Monday, November 29, 2010

What's a Cyber Monday?

Today was Cyber Monday. It is a day I did not know existed until today. It is a date pushed by online retailers to get people to purchase stuff online at a decent discount. I looked around a bit at Dell, Best Buy and a couple others in hopes of getting a new laptop cheap. I came extremely close to pulling the trigger on a Dell Inspiron 15.5" laptop at Best Buy for $379.99. The only problem was it had a wimpy 1.6 GHz processor. While that is probably enough for what I need (Mainly writing, e-mail and internet), I want one with a beefier processor, so the thing isn't obsolete in 10 months. Oh well, maybe next Cyber Monday.

I was saddened to hear that Leslie Nielsen died today. His acting in Airplane and the Naked Gun movies was second to none. He was a natural talent and he will be missed, surely. (And stop calling me Shirley!)

Otherwise, today was very much a Monday. Tough returning after 5 days off. I think I'll cash it in early, as I've spent most of tonight editing on the laptop and am ready to stop looking at a screen.

Blogging off...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkeys, Harleys and a Pinata Flogging


We just finished our 2010 version of Thanksmas around here. In case you don't know what that word means, it's our family's combining of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We celebrate it every two years on the "off years" when we spend real Christmas in MN.


Typically, this festivus-style event involves either meeting at a central place (e.g. the Sandusky, OH Kalahari water park) or a home in Waukesha or New York, depending on the year. This year brought the NY clan out west and we did Thanksgiving on Thursday, and Christmas on Friday.


Thanksgiving was a great time with the cousins playing together and working on various art projects together. They get along so well, at least for a couple days, after that all bets are off. As they get bigger, they've become much easier to manage and allows adults time to be together and catch up on things. We had an amazing dinner, followed by a rousing round of the Game of Things. The family got to meet Jake, Mark's partner and he was warmly received. He's got a wicked sense of humor and fit in with the whole family right away. (The kids barraged him with a nerf gun assault as proof, on Wed. when he least expected it.)


Friday John, Jill, and I went to the Harley Davidson Museum. John bought a HD this past year, so wanted to check it out. It's a great facility and very well laid out. There is even a section at the end where people are allowed to sit on a variety of different bikes. I was skeptical going in, but it proved me wrong. The only downer of the whole thing was the highly overpriced gift shop at the end. I guess being part of the HD machine comes at a price.


I said to John and Jill that bringing me there was a mistake. While I appreciated all the bikes there, it only made me want one worse than ever. I am many years away (if ever) from getting one, and if I did, it would be a used one. If that unexpected windfall of money would come from my long lost Aunt Irma in International Falls, MN though, it would be the first thing I bought. Alas...


After the HD museum, we met the rest of the family at Mark and Jake's new apartment in Bay View. There we had a nice Mexican dinner, followed by a pinata beating in the basement. This probably is the strangest Christmas ritual we have ever created, but hey, like I say we had fun with it. The pinata was dressed and quartered and all of it's spoils were split among the children. We followed that up with a gift opening. From there we went to our friends Jill and Steve down the street for drinks and laughter. Good friends, food and family.


Otherwise, it was a good vacation. Of course there was the usual family dynamics and dysfunction that we ALL go through during the holidays, but nothing more than we've seen in years past. We all just kind of roll with each others' neuroses and everyone has a good time. I think a festivus pole, complete with an airing of the grievances, would be a nice addition to the whole affair.


Thank goodness we have two days to recover and recapitulate. We're both kind of exhausted, if not from the work of it all, from the socializing. Tomorrow is a true day of rest, and I plan to use it as such.


Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Much to Give Thanks for

Here's some of what I am thankful for this year.

