Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 -- Ringing It In

Another New Years Eve is upon us. It is not one of my favorite holidays, but I can't really tell you why. It's just kind of vanilla; kind of cheeseburger.

There aren't many New Years' that stand out as exceptional when I try and recall them. There are several that I recall as being just OK, but few that rival say some of the Christmases or Fourth of July's of the past.

There was the New Years that ended up with me at Perkins with my friend and his sister. I remember it being so cold out and my 1968 Cutlass wouldn't start, so I had to pop the hood, take off the air cleaner and open the carburetor butterfly valve. It finally started, thank goodness, so I guess you could call that a good "start" to the New Year (1978-'79).

And there was the one where Donna and I had a New Year's party and it fizzled and popped because we tried to mingle 3 groups of friends and family and the mixing never quite happened. Throw on top of that starting it too early and you have an awkward celebration that you just want to end.

One of the stranger ones was the Y2K New Years when our kids (2 and 5) would not go to sleep like our friends' kids did. They ended up ringing in the New Year with us, despite our attempts to lull them to sleep so we could have our own celebration. I think we left that celebration at 12:10 AM.

There was one New Years that involved Blackberrry Brandy. Other than that, the details are fuzzy.

A couple of the better ones were when I lived on the East Side of Milwaukee. One was when Rob and Jane came out to visit for the holiday and we did the whole east side, including a trip to Wolski's Tavern on New Years day for some darts and recovery. The other was when Donna came to visit over New Years and we had a blast seeing a live band called Couch Flambeau. I remember her dropping her glove outside of Hooligans and she started giggling uncontrollably.

For some reason. I remember this moment as the one where I realized how truly, truly in love I was with her. It had something to do with the thought that we would be able to laugh together like this for the rest of my life. That I finally had a companion who loved me for who I was and who loved me more than myself. That was a good New Years revelation.

And so, tonight my wife and kids will be spending New Years Eve in the usual manner, with close friends in a low-key environment. (The same friends from the Y2K debacle, plus a few others). It may be low-key, but we wouldn't want it any other way.

Whatever your tradition is, be sure and enjoy the chance to look back on the good or not-so-good year and either relish it going away or look upon its passing with sadness.

Me, I plan to do a little of both,

Happy New Year, all!!!

Blogging off...

Friday, December 28, 2012

What Can I Do To Make You Feel Well Today?

I went into Walgreens yesterday in a simple quest to get some AAA batteries for a remote control that was dead in the water. I went to the battery section and found a 4-Pack for $3.49. I noticed the sale price was only good "With Card", ($5.49 without). Now, I've been pestered a few times at Walgreens to "get a card," which I've flatly refused. The last thing I need is another key fob or piece of plastic in my wallet. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea. I figured I would get one at the register and save myself a couple bucks in the process.

I walked up to the empty register and told the clerk that I wanted a card if it wasn't too much trouble. She assured me it wasn't and then began taking my name, phone, and other information. In the middle of the registration, her phone rang and she answered it.

"Thank you for calling Walgreens. What can I do to make you feel well today?"

This struck me as an odd and somewhat intrusive greeting for a clerk to make, but whatever. She then went on to click the Page button and say over the intercom, "Pharmacy, a call parked on line 102."

After she apologized, she got back to registering me. When it was done, she rang the batteries up and the total came to $5.77. This seemed high, but I paid anyway. Then, after thinking about it, I said, "These were showing as $3.49 "with card" over there." She walked with me to the display and noticed that it said with card AND coupon.


She assured me that she had a coupon at the register, so back we go. As she's rifling through the ads, the phone rings again.

"Thank you for calling Walgreens. What can I do to make you feel well today? Oh, you're still holding for pharmacy? OK let me put you through."

She punches the page button and says "Pharmacy, a call parked on line 102."

Then a line begins to form behind me. She picks up the phone again and says "Customer assistance for checkout at cosmetics please."

She returns to the coupon book and finally finds the coupon for the $2.00 savings, that I am beginning to regret ever mentioning. She's already taken $15.00 worth of my lifespan just getting this far. She determines that the best way to ring things up is to void the one transaction and re-ring the new. The phone rings again.

"Thank you for calling Walgreens. What can I do to make you feel well today? Oh, you're still holding for pharmacy? I'm sorry, let me put you through."

She punches the page button and with urgency says "Pharmacy, a call parked on line 102."

She punches it again and says sternly, "Robin, please come to cosmetic register for customer checkout."

Right about now, I'm thinking about checking out. Or, maybe dashing out. Nothing is worth this wait. But I stick around, more out of curiosity than respect. I want to see how much more broken this work flow can get.

The phone rings again. Stupid greeting ensues. "Oh, I'm sorry Laura, I didn't know. OK. Thank you." Evidently they had a system crash of some sort in Pharmacy, so calls weren't being properly answered and routed.

The line forming behind me begins to move to cosmetics. After much more register number punching and another scan of my new Walgreens card, the clerk finishes the transaction and hands me my $2.00. It should have been $20 if I had been paid for my time and agony, but alas, I took the money and ran.

It occurred to me after I left that the stress that this lady was under was totally unnecessary. By making her use a stupid introduction every time she answered the phone, and making her scan  customer cards to save $2.00, they are setting her up to fail. It causes her to be unproductive, get stressed, hate her job and find a new one. Then they train some other poor slob to do the same idiotic work flow as well as learn the new system. It's a recipe for failure. Pay people to check customers out, efficiently. Period. Because we all have better things to do.

Blogging off...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Over The Rivers

Our upcoming trip to the Twin Cities for Christmas brings to mind the many trips there and New York in years past. The treks are always long and weather occasionally makes for some interesting rides. A few come to mind as standouts, (not outstanding, just standouts).

There was the trip to Minnesota shortly after marrying when we hit a very bad snowstorm from Madison to Eau Claire. The snow was building up in the road to the point of having ruts. We had Donna's '87 Honda Accord and promptly surrendered in Eau Claire and stayed at a Motel. Word from Mom the next day was that if we had toughed it out for another 15 minutes we would have been out of the worst. There was no way I could have driven for another 15 minutes. I was fried.

Then, there were the many trips to New York. These were long, drawn out, overnight affairs and almost always included some bad weather somewhere along the way. Usually we hit some lake effect snow in Erie or Buffalo and things got white knucklish. If not going there, then we had something bad coming home. One year they had a horrible ice storm that we drove out of. Beautiful, but devastating and scary.

A couple of years ago we were driving back from NY in our van and suddenly we couldn't accelerate any faster than 35 MPH. The TCS Traction Control System light kept flashing and the situation was dire. I had to keep pulling over to the side of the road and putting my flashers on. Finally a cop came along and put his lights on. He turned out to be no help. "I don't know where you can go, but you can't stay here," was the crux of his message. Thanks, man. Luckily I was able to limp the van to the next exit in South Bend, IN where we actually found a hotel that would take a dog. Because Toby insisted on barking every time a door slammed or a toilet flushed, we didn't sleep very well of course, but that's another story.

There was a trip about 5 years ago where we spent much of the trip counting semi trucks and other cars that had slid into the ditch the night before. We lost count of the semis at 15 I think. There was even an SUV on its roof with the headlights still on. Scary stuff.

Thankfully we've never had a real disaster ourselves. We've had some weather setbacks, but for the most part, it's been smooth sailing.

Here's to safe travels for you and your families this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Blogging off...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Birthday Wish

Today would have been my stepfather Jack's 83rd birthday. He died in 1997 of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP. This is a disease that affects 1 in 100,000 people over the age of 60. It is characterized by loss of balance, changes in mood, inability to control eye movements, depression and a host of other bad things. My mother and he divorced in 1985, so I didn't see him much after that.

Though he was far from perfect, he was the only dad I ever  knew. He liked his drink and it was the cause of both of his failed marriages. The outcome of his marriage to Mom was that we inherited a great step-family that we still see and love. We actually lived on the same street as his first wife, Portland Avenue. More ironic is the fact that her name was Mary, as was my mom. At one point there were two Mary McKasy's on Portland Avenue, as if the post office didn't have enough trouble getting things right.

While Jack had his faults he gave me many things in this life.

He gave me the love of professional football. He got me interested in the Vikings and, subsequently, in playing the game myself in middle school and high school. We used to bet on what the record would be on the season. Then, during the games he'd always bet me nickel and dime bets for scores and first downs. Many of them were never paid, but it was fun betting anyway.

