Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday

Had a really good, relaxing trip back to Minnesota for Thanksgiving. Because we left on Wednesday, and I took today off of work, it's been a good recharge of the batteries for me. We had extraordinary weather while we were up there. Thursday and Friday were spectacular; in the high 50's and low 60's both days. I was actually shooting hoops in a t-shirt for an hour and a half on Friday. Unbelievable really. Usually it's snowing and 30 degrees.

I managed to avoid black Friday madness for the 49th year in a row.

We stayed with my sister in-law's family again. She's a great hostess, and our kids get along so well. We call it the Landwehr hotel, and we are grateful she opens her house to us the way she does. My brother wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Looking back on the weekend, I have nothing but good memories to store away from it. We had a family "Amazing Race" game before Thanksgiving which was a blast. We had to find clues around the Shoreview Community Center and some of the events included a basketball shoot, a toast to my brother Rob, and blowing a bubble with chewing gum and posting it to Facebook. It was fun even though at one point during it we had lost the youngest and the oldest racers.

The weekend was a perfect chance to reflect on how much I need to be thankful for. I got to know my nephew Mike and his girlfriend a bit better. (I had never met her.) He has been sober for 2 years now and is a new person. He is absolutely inspirational to me. I also got to laugh (and cry) with my sister and niece on Saturday's celebration of December birthdays (Donna the 7th, Paul the 2nd and myself the 11th)  I also got a chance to spend some decent time with my brothers Tom and Paul and my nephew Nick on Friday night. Usually our time is so short that we never get much below the surface. We had some great laughs as well as some serious discussions. I am privileged to be a part of such a strong family.

I also got to experience Midtown Global Market which was a bit like Milwaukee Public Market. It's in Minneapolis on Lake Street and features food and goods from several different countries. It was nice to get out of the house for a bit.

Back to reality tomorrow. I'm thankful for many things this holiday season. Thankful for my health. Thankful for my great kids, and beautiful wife. Thankful for my faith that has been tested these past 12 months, and thankful for my Minnesota family.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Moment of Pause

In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving, I wanted to touch on some things I'm thankful for.

1. My Mother. She continues to amaze me with her strength and love in this, the toughest of years.

2. My Wife. She helps to run a tight (but fun) household. I am extremely blessed to have had her for 21 years (and counting).

3. My Sarah. Her academic talents, huge heart and strong faith are dizzying. I love her wit.

4. My Ben. His free spirit, compassion for others and his love of all things social, are my envy.

5. My brother Tom. I credit him with giving me my sense of humor and my love of all things outdoor.

6. My sister Pat. She's always got my back. She defends and supports me with a mother's furor.

7. My sister Jane. Her love of family and her kids is evident every time she opens her home to us.

8. My brother Rob. For teaching me how to live for and love today and quit worrying about tomorrow.

9. My sister in-law Jane. Her strength, perseverance and smile. What a light!

10. My brother Paul. He gave me the love of music and taught me to lighten up.

11. My In-Laws. My New York family has always respected our decisions and has never meddled. Love them.

12. My Job. This year marked 15 years at the county, and I still love my job.

13. My House. It's old and comfortable. There are days I hate it, but most are good.

14. My Faith. Thanks to my friend Pat for discipling me back when I didn't want to be discipled. It was a great foundation.

15. My Friends. Good friends to fish with, watch the game with, laugh with, cry with, mourn with. Like wine, they get better with age.

16. My Writing Class. A strange thing to be thankful for, but I love these people and those nights I get to go and play writer. It stretches me and gives me great joy.

17. My Pets. It's a weird thing if you think about it, having animals running around your house. They give the house a whole new energy.

18. Wisconsin Sports Teams. We're reaching the zenith of Packers/Brewers/Badgers success and it sure is fun. I think back to the Packers/Brewers of the late '80's. We've come a LONG way.

19. My City. Waukesha is quaint, safe, boring and beautiful. My second home.

20. My iPod. Strange again, but I use it daily on my walk to work and it helps make my day a little easier.

That's it. I challenge each of you to count your own blessings this Thanksgiving. You shouldn't have to look far to realize how lucky we are in this country.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Blogging off...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing For My Life

An update on  my writing is in order, as it's been a while. 

I continue to try and blog twice a week or so. This keeps my skills up and forces me to get something down at least twice a week. Without it, I would be left to my writing class only, and I think it's important to keep active in many areas to keep you sharp. Sometimes the blog feels forced and other times it rolls off readily. When it does that, it's almost visceral. I kind of get in a writing zone and things come easily. These are some of my best writings; funny and succinct. Usually they are driven by an event that happened that calls for a humorous post.

