Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer's Looner Eclipse

This time of year always reminds me of the summer's-end vacations. Those vacations squeezed between summer vacation and school, or between summer and fall.

Long ago it was when the brothers and I would typically take our Boundary Waters Canoe Area trip every year. We would usually drive up Labor Day and spend most of the week in the BW. We loved that time of year because it wasn't too hot, and the bugs were almost a non-factor. The nights got a little cool, but nothing unbearable and the days were usually in the low 70's and not too humid. The fishing was slightly better than in the heat of summer, but really you needed to wait a week or two later to get the good action, at least I'm told that.

The other vacation that we took this time of year was usually a trip to the cabin in Mercer, WI which I never knew until just now, is the Loon Capital of the world, whatever that means. I mean who's to say it's the Loon Capital other than the Mercer Chamber of Commerce? Maybe there's more loons in Hayward WI, or Ely MN, or Duluth. I guess you've got to be known for something. They do have a 2000 lb, sixteen foot giant loon in town, so I guess that qualifies for something.

Anyways, my family from Minnesota would typically rent out 3 or 4 cabins and all meet up there for a week of fishing, swimming, golfing and just hanging out. It was a great way to get the adult siblings and all the cousins together for a whole week when the kids were small. Before Mercer it was a place in Hackensack, MN, home of Lucette, Paul Bunyan's sweetheart evidently. She is over 12 feet tall as well and probably weighs as much as the loon. I read where her head fell off during a storm some years back and while they fixed her, they said she wasn't around because she was "with child." There is a smaller statue of Paul Bunyan's child next to her.

So welcome to Americana, I guess. It seems there's many towns that claim to be Paul Bunyan's birthplace, including Bemidji MN, Eau Claire WI, and even Bangor ME.

Perhaps we'll never know the truth.

Before Hackensack, we would go to Morningside Resort in Aitkin, MN, which as near as I can tell is only famous for the Turkey processing factory in downtown. It was always traumatizing to go to the Aitkin County Fair and have to walk past the plant and see all the turkeys flopping around upside down on their way to a thanksgiving demise. 

All three of these places hold great memories. We'll be heading back up to Mercer this weekend with some friends. We're looking forward to re-connecting with the proprietors of Pine Forest Lodge, John and Cheri Stratte, old friends from way back. I hope to land a musky or two and a few walleyes with the kids too. Look for a picture by the sixteen foot giant loon, soon enough.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where Are They Now?

I was thinking about old Viking football players today, for no good reason. As I ran through the names, I began to wonder where they are now. Where do football players end up after their gridiron careers are over? I'll cover a short history of a few of my boyhood heroes.

Carl Eller was one of the original purple people eaters and one of my biggest heroes. He had his share of battles with substance abuse after his career and is now trying to sue the league for it's unfair medical and compensation  of retired players. He still makes an appearance at old-timer homecoming games.

Alan Page, another PPE original has had a very successful career as a Judge on the Minnesota Supreme Court. My mom once saw him on an elevator and thought to herself, I know a boy who used to idolize you. (That would be me.) He doesn't like talking about his playing days much. He'd rather talk about what he's doing right now. A great man.

Jim Marshall was another PPE who, sadly, announced he is battling cancer. He had an amazing career, but most people remember him for his wrong-way run for a safety after recovering a fumble. Too bad because he was an amazing player and a great role model.

Fran Tarkenton, another one of the greats. Went on to do That's Incredible and proved that he was a much better QB than an actor. One of his best passes was the one that went out of bounds to avoid a sack. No one did it better. That and scrambling.

Gary Larsen, one of the original PPE. He once met my sister in Northern Minnesota when she was out to dinner with my mom and dad. I remember she brought him back to the cabin. I shook his hand and thought WOW!

Wally Hilgenberg, a formidable linebacker recently died an early death, related to his multiple concussions. His family donated his brain to scientific research.

Bob Berry, a 3 year backup to Fran Tarkenton now lives in Nevada. Not sure what he's doing.

Chuck Foreman still looks like he could play. He was amazing. Great moves and an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Had a fumbling problem, but when he didn't he was incredible. He's a substitute teacher in MN. Gotta love real guys like that.

Karl Kassulke was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and never played again. He is deceased.

