great day with the whole family and our friends Jill and Steve.

It was not too bad of a run, though did get a bit warm near the end, especially in the sunny areas. There were 600+ runners and 2000+ walkers, so it was well attended. It actually is nice to have behind me, as it was a goal for the summer to run in and finish without walking a 5K. A simple goal to be sure, but one I'll take nonetheless.

The run for me was especially meaningful in light of the news I received a couple of weeks ago that my brother has been diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called Chondrosarcoma. I really don't know much more about his condition than that. He's scheduled to visit the Mayo Clinic Tuesday and Wednesday to find out his diagnosis/treatment path. It's a bit like someone punched me in the gut. Just a rotten, sick feeling.

I want to remain positive about it because we don't know much at this point. All I can do at this time is wait and pray, so that's what I'm doing. That's what my wife and kids and friends are doing. My friend Steve is going through a similar situation with his brother, who has pancreatic cancer at 42. Then my Mom tells me tonight that my sister is going in for a biopsy this week too. (Those of you who know me know I lost a sister at age 5 to a Wilmes tumor). Then, there's my Mom's issue and I found out this week my step-father's ex wife has a rare form of cancer too. It seems to be a trying time for the whole family. Cancer of any sort is an ugly disease and this run and the situations in my family of recent has raised my awareness to just how awful it can be.

The plan is to possibly run in one or two more in the fall. Our friend Patty has said she wants to run in a run for the Oconomowoc Police in Oct. We'll see how it goes for all of us. I am taking the summer off from running because it gets so beastly hot.

More interestingly, is my plan for next summer when I plan to train and run/bike in a Duathlon. A friend has run in one this spring and it was intriguing enough that I think I'd like to give it a try. I'd do a Triathlon, but would either;

1. Drown in the first 100 yards
2. Die along the way
3. Not finish until 2 days later, which is always embarrassing.

Now a duathlon, Run 3.0, Bike 10, Run 2.0 is more along the lines of something I could do. So I'm giving it some serious thought. We'll see how the fall runs go and I'll talk more to some who've done duals and see what I'm up against.

It was a great fathers day today. I am lucky to be blessed with two great kids and a wonderful woman! I got a Gander Mountain Gift Card which should come in handy with Canada being only 8 days away.

As usual when I leave writing to the last thing of the day, I am too exhausted to make much more than a menial post. So alas, I'm blogging off...

Friday, June 18, 2010

White Castle and the Art of Writing

I spent part of tonight at the SE Wisconsin Festival of books ( in an attempt to stay in touch with that closeted part of my life (my writing). There was a keynote tonight by A. Manette Ansay that was really good. I haven't read any of her work, but will give it a try after hearing her tonight. She gave some great stories on her struggles with writing and making sense of the voices in her head.

Which if you get right down to it is every writer's cross to bear. To get the voice in their head down in written form, partly in the hopes that it will shut up. Sometimes it does for a short time, but it always seems to come back to haunt. Some people make a living out of giving voice to the voices, others it drives mad, and still others (me) do a little of both. Actually, it's more the ongoing tinnitus in my head that's making me mad, but the writer mumbling up there ain't helping either.
She talked a little bit about the evolution of her work(s) and how you start a project with one thing in mind and sometimes it takes you places you had no intention. In an artistic sense it means you can sometimes set out to mold a piece to look like a sculpture of say, a horn of plenty, and come out with a product that looks more like an ash tray from 1971.

I can relate to that because this whole memoir thing started out to be such a simple, compact collection of stories from the good old years of canoeing, and now it's starting to take on depth and metaphor and place and personality. Now, these are all admirable and desirable parts of a story, in fact anything without them isn't much of anything, really. It's just that what is becoming glaringly apparent is that writing is far more work than I originally thought.

For instance, people have always said I'm a great writer and specifically when it comes to writing letters. What does that mean though, esp. in this day and age of e-mail and the eventual, inevitable death of the written letter? I'll tell you what it means. It means I have a decent ability to relay a story while capturing the interest of my reader. It means I have a gift for short bursts of humor that engage the reader and do not annoy or bore them.
The downside to this gift is the fact that it reads a bit like a White Castle hamburger tastes. It's good, but not good at the same time. Good in that it gets your attention and kind of melts in your mouth to start with, inundating your taste buds with salt, protein and grease all at the same time. Yum!

