Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Closing Comments

Well, it's the end of a decade today with a New Years Eve celebration pending everywhere but here. We're keeping it low key tonight. Donna and Sarah have to work the early shift at Matteos, and then Sarah's going to a party/sleepover at a friend's house. It will be just the three of us and I'm OK with that. New Years is one of those blah holidays that I never much got into. We used to spend it with the Barretts, but that tradition has gone by the by the past few years. Ben and I will probably rent a movie, have a sprite and a beer and maybe even cash it in before Midnight. Maybe we'll do the NY midnight instead. :-)

As always, this is a time for reflection on the good and bad of 2010. In some ways by targeting both, you can have a frame of reference for how you'd like 2011 to go. With a focus on the positive and the good, I'll run down my top ten happenings of 2010.

1. I got published! Not just once, which would have been sufficient, but 5 times using 9 different pieces. (8 poems and 1 magazine article.) It has been the best year of my life from a writing perspective. I feel like I'm being stretched, I'm writing with great frequency and it is absolutely way beyond where I expected to be at this time last year.

2. I finished out my 4th year of Boys Club Leadership at Elmbrook. The boys were a joy to lead and I saw amazing SIPS growth (Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, Social) in all the boys including Ben. God is good!

3. Things at work went much better than in 2009. I had a great year with my co-workers. I feel we're in the process of building a great team for 2011 and it will be a year of some great new applications.

4. The family vacation to Colorado has to rank as one of the best on record, if not THE best. We saw and did so much. Estes Park, Whitewater Rafting, horseback riding in Red Rocks, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Pikes Peak, Air Force Academy, Durango, and Mesa Verde. Good all good!

5. I stayed enrolled in the AllWriters Workshop and Workplace all year. This has been an incredible support network for me regarding my writing. The people are a lot of fun and the feedback I get is invaluable. They are my buds and I've grown to really appreciate their input.

6. I'm involved as a leader in the Mosaic Ministry atElmbrook. I really had intended to be done with leadership at Elmbrook, but when they needed leaders, I stepped up. I guess God had other plans for me. I'd add that it has been an absolute blessing for me. I'm learning as much as the kids.

7. My health and the health of my wife and kids has been good. Other than a few colds and some stomach issues, everyone has been pretty healthy.

8. I ran in a 5K race with Donna in July. It wasn't really a goal of mine, but when she said she was training, I decided to support her. I finished in 29:25, so was pretty happy with that. I realized I still don't like running that much. I debated doing a duathlon, but that will have to wait until next year, if at all. As I said, not crazy about running.

9. I did a ton of travelling, including Canada again with Steve and Dave, I went to San Diego with Donna, musky fishing with Steve and John Ford, as well as a few trips to MN and one to New York for NY Eve (last).

10. Caught my second muskie, albeit a small one. This may seem like a trivial accomplishment, hardly worth mentioning, unless you are a muskie fisherman. Then you understand.

All in all, 2010 was a pretty good year...with one exception. It was the year Rob had the tumor removed from his spine which prohibited him from going to CO. Then a few weeks ago they found that it had returned and they removed another tumor. Then we find that it has spread to his lungs. I tell you if I could trade you all 10 items above for a healthy brother, I would in a heartbeat.

Here's to a 2011 of appreciating the one's you love, telling them as much and realizing that life is a precious gift.

Have a great 2011 everyone. May God Bless you and your family.

Blogging off for the last time in 2010...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vacation Holiday

Wondering what day it is today? I took these three days off in the middle of this week, thereby stringing together a 10 day work free stretch. It has been absolutely rejuvenating so far. I've been able to sleep in, do what I need to do around the house, spend some time with the kids, travel to see Rob and the family, write when I want, and just recharge my batteries. It's not that I was burned out at work, it was just that with all that is going on in the family and the holidays and everything else, it came at a very good time.

The whole week is giving me a little glimpse of what retirement will be like and, while there are moments of sheer boredom, I could get very used to it. In fact, as I'm typing this I'm watching the Minnesota Wild/San Jose Sharks hockey game. Now I only watch hockey when I'm bored to death. That's NOT to say I don't enjoy it, I very much do. I also plan on watching a lot of hockey in my retirement. Why? Because I suspect I'll have the time. Also, it is really the one sport other than football that I enjoy watching on TV.

Basketball is too much scoring and only meaningful in the last two minutes.

Baseball is too slow moving. Just pitch the dang ball already. And you, get in the batters box and hit the ball and stop messing with your stupid batting glove.

Golf, well, are you kidding me?

So hockey it is.

I submitted a story to The Sun magazine today. It is the tail-end story to my memoir about the trip that Tom, Rob and I took up with the kids in 2009. The Sun is a GREAT magazine that has a good combination of memoir, fiction and poetry in it. I heard about it from my mother-in-law who actually got it sent to her as a gift by someone who has not revealed themselves.

