Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mid-Continental Reflections

I sit in a Microtel in Kearney, NE a humbled man. You see earlier today I visited my brother in the hospital in Rochester, MN. He is recovering from a major surgery (actually 3 surgeries) to remove a tumor from his back, ribs and spine.

He was sleeping when we came in and took a minute to recognize us all. In fact he called me Paul at first.

It was so incredibly moving to see him, talk to him and laugh with him. It's been killing me not being able to get to see him until now, and so Donna and I agreed we'd make a side trip on the way to CO to go see him. What was so moving was to see this sibling who's always been big and strong, so frail. It was humbling because I know as much as I saw him there, I knew it could just as easily be me. The 600 stitches in his back and side, could just as easily be my own.

How would I react? How would I cope? How would it change my outlook? It sounds like it's certainly changed his and it put things in a whole new perspective for him, as I imagine it would.

All I can say is, I am SOOOOOO glad I took the time to see him. I think it was great for the kids and Donna as well. The kids were great and sat quietly the whole time. Sarah broke down at the elevator, as I suspected she would. It's got to be a tough thing for them too; to see their normally healthy, happy uncle in such straits.

In short, he's a tough dude and he'll pull out of this as strong as he's able. Of that I have no fear.

In the van afterward, a song came on my Ipod by Midnight called "Time to heal" where the tag line is, " the heal"

I thought that about summed it up.

I also discovered it's hard driving with tears in your eyes. On to Colorado. More from there.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Worm

Work has slowed to a crawl on my memoir. It was supposed to pick up over the summer as I took a break from my writing class at I was going to use the time to edit and recapitulate, and while I've done a bit, I still haven't paid it the time I had intended. In my defense, I've been just a wee bit busy with my travels, but still...

In my editorial process, I think I'm sharpening the piece up quite a bit. I'm adding content, shaving off the fat and the non-funny stuff (that I once thought was funny), and just improving it overall. It has been a learning experience for me. Because of what I learned in class, I've been looking at the work that's been done with a wholly different, more critical eye. I'm taking into account scene setting, description, dialogue and context a whole lot more than the first time through. It is all part of the creative process. Sometimes it feels like a drag, other times it feels like exactly what I need to sharpen the work.

Anyhow, I hope to keep chipping away at it during my "sabbatical" from class. I'm really getting a bit antsy about getting the thing completed, so hopefully that will drive me to keep working on it.

The hot, sultry, sweaty weather continues around her. It's raining cats and dogs at the moment. The Capitol Drive and Good Hope area of the freeway got 7" of rain in an hour, and the flooding is cranking up real good. We haven't had rain since last Fri., but we don't quite need it in these amounts when we get it. An all day drizzle would be preferred, esp. if you live in a low-lying area. I figure the raw sewage dump into Lake Michigan will clip well into the millions of gallons with this one. Great for the lake level; not so great for the biology of the lake.

Tornado warnings in Whitewater heading toward Kenosha County. All kinds of meteorologic fun today. I think I'm going to hover in my basement for the rest of the night.

It is my intent to post during our vacation in Colorado next week, complete with pictures, but there are no guarantees (it is vacation, after all!) If I don't, I will promptly upon my return.

Blogging off...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Airline Trauma

Travelling by air is not what it once was. As my wife put it, it's more like riding a flying bus, than the luxury it once was. Actually, given the choice, I'd take four hours on a bus before I'd take a plane. On a recent trio to San Diego, (Left) I had the pleasure of flying AirTran twice in a week.
It all starts at the check-in gate, where you wait in line and kick your luggage until you get to the front where you show your ticket, license, birth certificate, library card, credit history, sexual preference, religious affiliation, political party, cute baby picture, passport, driving record and favorite color. Then they take your money and weigh your bag.

You move along the moo-chain to the security TSA check where you say goodbye to your bag and hope that your underwear weren't on top.

From there, you move to the security check where you again show all your credentials, plus any that you may have accumulated since you last showed them. After giving you a good looking over and scribbling some non-descript meaningless initials on your ticket, you move on to the disrobing area. There you put everything except your shorts and t-shirt into a plastic bin and walk through a metal detector, while your personal effects undergo a good blasting of radioactivity in the name of airport security.

If you're lucky and the sun and moon are aligned, you pass go and do not collect $200. You then move to the "Recombobulation area" (I kid you not, it's really called that in the Milwaukee Airport,) where you hurriedly re-dress yourself and store away your now radioactive effects. You do this all in a matter of 3 minutes and you come away feeling that you'd just been probed by aliens and and put back in line. Seriously, you end up looking like Steve Martin in The Jerk

"All I need is my shoes, and my wallet, and my belt, and that's all. And these keys; I need these. My shoes and my wallet and my belt, and my keys and that's all. And my laptop. My shoes, my wallet, my belt, my keys, and my laptop, that's all I need. I don't need anything more...And my cell phone. I need that. And that's all. My shoes, my wallet, my belt, my keys, and my laptop and my cell phone."