I'm still in AllWriters' workshop on Wednesday nights. This has become one of my favorite nights of the week. I get the chance to rub elbows with other writers and just be "cerebral." As I told my wife many years ago when I was taking a continuing education class, it just makes me feel like I'm doing something with my life when I'm in school. There's something about surrounding yourself with smart people that brings a level of satisfaction and confidence. True, work gives you some of this, but I think people need a balance of activities outside of work that keeps them learning, fresh and interesting. 

This class is that for me. The students there are all trying their best to make a name for themselves. They're submitting work, getting published, getting rejected, and learning a ton along the way. Most of us are amateurs. The instructor Kathie Giorgio and her husband Michael have more publishing credits to their names that I could ever count, so I would call them professional writers. They are the exception though. The rest of us are either beginners, or fledgling writers doing what we love in the hopes someone will take notice and publish us.

This past week there was 5 of us writers + the instructor. I find it fascinating to hear the story behind these writers' story. What goes on in their heads as they struggle with plot, characters and time. It's all the same thing I struggle with, so it is refreshing to see that I am not alone. It seems that most writers struggle with what I call the "inner critic." This is that voice in my head that says "that sucks" or "this is no good, what are you doing? You can't write." Again it is refreshing to know that I'm not the only one who's seen this guy. He lives in most writers' head. He brings you down and keeps you second-guessing  yourself. 

On the publishing side of things, my poem Soul Pane is now published in this quarter's Issue of Verse Wisconsin Magazine. The issue just came out this week. I don't even have my complimentary copies yet. 

I also got a rejection last week Sunday that I'd sent to Adventum Magazine. I actually submitted two articles to that magazine, but neither made the cut. Onward and upward though. I refuse to dwell in the negative for very long. There's too many other quality publications out there. 

Yesterday I submitted a couple of poems for publication in a poetry calendar. It would be a nice addition if one of the pieces was accepted for that. I have a few straggler pieces out there as well. Most of those fell into the "6 weeks to 6 month" notification black hole. Time will tell. 

All I know is that I'm doing what I love, people are noticing, and suddenly I can't get enough of it.

Life is good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Slightly Above Average Weekend

It was a fairly average weekend. At the same time, I'm learning to appreciate average in ways I've never known before.

Friday night I had the house to myself for about 3 hours. Ben had a sleepover and Donna and Sarah had to work. It was a chance for me to write a bit, surf the web, listen to the stereo at my own level and just be alone. I'm one of those people who's very comfortable being alone and tends to want to do too much when it happens. This time I allowed myself to do just enough. It was great. While the alone time was good, it was nice to greet the girls when they got home too. We just had pizza and hung out.

I learned there's peace in being alone, and peace in being together with family.

Saturday morning was filled with the usual busyness. Cutting the grass, cleaning the house, walking the dog. In the afternoon we  all went down to the east side of Milwaukee for Ian' Pizza for a kind of belated birthday lunch for Sarah. I had a slice of Mac n Cheese pizza that was really, really good. A strange combo, but divine. I split a second piece with Ben and got Chili-Cheese-Frito's Pizza. Again, strange but really good. I love that part of town and miss being around it. So much vibrancy and character compared to Waukesha (though Waukesha is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was 10 years ago.) After lunch we took a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan in 55 degree weather. From there we went to Alterra for coffee and had some great face-time with Ben and Sarah.

I learned to not take for granted the great city we live near and the great lake its on. We are incredibly fortunate.

Today we woke and went to church like any average Sunday. As we sometimes do after church, we went to the Steaming Cup for coffee and cinnamon rolls. This has become one of my favorite venues lately. I don't know if its the atmosphere or just that when I go I have the undivided attention of my wife (if I go with her) or my kids if they are there. The coffee is good and it's a good way to slow down our Sunday after the rush to get to church.

I learned that as much as I like these trips for coffee, its something the kids will probably always remember with great fondness.

Tonight I led my small group for Mosaic again. I played dodge ball until I nearly had a heart attack. I have to remember that I'm not 13 anymore and at 6'5" I am a BIG target. A couple of times I was so gassed I had to take a knee. Between the adrenaline and chucking dodge balls with all my might, I get gassed pretty quick. Took a shot to the face, two to the chest and one in the crotch tonight. As I said I am a big target. A bit slow moving too, evidently. It was a blast. Then after the message our small group met and had a fun yet deep discussion. They are a really well behaved group of kids, and I'm glad to be part of their lives, albeit small.

I learned that although I never thought I'd want to lead teenagers, God had different plans.

So, never discount the value of an ordinary, average weekend.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bio Fueled Squash Mobile

I just finished making a car out of vegetables with Ben. It was a school project for the STEM academy that he attends. STEM for those who don't know is a charter school that focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is in its second year and all in all, seems to be better than it was its first year. Year one everyone was new to everything, so the communication was bad, the curriculum was confusing and the students were disoriented as to the new expectations.