While they didn't make it to many of my games in middle school, I remember he and my mom came to the City Championship and the Twin City Championship games when my team got there. Bear in mind that I didn't do much in either game except play on the kickoff team. The fact that he and mom came though, meant the world to me. It showed me he cared.

He gave me the love of camping and the outdoors. We took family camping or cabin vacations every year as a family, thanks to him and mom. He loved to sit by the fire and listen to WAYL AM radio (The beautiful Whale) or some other jazzy, elevator-ish station. He loved swimming and once tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully to teach me how.

He lived in the moment, and much of that rubbed off on me. One of his favorite quips was "Not to worry." Another was "Piece of cake." Those two statements were how he went through life. Carefree and lackadaisical. (With touches of irresponsibility thrown in for good measure.)

He taught me the healing power of laughter. I remember driving to the University with him one morning in his 1960-something Mercedes Benz that he had inherited from his father. It was a cold winter morning and he opened his window to clear the side view mirror. He noticed a plastic piece flapping in the wind, so he grabbed it and pulled it off. It turned out to be the seal that held the mirror to the car, and the whole piece of glass fell to the ground and crashed. He said, "Well, that takes care of that fogged up mirror, I guess." We looked at each other and we both cracked up. It was a moment I'll never forget.

I realize it's never easy to be a step-parent. You're coming into a situation that demands you be a parent, yet you're a bit of a stranger too. I don't know if Jack ever successfully crossed that bridge with much of my family, though, as I said, he was tough to love at times.

I credit him with helping me to be a better father to my own kids. I'm trying to take his good qualities and leave his bad. If we're not all trying to do that based on our experience with our parents, then we're doing it wrong.

Happy Birthday Jack!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown's Wake

I'm not sure how to approach the subject of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings. It is a tragedy of such unthinkable proportions it's hard to even fathom. When I heard the news from my wife, my first thought was "Again?" Noteworthy was the fact that I didn't first think "How could something like this happen?" It's happened enough that surprise is not the first reaction.

Only when I asked how many casualties there were and she said 26, did the shock truly set in. Before that I was sickened by the news, but when I heard 26 (later changed to 28, including the killer,) my jaw dropped. When she said that most of them were children, my heart broke.

Later in the day, I repeatedly broke down in tears. This tragedy had an effect on me that no other national event has since 9/11/2001. When I heard the magnitude of that day, I wanted nothing more than to get home, get Sarah out of school and huddle with my family. It was so gut wrenching that someone (or in the case of 9/11 many individuals), would carry out such an unspeakable action that I just wanted to shut it all out.

It was the same situation here. I wanted to pull my kids out of school and lock our doors and shut out the world. I think it was a common sentiment among other parents too. Everyone wants their kids to be safe, and when our schools are no longer a safe place, our gut reaction is to get them home.

Unfortunately, I don't know what the answer is. Is it better gun control? Better mental health care? Tighter security in schools? I think the answer to all is yes, or perhaps some combination of the three. That's not to deny though, that some of the issue is not directly related to the family. A divorced home with multiple weapons and a child with known issues is just a bad combination.

In the aftermath, about all that's left for me is prayer. Prayer for the families affected. Prayer for the community of Newtown.  And prayer for my own kids and their ability to process what they hear and see about this event. God help us all.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Revisited

As we rush headlong into another Christmas, I need to remind myself of what I want to get out of the season.  Per usual, I tend to think most about what I'm going to GET. Its the world's shortest 4 letter word, especially this time of year.

What am I going to GET? What should I GET (someone else)? What if I GET something that isn't what I really wanted? How much will I GET? What if my kids aren't happy with what they GET? Did we GET them enough?

Do you see where I'm going with this? Every year I say it should be so much more than the GET or even the GIVE. As low key as my Wisconsin family tries to keep it, it always seems to come down to spending too much and we end up not looking any different than the rest of the world.

At the same time, I've found I can enjoy the moments despite the craziness of shopping, lights and decorating. The day we were decorating the tree, I was watching the Packer game with the sound turned down and Nat King Cole playing on the surround sound. Sarah and Ben picked and chose which ornaments to put and where, and I thought to myself, how many more years will we have this? Two, maybe three or four. So I was just sucking it all up like a sponge.

The next day Sarah, of her own accord, turned on Nat King Cole and just lay in the the living room listening. She too, was sucking it up like a sponge, probably trying to figure out what "getting in the spirit" meant.

I can appreciate every glass of egg nog. (Though my holiday gut does not.) Egg nog takes me back to 1973 in the blink of an eye. Taste transcendence.

I can appreciate the idyllic miniature Christmas Village, where the snow is always bright white, and everyone is smiling (when they're not tipped over), and there's never any traffic, crowds or bad weather.

I can appreciate being in a warm house, with those I love, and spending time with good friends.

So as the rest of the season marches on, I intend to try and focus more on these last things, and less on the GETTING and GIVING.

Are you with me?

Blogging off...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Always Right

My son became eligible for a phone upgrade this past week, so I took him out to get one on Tuesday. We started at WalMart, which was our first mistake. Frankly, it's not my favorite store. I know it's one of the biggest employers in the US, but that doesn't matter. I still cringe at the thought of having to shop there. Ben had seen that they had his phone for $30.00, so I thought we would give it a try.

In the parking lot I told Ben that if I had a bad feeling at all while dealing with the salesperson I would give him the signal, and we would bolt.

The woman we got was less than helpful. When Ben told her he wanted to buy the Sony Xperia Ion which was on sale for .97 cents, she asked him "Why don't you want an iPhone 4? (Which was also on sale for .97). She went on to ask what was so good about the Sony vs. an iPhone. Ben came through with a decent answer, but that's not the point.

When a customer asks for something, you don't counter with a question. You say okay.

She then told him to open the back of it, because she couldn't. Ugh.

Danger Will Robinson, danger!

The transaction went downhill from there. When I told her we were doing a cross-upgrade where we were using my Daughter's eligibility for an upgrade to upgrade Ben, she said "Oh, we would have to activate his phone, effectively killing hers and we would have to take them both to the ATT store and have them straighten it out.

Red flag number two. Sirens are starting to wail in my head.

When I asked her if she could call ATT to verify that she said nope, but that I could. When she tried to see how our upgrade was structured, none of our consumer info came up on the stupid WalMart computer system. She said she would have to manually input all my wife's info including her Drivers License number, which I did not have on me.

Strike three you're out. I gave Ben a slight kick at the ankle, winked at him and whispered, "We're out of here. We'll try Target." He was fine with it. He could see the train beginning to derail, even as a fourteen year old.

We thanked the woman and made up an excuse that we were going to shop around. I wanted no further part of the impending disaster. It did absolutely nothing to restore my faith in the appeal of WalMart.

Off to Target we went. It turns out they did not have a Mobile Center in the store we went to, so it was off to Best Buy. I chose it because rather than try another Target and risk getting a clerk that normally worked in the Jewelry department, I thought we would have better luck at Best Buy. I was more likely to get two clerks who knew what they were doing there than one with no clue at Target.

I was dead on.

We got the mobile center manager to ask us what we needed within a minute of our arrival. I explained about the cross-upgrade and she said "Oh sure, we can do all that, no problem. Let me get you an associate."

She got me a clerk who was courteous patient and professional. She even gave the ATT technician on the phone a bit of flack when they said they couldn't do the switch. She was doing her job, and doing it well. She mentioned the $10/mo insurance which I declined. She said "No problem"

Within 25 minutes I left the store with a $500 phone having spent $1.05. Both phones were working, account was switched, Ben was happy, I was happy.

You just don't get that at WalMart.

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Saturday Coffee

One of the things my wife and I have taken to doing lately is going out for coffee on Saturday mornings. We get up around 7:30 and head over to the Steaming Cup, a local coffee shop about 6 blocks from home. In the summer months, we would even go to the Waukesha Farmer's Market afterward and buy produce.  Now that it's winter, we just go for coffee and a cinnamon roll. What once started on a whim, has become our ritual and I have grown to love it for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is it gives us the chance to talk uninterrupted for an hour or so. We could probably do the same thing at home, because the kids usually sleep in on Saturday AM, but it wouldn't be the same. When you're home, the appliances beckon. Projects beckon. Technology beckons. When you're at coffee none of that is a factor. Even our phones don't come out until it's time to go home. Getting uninterrupted time used to be a bigger deal when the kids were smaller and pulling us in all directions, but it's not as much anymore. Still it's nice to be alone.