  • Kids and cousins giggling at the kitchen table playing board games
  • In-laws bringing truffles from New York
  • A warm house, full of food for the holidays
  • My Faith. It's the foundation of who I am
  • A wife who loves me unconditionally
  • Two great kids that understand right from wrong, good from bad
  • Two cats and a dog. Dog has bad hair, but we love him still
  • A city with great services (to go with its high taxes)
  • A great job with good people
  • A working laptop
  • A family in Minnesota that supports each other
  • A mom who is the greatest
  • Good health
  • Good friends (esp. Steve, Brad, and Pat)
  • A gift for writing and the privilege of being published
  • Freedom of religion

What are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Heavy Bear Comes Through

I got some more good news last night. I had submitted 5 poems to the Heavy Bear Online Journal and I got an e-mail that they liked all of them and will be publishing them in their December issue. Great news! It was especially cool to get all 5 accepted. Usually you submit 3 or four and hope for one. The editor said that I "use some strong images." It's great to get some positive feedback. It's what drives me as a writer.

For someone who considers himself a writer first, or a writer who "likes poetry too," I seem to be having decent success with the poetry thing. I'm not sure what to do with that, but am darn sure going to enjoy the ride while it lasts! Seeing any work published is a good thing and if you're not energized by it, you have something wrong with you. Sure, I agree we all write for different reasons, and most, (me included) do it out of passion first, it's just that it's nice to get recognized periodically.

The other nice thing that comes out of this was that she mentioned that when my book is finished, she offered to interview me on her radio blog talk show. That would be sweet! The only problem is it requires writing a book. I told her I hoped to have it done by next Christmas, even though I was originally hoping for this Christmas. It's nice to know that I've got a couple of publicity ties already (her and Boundary Waters Journal, who has also offered to plug my book in their magazine. I guess this means I really have to finish it after all.

Three days until Thanksgiving, two days until our guests arrive, and one day of work (I'm taking off Wed.) It should be a great holiday and we are cruising into it fairly relaxed, Donna and I. We got much work done this weekend, so are ready for them.

Well, the Vikings fired Brad Childress today. Poor guy, never had a chance after the whole stadium was calling for his firing yesterday. I guess something needed to happen. I feel sorry for the guy, but won't for too much longer because he's leaving with more money than I'll make in a lifetime. You couldn't pay me enough to be a head coach in the NFL anyway. Talk about pressure. Yikes.

Am going to cut this short. Hopefully more soon!

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life is "Bittersweet"


I've been reading this book Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist for the past week or so. It is a great book about dealing with adversity and relishing in the good times. The book leans a bit on the feminine side which makes me a little uncomfortable at times. :-) But once you get past that part of it and see what the underlying messages are, it's really quite good.
What I like about her books (I've read Cold Tangerines as well) is that they're about her imperfections and resonate with my own experience as well. She talks about a messy house and all the stresses of daily life and how that she doesn't always react to life in a perfectly Christian way. There are times where, despite knowing that God is there and loves her, she doesn't always feel worthy of everything he's given her to care for.
So in this period of preparing for the upcoming stresses of the holidays, it fits quite well into my situation. We've got family coming for Thanksgiving, and then in two weeks, for my birthday weekend of Dec. 11th, we're travelling to Minnesota for my sister's holiday party. Yesterday, while we were frantically cleaning and prepping the house for my in-laws arrival, I keep thinking back to the book where she describes that despite having a house in chaos, the important thing about the holiday is not the house, it's the people in the house.
It's about being together and laughing until our sides hurt. It's about hugs and love and catching up with where people are at in their lives, and we're all at a different point than we were the last time we saw each other. Middle school, high school, job and responsibility stresses and changes.
We share these stories, the laughter and the re-hashing of old memories over great food and beverages in the confines of our warm, closet cluttered, corner-dusty, house in the hopes that no one will see those things. If they do, we hope that they have enough grace in their hearts to forgive us, (we're trying our best here) and if they don't, well, that's too bad for them.
Because it's not about what we're doing wrong with our house or what cool new appliance or gadget we don't have. It's about the fact that I haven't seen you in 6 months, 8 months, a year or whatever, and "How are you? How is your life right now? Are you OK? It's REALLY good to see you."
As much as I claim to be a loner, I really do need connection. Those relationships in my life do matter, and while I sometimes lament about this person's issues, or that person's bad habits, I really do love those people. It's just that in our stupid selfish fallen state, we tend to look at the bad first and gloss over the good. People probably do it to me as well, and Lord knows I have my share of faults. (It does make me wonder what the bad things people say about me are though. :-)
I guess then, that I'd have to give this book four stars ****, if for no other reason than it has caused me to stop, think and put things in perspective. I would really recommend both her books as well as anything by Anne Lamotte . Lamotte's stuff is a little edgier, but once you look past that to the message, it's pretty cool.
Now that I've endorsed two female authors that tend to write about largely women's issues, I'm a little more uncomfortable than I was even a few paragraphs earlier. This can only mean it's time to blog off and go lift some heavy stuff, drill some holes, cut the grass, change some oil, shave, clip my toe nails on the bathroom floor, watch some football and a few Clint Eastwood movies, read some Jack Kerouac, and clean the garage. Because that's who I really am.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Good Life


