Showing posts from 2013

Another Year In The Books

This time of year tends to be both reflective and telescopic for me. As I prepare for what the new year promises, I also take stock of what last year brought to my life. When I look at 2013 from a writing perspective, it was a really, really good year. I had eight pieces published over the year, three of them paying. This was my most successful year from a publication standpoint, but as all writers know, "success" is not all about the publishing. For instance, I feel successful when I get four pages written in a sitting. I feel successful when I do a reading and people come up to me afterward and say, "I really loved your story/poems." I feel successful when I take a piece I've written already and find a new twist to it or I enrich it by adding layers to it. My success is not always about what others see or say, but what my words do for me. Writing is baring one's soul, and when we do it well, it feels so much more satisfying than when we do it half-hea

The Voices of Christmas

Over the past few years leading up to Christmas I've done something on Facebook that I call the "Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts of Years Past." I post a picture of a gift I've received or gave when I was a kid back in the 70's, with a brief description of what it meant to me. Often times it sparks memories or responses from people who remember the item or associate it with a particular memory of theirs. Its fun for me to pore over the Christmas catalogs of the past and remember some of the crazy and eclectic gifts of the past. Of course, as much as the gifts change over the years, what really makes Christmas "Christmas" are the people around me. Over the years, the faces grow older, and the places change, but the undercurrent of love, laughter and support stands true. Everyone gathered around the dinner table every Christmas would go to war for one another and the gift exchanges are just an extension of this appreciation for each other. Some of th

Post Solstice Post

Well I just dug out of a beautiful 6-7" snowfall and then took my daughter to work. Soon enough I will be going to Milwaukee to pick up my father and mother in-law to bring them here for Christmas. Earlier this morning I was wrapping Christmas presents with my son Ben in his bedroom while listening to Pandora's Christmas Channel on his PC. Later today I will be hunkering down to watch the Packers try to continue to weasel their way into the playoffs by beating a Pittsburgh team that is laughably bad this year. Then I will gather with the whole family to eat a delicious meal prepared by my better half and then settle in for a movie or just some laughter and discussion. This is the lead-in to my 2013 Wisconsin Christmas, and I love it. May the spirit of the season be as good for you and your families this Christmas. Blogging off...

The Angel Of Christmas Past

Dec. 23rd, 1973 I lay in my bed anxiously awaiting the coming of Christmas Eve. Our family always celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and the days leading up to it are always full of anticipation for me. I've just turned 12 years old and can't help thinking about the pile of presents sitting under the tree downstairs in the spacious living room of our house in St. Paul, Minnesota. My stomach is actually churning and shuddering likely in part from the twelve year-old Christmas diet of cookies, ribbon candy and egg nog. I get up and start downstairs in my fleece pajamas where my sister Pat is sitting alone. It is past ten o'clock and my other siblings were all in bed, as was my mother, exhausted from the preparations for tomorrows celebration and cheer. When I get downstairs, Pat says "What are you doing up?" "I can't sleep because I want tomorrow to be here. It's making my stomach hurt." I say. "Well, come here and help me strai

Eyes To See

My wife and I went to church this morning at Transformation City Church. As I mentioned we've been going there, checking it out and seeing if it's where we should be. It's a church in the heart of Milwaukee and their message and mission seem to mesh pretty well where we are as a family. I'll admit the first couple times I went, I was skeptical and somewhat resistant. It's a bit of a drive, and it's not really "my neighborhood" or "local" as they say. At the same time, their focus on the central city, the homeless, the poor and hurting is right where we're at. I approached today differently thinking let's just see where God can use me in this church and see what happens. The message this morning was convicting and real. It spoke about how as a culture we've built a "system" of education to job to wealth accumulation to retirement to passing on an inheritance for our kids to perpetuate this system. The point wasn't t