Then you wait for the hour and a half as part of the two hour lead-time that they tell you to get to the airport. This wait period entails uncomfortable chairs with bored people eating pizza out of their laps, checking their phones or reading.
When you're called, your credentials are checked another time before boarding to make sure you don't try and pull a fast one before boarding the plane.

Once aboard the too small plane, you find your appointed torture chair and the fun really begins.
If you're over 5 foot 7, you can appreciate how uncomfortable those seats really are. At one point yesterday, the flight attendant was tending to the woman across the aisle and her posterior is bumping my shoulder repeatedly. Finally she realized it wasn't a chair back and turned and said "I'm sorry, honey".

It was just a little bit too intimate there for a while, in an uncomfortable way. But that is the nature of our airlines. The aisles are too narrow, the seats are too close together and too narrow. If you don't mind rubbing elbows, quite literally, with complete strangers for hours on end, then flying is the perfect thing for you.

Throw into that mix screaming kids, bad air, popping ears, and endless delays, and you have a good old fashioned pain party. Me? I got lucky and got to sit next to a lunatic 50-something woman who talked to her neighbor in the window seat (whom she did not know) for TWO HOURS about the pros and cons of their stupid cell phones. She had a droid and he an iPhone. Two hours!

Now I'm a big technology guy. I've got a phone that takes pictures and texts and would even surf the web if I wanted to fork over the dough. I've got a laptop an Wii, an HD TV, an Ipod Nano, and a GPS. But two hours? I get tired talking about something interesting for two hours. I kept thinking there's people in Haiti living in tented squalor, and here we (not me) sit talking about how our 16 GB phone has enough music on it to walk around the globe and never hear the same song twice. The guy actually said that. The funny thing is, it impressed the woman.

As David Letterman says, "It's no wonder everyone hates us."

Finally, when it came time to land, the two year old in the seat across the aisle decided he didn't want to sit in the seat, buckled in. When the irate flight attendants kept reminding frazzled mother that she needed to buckle him in, she almost said "You do it, then!" I guess I wouldn't have blamed her. She ended up with the kid in her arms looking out the window.

I thought this was an especially poignant moment for the whole flight. Had the plane crash landed and everyone perish, at least this mother would die holding her 2 year old in her arms, rather than him screaming alone in his seat. A morbid thought indeed, and thank goodness we landed safely, but I thought sometimes stupid rules should be allowed to be broken when their inanity becomes so blatantly obvious that even casual lookers-on agree that they're stupid.

And all of this is why I look at flying as a quick means to get from A to B. As my co-worker said before we left, "Have a good flight".

To which I said, "Now there's an oxymoron."

She replied "Oh yeah. Have an adequate flight, then."

And adequate it was.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Edge of Insanity

A quick post from a far away city. I write this on my last evening in San Diego at the ESRI Users Conference. I fly back to my real life tomorrow and I am actually ready for it. I'm not looking forward to the weather particularly, but I am ready to see my wife and kids again. I miss them dearly. I miss their wittiness, their touch and their laughter.

It has been a good week here, especially when Donna was here to experience the city with me. I don't want to say it was a transforming week for us, but it was certainly rejuvenating for our marriage, being able to go out to eat every night and just hold hands and enjoy each other's uninterrupted company for extended periods of time. She stretched me to eat at places I'd never been and try things I never tried. She was a trooper for trying new things when I suggested them too. I think she loves San Diego and will no doubt be back.

The conference was a good one too. Learned a ton about the new version of the software and am looking forward to trying out some new things when I get back in the office.

It has been a weird week in that I've done some serious thinking about where we live and why we live there. Not that I'm planning any big moves or anything, just doing some deep thinking about where I want to be in 5, 10, or 15 years. I don't think Waukesha, WI is that place, but I guess that remains to be seen. I'll try and expand on this thought when I post next. Right now I've got a case of jet lag that I need to prepare for tomorrow.

Thanks for bearing with me during this dry spell while I wasn't posting. Believe me, I FEEL it when I don't write for that long of period. In addition to this post tonight, I wrote a poem called God's Ant Farm. Not sure where it'll go, but it sure felt good getting it out of my head.

See ya on the flip side. (i.e. hot, humid, buggy, WI.)

Blogging off...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mile High Post

Just had to post once from 30000 feet, just to say I did. Sitting in these seats is the worst. laptop is scrunched...hard to type...can't breathe...somewhere over Kansas...on way to san diego.

Over and out. Roger, roger.

Blogging off.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Zeroing in on Perspective

It has been a trying two days for me as I have been thinking about my brother who is undergoing multiple surgeries for a chondrosarcoma tumor on a bone in his back. He endured 8+ hours of surgery yesterday, and is up against 12 more tomorrow. The details include removing a couple of vertebrae as well as two baseball size tumors. There's much more to the procedure, but suffice it to say, it will set him back a couple of months.