It's bad in that you need a whole bag of them to get satisfied, and then you end up with a gut ache and no idea how many you've eaten. You gorge yourself on my delicious, non-nutritious little tales, in the end coming away satisfied, but longing for something more.
The something more is the detail, and the dialogue, and the metaphor and the scene. Stuff that I typically leave out of my other writing (including this blog) is the stuff that HAS to go into a book. My instructor once said my initial writing took the form of me sitting on a bar stool and telling her a story. She wants to know more about the room, the time of day, the look on the face of the person in the story.
In other words, she's looking for a Big Mac and I'm giving her Whiteys. (Or at least was...I'm working on that.)
Not that Manette Ansay talked at all about White Castle, but that's what I took away from her talk. That works evolve, and as a writer, we have to accept that and either evolve with it or try and wrest it back under our control and end up disappointed.

So there you have it. You've just heard the voices in my head, and evidently they're hungry. They must be drunk too if they're talking about White Castles.

Tomorrow is the Lombardi Classic 5K Run Walk. The whole family plus Mark and Jill K. are running or walking in it. It should be a great time. The weather looks to be good, in the low 70's at race time.

Donna is a bit apprehensive about running the entire thing, but I think once she gets in the "pack", she'll find she has reserves that she never knew she had. I think back to my first race, Al's Run in September of '88 or so. It was a 5 miler, and I made it the entire way. It wasn't always that easy. I remember the first time I trained for it, I could barely run 1/2 mile without getting a side stitch and being gassed. After 60 days of training, you'd be amazed at what you can do.

In any case, I'm proud of her and will be there to see her cross the finish line. I asked if she wanted me to run along side her and she says no. I can totally relate to that as a runner myself. It is an individual sport and everyone has their own pace. I want no one talking to me, I just want to hear my own labored breathing and footfalls on the pavement.

As I've said before, this race was not a slam dunk for me either. I have not run competitively since 1991. I tried 8 years ago, but encountered such severe heel pain, that I HAD to quit. It turns out it was a lack of stretching and bad shoes, because I had none of that pain this time. Yoga has helped with the stretching, and I would strongly recommend Asics Gel Running shoes to anyone. Great stuff.

So sitting here, I'm getting all puffed up about how great running is. When in fact, every time I run I have this conversation in my head saying how much I hate running. It's likely the same voice that causes me to write, so I can't just murder the voice, or I might never write again. That would suck.

Seriously though, if you don't know what I'm talking about, I challenge you to lace up your sneakers, no matter how old you or the shoes are, and run around the block. The conversation you have in your head will be very similar to that in mine.

"What are you doing? Are you nuts? You know, this is really stupid. Tired yet? I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now are you tired? How about now. Knees hurt? Yeah you're getting old. Too old to be doing this, stupid. Wow, you've only gone a block and a half, tired yet? Watch out for that poop. You're starting to sweat already, that can't be good. You hot? You're running too slow. You're not even close to 1/2 way yet. You're running too fast."

It's a battle the WHOLE way people. Jim vs. Jim's Voice. The good news is that I always win. My way to beat the voice is to TRIUMPH over it. This I think is what drives marathoners, 1/2 marathoners and Triatheletes. That stupid voice.

Right now the stupid voices are telling me to go to bed, because they've got a long day ahead bothering me during the race at 8:15 AM tomorrow. I think I'll listen to them tonight, so I can defeat them tomorrow.

The voices and I are Blogging Off...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Celebration of Us

Well, tomorrow is out 20th Anniversary as husband and wife. What can I say, except that time flies when you're having fun. And that is the beauty of our life together. It is so much fun living and laughing with Donna. There have been some trials along the way, though none critical, thank God, but even if there were, I'm convinced we'd have pulled through them.

So what to remember about the last twenty years?

Living on the East Side of Milwaukee until a series of muggings happened in our neighborhood and literally outside our window. Did I mention we had a prowler walk in while we were home in our apartment too? Well, you all probably know that story already.

There was the time the Blue Angels flew over our apartment there and I hit the deck, as I thought we were being bombed. Donna thought it was hysterical.