All of this goes to show you that even someone who is a hero to you as a kid is just another real person who has real problems and eventually has to get a job just like the rest of us. The problem is I carry these names around in my head and their stories, even though they've been out of the game for years. I carry their numbers, their stories (e.g. Jim Marshall once burned twenty dollar bills to keep warm during a snowmobiling outing gone bad.) Why can't I get rid of this and remember things like where I put my glasses?

Blogging off...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Party of the Third Part...

It has been a weekend of parties for me.

Last night we started with a going-away party for our friends from church. They are moving to the Albany, NY area as the result of a job move. This family has grown closer to us over the years and so the fact that they're not going to be part of our lives anymore kind of hurts. Their son went on the Dominican Republic trip with Sarah. Donna has become fairly close to Jana, so they'll miss each other greatly.

They both have been faithful servants in the church, in the student ministry, women's ministries and others. They were the family that loaned us their truck when Donna was home alone and the serpentine belt fell off the van. It was never a question for them and they were quick to offer. That's what church people do, and that's what family does.

The second party was a couple of hours later in Bayview. It was hosted by our oldest Wisconsin friends, Jill and Steve. We've been friends with them since about 1990 when Donna was working at SEWCIL. Steve has become my fishing buddy and we've been through a lot of things together. They have helped us with many projects around the house, and we have returned the favor on a few occasions. Like our church friends, they would do anything for us. Jill always introduces Donna as "my best friend, Donna," which is a sweet term of endearment, albeit a bit uncomfortable for Donna.

We drove down to this party with our other long-time WI friends Patty and Brad. They too have been through a lot with us, most of all, our kids. Sarah and Patrick and Ben and Lauren all grew up together. Abby came along later and is like the baby girl in both our families. They kind of comprise a mix of the first two groups of friends. We got to know them first through church and now they've become long time friends.

The final party was today. It was an old friend of mine from work and his family. They have a party every year at this time called brewfest where he showcases a number of his home brewed beers and soda. As I said, he and I used to work together many years ago, and have kind of loosely kept in touch over the years. He lives on the same street, about a half mile away. Like the others, he too has borrowed me vehicles, watched my cats, helped me with home projects as well as biked and skied with me.

Understand that I'm not a big, big-party kind of guy. I prefer smaller affairs with a couple of friends or a couple couples. I do OK at them, but going to them has lost much of its appeal over the years. I'm not a hermit, but as I said, I'd rather get together with a few close friends so we can talk and hang out.

Having said that, it has become brutally apparent to me this weekend that I have some really, really great friends. Friends that care about what's going on in our lives, friends that love us and our kids, friends that share our perspectives and respect us when we take a different route than they would take. They cheer for us when we do well, they grieve with us when we need comfort and they laugh with us almost always, which is a great relief.

With Donna and I both being transplants from our families east and west, these friends have become what we call our Wisconsin family and we've learn to depend on each other. I for one am extremely grateful for all of them. They make us who we are.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Small World of Minnesota

I am writing this on my new laptop which I picked up from a UPS Customer Center. I mention it only because of the strange, albeit cool encounter I had with the staff.

I walk in wearing my Twins shirt that Rob had given me a few months ago. Now I get more people connecting as Twins fans than I ever thought I would. I don't watch many games, but I follow them in the newspaper pretty close.

So this UPS driver says "Hey, a fellow Twins fan!" and comes up and shakes my hand. We talk a little baseball and I find out he was born and raised in MN. When he asked where I was visiting last weekend I said Shoreview.

"That's where I grew up!" he said.

Well it turns out that I ended up talking to him and the woman behind the counter for about 10 minutes. I told them about Rob's situation and many of the events around it. The guy and the woman were seriously distraught and compassionate about the story. He said it sounded like I had a really cool, close family.(See yesterday's post)  He was exactly on point and it was good to hear someone remind me that it's not just my understanding. People recognize it for what it is.

After feeling like I had just talked to my neighbors for 10 minutes I took my package and walked away.

I think God puts people like this in our path during times like this to remind us of how blessed we truly are.

Blogging off...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Family Strength

It was a good weekend to be a Landwehr.

We went to St. Paul this weekend to help Rob and his family with some painting/staining projects and got more than we gave, as usual. By this I mean that we were so uplifted by the love and support and joy of our family that what we came to do, paint a fence, actually became a side project to the bigger one of connecting with family.