When she brought it out, she said she thought it would be a great fit for my style of writing. After I read the first issue, I had to agree with her assessment. So, after looking at the terms for submission as well as the possible payouts, I thought it was worth a shot.

I also submitted three poems of mine as well. They don't pay as well if published, but I figured go with the numbers thing and hope for the best. It'd be nice to get another article published for my portfolio, but even better would be some cash to go with the deal. Writing is all about feeling and is an extension of my persona, but cash pays the bills, if you know what I'm saying.

Not much to update on Rob's status. I texted him briefly last night during the Vikings/Eagles game last night and he was joking about how bad they were, even though they eventually won. He said he didn't want to watch the game, but there was nothing else on. You know the vikings are doing bad when Rob says something like that. It is encouraging that he'll be home on Friday, so I'm going to take that as the victory it is and run with it.

Tomorrow I'm going to continue my temporary early retirement and love it as much as I did today. Life is short and precious. Embrace it, Live it to the Fullest, Eat, Sing, Dance, Love, Rest and Pray.

Blogging off...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Whew!

Just returned from visiting my brother at the Mayo Clinic for a couple days. He looks great, albeit a bit tired from time to time. It was so great to see him and his family and to share some laughs with them. It was a much more upbeat visit than a week ago when I went alone. This trip everyone was focused on getting him back home. If all goes well with his radiation treatments, he should be home as early as Friday.

Details still need to be worked out as far as ramps, access, etc. He is moving around pretty good getting from bed to wheelchair, etc. He still gets fatigued when sitting up for long periods of time. This is what we often times forget. Because of his good outlook and upbeat attitude we often times forget that he's in almost constant pain. That tends to beat a person down, to where they need frequent naps and rest. Throw in radiation treatments, twice a day OT and PT, and wall to wall visitors, and it's no wonder he's always tired.

Much of the family was there yesterday. His father, mother and brother-in-law, my mom, sister, brother, and their kids, as well as Tom's sister-in-law Rose. The visits with him in the hospital and the rest of the family back at the Staybridge Suites were timed very well. The kids were very well behaved at the pool and back in the bedroom of the hotel while the adults caught up on things around the cheese tray and some wine. It was as good a Christmas as any of us could have hoped for given the circumstances.

At five o'clock, Tom and I went over and picked up Rob. It turned out that he was slated for receiving communion at 5 (it was Sunday), so we all took communion as well, which again, was pretty meaningful for me; breaking bread with my brothers. Pretty significant stuff in the big picture, IMHO.

Tom wheeled Rob over to the hotel for dinner. We had lasagna, wine and some good laughs. Rob had gotten a Wii fishing game, so he played that and actually landed a couple of fish along with his nephew Hunter.

I wheeled him back to his room at about 7:00, and we all said good night. We then went back to the hotel. Tom, Patty, Rose and the kids got on the road back to Shoreview as they were not staying the night. Rob's wife Jane came over to our room while the kids were in hers and we had a great chat for about three hours. What a woman she is. We had some great laughs too remembering old times and talking through our issues and emotions.

So it was an awesome twenty four hours really. It was a bonus to see my sister and her girls as well as Rob's in-laws. I sincerely feel God brought us all safely together for that short time to enjoy each others' company and rejuvenate ourselves through our love for each other. Mission accomplished.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

T'was the Night Before the Night Before

I was one of the one million people in the Milwaukee metro area that was doing their shopping tonight. WOW, is all I can say. Sheer madness on the streets of WI. Despite scaling our Husband/Wife dollar amount to $50, I covered a lot of ground, and the whole thing took me four hours. I was frazzled by the time I got home and I have to believe that this is NOT what the season is supposed to be about.

The whole experience made me appreciate my wife's role in doing the shopping for the rest of the family. She does four times what I did and all the while keeps a sanity about her. Well, most of the time anyway.

This Christmas has taken on a new meaning for everyone in my immediate and extended family. With all that's going on with Rob, everything has been shaken into it's proper place. Worry about the economy, world affairs and politics has taken a back seat along with everything else to the importance and family. I've enjoyed being with my wife and kids more than I ever have. I've connected with Rob every day for the past two weeks, and my prayer life has taken on a new vibrancy (and urgency).

It's sad that it takes a shot to the head like we've had to bring a person or family back to center, but I'm going to try and learn from it and carry it through into the future.

And so with the meaning of Christmas more clearly defined than ever, I'll make the best of it. The birth of Jesus was more about the gift God gave us than any gift we'll give or get from anyone here on earth. I plan to run with that philosophy for the next while.

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season. Hug your spouse and kids. Tell them you love them. Put your differences with your extended family aside for a bit and just enjoy their company. They are all you have and that's a gift from God.