Another thing that's key for me, especially as an attention-challenged male, is I am able to listen without distraction. This is something I have been working on for some time. I'm not sure why we tend to start tuning people out after living with them for 20 years, but I know that I'm guilty of it. We take people for granted, usually the ones we love the most, and suddenly they're not worthy of 100% of our attention. (And I'm not saying this is just a male trait either. Though I sincerely think women are better listeners.)

We talk about everything under the sun at coffee. Things like work issues, friends we know and what they're going through, dreams we have of travel, upcoming events etc. It is totally one-on-one good face time. I realize when I listen to her I look at her mouth instead of her eyes, and I'm not sure what that's all about. It may have something to do with lip reading but I can't be sure.

We always finish the conversation by discussing the coming week.  Getting a quick overview of kids' schedules, work schedules and anything else is key for me. While Donna plans things out a month or two in advance, I have a much shorter timeline I work with, and a week ahead is about it.

Donna and I used to do a similar thing back when we lived on the east side of Milwaukee. Life as a married couple with no kids was much simpler then, but one of our rituals was to go out for pie and coffee at Baker's Square on Capitol Drive. We were blind in love at the time and considered shopping our date night. When you're in love, goofy stuff like that happens. Well, I came to really like those dates and we even had a favorite waitress (Irene) that was part of it all. Of course, we moved to Waukesha and never really resumed the practice.

While I realize that this arrangement works for us, I understand that it may not work for everyone. Schedules are busy, weekends get booked, etc. At the same time, I highly recommend it. I said to a friend that it gets us both on the same page because, by Friday night, its almost like we're not even in the same book. Its our way of telling each other we're important and you can't knock that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Microsoft Repairman

I guess I might be called the IT Administrator for our household. This is not a well paying position. In fact, here's the job description.

Household IT Administrator
Starting wage: $0.00

Overview: A voluntary, no pay position is now available for an enthusiastic technology geek over fifty years old. This position is a full time, permanent position with no opportunity for advancement or any sort of pay or benefit increase. Annual reviews will not be conducted, however if you should inadvertently cause someone a  technological inconvenience, (i.e. rebooting, conducting a diagnostic test, or slowing down the internet, since evidently its speed is dictated by you) you will be verbally flogged and harumphed.

Qualifications: Candidate must work full time on computers at work and enjoy coming home to do the same on an as needed basis. The work may include: software installation and removal, software updates, scanning and removal of malware and network troubleshooting which includes cursing at the router, squinting to see the tiny password on the bottom of it and pulling out cords from the power strip until something happens.

IT Administrator must keep a joyful spirit, be willing to work around others' schedules, take the fall for any sort of internet pipleline blips, and be able to explain to users why a windows update sometimes is worse than no update and can cause system instability. Candidate must be patient, kind and think twice before spewing techno-speak on innocents, children, and aging users. Examples of this include calmly explaining that Windows Explorer is not the same thing as Internet Explorer. Other examples include describing that Google Chrome is just like Internet Explorer, only better and that by downloading it and installing it, I am not deleting their pictures, their programs or the whole internet (Though I am capable of the last item).

Administrator must have a broad understanding of a myriad of softwares, operating systems, hardwares, external and wireless devices and the thought patterns of women and teenagers. Experience speed reading the blue screen of death and automatically digesting the 2 million random characters and determining the problem before the reboot is done is required. Said administrator must also be able to decrypt glyphs and octets thrown as errors such as:

"0xE34:^I42KE10 error! Notify your system administrator"

and surmise the quickest solution so that the user can get back to surfing, gaming and facebooking as quickly as possible.

Finally Administrator must be able to contort his/her body in bad yoga postures in order to plug/unplug desktops, hard drives, monitors or printers from overloaded power strips. This includes dealing with large dust bunnies, low or inadequate lighting conditions, spiders, non-grounded outlets, orphan plugs that lead to long dead devices and, not least of all, wire tangles that could not possibly have gotten that way on their own. It is a bonus if the administrator has ever had back problems or is over 6'3". Hair is not necessary for the position as it tends to impede the bandage application when the administrator bumps his noggin on the way up from pulling network cables.

Education: Preferably the candidate will have a BA in Anthropology and Geography and be really good at making maps. Creative writing is not necessary but will consider in the final decision. He must like fishing, camping and canoeing unless any of said interests conflict with his duties as IT Administrator.

Benefits: None, though applicant must show ability to shrug off heavy sighs, scornful looks and stair stomping as part of the job. In the event of a work accident, users insurance from his/her day job will cover bits and pieces of the medical costs. The rest will come directly from the administrators wallet.

Home IT Adminstrator is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

***Note that the author (me) knows that a very similar job description can be written for any stay at home mother in the world as well. It was written in complete jest. I love being a techie around our house. It just occurred to me today as I am installing 24 driver updates on my laptop and 4 on Sarah's that I spend a lot of time just fixing/updating computers. I just wish Windows wouldn't make my job so neverending, so I could spend more time using it and less maintaining it.***

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nerve Racking (sic)

There's a reason I'm not a carpenter, or a handy man.

Those people think differently. Try as I might to "enjoy" working with my hands or to love creating something with power tools, or appreciate "working with wood", I just can't. Saturday was testament to that distaste in so many ways, its hard to describe.

It started with the idea of buying a fishing rod rack that I saw in the black Friday sales flyer for Menards. Bear in mind that I NEVER go out on black Friday, but we needed solar salt and a furnace filter anyways, so I figured I'd see if I could save $15 on the rack and get my salt and filter too.

This was my first mistake.

Menards was a madhouse. The pace was frantic and exhausting. I found myself buying right into it when, at one point I had a fleece throw in my cart that cost $1.50. Later on, I was looking at $14 dog beds for no good reason. Luckily, I came to my senses and abandoned the throw on a shelf and skipped the dog bed. I got my rack, salt and filter and headed for home. It was an education in how crazy our culture has become, and how easy it is to get caught up in it. It was traumatizing.

In any case I got home and set about the 15 minute job of putting up my fishing rack. Ready, fire, aim!

Even though the rack was built as a stand-up rack, I thought I would mount it on the ceiling, thereby keeping my rods out of the way. No problem, four screws and I'd be done. Zip, zip, lickety split.

Because the brackets were the type where you put the screws in first, and then slide the rack in and to the left thereby locking it, I started with he first screw. I screwed it in and carefully measured 15 3/4" away to place the second one. Well, the tape was actually upside down, so I measured to roughly where the 15 3/4 mark was. I sunk the second screw, went to slide the rack into it and, low and behold, the screws were misaligned. Argh!

I removed the second screw, resunk it, replaced the rack and it worked. A bit wobbly, but it would do.

Halfway there, I think to myself.

I begin to set the screws for the top half of the rack which is designed with a curly-cue slot where the rods can slide into. When I go to set the rack into the two screws, I realize it's wobbly too. Too wobbly to work with.

(Top of Rack)

I size up the problem and decide to screw right through the rack's body. It would look a bit "custom," but, by God it would not wobble. So, I unsink both the screws and find two longer ones in my can-o-screws. I drill those in tight and think to myself, halfway there now, for sure.

I fill all the slots with rods and stand back to take a look. I realize that the curly-cue holders are not going to work in a ceiling configuration because the rods could fall out as vibrations from upstairs move them into the opening, thereby releasing them to fall and potentially snap.

Gotta fix that, I think to myself.

As I begin to remove the rods from the rack, the lower base falls off of it's two screws and all the rods come crashing to the floor. Argh!

Gotta fix that first, I think to myself.

I'm now 45 minutes in and am beginning to think about hiring a contractor.

As I'm fairly frustrated now I get two longer, thicker screws from my can-o-screws and drill a couple of pilot holes into the lower rack's body. The first screw I try is a bit too long and thick to drive in. I realize this after it is entirely through the rack. When I try and remove it, I proceed to strip it and can no longer unscrew it. I resort to hack-sawing off one end and then using my RoboGrip to unscrew the other end from the rack.

Momentarily, I contemplate scrapping the whole project and just selling the six rods. Problem solved.

I take a breath find two new shorter, more reasonable screws from the can. I drive the longer screws into the rack and then into the floor joist above. The rack continues to take on a custom look. This is not always a desirable thing.

Almost there now, I think.

I then cut 6 short pieces of plastic anchor tape and screw them the top six holes, closing the gap enough to hold the rod tips securely.

The design was pure genius. And quite custom.

I replace the 6 rods again and as I'm putting the sixth one in, one of the others falls out of the shallow base. and dangles by its tip.