It started with stopping by Mom's place where we had an hour and a half chat with her and my sister Pat. It was great to see Pat again and catch up with all that they were doing.

We moved on to Rob and Jane's next where the cousins immediately reconnected and went off to their lair in the basement. They are such good friends and enjoy each other's company so much. It helps us adults have time to catch up on all that's new with us.

Donna and I treated Nick and Janet to dinner at Senor Wong's in downtown St. Paul. It is an eclectic blend of Mexican/Asian food (hence the name) owned by a friend of Nick's. We were not disappointed in his choice as the food was outstanding. Better yet was getting one-on-one face time with the two of them. They are recently engaged and we were anxious to hear their plans. Rumor was a destination wedding in Fiji, but they quickly disclaimed that as a pipe dream. They want a destination wedding but are just not sure where yet.

When we got back to Rob's place he was up waiting for us to watch a movie. We don't get that option often, so stayed up and watched with him. The movie was disappointing, but it was great sharing some laughs with him.

Saturday was paint day, and paint we did. Shed in the morning, fence staining in the afternoon. My brother Tom came and helped in the late afternoon and my niece Steph and her boyfriend Derek came and took care of the kids for the evening. It was a long day of music, hot sun and paint. The cedar fence we stained looked spectacular when all was over and done with. A job well done.

After a dip in the pool (me) we had dinner and watched the Vikings preseason game (in the background) while we talked. We had some great laughs the three of us, recounting old times and old friends. After the game, Tom left and Rob and I continued our chatting until midnight. We talked about everything from college experiences, to hospice questions, to heaven and all things in-between. The whole deal was a magical evening that I'll never forget.

Sunday we woke at 8:00 and started right in on the staining at 9:00. By one o'clock we were done with the rest of the fence and started to pack for the trip home. We woke Rob up from his long power nap. He was wiped out from the previous night's festivities and so slept most of the morning and into the afternoon. It was an especially difficult goodbye for me as I knew the next time I come he'll be in in hospice care. I gave him an extra hard hug and he seemed to return it as well.

So, for a weekend that was supposed to be all work and no play was much more than both. It was proof to me of the value of family, ALL family at every level; mother, sister, brother, niece, nephew, in-laws and future in-laws. They form the net we need to catch us when we're free-falling through a tragedy as big as we are right now. They are beautiful, loving, caring people who are genuinely concerned with how I am doing, how the family is doing.

They are my family, and I love them infinitely.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I started back at my writing class last night. It was good to be back around heady writing types again. We're a motley bunch, but we all understand each other. We encourage each other, point out our redundancies, point out our redundancies, give each other hints and point out our redundancies. It is a great climate to work in. No one is overly critical in part because Kathie won't have it. She said we need to be critical, without tearing down. No one benefits when a person gets insulted to the point where they question their ability.

We've got a little of everything in the class. Memoir, poetry, and lots of fiction. It is fascinating to follow the stories from week to week and see how they develop. It's a bit like I'm reading 10 books every week. (Or a chapter for 10 different books each week.) We listen as characters get killed, experience death and divorce, morph into zombies, grow old or die young.

While we work hard, we have a lot of fun in class too. The conversation often (sometimes too often) drifts off subject and we end up talking about a crazy side topic. Last night it was about the popularity (or not) of the e-readers (Nook, Kindle and iPad). People have definite opinions about whether they like them or not. I personally don't like them, only because I'm a bit old-school. I want to be able to put it down without knowing that it might get legs and I'd be out $120.00 or so.

At the same time, I recognize that they're here to stay and are a very efficient way to store many books. My fear of course is that it will one day supplant the written form and that would be sad. Infinitely sad. Fahrenheit 459 kind of sad.

We also got off on a tangent about the source of the phrase "God never gives someone more than they can bear." The closest source we could find was that it was Mother Theresa, and even that was not a direct quote.

The tangents take the edge off of class a bit, but the can get a bit far afield at times. Kathie is pretty good about keeping us on track though, so it's all good.

There were a couple of new students last night. Kim is writing her memoir, so is a kindred spirit of mine. She's starting from birth though, so goes back much further than me. Laura was the other new face and I think she's writing fictional short stories. Then there's the usual suspects, Mario doing poetry, Stacy and Mud doing Young Adult Fantasy, Ellen doing memoir, Sandy doing fiction, and Michael doing mystery. As I said, it's great diversity and makes for an interesting literary cocktail. They're great people. I love 'em.