Blogging off...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Publishing Advice

Met with an old friend this past weekend while I was in Mayo visiting Rob. The friend is in the publishing business, so was giving me some advice on what to try with my memoir. He recommended that I take a layered approach where I try one of three ways to pitch, sell and publish my book.

Plan A: Get an agent and let them take it from there.
Plan B: Agent the book yourself
Plan C: Self-Publish with Print on Demand

His idea was that if the first approach doesn't work, you go to plan B, then plan C. Obviously Plan A is the most desirable of the three, but by far the most difficult.

It was an interesting discussion for me because I have no idea on the whole process, so it was all news to me.

The rest of the weekend was spent with my brother Rob and his family who are dealing with his cancer. The topic is just too sensitive for me right now so I won't be going into any details. All I ask is for prayers from any or all readers. This is pain like I've never known.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Things

There's this thing that's come into my life. It's a huge thing. A very complicated, haunting huge thing that I'm wrestling with. I don't like the thing or what it's doing, but I have no control over it. The thing has the ability to bring me to tears in an instant. It is also capable of triggering a memory that I haven't had for 30 years too.

Despite my hatred for the thing, I realize I must come to terms with it. I want to smash it to bits most of the time. Other times, I want to wish the thing away. It's a big, ugly, mean thing and it has no friends.

I pray to God that the thing will just go away; back to where it came from. Maybe he'll listen and work one of his miracles and kill the thing. Or maybe he'll use the thing to somehow strengthen my faith in him; I don't know how, but who am I to doubt God's plan and work? He does strange things with things sometimes.

And so if you have a thing like this in your life, know that I feel for you. Everyone's thing comes in a different form and size and hits them in a different way. If there's a way to make the thing go away, I'm all ears. Because I hate this thing.

Blogging off

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Most Melancholy Season

As we prepare to head to my sister Jane's holiday party this weekend, we got word last night that my brother Rob was rushed to Mayo for emergency surgery to remove a small, ping-pong ball sized growth from his spine. He was having trouble walking, so they went to the doc, and he recommended right away that they go to Mayo. At the clinic, they injected dye into his spinal column and found the growth. They determined that it was best to get it out right away.

He was in surgery for 6 hours from 6:30 - 12:30 or so. Word is that he looked good this morning and today, so that is encouraging. He will however, be in the hospital for a week recovering.

The whole thing just about knocked us over. We ALL thought Rob was in the clear, and on the way to a full recovery. This just stopped us in our tracks. I could barely think last night after I heard it. It's not fair and it just shouldn't happen to someone so young and vibrant. I was so emotional today and last night that I would tear-up at the weirdest moments. Totally unprovoked emotion. Sibling ties and emotions run deep I think, deeper than I knew.

All of this again has tweaked the old "life is but a whisper" notion that has been haunting me these past few years. I'm pretty sure it's a result of mid-life, but man, I just thank God for every day, and every person in every day.

Not to drag this blog down completely though. On the up-side, he did come through it with flying colors. He will be subjected to radiation though in an attempt to kill any additional cells that might be lingering. I hope he can be home for Christmas with his family.

It has been a tough year for a few people in our family and I frankly will be glad when 2010 is put to rest. 2011 has got to be better.

Writing class was great again last night. The two new women in our class are nice additions. Cathy wrote a funny piece on baby names and Ellen wrote a short start to a story about her husband's stroke. I love the new blood and I love Wednesday nights. It is complete release for me to get my stuff critiqued.

Snow tonight prohibited my attending the GIS Holiday gathering at Bar Louie. The snow isn't even that bad, but considering that I've got a 5 hr drive in front of me tomorrow, I didn't want to trek out tonight into the great white unknown. I think it's supposed to turn to freezing rain, which will make it even slicker later. Life is too short to put myself through all of that. No thanks, home is good.

On to age 49 I guess. Blogging off for now...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Heavy Bear Fame

I got word on Friday that my poetry was published on the online magazine Heavy Bear. It is very exciting for me to have some of my work out there that the whole family can see. Most of my stuff so far has just been print publications, so it's been difficult to get them to be able to read it. They would have to go to the website and order the mags, or subscribe, and most people aren't willing to go to that kind of trouble.


The poems are some of my favorites. Someone asked me if they were based on real events, or strictly made up, and I said that most of my poems have some element of a life experience that resonates in them. I also said that when I'm writing them it's almost visceral the way it happens. I hate to sound cliche in that it just "flows out/through me," but that's really what it is. If you call that a gift or a talent, I do not know. I just know that it feels great to get it down, when it's coming out.


Well, we got the tree up today. Lights are on, but we didn't get to the decorations yet;that we will tackle tomorrow night.