I've been having a lot of really good days lately.

Good as in just appreciating being alive, my FAITH (First and Foremost, my Faith), having a great family, good job, holidays looming, a car that runs, (despite the oil leak and the fact that she needs a tire balance) a roof over my head, and enough food that I can give some of it away to the food pantry.

I think people are so caught up in more, more that they lose sight of the "all, all" that they have. Greed tends to roll downhill and gain speed. Greed breeds greed.

Take Christmas for example. I love the holiday, love getting the family together, love getting gifts and all the rest. This year though when prodded for a list by my mother, I had a hard time thinking of anything that I needed.

I need a stapler that works. That I DO know. This writing class I'm in has me using a stapler every week. The one we have sticks in a down position and it is super annoying. I showed Donna last night and then told her how I have to pull it back to right using my teeth. "Don't use your teeth!!!" I believe was her response. So, now I use one of these over sized paper clips. It seems to do the job well.

This is why I need a stapler. No one should have to suffer with bent staples or a run to the emergency room with a staple in their cheek. It's not right.

So yeah, I need that. And blue socks.

You see there's 400 things I really need, but really don't. For starters I could use a new desktop computer. Then again, I can continue using the 7 year old Dell beast that I'm typing this on too. Yeah, that would work. It could fry tomorrow, but may last another 7 years. My point is, do I REALLY need it? Can the landfill wait for another day? (I'd recycle it of course, but you get my point.)

We live in such a one-up society, and I'm not buying into it. I don't want the story of my life to end with a pile of junk.

Which brings up the point of death. My wife and I were talking about death and burial/cremation the other day and we are kind of on the same page. We both want to be cremated. I want to be cremated in my corduroy fishing shirt with a black tee-shirt underneath. Oh yeah and while wearing my Ipod blaring with Green Day.

Is that wrong?

Then, I want my ashes sprinkled in the BWCA, and a bit in Canada. People say don't you want a place your kids and grand kids can go to see you? Yeah, I do. It's called a photo album. I sure as heck don't want to be fossilized in some concrete vault in the ground with the threat of some day being exhumed because the stupid cemetery couldn't pay their taxes.

That would suck.

So burn me up, man. Put me in a hefty bag, inside the safety of a Duluth Pack and take me camping. Oh, and San Diego too. You can sprinkle some of me in the best city on the planet. I'd like to live there for eternity anyway. (Picture above)

It seems Donna is in agreement. She wants some sprinkled in various spots too, like Savannah GA, the Madison farmers market (sounds like a breech of some sanitary guideline somewhere) and San Diego.

We're just not great sentimentalists. (I am more than her). I told her that if she could get away with it, she could bury me in the backyard with the cats (Bogie and Jez). I told her to be sure and make it good and deep.

But enough on death. As I started to say, life has been very good lately. I think my medication must be working. (Only kidding.) There's something to be said for "Don't worry, be happy". It's really that simple.

Worrying isn't fun, no matter how you dole it out. Stinks in the morning, worse at night. So why do we like to dwell in it? Human nature I guess.

I'm screaming toward my 49th birthday, and I've a strange feeling that that is what provoked this blog post. Some continuation of my mid-life philosophical crisis. For that I am sorry. Sorry I pulled you into it.

I think the whole writing obsession of late is a manifestation of the recognizing my mortality. Now that I see how much I truly enjoy it when I do it seriously, I realize that there's so much I want to write before I die. Poetry, memoir, non-fiction, fiction, prose. I want it all, so I'd better get to work.