I cannot print what I thought to myself at this point.

The fix would require a piece of wood underneath the 6 holes at the base of the rack to keep them from sliding out like the one I just described.

So I rummage through my woodpile and find an old piece of white quarter round molding from another woodworking project. Do I think about how white will not match the natural wood color of the rack? Why certainly. Do I care at this point? Absolutely not.

It'll be even more custom, now...I think to myself.

I find the first two non-matching screws I can find (custom again) and sink them into the quarter round as quickly as I can. I replace the six rods and stand back a third time to take a look.

Now, that is one awesome rack! Man, I am good.

And so, my love for working with my hands continues to escape me. To those of you out there who do it, enjoy it, and are good at it, I commend you. I also tell you to not judge. It's like art, or writing, or math or cooking, it doesn't come easy to everyone, despite valiant attempts.

In the meantime, I'll continue to work at it, but don't be looking for me to be making that homemade hutch real soon.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thinking of Thanks

This day calls for pause to consider the things we are thankful for. Some of mine are below.

  1. My Faith. I credit my good friend Pat for discipling me during our college years. His method was not to beat me on the head with scripture, guilt and judgement. Instead he showed me what compassion and love and true friendship looked like. God took it from there.
  2. My Immediate Family. A wife who I can laugh with and two beautiful, smart kids. I keep wondering how I managed to get this lucky.
  3. My Extended Family. The past couple years has made me realize how much I took them all for granted for so long. They love me and my kids unconditionally and were there for each other in times of hurt.
  4. My Dog. He is the third kid in this family, though intellectually he's stunted at 3 years old. His goofy look and cocked head makes me smile daily. Truly man's best friend.
  5. My City. I was out in downtown Waukesha last night and was amazed at the vibrancy of this small city. Compared to what it was even 10 years ago, it has been an amazing transformation. I love going to the coffee shops, the art galleries, the restaurants and the bars.
  6. My Job. I am still blessed to love what I do for a living. GIS and mapping has been my life and I am lucky to have a fiscally responsible county government that has kept things stable in our department.
  7. My Friends. I've got fishing buddies, football watching buddies and tool borrowing buddies. I've got church friends, and writing friends, and facebook friends.
  8. My Hobbies. Fishing, biking, writing, music, camping, kayaking. I'm happiest when I'm outdoors, and am lucky to have a wife who understands that and supports it.
  9. My House. It's nearly a century old, and it shows, but it will always be home to my kids, and I know what it means to have warm, loving and secure home.
  10. My Country and Its Armed Forces. When I see some of the war torn places in the world, I am humbled by the commitment of our soldiers and military in keeping our country safe. I don't always agree with our foreign policy and hate to see us in places we don't belong, but am thankful that we've had peace on this soil for so long.
What are you thankful for?

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Meaningful Things

Last week I got my reel back from Badger Reel Repair. The reel (pictured above) was given to me by my brother Rob the last time I saw him, before he passed away in Aug. 2011. It was the second time I've had it in for repairs. The first time it didn't seem to be working right, so I brought it to BRR and it cost me $25 to clean, oil and repair it. When I tried it again this summer, it still did not seem to be working right.

Now, normally, I probably would not have spent any more money on repairing the reel. The reel only cost Rob $75 at the time, so putting much more into it would seem frivolous. Because the reel means more to me than just an average reel, I thought I'd go ahead and get it fixed. It was $15 to repair, which seemed like a deal to get a functional keepsake.

The whole process got me to thinking about things that mean something. You know the items. Things that you would want to take to the basement with you in the case of a tornado. Things given to you by loved ones, or maybe that mean something to you from your childhood. Most everybody has them. Because of the memories attached to fishing with my brother, this reel, and the rod and lures that he gave me along with it, will always mean something to me when I use them. The items take on an identity of their own of sorts, and you treat them with a degree of respect.

None of this is to say that I'm a materialistic person, because I don't think I am. There are a few things though, that everyone considers special or sacred, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I have a friend whose brother gave him his golf clubs before he passed away. Same deal. Every time he uses them, he thinks of his brother.

Another item that means something to me is my step-father's baseball, (pictured below). It was given to me at his funeral by his natural son, Kevin. The ball was signed by many of the old Minnesota Twins, including Harmon Killebrew, Billy Martin, and Tony Oliva. In this case however, the intrinsic value behind the ball is more tied to the fact that Kevin thought enough of me to single me out and get it to me. I remember he said that Dad and I always seemed to be the closest of his step kids, and as a result, Kevin thought I should have it.

Bear in mind that it's not because my step father and I ever watched a baseball game together, because we didn't. (Though we watched many a Viking game.) The thought on Kevin's part was strictly sentimental and I can certainly appreciate that. As I said, it meant a lot.

There are other smaller, significant items as well. My grandfather had a watch that was given to him for his years of service where he worked. It got passed between the boys for a few years, with each of us wearing it for a year before passing it on to the next  brother. The tradition died after the first round and I think my oldest brother has it now.

From my grandmother, I managed to get a book of "Great plays in baseball." She usually took Rob, Paul and I to one Twins game a year, so baseball meant something to me. When I saw the book on her shelf, I asked my mom if I could have it and of course she said I could.

It makes me wonder what of my possessions my kids would look at as precious when I kick the bucket. I would hope each of them would get one of my two Bible(s). And I would think my fishing stuff might mean something to one or both. Perhaps my laptop, as it's the source of one of my favorite past times, namely writing. The rest of it, like so much of everyone's past gets parsed out to the 2 G's; goodwill and garage sales.

So when you're thinking of what you want or need this Christmas, give some thought to the things in your life that have significance for you. What could you do without? What would you grab if a flood was imminent? My guess is it won't be anything on this year's list.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Waiting Out The Traffic Jam

I am what you might call in-between writing projects at the moment. I am currently working up to marketing my BWCA book to publishers. The book is "done" although, like any work, I think it could probably be better if I spent a couple more years on it. (That is a joke, but not too far from the truth. Ask any writer.)

At the same time, I am working piecemeal on my second book, an as-yet untitled work about the house I grew up in in Minnesota. Initially the stories came fast and furious, as I recounted the best ones first. I think of this as a sort of creative vomit, for lack of a better description. The stories flow readily because they have been recounted several times at family gatherings, and if not recounted, replayed in my head. Getting them down is relatively simple. Getting them cleaned up is a bit harder.

In addition to those two projects, I am coming off a handful of fictional short stories that I wrote to stretch myself. I think it's important to push the boundaries of your comfort to make you a better, more versatile writer. It's the reason I reached out into trying my hand at poetry a few years ago, and I thought it would be good to try it at fiction as well. I've discovered that it is a nice diversion from the mind-work of memoir, (remembering dates, places, events, and people) but it is still not easy.

With those short stories done, and my bigger projects hanging, the past couple of weeks I've been in a writing funk. I'd dabble here and there, but nothing was coming easy. It is then when I begin to question my own credibility.

Am I totally out of material already?
Why cant I think of anything to write?
I call myself a writer? Ha!

It's that old demon called "the critic within" that rears his head every time something doesn't go my way. I've been pretty good about squashing his voice over the past couple of years, but sometimes it's too loud.

As I'm sitting with my laptop last night, kind of dreading the block within, I started a story about the Greek Church that we lived near. It was a "place of passage" for my brothers and I as kids in the 70's. The story started out with a description of the church and the grounds. Before I knew it, the story had taken a left turn and the next thing I knew I was writing about a friend I had grown up with and the story was no longer about the church, except as a secondary character. I talked about his habits, our growing friendship and eventual falling away. The whole time I'm wondering, where is this coming from?

That is the fascinating thing about writing to me. I never know where it's going to take me. I start down a road and end up driving off a cliff or rolling over in a ditch. Sometimes I even crash into a brick wall. It is a cool ride, but there are lots of instances where I'm driving blindfolded, or steering with my feet.

All I have to remember is to keep getting in the driver's seat. The road will always be waiting.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ten At Fifty

A few observations about life after 50.

1. I can't hear you. I seem to be going deaf. At the same time I will never admit I'm old enough for a hearing aid. The concerts of the 80's are catching up to me.

2. I'll wear what I want. I used to not be keen on wearing anything with a saying or logo on it for fear of what people would think. At 50, I suddenly don't care anymore. My two favorite T-shirts at the moment are my black tee with the Superman logo on it and the other is one that reads "Shut up and fish."  Hopefully these are not predecessors to the "I'm with stupid --->" T-shirt or the sweatshirt with the sunset and howling wolf on them. If you see me in these, try and understand.