Coupled with this time of the year, having a lit tree in my living room always causes me to reflect on the past year as well as the current blessings in my life. I'm a sucker-sentimentalist, and I know it. This Christmas brings up memories of every Christmas prior, and all of those were good. We should probably keep the tree up all year, but then the novelty would wear off and it would become just like a coffee pot, a couch pillow or my son's dirty socks; something that would need to be cleaned under, cared for or washed. Not to mention it would dry up and become a freakin' fire hazard.


We met our "new" Senior Pastor, Philip Griffin at Elmbrook today. At first glance (second really as we "met" him a couple of months ago) he looks to be a phenomenal teacher. He started by telling the story of how he was preparing for a baptism at his church in Texas, and was frantic about getting hose to fill the baptistry.


As he was getting ready to leave, he was approached by a man who wanted to talk to him. He was tempted to hurry him along, but found out that the guy was gay and was ultimately on his way to commit suicide before he stopped at this church. When Pastor Philip asked him how he planned to do it, he said he had just bought a garden hose and was going to duct tape it to the exhaust and run it in his window.


And some people say God does not work miracles anymore.


Turns out he had a long talk with the man, he accepted Christ, the church accepted him and well...you'll just have to listen to the sermon from the website.


I'm so psyched about the potential that this man of God shows for leading our congregation. He's young, vibrant, and you don't at all get the impression that it's about him. The jury is still out for sure, but he shows great promise. I'm sure he wouldn't be here if God wasn't behind it in some way.


No sign of my new laptop. This could be the last post from the clunker (Jetbook) for a while, if not forever. We'll probably keep it around as a spare for the time being. I've found that my writing has increased 20 fold since we got that Dell and this Jetbook, so I only see good things coming down the pike in the future.


Gotta run for now. Blogging off...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cyber Thursday

After getting all razzed over the possibility of getting a laptop cheap on Cyber Monday, I failed to convince the folks at Dell to cut me a deal on the machine I wanted by upgrading the processor. After negotiating with the sales clerk for a half an hour on a chat, I finally succumbed and said that I'd wait until the outlet came along and had another 15-20% off sale. I was hoping that would spur them to make an offer, but alas, they didn't.

Well all good things come to those who wait. Today I get an e-mail from Dell advertising a 15% off deal at the Dell Outlet. I took it as divine inspiration and jumped right onto the site. I found the exact machine I wanted for $459.00. After the discount, it dropped down to $390.00. It is a SWEET machine for that price. I was told by a couple of people that these refurbished machines are as good as the new because they've been so severely tested. Here's what it has on it:

320 GB Hard Drive
4 GB RAM
2.3 GHz Intel Processor - Dual Core
6 Cell Battery
15.6" Screen
Card reader

I am actually using the money I made from selling my article to Boundary Waters Journal, so it's not like it was an impulse hit to the credit card. (Even though it was. LOL)

I figure I've been working on "has been" laptops for a year and a half now, and that I deserve a better answer. My writing is taking off a bit, so I want to be able to do it without being tethered to an outlet (the batteries on the two laptops I have are shot), a bad operating system, or a slow internet connection. Oddly enough the Jetbook that I am typing this on right now that has been so flaky in the past, has actually been working remarkably well the past couple of weeks, and I'm not sure why. Probably because I just bought a new one, eh?

AllWriters workshop was awesome again last night. Turns out we have two new students, Ellen and Kathy, as well as a student who left and returned (Alita, which is a beautiful name IMHO). Neither of them brought anything to read, but it was good to have new blood and perspective in the circle of writers. I got some good feedback on the piece I presented on portaging (from my BWCA memoir). The great thing about this group is that they are SO supportive, but not afraid to tell you where you fell down.

Kathie Giorgio, the teacher, said that once she went to a workshop where she was instructed that the class was only to give positive feedback. No criticism. Her point, and it's completely valid, was how can anybody learn anything if they're not corrected? If you want touchy-feely feedback only, then read it to your family. If you want to grow as a writer, read it to your peers and see if they think it sucks or not. Ha! Writers are honest, sometimes brutally so.

We have one writer in our group who went to a workshop where they told her "Don't quit your day job." Nice! That's the opposite end of the spectrum, where you tear a person down. That's never good in any learning environment. Hopefully you can find something in-between. That's what AllWriters is. I love it and look forward to it every week.
Winter arrived this week. Temps in the low twenties all week and the threat of 5-7 inches of snow this Saturday. Yuck! I guess we've been lucky so far, so will try to look on the bright side.

It's my brother Paul's Birthday today. He's 3 years younger than me. He was always the artist in the family, getting his degree in Landscape Architecture. He's also a drummer and has always had a flair for the arts. He's a great brother, as are all my brothers, and I'm lucky to have him. My sisters are great too!

So, Happy 46th Paul. God Bless ya for another year, bro!

Blogging off...