On that note, I'll be blogging off for now...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It Could Be Worse

Woke up to cloudy, and slightly cooler weather today than we've had for this whole past week (which was gorgeous!) Then I go and read that St. Paul and Northern Wisconsin could get as much as 8 inches of snow. Ha! What am I complaining about? Not that I'm a winter hater (I am), it's just that I'd prefer to stave it off for as long as possible. Three months of cloudy, cold, crappy weather is plenty.

Watched a couple of movies with the kids last night. Black Sheep, which was much funnier than I remember it being when I saw it 16 years ago. Chris Farley did physical humor better than anyone I know. It's too bad he fell into the trappings of Hollywood and ended his life in a haze of drugs and alcohol. He was a funny man who used his body like a weapon of humor.

The other movie was True Stories. Featuring, David Byrne and John Goodman, this is one of my favorite movies of all time. A classic parody of modern culture in general and Texas specifically. Ben didn't like it as much as me, but we had a few good laughs during the fashion show, where people were wearing clothes made out of grass, etc.

Day three of Mr. Mom-hood and I've got a busy day ahead. Much to do around the house as well as trying to keep the kids occupied and squeeze in some writing too. Maybe I'm setting the bar too high, but hey, that's what Saturdays are for, right?

Well, much to do as I mentioned, so I'd better blog off for now...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mr Mom for a Weekend

Day one of single parenthood went OK, I guess. I did have one speed bump in the morning however.

I dropped Ben off at school at 7:05 and returned home. I had to drop Sarah off before work at 8:00, so thought I'd get a quick shower in. Well, then the phone rang with a caller ID of "Waukesha Schools". I pick it up and it's Ben. "Hi Dad. Can you bring four cans of canned goods for the food drive this morning?"

"Uh, wha?" I thought.

Seems he forgot that he needed 4 canned goods for a project that would eventually end up in the food drive. Argh!

So I said I would, but it would be after 7:30 when I took Sarah to school. He said that's fine and that the teachers would let him wait outside until I got there.

Not so much.

When I arrived he (and everyone else for that matter) was nowhere to be found.

Did I say Argh? Oh yeah, that was before though. Argh!

I tell Sarah to go in and drop the four cans off with the person manning the door. She of course was muttering about having to cover for her mentally challenged brother. It was a painful dose of what my wife deals with on a weekly basis. Two kids, completely opposite personalities. Go Figure.

I cooked ravioli tonight for dinner. Thank goodness for frozen ravioli and canned sauce. A little french bread from the toaster and we were good to go. I tried to do the right thing and eat a salad from what I thought was lettuce in the fridge. It had a weird texture to it. For a moment I thought I might be eating a Cale salad. Sarah and I had a good laugh with the thought of it. Then, she said "Isn't cale poisonous if you don't cook it?" That created an anxious moment or two for me. I can see the headlines; "Man dies while trying to eat healthy".

Not what I want on my tombstone. Died of cale salad poisoning.

Sarah sent the question to "Cha Cha" on her phone. Cha cha is a service where they'll answer any question you send them by text. Much like a modern day equivalent of calling the reference desk at the library, except faster. They've yet to respond back, so if it is it must be a slow reacting poison.

So with regards to laundry, if you sort the whites, colors and darks, and you don't have enough of any three for a full load, is it OK to mix the darks and colors? Will it make the colors muted, or will it add color to the darks? Is that better than adding the colors to the whites? What is the wash basket etiquette I guess is my question?

Last night at All Writers workshop was a good time as usual. Small group of us, but some good laughs, especially when we got off topic. This session ended last night, so I'll be signing up for another 10 week session next Wed. It's still my favorite night of the week, in many respects. Great to be able to share stuff with my colleagues and get some great feedback. Fun listening to their stuff as well.

The instructor is talking about hosting a marketing class in January, so that sounds interesting. I just hope it's affordable.

It's 8:33 PM, and I haven't checked the mail yet. Can you tell I'm single parenting it? I'd better go do that and blog off for now...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Indian Fall

It was close to 60 degrees today and so nice out that I took Ben and two friends to the skate park for what is probably the swan song skate park outing. I was going to try and write using the laptop in the car, but the glare from the sun was so bad that I only managed to get one paragraph written before I gave up. I could barely see the cursor, which makes editing oh-so fun.