Donna's short lived first job at a bakery that lasted a week. Then she found SEWCIL which eventually turned to Independence First. The many friends we met there, esp. Steve, Jill and Liz (wherever she is now).

Our first Packer Game together. It was Pack vs. Buffalo Bills at County stadium. The Pack got stomped by Jim Kelly/Thurman Thomas and the no-huddle machine.

Dressing as Jolly Green Giant and Little Green Sprout for Halloween for the Intelligraphics Halloween party.

Many Brewer games, including one or two that we were kicked into.

Our second apartment in Waukesha. Teeny tiny, but all we needed. It allowed us, with Dad's help to save for our house.

Working 3rd shift at SEWRPC for 6 months. BRUTAL.

Numerous trips to cabins, including Morningside Resort, Hackensack, MN, and Pine Forest Lodge in Mercer.

Driving to Maine and denying Donna her lobster, because I didn't like it. (Sorry hon!)

Getting our house.

A very pregnant Donna driving our Honda Accord onto a pile of rocks during road construction of College Ave. "I beached it!" she cried into my shoulder. Did she ever beach it!

Watching Sarah's birth and the absolute, undeniable miracle of God that is childbirth. Seeing the courage of my bride through all those contractions and with no drugs, was eye opening.

The tough months after her birth where we both kind of thought WTF?

Our first cats Bogie and Jezebel. Black and White joy they were. Still miss them.

Watching Ben's birth and learning not to tell your wife to quit thrashing when she complains that she's too hot. Next time I'll just say "Yeah, you're right."

The Matteos years where I had the kids at night and we'd spend time listening to Tricia Yearwood's "Under the rainbow" while Ben would run around and around until the part where she said "Under the rainbow" and he would scramble through Sarah's legs. Frighteningly cute!

Building a fence with my brother Rob (and his family), and Steve (and Jill) in an all weekend downpour. I like to call it "Fencestock" after the mud filled music fest.

Numerous house projects with Dad, the funniest being when a hammer fell off a ladder ONTO my safety glasses which were on the ground. We laughed SO hard. I said "Imagine what would have happened if those were on my face when that happened." Funny stuff, but you probably had to be there.

Many times with our good, good friends the Kreys and the Barretts. Nothing like good friends when you're far from family.

Well, I could go on and on, but I just want to say that from my perspective, it surely doesn't seem like twenty years. I have been incredibly blessed by this woman and her family. She is the worlds best companion, certainly one of the top 10 cooks, and she has a great singing voice. (Well, two out of three ain't bad.)

Seriously though, my hope for the next twenty years is that we continue to be as compatible as we are now. She respects my needs for the outdoors, working out, and isolation and I respect hers for cooking, reading and down time. The thing that I think has carried us the furthest of course is our faith in Christ. We weren't always on the same page, but we sure are now, and it is the foundation of our marriage.

That aside, the biggest thing I've come to learn is that a successful marriage is built on selflessness. I am convinced that the biggest cause of divorce are two people who worry more about their needs than the needs of the person they claim to love. Call me crazy, but that's what I see from the twenty-year chair. Maybe it'll change, but I think not. No one ever got divorced because their spouse did too much for them. So that's my anniversary soap box moment, at no extra charge.

Peace people. Thanks to all of you who have supported us over the years as individuals and as a couple. You are our friends and family and we couldn't have done it without you.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nuts, Twigs and Other People I Saw Today

Went to the Jen Ehr Organic farm in Sun Prairie to pick strawberries with the family today. As part of our CSA, we were entitled to pick 10 lbs of strawberries free. We ended up picking 24 lbs of strawberries, but with Donna's plans to make jam, pies and a few other things, they won't last long. She's already finished making 10 jars of jam, so she's well on her way.

So we're going into this farm and passing all kinds of "Subaru drivin', NPR supporters" as Michael Perry calls them and I start to wonder if maybe I fall under that category a little bit. While I don't drive a Subaru, I do listen to NPR on occasion, and if I'm not one of them, what am I doing on an organic farm, as a member of the CSA brotherhood?

