Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Empty Nest Dry-Run

The kids have been gone all week at Phantom Ranch Bible Camp in Mukwonago, WI. It has been a while since both of our kids have been gone for this long of a period. (In fact I can't say for sure that they ever have been away from home for a full week like this.) It has been a good week, a quiet week, a week where Donna and I have had a taste of what it will be like when they have both gone off to college. While this sounds like everything everyone hopes for and wishes for, I'm not so sure I'm ready for the deafening silence that will take over our house when that happens.

Which is funny, if you think about it. When we were in the trenches of parenthood, we longed for our "alone time," or, on the really bad days, for our "old life." Diapers, formula, nap times, tantrums, and physical needs take a toll on a person. There were days I never thought we'd be past it. Then, like a flick of a switch, they're looking at colleges, and driving, and talking about shaving.

Wait a minute, where'd those middle 10 years go?

When you're in it day to day, growing up and growing old just happens and you don't realize it, or maybe even appreciate it. You send them to school, trudge to work yourself, cut the lawn, take out the garbage and the next thing you know you're 50 and looking at college for your kids and not yourself. It's mind boggling. Maybe it's more a shot to the head because of what's happened in my family in the past year and a half. Or, maybe it's just my age showing, or God knocking me around and saying "Hello, time is short here, big guy. Whatcha doin' about it?"

I was at a pre-retirement seminar a couple of weeks ago and there was a psychologist there who talked to the group about the "emotional aspects of retirement." Of course I poo pooed the idea that there would be any emotional impact on me when the time comes, but that has changed a bit after this week. You don't really realize the role you play as a father when all the kids are at home, until they leave. They are as much a part of my identity and my routine as they are of my wife. Different roles for sure, but I think their absence has left a hole in me as big as in her.

So when the time comes for them to go off to college, all I ask is that you ask how I'm doing. Because as much as you want people to think you're doing fine, it's going to be an adjustment and the pyschologist was right. Don't discount the radical change that an empty nest will bring. Add to that a side dish of retirement and its going to take a bit of getting used to. Until then, I aim to appreciate my kids being around as much as I can. Teenage eye-rolls, "whatever's", ignored dinner calls and other annoyances are all part of it. I have a better appreciation for the role they play in my life now. Besides, it beats the heck out of diapers and formula.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Real Reasons I Go Back

People who have read or heard some of my BWCA stories often question why I would return to such a difficult environment in the name of a vacation. It's a question that always puts me on the spot at the time, but this past trip I took the opportunity to reflect a bit on why I was there, as well as why I go there. The answers are many.

Sounds: As I sat in my canoe with Sarah in the front on many occasions, the only thing I could hear was the tinnitus in my ears. No traffic, no airplanes, no blaring stereos or Harley Davidsons blasting up the street. There were no sirens, no ringtones, no televisions, no barking dogs, and no passing trains. The wind in the tall pines and birch trees whispered occasionally. This sound is naturally rhythmic and serves to bring ones blood pressure down, rather than elevating it like all the godforsaken man-made sounds of the city. The only intrusive sounds all week was the occasional conversation of campers across the lake from us, and one rogue jet that flew very, very high overhead. It makes for a meditative environment. It grounds me. It cleanses my mind and my lungs.

Seclusion: For four days we see less than a dozen people pass by in canoes. Most of them pass in silence or, at most, give a casual wave. They've come for the same reason as we have; to get away. To get away from people and the manic pace we live at. To destroy that by pressing themselves into other people's bubble is a violation of the unwritten BW code of conduct. Keep to yourself. Respect others. Move along.

Detachment: Anything device with a plug, a screen, a keyboard or a joystick was left behind. In the woods there is no texting, no Facebook posting, no tweeting (except birds, which is actually more interesting than most tweets, anyway), no save button, no email, no remote control, no XBox, no Hulu, netflix or godforsaken television at all. (How do I really feel?). People today, and this includes me, move from screen to screen all day long. It consumes people. Up north, the kids spent the majority of their time talking to each other. Face to face cousin time, talking and goofing off. No shooting a virtual enemy or "Liking" any statuses. Just talking about the fish they caught, the teacher they don't like, laughing at the Zombie Survival Guide book that Ben brought, or just life in general. The least surprising thing is no one said they missed it. Furthermore, they all survived without any of it.