Blogging off...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday Searching

Today was a good day.

Today was also an emotionally hard day.

It was filled with good stuff. Coffee with a new friend. The farmer's market for a loaf of good bread. Football equipment hand-out for my 13 year old son. A little house cleaning. A bit of editing. A long bike ride. Saturday service at church. Brennans for some goodies with Donna and Ben. A beautiful evening walk with my iPod and my dog. A dinner with the good bread from the market.

And yet there was this cloak of sorrow that prohibited it from being all it could be. It could have been a completely satisfying and perfect day.

Only it wasn't.

It was almost perfect.

People have told me there would be days like this. Days where you try to run from the pain and sadness, but you can't seem to outrun it. You try and keep real busy thinking life is all normal.

And it's not.

A thought comes along and there I go, wailing like an Iraqi.

A song plays on the iPod and there I go again.

Today the sight of a tree made me cry (for crying out loud). What's with that?

It's the thought that I'll never be able to camp with my brother again. That the day will come soon when he's forced to leave his house for hospice. That I'll never be able to road trip with him again. That I'll never be able to help him with a home project again, or vice versa.

How can life be so stinking rich one moment, and yet so incredibly sad the next?

I think it's God's way of mixing me an emotional smoothie.

Thanks for that...I think.

Church was especially hard this evening. The music always gets me and tonight was no exception. The take away from it was that it is in our desperate moments, our desperate reaches, that God shapes us. The pastor said that it is often times immediately after these times of trial that God does something wonderful and it helps us understand His timing.

But as I said, the day was full of much joy and goodness too.

The warming words of a friend who lost a brother to cancer struck a chord and helped me work through some of it.

The thought of the excitement and apprehension of Ben as he got his football equipment. I can remember well getting my equipment from Mr. Wescott out of his big scary closet of football stuff. It made me feel much bigger and tougher than I really was. I loved every minute of those days.

The freedom of riding my bike.

And so I'm left to reconcile what kind of day it ultimately was.

I've come to the conclusion that it was exactly the kind of day I needed.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Thousand Miles to a Thousand Islands

Installment two of my vacation blog.

After our two days in the beautiful Adirondacks, we headed due west toward Thousand Islands Park. Donna had arranged for a two day stay at a friends' vacation home in the park with 5 of her college friends and a few kids. All together there were 13 of us in a beautiful 4 bedroom home.

The TIP (Thousand Island Park) settlement was developed at the turn of the century and I must say that when we got there I felt that we had gone in a time machine back to the turn of the century. The houses are (for the most part) meticulously maintained. The roads are for the most part gravel, which is fine, because most people get around by biking, walking or golf cart. It was surreal. Everyone was courteous and seemed carefree. I was telling Donna that I kept expecting to run into Katherine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart or something.

Even the stores were surreal. The supermarket just had a sign that read "Grocery". Another read "Ice Cream Parlor," and still another read "Realty." I seriously think the world would be a better place with such simple choices. Why do we need 6 different kinds of grocery stores selling 42 different kinds of hand soap? It would be better if we had one store with 3 kinds of soap. Less to clutter our minds to be used for more important pursuits.

We spent the first night catching up with old friends over dinner and a couple beers. It was SO nice to sit and chat for hours on end with friends we haven't seen in 15+ years. We felt like we'd never lost touch. Picked right up where we'd left off 15 years ago. Good friends are like that. I know, because I have a few of my own from college. These are people you just mesh with and are comfortable from the start. No one puts on airs. There was no discussion of politics (which I loathe talking about with any friends). Just catching up with where each of us is at in life. Some reminiscing, but not too much.

We also went down to the Ice Cream Parlor that had a wireless hot spot and skyped with a college friend who's now living in England. It was technology at it's finest, even though we lost video after 10 minutes and had to work with just audio. Another good friend that we picked right up with.

The rest of the weekend was filled with swimming, tubing and even included a couple of firsts; Sarah and Ben both knee boarded behind Rich's 70 HP boat! They did extremely well and I was very proud when they both got up on their first try. They had a blast and want to do it again sometime. Their spirits are beginning to get a bit more adventurous, and that's a good thing.