3. Stretching is not optional. My morning routine involves 25 minutes of yoga/stretching immediately after waking. If I don't do this, I can still function, but I just feel better if I've done it.

4. I talk to my dog. Around the house, around the block and in the car. Although most of it is correctional or when giving directives, I've caught myself talking to him on a walk when people have seen me from across the street. OMG, I've become that guy. Don't judge.

5. I wear Yak Trax on my shoes in the winter. Um, yeah.

6. People have called my music mellow. I have to flatly deny that it is so. We were painting my sister-in-law's shed a while back and had my iPod in the dock. She and my wife eventually switched it off because it was not upbeat enough. I still like a lot of what I used to, but I will admit, I have taken to songs much more for the lyrical qualities than the beat lately. Hmmmm...

7. I'm blind. Well, not exactly. But I can't read with my glasses on, and if my contacts are in and I'm trying to work on something up close, I'm likely to rip them out of my eyes. This disability leads directly to number 8 below where...

8. I can't find my glasses. Now this is something that only old people do. If my family would quit moving mine around, I wouldn't have this problem.

9. My knees pop. Both of them, go off like gunfire every time I stand up. Is this normal?

10. I sometimes ask my kids to help with my phone.  It's not often, but sometimes, it's just easier. Not because I'm old, but rather because the phones are over engineered. (Sounds good to me.)

So that's what life almost one year into my fifties looks like. It's not bad, in fact it's like going to a movie or reading a good book. You just keep wondering what's going to happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Everyone Has A Story

I went to the Moth Story Slam with my wife last night at the Miramar Theatre in Milwaukee. In case you are not familiar with it, it's basically a story competition. People put their names in a bag if they have a story to tell, then names are drawn out of the bag and people get on stage and tell their story. There's a few guidelines that have to be followed:

1. The story must be true.
2. Keep it to 5 minutes, with penalties for going over.
3. No notes.
4. The story should have a beginning, middle and an end. (Conflict and resolution are always nice too.)

When the person is done, the emcee' then calls on the 3 teams of two judges each to score how they did. They allow 10 people to tell stories and the whole thing takes a couple of hours. Each story is interspersed with the emcee reading audience responses to a question. Last nights question was "Tell about an accident that ended happily." That made for some interesting diversions from the main act of listening to stories.

Every slam has a theme, and last night's theme was "unintended". The stories ran the gamut. Stories of love and love lost, adventure, sadness, dumb mistakes, death and much more. Some were really, really good, and a couple were pretty badly done. I give everyone who went up there credit however. You're opening yourself up wide open when you do that, and it's not for everyone.

My friend Deb gave a story and it was really good. The only problem was hers was first and they tend to be fairly conservative with scores for the first couple of people, so she just got an average score. I think hers was one of the top 3 for sure, but that's just me.

It was a cool, somewhat moving experince. The emcee' put it best when she said that by the end of the night we'd feel closer to everyone around us, mostly because of the shared human experience. I was skeptical when she said that, but by the end of the night, I did feel like I knew some of the people there much better. It drilled home for me that everyone has a story to tell. Some are tragic, some happy, but all common to us as brothers and sisters on this planet. The phenomena is easier to experience than to explain. You'll just have to go and see for yourself. (The next theme is "Aftermath.") Maybe you even have a story to contribute.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Faking It With Zeal

My wife and I have been a part of the Middle School Ministry at church for the past three years. Prior to that, I worked with my son's Boy's Club group at church for four years from grades 2 through 5. The tasks have changed a little over time, but the goals are essentially the same. Provide a safe, fun, encouraging environment for our kids to establish their young faith while helping teach them the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

How am I qualified to this task, you ask? I frequently ask myself the same question. The answer is I'm not. I have no theological training to speak of. While my faith is strong, I would not say that I have any firmer grasp of the Bible than the guy sitting in the pew next to me. One might think that I should be good at teaching kids to be able to do the job. Well, wrong again. Nothing special there either. Just average in my dealings with young teens.

What I do have is a willing heart. Couple that with a bit of old Catholic guilt and deep-felt need to be a part of  my kids' spiritual upbringing, and there you have it.

Seven years of making it up as I go along.

Seven years of doubting myself and my abilities, but trusting the God that put me there.

If you know me at all, you know I'm an introvert. I know this about myself and so, in some respects, the Middle School Ministry forces me outside of my comfort zone. I know it would be easier to let someone else, some extrovert, teach my kid while I cloistered myself up at home. Something inside me told me that's the easy, safe way out, and so here I am, seven years later.

Seven years of  winging it.

Seven years of giving my best, but constantly second guessing myself.

About the only thing I've had going for me over the years is, I do love kids. I remember those years well when all I wanted to do was fit in. Through working with them though, the single most revealing thing I've discovered is that these kids just want to be listened to. While teaching them is important, perhaps the more important thing is letting them know that they are valued, they are good, and that God loves them. Sure they screw around, kids are kids. But I found that if you respect them enough to listen to their struggles and fears, they respond much better to correction.

Today at church I went in with the same trepidation as 7 years ago. What if our small group is quiet/awkward/screwing around/etc? What if they ask a question I can't answer? As it turned out, it was one of the best small groups this year. It's situations like these that convince me that God has a sense of humor.

It's also situations like these that make it glaringly clear that this is exactly where I should be.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obsession Defined

It's that time of year, mid fall, when I take my trip up north in pursuit of one of the greatest fish in the freshwater ecosystem. I'm speaking of Esox masquinongy, aka the Musky. I always look forward to this trip for a couple of reasons. For one, it's the last blast of fishing for the year. While I probably could get out once or twice more now that I have a kayak, I always look at it as my last chance on the water. 

Secondly, fishing Musky has become my newest passion. It is so uniquely different from fishing for other fish, that I want to learn all I can about it; become better at it; catch a bigger one. As I describe in my account of my first experience, it is not so much like fishing for them as it is "hunting" for them. They are few and far between, these creatures, so you have to be crafty, incredibly patient, and a little johnny on the spot to get them.

They are called the fish of 10,000 casts for a reason. They're finicky and smart. It takes serious work to catch even one. The  lures are big and heavy. After a day of casting baits for them, I have pain/cramps between my shoulder blades. It's a working vacation in every sense of the word, but I love every minute of it. 

Casting is usually fruitless, as we catch most of our fish by trolling with suckers, bait fish that are between 9-14" long themselves. Some people would be content to catch our baits. The fact that it is usually fruitless does not mean that I won't do it. As I see it, the more lines in the waters, the greater the chances of a fish. I actually caught small one on a lure two years ago, so that is part of the reason I keep at it. I'm obsessed.

This past weekend I met a woman (friend of a friend) who is more obsessed than me. It is her goal to catch 50 muskies in her fifties. She's 52 and has 24 to her credit, so she should make it. It was so cool to see a woman, especially one in her fifties that was as gung-ho as any man on catching a fish. She actually took her paddle boat out to re-position our suckers on their bobbers in the bay by her house. Now that's obsession. 

The picture above is of the 41" fish I landed on Saturday 10/20 about 12:15. It fought like nothing I've ever experienced in my life. With the help and guidance of my buddies Steve and John, I got him into the net. It was exhilarating and a complete rush. 

I can't wait to do it again.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shouting Down A Hole

I was hoping I could leave the ATT post as a single ranting post and be done with it. Their corporate arrogance and ineptitude make that impossible however. Bear with me for one more post as I try and put this problem to rest forever.

I called back today to tell them I hadn't received the forms to declare my employment/discount eligibility via email like I was promised on Friday. Well, of course the first guy couldn't handle it because only customer service can do that. So, I was promptly transferred to someone cleverly disguised as a friendly customer service clerk. She was pleasantly patient and seemed to be eager to help. Well after repeating my name, address, and my wife's last 4 social security digits another time, she assured me that if I were to take down the 14 digit account number and give it to the representative at the first number I called, it would all be done.

Seems easy enough, right?

Wanting to finish the procedure (and being 20 minutes into the process at this point) I called the guy right away. After taking my name, address, and my wife's last 4 social security numbers, he informed me that my eligibility proof of employment period expired on the 12th of October and that I'd have to reapply.

Are you feeling the rage?

Again, I am a patient person, right? I started to boil and politely told the gentleman that he was going to make me lose patience. It was the friendliest way I could think of to not curse his entire ancestral line. After listening to my plea and typing something into his computer, he told me that he was sorry, but all he could do was send me the forms for me to fill out so I could reapply. So I told him to do just that.