Natural Beauty: The cloud swept sunsets, lichen covered basalt rocks, the call of the loons, crystal clear water, soaring eagles and beautiful fish. Things you can't put on a screen saver and get the same effect.

Reflection: Down time during the lulls in fishing to ponder life. Where you're going, what your goals are, the meaning of life, whether you have enough leeches to make it through the week. Is it going to rain tonight, are the kids having a good time? Up north you have nothing but time to think about the big and the small; to sort things out. I thought a lot about Rob and trips we took up there in years past and how quickly that has come and gone. I treasure the memories of those trips, but at the same time I realize the importance of creating new ones with the next generation.

After all, someone has to pass down to the next generation the love and respect for relatively untouched natural beauty of the BWCA, and it sure ain't going to be Animal Planet.

It might as well come from me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fishing For Answers

An Aside: To everyone who visited this blog in the past couple of days and got an error, I apologize. Here's what I tried to do. I wanted to move my blog under my main domain of, thus making it appear as Needless to say it flopped. I'm back now for good. Sorry for the inconvenience.

BWCA - 2012

We returned from a 4 day/3 night trip in the BWCA on Sunday. It's hard to put into words all the emotions I felt during this trip. Joy, sadness, elation, pride, fear, apprehension, love, exhaustion, and regret. The one I really did not experience was anger, and I'll take that any day.

It's impossible to run down everything that went on over the four days, perhaps I'll include some of it in my book. It was such a unique trip in so many ways that I would be neglect in not mentioning it there. I'll try and cover a few of the high points here.

Quality Time With Sarah and Ben
As I drove to St. Paul, I had 5 solid hours on the road alone with my kids. While Ben slept much of the trip, it gave me a good chance to talk to Sarah about everything under the sun. I rarely get the chance to talk about much more than work, the dog, or school to her for more than 10 minutes before one of us is distracted by the pull of a screen or a set of earphones. To sit there and listen to my young adult daughter talk about "what Mom is probably doing right now," or colleges she's thinking about, or her summer plans, was priceless. It was also nice to be able to turn the keys over to her in Menomonee so she could drive while I napped (with one eye open.) While the canoe trip was hard work, brutally hard at times, this time talking with my girl made it all worthwhile.

Staying at Jane's House
My sister-in-law is looking at selling her house, as it has become overwhelming for her. I don't blame her one bit. I always cherish my time in that house, and realized that this may have been the last time I get the chance to stay there. There were a lot of good times there. 

The Portage From H*&%
We loaded the kids up with heavy packs - very heavy packs - at the start of our 3/4 mile portage on Thursday about noon. It was unlike the trip in 2009, which was a short portage where the kids were not required to carry much more than paddles and fishing rods. It proved to me that kids do grow up - they grow up to help, and if they're good kids, they don't complain. They don't complain even when they sit down to take a break and end up getting "turtled" like Sarah did where she could not get off her back. Luckily another camper happened by and gave her a 2 handed hoist to her feet. After a few more yards, Tom came by and switched packs with her. She made it the rest of the way and rather than berating us for overloading her, she laughs about the incident. It's one she'll probably always remember.

Nick's Exposure To The BWCA
My nephew Nick filled the role of the 3rd adult in Rob's absence and he seemed to really enjoy himself. Luckily he came with a great attitude and seemed well prepared for everything that was thrown at him. Being a military man, he was quick to act when things went south (rain, etc.) and was always asking what he could do to help. Being an ex-culinary student, he was helpful with meals and fish cleaning as well. We had some incredible laughs together and like my kids, it was great to have long, extended periods to talk and get to catch up with him. He's become quite a man.