Rich and I got out fishing for 4 hours on Thursday night and landed about a dozen northern pike. Most were in the 17-20 inch range, but I did manage to get a 25" in the boat after I'd dragged it out of the weeds it dove for once it was hooked. Fun stuff and the perfect end to a perfect vacation.

The whole two days reminded me of how important it is to enjoy your time with people you love. No one was overly attached to their phone or electronic leashes too much, we just sat and talked and laughed. I was determined to just enjoy the moment all along the way, and did just that. I have a new respect for the fact that I may never see some of these people again, so I was going to make the best of every moment.

And I did just that.

Blogging off...

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the Mountains, to the Valley

Just back from our week in Upstate NY. It was a great week, all things considered. Tons of driving, but we broke it up pretty well so there was never too much, with the exception of the 14 hours there and 13 hours back (traffic and construction).

We stayed the first 3 nights at my sister in-laws house in Auburn, NY. They have a great old house that has a pool that kept the kids busy, and all of us cool. Wonderful hosts.

The second leg of our journey was to the Adirondack Mountains outside of Lake Placid. It rained most of the trip, but stopped in time for us to see the downtown area and get some crummy lunch at Pan Dolce. John got a "medium well" burger that was still moo-ing, the kids said their chocolate milk was not good, and the service was sssslllllloooowwww. A much better meal was had a couple of days later by John's family at Big Mountain Creperie and Deli, where they served both breakfast and lunch crepe-based sandwiches.

After a quick run-through of some of the Olympic sites, we got moving to set up camp.

The park was at Heart Lake and was called Wilderness Campground. It was a beautiful campground with way too many rules and signs. You had to register for everything. Register to fish, register to hike, register to park. It was ridiculous. Then, after all we did to get fishing licenses and bait, when we asked how the fishing was in Heart Lake, the park dude just chuckled and said, "Oh you might catch a bullhead or a perch, but it's not very good."


So much for the fishing build-up I did for the kids. If I wanted to catch bullheads and perch, I'd go to Minooka Park at home. We managed to catch Leah her first fish, a small bullhead, so it was not for naught, though that was the ONLY fish we caught there.

We ended up having to set up in the rain. Then we had to cook in the rain. Then we had to clean up in the rain. Actually most of it was done in the screen tent, so, in my opinion, was quite tolerable. Unfortunately, I was alone in my assessment. I must hand it to my kids though, they were absolute troopers who made the best of a bad situation and didn't complain one bit. I love them for their toughness and their adventure spirit.

The hot dogs that we were going to roast on sticks over a fire ended up being boiled and eaten standing up, for the most part. Again, not ideal, but we ate, and everyone eventually was full.

The next morning we had a good breakfast of pancakes and sausage. Nothing better than that in the woods.

We hiked up Mt. Jo, a short walk from camp. It is a small mountain only 2876' in elevation, but gave us a fantastic view of the surrounding peaks, including Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks.

From there we hiked back down and had lunch. After a short rest, we departed for Marcy Dam, a 2.1 mile walk (4.2 total). It was a fun hike, not terribly challenging as it was pretty flat. It ended at the dam where it began raining again. Out came the ponchos. We all managed to stay pretty dry and again, there was very little complaining. I think when you start a trip out as wet as we did, anything less seems trivial. A good thing.

Dinner was a meal of spaghetti and bread. We followed that with a campfire and smores. One of the highlights of the trip was sitting around the campfire and going around the circle with questions like:

What was your favorite part of the trip?
What was your best vacation ever?
Who was your favorite teacher?
What was your best holiday memory ever?

It was so cool to see what people remembered. There were some things I had forgotten as well as some old favorites. You know, it really made me aware of how many good memories we've made with our families, from both sides, over the years. The kids have grown up together and memories like we were making that day still lived on in all of our lives.

As we were pulling out of the park on the way to the Thousand Island Park, Ben got a text that his friend from middle school had passed away. He slumped in his seat and just started crying. Donna climbed into the back seat and tried to comfort him as she cried along. I tried to steer through the tears, and Sarah wiped them from her own face and cried in solitude.

It was a moment of great grief and sorrow. A moment I will never forget. It was a sobering reminder of the life we had left behind, and the after-life we are all speeding toward.

Eventually the tears subsided, then recurred again later in the weekend.

I suspect they'll keep on flowing for some time, for all of us.

Blogging off...