For the unenlightened among you, (like I was 6 mo. ago) a CSA is a deal where for a few hundred bucks, you get a box of veggies every week from the organic grower. The box changes as certain veggies come in and out of season. We haven't really received our first box yet, but I suspect my colon is in for a shock in the coming months.

The reason I'm concerned and speculative about my status among the everyday man, is that yesterday I spent my afternoon setting up a rain barrel. This is so that we can catch rain from our garage roof and recycle it into our flowers, plants and herbs. It took no less than 3 trips to hardware and home improvement stores to get the diverter kit completed, but I ultimately made it work.

The principle behind rain barrels is in urbanized areas, it keeps water from flowing into the storm drains and ultimately the waste treatment plant and on to the watershed. My garage is a bit of an exception to the rule because most of it drained just to my back yard. However, the water we do use for plants/etc. normally would have come from our shallow aquifer, and so I'm doing my part to some extent.

We'll see how it goes. I suspect we'll find that it's either too much work and we'll end up draining it at the end of summer on to the lawn, or that it's the best thing we've thought of in a while and we put another one in hooked up to the house. I hope it turns out to be the latter, but as I said, time will tell.

I suspect there's a windmill and worm farm in my future somewhere.

So if I change to round framed glasses, start wearing my floppy fishing hat and sandals full-time, you have the right to remind me that I was raised in the city, and try as I might to run from it, it's part of my nature and best to try not to fight against it. Then maybe I'll come back to my senses, hire Chemlawn, start buying Tyson chicken-mill chicken again and start throwing my aluminum and glass containers in the trash, where they really belong.

We've come a long way, baby. Now if we can just figure out this electric car thing.

Blogging off...

Friday, June 11, 2010


As I was running on this hot, humid evening I was feeling pretty good about myself. I'm nursing day two of a cold, (or some sort of wicked allergies) but still managed to bike to work and then run two miles when I got home. The 5K race is just a week away, and I hadn't run since Tuesday, so was feeling the need to get one in.

So I'm chugging along at about the one mile mark, feeling a bit gassed because of the congestion in my head, but overall, pretty proud of myself. Then I passed a truck parked in the Carroll College parking lot that had about 5 people gathered round it and they all had "Volunteer" T-Shirts on.

"Hmmm..." I thought, what's that all about?

On the next block, I passed a pack of three runners headed toward the truck. They looked exhausted and were obviously running more than a 3K. Here I find out that they're running a 200 mile Madison to Chicago race.

It was a wee bit on the humbling side. Here I was all proud about mile one of a whole two miles, and these people were running from Madison to Chi-Town. Now you could have a team of 12 people to do it, but even so, do the math. That's a marathon a piece.

Needless to say it brought me back down to earth in a hurry. It's not that I'm ashamed that I'm 48 and training for a race, but it's like everything in this world, you think you've got something fine and someone else comes along with something finer. Granted these runners were mostly twenty and thirty-somethings, but I was still a bit awestruck.

I hope to be VERY active in my retirement too, just as I am now. I'll be one of those guys who has the "big one" on his bike in a biathlon or canoeing across Lake of the Woods or something. At least I'll be doing something I love and it'll beat sitting at home perserverating about what hurts today or which prescription I need to take and when. I know, easier said now, but those are my intentions anyways. Lord knows I have the discipline to carry them out too. Ask my wife about that.

Anyways it gave me a bit of perspective. It was a little like the time I was coming back from a GIS conference in Huntsville, AL. I was feeling among the jet-setters and power players of the world, pretty proud of myself. I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, told him I was a GIS Analyst here for the software conference, like that's all impressive. Then I asked him what he did and he said he was an astrophysicist for NASA.

Suddenly a GIS Analyst dropped a notch or two. This guy likely makes in a month what I make in a year.

But it was a good lesson in humility and shutting up. People don't care what you know or who you know, or what you own, at least not the people you want to associate with.

Besides one day you might find your marathon run is nothing like the parapalegic guy who did it running with his hands.

And that's my perspective on a Friday...

Keep It Real.

Get over yourself.

Your not that great, but God loves you anyway.

And that's plenty enough for me.

Blogging off...

Monday, June 7, 2010

And the Envelope Please...