Year two has seen some improvements in the communication for sure. Ben's teacher from year 1 was an email fanatic. Some days we'd get 3 or 4 emails. I'm all for communication, but my time spent reading email is valuable too. Lets keep it to two, or better yet one. Ben seems to be doing better as well. We've been trying to work with him on remembering homework assignments BEFORE he leaves school. He's doing better than early in the year, so something must be clicking. In fact, he even came down and asked me if I would help him with his vegetable car. It's not often that he remembers something's due, let alone asks me 2 days in advance to help.

Now, I'm not sure how a car made out of vegetables fits into rocket scientology, but I trust they know what they're doing in STEM. It certainly required a bit of creativity if nothing else. I guess they're going to race them all down a track of some sort for sort of a veg-car derby.

I recall being in 8th grade when the big thing in science class was ice cube experiments. I remember questioning how this was going to prepare us all for the rigors of high school science. Sister Fill-In-The-Blank-Cuz-I-Can't-Remember said that I should rest assured that the principles of experimentation would apply. I passed freshman biology and sophomore chemistry, so I guess she was right. I also now know that ice cubes melt faster when you stir them vs. when you don't. (I may have known that before the class, but I digress.)

There are several differences between the school days of now vs. back when I was a kid. The biggest for my kids is that they don't have to wear uniforms. Because I went to private grade/high schools, I always had to wear a uniform. No worries about fashion or style there. You were always out of style in your parochial uniform. It did make getting dressed much simpler. I've heard that Einstein wore the same clothes every day.

Maybe that's what they were trying to do...make lots of little Einsteins.

I remember my mother every fall would have to go to the uniform store, a unique store that sold everything from school uniforms to nurse skirts to janitor uniforms. First she would assess the hand-me-down factor and see if Paul could wear Rob's pants from the year before and so on. Then she'd lay out the money for everyone to have two pair of pants and two shirts. Some years they would change the style or fabric of the uniform to my mother's chagrin. That meant that some of the hand me downs would not work because they were out of style.

Nowadays, kids all need to have the aeropostle shirts or the skateboard shoes, etc., etc., all in the name of being cool and fitting in. It's funny how as a culture, we train them young that style and name brands matter (they don't) and that you are what you wear (you aren't). It's no wonder they grow up to be consumers of all things name brand. What do we expect?

On top of that kids are going to school with expensive phones and expensive iPods, iPads and laptops that, back in the day, would have made my mom's head spin.

I better stop now. I'm starting to sound like I'm almost 50.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Out of the Blue

Got a random phone call yesterday at work from a friend I'd lost touch with for the past 20 years or so. I thought he was a user of our GIS system at work.  He caught me off-guard by saying his name and then saying could you take down this email address and send him mine. When I heard that I realized it wasn't a person from the public, but rather and old friend, I felt embarassed that I didn't catch it earlier. At the same time, what would have prepared me for someone I hadn't heard of for twenty years?

In any case, it was great to hear from him. I'd been thinking about the guys I used to hang with back in the day ever since Rob got sick. I thought I should probably tell them of it, but then thought it might be too weird after such a long time of no contact to pull them into such a grievous situation. Rob actually hung around them a few times after I had moved out of state, so he has seen them more recently than I.

So we caught up on a few things over the phone. It's a funny thing, old friends. You can tell a good friend when you pick up with them right where you left off 20 years ago. I've done it with my friend Pat in Minnesota, my friends Maureen and Mark in Durango CO, more recently with our RIT friends in NY, and now Terri and Mark in Minnesota.

I think you go through phases in your life where you kind of make your own lives for a long period of time and then when something tragic or monumental happens, you reconnect. It's not that you intentionally disown these friends, it's just that you move away, make new ones and then get caught up in your new life to the point that time just gets away from you. The next thing you know, you're approaching fifty and you realize that you've lost touch with people who, in part, made you who you are today.

When you get together with these people, as I did at my Cretin High School 30th reunion in 2009, it is important to maintain a healthy focus on the here and now and not get stuck in the past. We tend to glamorize and glorify the past as having been better than it actually was. We all need to realize that we're not 25 anymore and that we've got pretty good lives right now.

Rob made that glaringly clear the last time I talked to him. I said I was struggling with with the point of all of these memories with him if the end result was we're going to get cut short anyways. He said "Jim, you can't go back." He went on to say that the memories are things he cherished, but we can't forget that we are in the midst of making memories every moment of every day. If we're focused on how good things were, we tend to temper how good things are. It was a luminous moment for me, one I'll never forget.

I'm not sure where this reconnection will take me. I'm only sure that life is too short to dismiss people who care enough about you to try and get back in touch.

Blogging off...