Over the 4 days we estimate we caught more than 80 fish between our party. This included a 5 lb bass that Tom caught and let my son Ben reel in. (What a great thing to do for a kid. Thank you, Tom.) It also included Sarah catching a 22" Northern, of her own, doing by casting a Rapala from shore. My niece Alison caught 10 walleye over the 4 days and Hunter (Tom's son) caught close to 20 fish, the biggest being a 19" walleye that I saw Tom accidentally drop into the water as he was tying it to the anchor rope. (His stringer was full.) Nick managed about 15 fish himself including a northern pike he got while trolling in the morning. He and the kids now have the "fishing bug" and to that I say mission accomplished.

I can't say this was a high point, but I cannot deny that they were perhaps the biggest factor the whole week. When we arrived to the site, the skies above us were humming with mayflies. It was a black cloud. These are harmless, but annoying at times. A day later, we were blessed with the State's largest dragonfly hatch. This is really something to watch. A metamorphosis I'd never seen before. And of course, we saw mosquitoes unlike I've experienced since the trip of '79 when we went during the same time of year. June is not a recommended month to go into the northwoods. Just sayin'.

Tom Time
I can't say enough about my brother Tom and all he did to make us all comfortable in the tough conditions. Everything from making spaghetti in the rain (under a tarp) to morning coffee, to hanging tarps. He was always on the periphery, because he's so good at camping/fishing. He always has been a role model for me, a mentor, a friend.

On Father's Day, we sprinkled some of Rob's ashes over the waters of Gabbro Lake. Rob requested that this be done as the BWCA was a special place to him. It's a special place to many of the Landwehr men and women. Each of us was given some to sprinkle as we saw fit, starting with his daughter Alison. The kids all took it with great reverence and I think it impacted them. I took the last handful of the ashes and threw them over the water. They left a white streak on the top of the water momentarily and everyone was silent for ten seconds. It was moving. It was spiritual. It was perfect. A perfect ending to a imperfectly perfect trip.

Now I feel God put us all there at that time for a reason. He made the struggle with bugs, heat, wind, rain and exhaustion, part of the wonderful journey to seeing our brother, our uncle, Alison's father in the woods once again. And he was certainly there, smiling that killer smile of his.

I miss you bro.

Blogging off...

Monday, June 11, 2012

To The Land Of "No Service"

With only three days until we depart to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), the planning and packing is in full swing. As I think of things, I've been packing them away, to try and minimize the drain of the last minute headless chicken panic packing that sometimes happens. The older I get, the more obsessed I get with the details. It's not a trait I'm particularly fond of, but it's me. I can't help it. I just have to deal with it, I guess.

The packing frenzy reminds me of the craziness of those late night packings with the brothers of long ago. Those after hours trips to the Big Top grocery or Rainbow Foods where the week's worth of staples were purchased in a single trip to the store. We'd fill a cart with more dry goods than is healthy for any person. Most of our meals came to life with a cup or two of boiled lake water, a pinch of salt and a whole lot of wood smoke. Urban voyagers out for a big adventure and a big fish.

This year we're returning with the same group as in 2009, with the exception of Rob. My nephew Nick will serve as the third adult. I'm not sure he has ever been to the BWCA before, so he's really looking forward to it. I think as much as anything, he's looking forward to being with the rest of the family. These trips are great for forging family bonds and memories, and I think he'll enjoy being a part of it.

Getting back to Rob, I'm sure this will be a different trip without him along. I know I'll miss him and his teasing. He absolutely loved the area and the experience, and it will be the first time I'll have been there without him in more than 25 years. One of the things I promised him was that I would try and keep his girls active in outdoor and travel adventures. Alison, (and to a lesser extent Amanda), loves to fish, so that's a good fit for me.

More importantly is to instill a love of the area into the next generation. I still think of the BW as one of the last (relatively) untouched areas of our country. Kids need to see the isolation; to experience the isolation. A place where the wind in the trees and the call of the loon and the crack of the thunder are the loudest things you'll hear for 4 days. No traffic, no iPods, no airplanes, no TV, no XBox, no YouTube, and best of all no cell phones. (Manic/obsessive texting is the malaise of this generation - Quote me on that.)

Instead there will be deep(er) conversations, great books read, card games played, crayfish caught, fish landed (YAY!), canoes paddled, jokes told, horsing around done, campfires lit and no doubt a foot or two dunked in the lake by accident. It is these kinds of thing that I remember best of trips past, not the rain or the bugs. It is the kind of stuff my kids remembered from the last trip and the reason they asked if we could go back. And so we will.