It's been 8 hours and I'm still waiting for the forms to show up in my email box...

Remind me next time to start every support call to ANYWHERE computer or phone related by asking the support technician's name before we start talking. This will allow me to begin to compile the documentation for the pending BBB complaint.

I'm a David in a Goliath world here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

...And I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

I got the chance to deal with ATT again this week. This company might have the most confusing and ill conceived upgrade/data/transfer phone plan that has ever existed. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

About a month ago I got a new smart phone. As part of the move to the new phone, we wanted to begin a Family data sharing plan. We were originally set up with Donna and Sarah both having a 2 GB plan and Ben and I with nothing. So when we got my phone, we opted to upgrade to a single 10 GB plan. Part of the incentive to go with a 10 GB plan was that we were supposed to receive a 15% discount that I get from work.

The following Monday I get a text that the discount had not been applied and will require proof of employment. Two seconds later I get a text saying the discount WAS applied. So, which is it?

Well, because of the way billing cycles work, we had to wait a couple of weeks to find out if all of this shifting around really took effect. Guess what? 

It didn't. 

It turns out they had me on the shared data plan and Sarah and Donna were still on their 2 GB plans. Oy! Furthermore, there was no discount applied anywhere. 

After she cooled down, my dear wife paid a visit to the fine, staff at the ATT store in our area. They were extremely apologetic and after about 45 minutes of billing gyrations, they had it "all straightened out." 

Later in the week, Sarah's phone stopped working and she needed an upgrade. We took it in and she got a new phone. It only took two trips to get the new phone, but that is a different story altogether.

The next day, Friday of last week, I get a text saying that the discount was not applied because I failed to show my proof of employment within the 14 day period. I called back the representatives and lost my cool. Now if you know me it takes a lot to get me riled up. I began to get a tad belligerent, but basically said "Don't make me go back to the ATT store." 

The kind clerk said she would email me the forms right away.

I'm still waiting.

Blogging off...

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Story Behind The Stories

I went to another writing event last Friday night. It's an event called the Friday Night Free For All and it takes place at the AllWriters' writing studio in downtown Waukesha. It features readings from four genres including poetry, memoir, fiction and novel excerpt. Usually a guest speaker is also featured, but this particular event used a panel of students who submitted their work to the Ampersand Review. These poems were supposed to be "Found Poems" which are poems compiled of other snippets. These could be literature quotes, movie titles, or in this case, email subject lines.

I realize that these events are not for everyone. You have to appreciate books, stories and storytelling. It also helps to be familiar with the writing process, though that's not requirement. Many of my friends would not be caught dead at something like this, and I really don't hold that against them. As I said, it's not for everyone.

The fact of the matter is that I really do enjoy them. I enjoy the diversity of the writing styles as well as the shift between genres. I like the fact that poets sometimes just do poetry and nothing else. Or that nonfiction folks sometimes just write nonfiction. But most of all, I think I just enjoy the escape of the stories and the poetry. Like a movie in the theater, it takes me away from this current world and to another place.

To me though, this method is even better than movies or, maybe more rewarding is a better way to put it. The reason is, the listener is forced to make it all up; to see it in his or her head. I'm guessing this taxes different parts of the brain than the direct visual stimuli, of a movie. We draw our own two story house, picture our own serial killer, or paint that far away fantasy world in our own heads. The funny thing is, it is almost always better than what we would find if it were also shown in a visual medium. The old saying that "The book was way better than the movie," is proof of this.

This ability to not only read a story, but tell one without reading it, is another gift altogether. One of the writers in our group competed in a showing of the Moth in Chicago. It is typically an open event where people have 5 minutes to tell a story and they are scored based on how they did. She won first place and came in second place in the next round. She told an expanded version of her story at the Free For All and it was captivating. Some people have a real knack for storytelling. (Of course there are others who think they do and are usually the bores you swing a wide swath around at parties.) ;-)

In any case there is a version of the Moth coming on Nov. 1st to the Miramar Theater in Milwaukee. I plan on attending and if you're looking to do something wildly different than seeing a movie or going out to dinner, I encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Relative Alter-Ego

I am about halfway through my deceased uncle's (Jack) second manuscript. Recall from an earlier post that I was given both of his books by my brother to read at my leisure. It turns out that he had acquired them from Jack directly in an attempt to get some publishing interest. My brother has had a couple of books published and so Jack figured Tom might be able to help him out. From what I understand, Tom tried to market them to a few places, but none bit.

The second book is titled LUM'S and it is about two brothers who own a grocery store in North Central Minnesota. The plot is a tad slow and is centered around their attempt at expansion of the business. With both books I am learning a lot about my uncle, but also using some of the skills I've learned in my writing workshop to see why maybe these books didn't catch any interest.

None of it is meant to detract from my admiration for his effort and all of the work that went into each. As a fledgling writer myself, I hardly feel qualified to judge anothers writing. At the same time, I've learned a few things along the way, things that I would love to have been able to tell Jack in a writing group or through personal correspondence.

For instance, in LUMS, the two brothers are named Elmer and Elroy. While I get that families sometimes do that, as a reader, I am forever getting the two mixed up. My writing coach would bust my kneecaps for doing that. Even if it was Elmer and Edward, it's better than two El-names in the same story. Again, it might only be me, but I would think I'm not alone.

Here are a few things that I've learned in the couple of years I've been in AllWriters' workshop.

1. Make something big happen. Nothing is worse than a series of facts, descriptions, and situations. People already live that out in day-to-day life. If there's not some "kapow" in your story why would they want to read it?

2. Watch your Point of View (POV). As a narrator you can't switch POV's without some sort of transitory break in the story.

3. Too much description is almost as bad as not enough. Don't assume your readers are blind, but don't leave them trying to guess the scene either.

4. Good humor is hard to write. Bad humor comes much easier.

5. Do not be repetitious. Do not. Don't.

6. Reading your story aloud before you read it to others will expose errors you'll never hear when reading it silently.

7. Have a beginning, middle and end. Basic stuff, but it holds true for chapters as well as novels.

8. A good title makes a good story/poem/novel that much better.

9. Most people who criticize your work mean well; some are just better at relaying the criticism (or do it constructively).

10. In the words of my writing instructor, "Don't out write the headlights." In other words, don't start a work with the end in mind. Just start writing and write as far as you can see at that moment. The end will come, but if you know it now, you'll miss what should have been. Good advice.

Again, reading his works have been enlightening to me in many ways. It has certainly helped me to understand my father's side of the family a little better, especially Jack. At the same time, I sincerely feel it has made me into a little better writer myself. And thinking it through, that may have been the true purpose for why it landed in my lap all along.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Color Grey

Fall has definitely become my favorite season. Well, maybe I'll qualify that by saying "early fall." The months of August through October, to be precise. The older I get, the more I appreciate the color of the trees. I've always thought that this is such an "old person" thing to appreciate. It's weird how it happens, but at about the age of thirty, I suddenly started to notice them with a greater appreciation. It was probably on one of my many road trips back to Minnesota that I first took note. I can also remember vividly my brother Rob saying how he started noticing the colors too. It's funny how in your teens and early twenties you just don't notice that kind of thing, or at least Rob and I didn't. Then one day, a switch flips and...boom...trees are cool!

My latest fascination is with trying to capture some of their beauty on camera when presented with the chance. There are a few examples shown here, but unfortunately none of these does near justice to the actual trees themselves.

In addition to the trees, fall sunsets seem to be more vibrant as well. I saw this one at the Waukesha South football game last Friday night and it stopped me in my tracks. It's when I see things like these, I wonder how anyone cannot believe there is a God who made it all? To say it is all a big coincidence or an accident falls a little flat IMHO.

Now that we've determined that I'm truly showing my age, I should say that I was forced to reconcile with my own kids growing up in little ways this weekend. As I mentioned, on Friday we all went to the South football game. Only a few years ago, we would have all sat together and watched as a family. Now Sarah wanted to sit with her friend Mitch and their friends and Ben sat with his football team. Everyone is growing up, and being with the family is not always the first choice anymore. I'm mostly OK with that. Mostly.

Then on Saturday we watched Ben's football team play Waukesha North. Again, Ben plays primarily on the kickoff team and generally gets mop-up duty in the final few minutes, if the score allows. This week he made what I would call a solo textbook tackle on the sideline. In the grand scheme of things, it was probably nothing. But let me say that it made me so proud I almost stormed the field. He's been focused on improving his tackling at practice these past few weeks, and it showed. It took me right back to my own 8th grade experience, and I'm glad the play came his way, and he made it. The coaches and a few of his teammates even gave him a shout out. The chemistry and support on this team is second to none.