Yesterday was a long day around the house. Donna and I volunteered to do the food setup for the Mosaic Ultimate Overnight event. This meant rising at 4:00 AM and getting to church by 5:00. We scrambled to get the tables lined up with cereal and milk. Then, the 285 kids started streaming in. They were bleary eyed and tired. The coolest part of it all was that probably 80% of them said "Thank you" when I poured their milk. Good kids. God Kids.

When you see this kind of event and all the good friendships and stuff coming out of it, you can't help but think how much better the country would be if people would start returning to church. There is immeasurable bad in our society today, and much of it has to do with the fact that people don't respect each other OR authority. If we got back to that, we'd be a better community, a better nation, and better people.

Unfortunately Hollywood and its toxic culture breeds greed, violence and disrespect. (Just take that stinking Toyota commercial with the bratty kid. I would send that kid to his room, after I lectured him for 20 minutes on RESPECT. Kids see that kind of stuff and don't know how to filter it. A good blog post on it is at the simple dollar blog. Look for the article on kids and materialism at www.thesimpledollar.com/11/04/commercialism-kids-and-materialism.

Saw a couple of movies last night with the family; one clunker and one good one.

Iron Man II was a great movie with decent special effects and some great lines by Robert Downey Jr.

2012 was an absolute bore. Bad acting, predictable plot and over produced. It felt like it was going to run until 2012.

Tomorrow begins another week. Dark nights are here with the stupid time change, so time to double up on the Vitamin D, I guess.

Blogging off...

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Big Fat Map Sandwich

Just returned from another successful EWUG conference in Middleton, WI (www.ewug.org). This conference is for techy, geeky, GIS types who get excited about new geoprocessing tools and functions, server apps, and software upgrades. Typically we talk shop until the wee hours because we forget that we have families and the like. It's really sad actually.

In all truthfulness, it's not as bad as that. We try to abide by the rule that there is to be no GIS talk after 9:00 PM, which is probably a good thing anyway. If there is to be GIS talk, it has to be kept light, like software slamming or sharing the dirt on someone who was fired, etc. No talking about how to properly set up a spatial index on multiple attribute columns in a SQL Server 2008 Release 2 database. Ooops, there I go again. I'm sorry.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Clint Brown from ESRI. He was mildly engaging, but what caught my attention was how he kept referring to applications that allowed you to make a "map sandwich". I'd never heard that phrase before, but I kind of like it. Of course, no one but a GIS professional would understand what it is, but that's who he was speaking to anyway. He did it right before lunch, which kind of got everyone in the mood to eat. LOL.

I actually spent two days in Adobe Flex training after the conference on Wednesday. Flex allows you to create some really cool, flashy GIS applications. It was nothing short of intense for me, a non-programmer, or as a programmer-wannabe. Programmers have to think on a different level, I'm convinced. I picked up quite a bit of it by the end of the class, but needless to say, my brain is fried and I'm putting it on ice for the weekend.

Every time you think you have the code written correctly, you save it and run it and you get a nasty new error. I got better at debugging it after two days, and maybe more importantly, better at preventing the need to debug. It was a decent training course, with the exception of the manual, which stunk, frankly. I'm not the only one with that opinion, the guys I was with had the same shallow opinion of it.

So, suffice it to say I'm happy to be home. Three days is a long time to be away from my wife, kids and pets. I missed them greatly and I think the same is true for them.

Tomorrow morning I have to help Donna server 300 kids breakfast after Elmbrook's Mosaic Ministry's Ultimate Overnight. It is an affair where the kids do a variety of activities in the course of staying up all night. It includes, bowling, inflatables, video games at Dave and Busters, swimming/lazy river, pizza and more. It sounds like a blast for a teen, a nightmare for anyone over 40. We have to be there at 5:00 AM to setup the cereal, juice and make coffee. It sounds brutally early, but sure beats having to stay up all night, so I'll take it.

That's my week and weekend in a nutshell. Thanksgiving and the whole holiday brouhaha looms.
I'm sure not ready for that.

Blogging off...