Just returned from the Central Middle School Academic Awards Ceremony. Sarah, like last year. got awards for Social Studies, World Languages, and Academic Achievement. I'm so proud of her I could just burst, yet she is the humblest person alive. To her it's just a matter of anything less just wouldn't be right.

It makes me think back to my grade school/middle school years, and we didn't really have these kind of recognitions. Or maybe we did, and I just wasn't invited. (That's more likely the case.)

I liked grade school, but was as shy as all get-out. I was a runner-up vote as most shy kid in my 8th grade class. Just an introvert. I think I've grown out of it a bit, but if you know me, I'm still a pretty private person. A stuffer and a bit of a loner. (That's loner with an 'n', not an 's'.)

For instance, I was never one much for sleeping over at friends' houses. Ben would do it every weekend, if given the chance. He's so social, and I don't know where he gets it. (It's not from his Mother either.)

On a different subject, a house up the street has what amounts to an English garden that traverses their entire house. Very well maintained and all of that. I find myself stopping (or slowing) by it every time I walk the dog now. There must be a thousand different perennials in that thing and there's always something in bloom. So I officially know I am getting old when I not only notice this, but it's amazing to me. The homeowners are nuts and twigs kind of people; nice enough.

I wish I had that love for gardening, but I don't. In fact I hate it. We just got a rain barrel this weekend and the thought of hooking it up sounds like a lot of work. It won't be, but to someone who hates yard work with a passion, it's work, believe me.

Well, Tuesday looms and I'm weary from my Monday, so I'll blog off...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Store Tour Pending...

I got some great news again today. The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters has accepted a poem of mine for publishing in their winter edition. It was quite a surprise, as I submitted it back in March. It seems most of these publications run about 4-8 weeks to even look at your work. It is my third acceptance in about four months, so I'm on what you might call a bit of a roll.

I find this fascinating because poetry isn't what I consider my first strength. (That would be creative non-fiction/memoir.) Maybe I need to listen to the experts and stop selling myself short on the whole poetry thing. I'm blessed to be able to do any of it and have it looked at by the folks who are kind enough to do so.

So it was a good day. A very good day.

I also played around with PCLinux (Gnome) on this laptop today. All of this playing around with open source is intriguing. I think there is an install in my future as I get comfortable playing around with the Live CD version (where it never really gets installed on your PC, it just runs from the CD.)

It will be nice to be free of the whole windows ball and chain.

Well, Letterman is on and I've gotta go. Blogging off till next time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Speaking in Ubuntu

Well, the fun just never stops in this technology stuff, eh? I am messing around with Linux with the thought that I might use it for a used laptop I'm getting soon. In this case, the user doesn't have the Windows recovery disks and rather than go through all the trials of re-loading bloatware, I am actually considering using an Open Source Operating System like Ubuntu (

Ubuntu is a "flavor" of Linux, which is an open source programming language. Like "Madge" in the Palmolive commercials ("You're soaking in it!"), I'm actually "writing in it." I'm writing this blog on a "Live CD" copy of linux on my Windows XP desktop. It's really crazy, but only if you're a geek like me.

So why open source you ask? Well, for starters, the price is right. Open Source code is free and supported by it's user base. If you're good and you've built an app for Linux, you can submit it to the community for reaction, testing and feedback. On an obtuse kind of comparison, it's like eating from local grown produce instead of the stuff at Pick N Save that was trucked to the area at great expense and cost to the environment. Sorta like that, yeah.

My thoughts on putting it on a used laptop are, that I'm looking to use the laptop for:

Web surfing
Web Mail
Word ( for writing.

For doing that, I don't think I need much more than Ubuntu can give me. Then, I won't be hounded for the latest windows update, befuddled by the newest windows error message and bored while windows boots up after every update.

My apprehensions are that it's all new and I am especially worried about how the hardware drivers will react to the new OS. I think there's enough online help to work through all of it, but I have to be prepared by doing my homework ahead of time. (My daughter thinks "Ubuntu" is a great word to repeat over and over. I tend to agree. Sounds like a Somalian sect or something.)

If anyone out there has any experience with Linux or Ubuntu, please give me a holler. I'd love to hear your stories of joy or horror.

Back to my research. Back soon, with a story or two of my own.

Blogging off in (Ubuntu)...