Rob would have wanted it that way.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I spent the day today at the first day of a day and a half seminar on "pre-retirement planning." I can't really believe I'm saying this, but it's true.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a ways from retiring. Further today than I had hoped, but not as far as some. I'm looking at a 10-15 year time frame. The one I'm targeting of course is the 6 year, but unless my great aunt Millie helps me out, I think the 10-15 year is more realistic. If health care continues to go up, I may work until I'm 84, then retire for a year, and start working again at 86. I get so torqued up by the health care industry, which I realize is driven by the high malpractice insurance, which is driven by our messed up legal system, that it all makes me want to scream, so I'll try not to go there. (I think I just did go there).

If we didn't face a $2000.00+/mo health care cost, most of us could retire at a reasonable age. Instead we are forced to work until we can get on Medicare at 65, or preferably longer, in the name of getting more Social Security. If the Canadians and countries in Europe can figure out affordable National Health Care systems, why can't the greatest country in the world? One word. Greed. (I think I've gone there again, sorry.)

The seminar was really a mind drain. Flooded with facts and figures about pensions, 457 (deferred comps), life insurance, estate planning and even the emotional aspects of retiring. I always laughed at the "emotional aspects" when I saw it on the agenda, thinking the only emotion I would associate with retirement was unbridled joy. But to be honest, they raised some significant things to consider. How your relationship with your spouse might change resonated with me the loudest, for some reason. I don't think I'll have a problem keeping busy or occupied when I'm retired, but I do think as a couple we'll be challenged with keeping our marriage fresh and secure. Like the guy said you can only look at the four walls and your spouse for so long before you both need more. I think we'll be fine, but it means I need to think about more than the unbridled joy.

Tomorrow covers Social Security and 457 Investing during volatile markets. It's a half day and I intend to spend the afternoon practicing for retirement by fishing. I figure it's extra credit.

Blogging off...

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Tribute to the Wizard

Just returned from Waukesha's GuitarTown Opening Celebration downtown. About 6 months ago Waukesha was selected to be a host city for Gibson's Guitar Town initiative. They donate ten 10 foot tall guitars. The guitars were then painted and decorated by local visual artists. They then place them in front of ten different businesses throughout downtown and the outskirts. It is modeled after the over sized Snoopys in Minneapolis, the over sized cows in Canandaigua (and Chicago?), and other cities. They will have a 3 year run and they take them down during the winter months to keep them from getting too weathered.

It was a cool event and should bring some much deserved notoriety to Waukesha. Our city's claim to fame for years has been that it is the birthplace of Les Paul , the "Wizard of Waukesha" and inventor of the electric guitar.

If you know me, you know I love music, especially guitar based music. Guys like Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler, Buddy Guy, BB King, Chet Atkins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Leo Kottke, Eric Clapton, Pat Travers, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Frampton and many others are all heroes in my book.

There has been talk of Ben and I taking lessons together, which may still happen. I took a couple of lessons with a friend when we were 19 or so, and it was hard then. I can't imagine it'll be any easier 30+ years later, but I'd be willing to give it a go. My stepfather always used to accuse me of having a "tin ear" and judging from my difficulty with tuning my guitar, I'm not so sure he's wrong.

Speaking of guitar heroes, a great one passed away this week. Doc Watson, a blind folk guitarist who could not only play the frets off a guitar, but could sing and songwrite too died at 79 years old. I can remember when my brother Tom got his record, I heard Wabash Cannonball, Walkin' Boss and Make Me Down A Pallet, and was completely mesmerized by the raw talent.

So, if you are a guitar fan, get to Waukesha. I've always said Waukesha rolls up the sidewalks at 8:00 every night, including weekends, but that is changing. With its Friday Night Live events, its Art Crawls, its bike races and other events, it's a GREAT place to live. After living here for essentially the past 25 years, (less the Milwaukee East Side black hole years) it truly has become my second home and I love it.

Come on over and see it for yourself because I'm blogging off...