Later Saturday evening, we took pictures of my daughter and her friend Mitch before they went out to the homecoming dance. Understand that I don't know how I came to have a daughter who is a Junior in High School. Just last week she was 7 years old and in 2nd grade. No way she could be driving, working and taking the ACT. It doesn't seem possible. It seems like only 10 years ago I was picking up my date for the homecoming dance. I guess it's all part of the process, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fishing For An Upgrade

I was out fishing on Friday on "Secret Lake," and if you're a fisherman, you get the joke, and was catching fish at a rate of about one every six minutes. 30 fish in 3 hours, it was a blast. I was the only boat on the lake and was just having a great time. At one point I heard a clunk like something falling. I figured it was my travel mug of coffee shifting or something like that, so I didn't pay much attention. Ten minutes later, I look down and there is my cell phone sitting in a half inch of water on the bottom of the kayak. Now, it was an old crappy cellphone, but needless to say, I felt pretty dumb. It was fried of course; stuck in an endless cycle of reboot and then, eventually, a white screen of death. RIP crappy cellphone. I loved that phone.

My wife jokingly accused me of doing it intentionally in the name of getting a new smart phone. Of course that's not true, but we had been talking about me getting one eventually anyway, so it was meant to be.

We went to the ATT store on Saturday and purchased my "upgrade" which is an understatement, to say the least. I got an HTC One X. It was a $99 upgrade and will do everything but start my car. There was a fairly steep learning curve the first couple of days, but every day I use it I get more comfortable with it. I do have to say though that if the touch screen keyboard does not send me to the the psych ward, nothing will. I try and type something like "with" and it comes out "qyrb" or something like that. The salesman said auto correct will fix all of your errors at the end of your text.

Yeah right.

It doesn't work that way, at least when I need it most. I'm determined to make it work though because I like so many other features of the phone. It has a camera that allows me to take pictures while I'm videoing. It does panoramic photos, which are amazingly clear. It does multi-shot that shoots multiple picture until you let  go of the button and so much more.

The only other gripe I have with it is also it's biggest virtue, and that is it's size. It's got a beautiful display screen and nice, big icons, but it's a pain to carry around. It's like putting a butter dish in your pocket. My buddy said he uses a belt carrier for his phone, but frankly, I don't want to be that guy, so butter dish it is.

There's other small, first-world issues I have with it; no SD card slot, the volume button is too sensitive and forever turning off my vibrate when I click it by accident, no single app killer function, etc., but for the most part I am very happy with this phone. I promise I won't become one of those sad soles staring into the tiny screen on every street corner of the world, but I'll need your help, because I don't want to become that guy either.

So, if I tell you I want to show you a great new app on my phone, just say, "Jim, I'm so sorry..."

Blogging off...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Closing Thoughts On Past Posts

I'll take a post to wrap-up a couple of recent posts, namely No Brother of Mine and A Home For Willie. As you recall, I had some issues with my wife's laptop not being able to print to our brand new Brother printer. I tried a half dozen software uninstalls/reinstalls to no avail. Desperate, I notified support by email. They were prompt in getting back to me, but their response was kind of a joke. It consisted of a web link to a list of an 8 "part" series of solutions, with each "part" having multiple steps. This list would seem daunting to a technically adept person, of whom I consider myself. I cannot imagine how someone technophobic or techno-illiterate would feel. I'm sure most would take the printer back immediately upon opening the email.

I worked my way through all of the steps to no avail. Then, what occurred to me was how can someone put a product out that is so tough to setup that it requires 8 steps of troubleshooting after the consumer has already complete 6 steps of his/her own trying to figure out what's not working? That would almost seem difficult to do. You'd almost have to intentionally design it that bad.

Frustrated, I contacted "Chat Support" and after a friendly greeting I was told that my problem lay with my firewall software and that Brother Support could be of no help. Really? My purchase hasn't hit my credit card yet and I get nothing? If it wasn't all set up and out of the box, I would have taken it back.

Now I understand that with all that makes up a computer network and all of the peripherals like printers, routers, firewalls etc., that things get dicey very quickly. My point is that as consumers, we shouldn't be left to find the answer to the problem by googling some obscure forum (as I did) only because we were driven to desperation by inept technical writing/support. We deserve better, Brother.

The other thing I wanted to touch on again was my uncle's book Willie. I am almost done reading it now. It has some extremely close tie-ins to events in my dad's family with both the characters and the stories. While it is no Steinbeck or Hemingway (neither am I) it does have moments of tenderness and innocence. If you want to know more about the book, ask me in person.

I do have to say that I have a great respect for what my uncle was trying to do. It is almost memoir-like in the way it is written, though I know much of it is fiction. I picture him at his desk writing it, editing it, and mulling it over in his head. I wonder at times if he had a writing group like I do where he passed ideas over for feedback? Or was it all his own?

The fact that he was my dad's brother, but had characteristics more like me, perhaps than my own father, is intriguing. I wonder if he was a people person or more of an introvert? Did he love the great outdoors? (It would appear from the book that he did.) Did he aspire to make the book just for his family, or  was the intent all along to make it something bigger? (A question I struggle with.) It would be so interesting to sit down with him and talk writing and family for a while. I wished I knew him better when he was here. I guess I should be happy to have had the chance to read his work and get to know him just a bit more.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Brother Of Mine

I'm writing this as I muddle my way through the 5th install/uninstall of the printing software for my wife's laptop. Our printer took a dump the other day, so we got a nice, shiny Brother MFC-J825DW All in One Wireless printer. Thus began my long saga.

The printer installed perfectly on my Dell laptop and within 10 minutes I was printing fine. This was easy I thought. Repeat the same process 3 times for all the other laptops and I would be done in no time. Next up was Donna's because she needed it the most. I run through the wizard the same way I did on her very similar Windows 7 64 bit laptop and again it appeared to be easy. I go to print and, wait for it, wait for it, nothing!

This is where my beef with all things Windows comes in. Why if you have two very similar laptops, neither with very much software on it, do you get two different results when installing the same program? Grrr.

Being real scientific about it I thought I'd try it on a 3rd laptop to see what happened. I tried it on Sarah's Windows 7 32 bit machine, a bit different than Donna's and mine in that it was 32 bit...but still Windows nonetheless. Needless to say it worked on the first try. Thinking Murphy's law, I'm guessing that it's not working because Donna needs it the most. If she didn't need it it would have been a 10 minute deal.

I then figure I'd uninstall and reinstall the software, as this is usually the first thing support has you do. (Don't ask me why, but I've been at this long enough to know that's what they ask for.) I uninstall and reinstall joy! I struggle with doing this same uninstall at least twice more and then give up. (This was last night.)

Today during the football games I decide to get it fixed for good. I try the troubleshooters. I say shooters because there are two, one for the software and one that is a Windows troubleshooter. Here's my conclusion:

The software troubleshooter is worthless. It take you to the support website where you're left to scream into a virtual black hole. From there I decide to "Contact Support By Email." I go into that link and the first thing they want is the serial number.

Well, that's on the box in the basement. Grrr.

Being too lazy to run and get it, I launch the Windows Troubleshooter. It tells me there's no Homesharing going on between the printer and the rest of the laptops in the house. Well, frankly two of them are sharing quite nicely without the stupid Homeshare so I'm not sure what the troubleshooter is telling me.

I exit those two and try a couple more uninstalls. Still no joy.

I contemplate a buying a Mac, momentarily. I have this thought regularly.

Coming back to reality I decide to do a system restore to Donna's laptop to get it back to where it was on Friday before I started installing the printing software. That way I'd have a "clean slate" and could reinstall the software as if doing it for the first time. I was almost certain this would do it.

Who was I kidding?

Same scenario after I installed the printer software for the sixth time. The printer says "ready" according to the software and it says "offline" according to windows.

I can ping the printer from the laptop. I can scan a document from the laptop. All I want to do is print.

It will be the end of me. You would think after 25 years of personal computing that they would have this plug and play printing thing figured out.