The whole sibling empathy thing really kicked into gear yesterday when I was getting reports from my other brother and Rob's wife. I guess we've come to the age where this kind of crud happens, while it seems like only yesterday we were 23 and invincible.

In any case it's been an eye opening experience for EVERYONE involved. The emotional toll it must be taking on his wife and kids must be immense. I keep telling everyone he's a tough dude and that he'll get through it, but that's only to soften the sadness I feel for what he must be experiencing.

It is just another reality check for me with regards to the whole "life in the balance" theme that seems to be resonating in my head lately. There are people dying who shouldn't be, people going through traumas who don't deserve it and people with great sicknesses that always took care of themselves.

It has come to my frank attention that life is to be lived day by day, and perhaps even minute to minute. Appreciate that smile, those clouds, that dog kiss, that touch from your kids or spouse, that sunset, that vacation, that moment with God in worship on Sunday. Appreciate it all because it could be a clouded, mystery in your alzheimic mind tomorrow. I don't mean to sound morbid, but these are the things that are being revealed to me in these middle age years.

Well, before I get too much more philosophical, I'll sign off. I will be in San Diego, CA for a week, so likely will not get a post in until I return. Thanks for watching and remember what I said about appreciating each day, each moment. It's a beautiful day; don't let it get away...

Blogging off...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fish Styx

Well, I'm back from Canada. Actually have been back since Saturday, July 3rd, but haven't really had time to breathe, let alone post. Thanks for bearing with me.

Canada was nothing less that fantastic, again. I'm not suffering from post-trip letdown like in years past, in part because I'm doing so much more travelling this month. That helps take the edge off the fact that summer is screaming past.

There is a photoshow of the entire trip that can be found at:

It was a trip packed with fish and laughs. We had a great time, end to end.

There were a few sketchy moments at the border when my friend stumbled over the declaration of the alcohol we were taking over the border. Despite rehearsing it 12 times before we got to the border, he still messed up.

As it turns out, we were taking one case and one six pack OVER the limited amount into Canada. He started out saying that we had 3 cases plus one six pack, which the officer took to mean we were taking that much OVER the limit, instead of total. My friend then stumbled on his words, and back pedaled, to the point of annoyance. The officer then got frustrated and tore off the sheet from his pad and said "Please explain yourself!"

Eventually in a moment of clairvoyance, he was able to relay that we were 30 beers over our limit, not 78.

Then, when he went indoors to pay the duty on this overage, the lady asked if he had his receipts for the beer. "Well, no I don't," he said.

"Why not? You've been to Canada before, right?" she inquired

"Because we've never brought an overage in before," he countered

"Well then, how much does a case of beer cost in Milwaukee?" she asked

"18 dollars"

"Fine, then you owe 18 dollars" she said.

So, in essence beer in Canada is twice what it cost here. Our thinking was that at least it would allow us to choose the type of beer we wanted, and not be stuck with Labatt Blue.

He returned to the van fairly agitated. "That was not fun! Not fun at all!" he exclaimed.

Dave and I joked at how funny it was to watch him flounder. We joked that he said;

"We have eleventy seven, niner beers, sir"

"Was there a niner in there?"

On the way out of Canada, we got interrogated by the US custom guys who asked where we worked, how we knew each other and made all of us take out sunglasses off. We must look like a shady bunch of characters or something. We joked that we should declare that we had an AK47 and a rocket launcher in the back, and was that a bad thing? There were many other joking references before we got to the window, which was perhaps part of what rattled Steve so much that he messed up.

Anyhow the biggest fish of the week were: a 29.5" Northern, a 29" Walleye and a 17" Smallmouth Bass. By the end of the week Dave was measuring fish in 1/4 inches which is really pretty funny. It is kind of an unwritten rule that you stop at 1/2's, but he claimed he caught a 16 3/4" bass. Well, now that's a scientific number isn't it? Considering you're measuring a flopping fish on a rocking boat, using a scale taped to the side of a curved boat, 3/4 measurements are a bit of a stretch, so to speak.

There was much laughter and smart talking on the deck every night after a long day on the water. The cabins we stayed in are right on Niobe Lake and ours has a nice deck to watch the sunsets on. Steve brought his Ipod dock, and that gave us enough background music to keep us going.

A couple of things became clear to me during this trip. At one point on like the third day or so, it occurred to me that there will come a day when I won't be physically able to take a trip like this. Fishing solid for four days is hard work; a lot of standing, sitting, bending, working in adverse conditions etc. I wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything because it's an absolute labor of love for me, but I could see how it would be difficult for an older guy. I hope it isn't for many, many years, and even then, perhaps just a shorter trip.

The other thing was that it's great to have a couple of good friends who you can laugh at and with until your sides hurt. There was a night on the deck where I was absolutely doubled over in laughter. At the same time, we took time to listen to each other and pray at every meal as well. I'm blessed to have friends like these and hope to have many more trips to the great white north with them.

Blogging off for now...