I'm now fried. It's Sunday night and the computer wins again. I will prevail, oh yes I will. But it will have to wait for another day.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Home For Willie

A couple of years ago after finding out that I've been working on a book, my older brother told me that my deceased uncle John (Jack) was a fledgling writer who had actually finished a book. Evidently he never had any luck getting it published, but details are sketchy as to how hard he tried, what channels he used, etc. I told Tom that I would love to see the book sometime and he finally remembered to get it to me when we all met up in Mercer, WI a couple of weeks ago. As a writer, I can fully appreciate the effort that must have gone into this manuscript. The countless hours of research and composition, all followed up by hundreds of edits. None of us knows what to do with it, so we are left to reading it and passing it on to the next family member.

The book is titled Willie. (Cover page above.) I am less than 1/3 of the way through it - it's over 300 pages long - but find it interesting for unconventional reasons.

The story takes place in St. Cloud, Minnesota in the early 1940's. It starts out with the main character working his way up through the family car sales/repair business. Early on in the book things go awry and he ends up taking a job out of state. The story is a bit on the slow side, but as I said, I find it engaging for other reasons.

My father and his siblings grew up in St. Cloud. He was one of 8 children by my grandfather Adolph John. The father in the book goes by the name is A.J. Because I did not know my grandfather very well, I'm left guessing as to how much of the character in the book is reflective of my grandpa. It's easy to see some of the tie-ins to other people and events that I've heard about, but I'd rather not make mistaken assumptions about the characters if certain elements were fiction. That is not fair to the people or the author in this case.

The name of the book is intriguing as well. I have an uncle Willie who, again, I don't know too much about. My dad's side of the family all lived up in St. Cloud for most of my younger years. Once dad died, (1967) we didn't get up there much and so I really can't say I knew any of my Cousins/Aunts/Uncles very well. I couldn't tell you what my uncle did for a living, or if his personality is rolled into the main character or not. Its interesting to speculate, but that is all it is, speculation.

At one point in the story he mentions one of the characters who married a travelling drug salesman. I know my father held down a job as a pharmaceutical salesman for a bit, and again, I am left wondering if this reference was made by my uncle to either pull my dad's essence into the book in some way or if it was strictly coincidental. I tend to think the former, but I likely will never know.

There are several other references that kind of raise an eyebrow for me, but not knowing much in the way of history on my dad's side of the family, I'm left to try and figure it out for myself.

This is part of why I am reading the whole book, as slow as it can be at some points. I don't have much to go on in regards to my dad or his siblings. I feel like I hardly knew Jack at all. He moved to North Dakota when I was in High School, so I rarely saw him after that move. At the same time, I have the nagging feeling that of all my uncles, he's the one I was probably the most like. By reading his work, I might get a better feel for what made him tick. I feel that, by reading it, I might get a glimpse into the heart of uncle Jack. In doing that, I may luck out and get a glimpse into the heart of my dad as a bonus.

Time will tell, but for now, back to reading Willie.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cabin Fever

As I mentioned, our time at Pine Forest Lodge last weekend was phenomenal. Good family together time, great cousin time, a blue moon party in Rob's honor, and a really big fish to boot. I couldn't have asked for more. Because it was such a great time at a place that is near and dear to us all, I thought I'd recount some of the memorable moments of years past "at the cabin". I do this not to the exclusion of those who have never been to PFL, but rather to the inclusion of anyone out there that has been to "the cabin." Most everyone has a favorite summer place they have been to as a kid or an adult and likely will be able to relate to some of the moments I describe.

First Fish: While not everyone's first fish was at PFL, most people in our family caught their first fish at a cabin. Sarah used to sit in what we call her African squat on the dock in Hackensack MN for hours and catch bluegills. It is where she caught her first fish as well as her first northern pike.

Hanging at the beach: Ya'll come Time: One of the things I enjoy most about the cabin is the ability to go down to the Adirondack chairs on the beach front and hang out. People come and people go. Some talk, some read, some nap, some bring food, some eat the food. It is a chance to get below the surface with each other on what's really going on in our lives, if we choose, or just keep it light.

Boating: Some of the more memorable boating ventures I  recall include: Borrowing Tom's 12' "washtub" boat with Rob once and going fishing in it. I remember he said "I feel like a fricken giant in this boat, man!" (He was not alone. It was barely big enough for one giant, let alone two.) The resort owner John took us to the Turtle Flambeau Flowage once to "swimmers island." That involved 6 or 8 of us piling into canoes and paddling to a nice sandy beach. There were several years where we rented boats from John and Cheri to fish the "dead sea" as we called it. And finally, the kayaks and stand-up boards are a favorite among the kids. You do not have to be an expert to paddle them, so the kids take to them and have a blast.

Birthday celebrations: Because we usually go to the cabin in August, it always seems to bump up against a birthday or two. Cupcakes and presents with cousins shared in a cabin too small for the crowd was kind of an annual thing up north. We also celebrated my sister Pat's 50th up there, one filled with gag gifts of various medications and age insulting cards. They were always special times because after all, there's nothing that goes better with a chocolate cupcake than a beer.

Porch Coffee Time: Early mornings are spent wandering and usually everyone passes through Nanny's porch at some point. It is a favorite meeting place for many of us. We usually started and ended our day there talking to Mom and anyone else who wandered in.

First Musky: Paul started the whole quest for a musky in 2004 or 2005, and had success on his first cast as I recall. The musky is a special fish, one that holds a certain mystique about it. After Paul caught his, Rob was quick to go to downtown Mercer and buy a Musky Rod and reel. He didn't have luck that year, but did the following year. Since then, Hunter, Tom, and most recently Sarah have all landed a musky at the cabin. It is now my goal to get one for some of the other cousins.

These are just some of the reasons the cabin is such a special place. When we arrive I feel my blood pressure drop almost immediately. Time slows down. Worries fade away. People relax. It is camping without all the work. The best part about it though is that, almost always, the entire family is there. It has dwindled to a long weekend for some of us, but is one of the best weekends of the year. And I am thankful for that.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One For The Ages

We spent the weekend in Mercer, Wisconsin again this Labor Day, much like we did last year. The mood was certainly less somber, though distinctly muted by the absence no one could ignore. Rob was the guy who would just show up at your cabin with coffee in hand in the morning, or a Budweiser in hand after noon, and talk. He loved being around family and talking about anything and everything. At the same time, the dynamic of the family is as healthy as it ever was. Everyone seems to appreciate everyone else a little more than they used to. Rob's absence has definitely pulled us closer together and the change is for the better. It was part of his legacy that he hoped he would leave and it seems to be happening that way.

It was a "blue moon" on Friday and it was a gorgeous night by the fire with family and friends. Everybody was in high spirits and glad to be with each other. The moon was beautiful and we even had a few people around the fire that knew the words to the song. (I wasn't one of them, though the song has some great lyrics.) It was an electric night and one I won't soon forget.

The highlight of the weekend however, happened the next morning. The plan was for my friend Steve and I to go out musky fishing on a nearby lake first thing in the morning. My daughter kind of hinted that she wanted to go musky fishing sometime. I asked Steve if he would mind, and he said he would be glad to take her if she was willing to get up at 7:00 AM and go. My hesitation on asking him is that musky fishing is typically long days in a boat with, at best, one minute of chaos, if someone gets a fish. Sarah has great patience and staying power, so I said she could go.

We got on the water about 8:20. Temps were in the mid 60's and the sky was clear. The anticipation was high, despite the fact that musky tend to be pretty finicky in warm weather. I thought our odds of success were about as good as we could hope. Our plan was to have Sarah fish for bass while we row-trolled two  suckers and Steve and I took turns casting for musky. 

Well, one cast into it and Sarah caught a fish. I thought it was a bass so told her to bring it to the side of the boat so I could pull it in. The fish put up a great fight with a couple of nice runs toward the motor. Sarah held tight and didn't horse on the line. When it came up next to the boat Steve said "That's a musky! I can't believe this!" He wasn't even finished getting the suckers in the water yet, nor was he prepared with the net. He quickly got the net pulled out (a nice big net that allows the musky to stay in the water while being unhooked, mind you) and on the second attempt got the fish into the net. 

It was a 34" twelve pound Tiger Musky, caught on the first cast on a 4" Kalin's Grub using 8 lb test line and a standard spinning rod/reel. It was nothing short of amazing. Sarah was glowing and texted to Donna, "Pardon my language mom, but Holy Sh*t I just caught a musky!!!" She was so happy and said she would be fine with not fishing the rest of the weekend. I can't say how proud I was of her and how glad I was to have the sense to include her on the trip. What a great, memorable Father/Daughter moment!

 I don't know who to thank, God, Rob or just dumb luck. I just know it was a day I'll never forget as part of a weekend I'll never forget.

Blogging off...