Egg Nog And Birthday Blog

Today was my birthday, or as a friend of mine calls it my "Begin Day". They seem to come and go so quickly lately. For me, my December birthday is always a nice momentary diversion from the rush, hustle, cold and snow of the holiday season. Because my wife's is on December 7th, we typically just go out to dinner at our favorite restaurant, La Merenda . We rarely exchange birthday gifts, as its such a taxing financial time of year anyway. We agreed that except on the major birthdays (the 10's) we'll just consider our night out as our gift to each other. It has become one of my favorite meals of the year. While all birthdays are good, when I think back to some of the more memorable ones there were some really good ones. 11th (Golden Birthday)  I got special treatment this day and got to go across the border to a tavern with my Mom and my Stepdad (to be) in Hudson, WI to watch the Viking-Packer game. Back then, home games that weren't sold out in advance we

Thursday Jump Starts

Most of my weekday mornings are pretty typical, full of routine and fairly predictable. The exception to this are my Thursdays. On Thursdays I meet at a local coffee shop for an hour with a few friends for a sort of theologic discussion/book study/random thought session. It has become my favorite day of the week. We always have a book we're working through, usually an edgy Christian book of one sort or another. We've studied a book by Newbigin that is out of print, then a book by Peter Rollins called Insurrection and are now working through Letters from a Skeptic by Gregory and Edward Boyd. We are taking on the "hard books" that challenge modern Christianity and challenge us to look at our faith and even our perceptions of what a Christian life is supposed to look like. This group is kind of the antithesis of a group I was part of about 7 or 8 years ago. That group began with good intentions, namely challenging us to be men of faith and conviction. After a few yea

Beneath The Surface

We returned from St. Paul on Sunday after spending another Thanksgiving holiday in Minnesota with my family. It was an extraordinarily good 4 days. The holidays are always a bit stressful going in, but I've found that once they're upon me, I have no problem putting all of my effort into enjoying the time I have with family and friends. This past weekend was a good chance for catching up and getting under the surface of how my family members are really doing. Because of the extended time we spent together, we have a chance to talk about more than the weather, the Vikings and the Packers - (and, this year, I really thank God for that.) We stayed with my sister in-law at her spacious new apartment in New Brighton. Our kids hung with her kids and her place was very conducive to relaxing and serious down time. I cherish time with her because of all of our shared past memories, but also out of love for her and her girls. She has the formidable task of raising two teenage girls an

Have It My Way

My 15 year old son has hit the teenage years where it seems that all he does is eat, sleep and go to school. Our food bill with two teenagers in the house has risen significantly now that we have two teenagers around. They've graduated from being fairly picky eaters to eating just about anything that they can find in the cupboards. You know they're growing up when they'll  not only try new things, but will actually cook something on the stove or the oven. Sarah has been known to cook a pizza after she gets home from work at 10:00 PM. I remember those days and did the same thing as a teenager. The other night Ben left one in the oven for about 50 minutes and something like this was the result. >>> One of Ben's new favorite foods is hamburgers, another phase that I remember going through as a teenager. We grilled out one time and as we were eating, Ben said "Ya know, this burger is really good. I really like hamburgers." I knew we had hit a turning po

Taking Stock

With the approaching Thanksgiving holiday I want to take a minute to spell out what I'm thankful for. So much of life is rushing to and from the next thing that, to me, to take a minute to reflect is almost therapeutic. Everyone has reason for thanks and tomorrow is meant to remind us of how lucky we are to have what we have. I am thankful for: My Wife Donna.  She has stuck by me through some tough times and I feel like our marriage is richer because of all of it. We still laugh together daily and she "gets me" and I "get her". She has taught me that love and marriage are forever. I cannot imagine someone more compatible with me. 23 years and counting. Thankful. My Daughter Sarah.  I hate gushing about kids, but Sarah makes it hard not to. She has a strong will, an incredible work ethic and a huge heart. She is an amazing student, way better than I ever was, through no doing of her parents. Why is that? I don't know, but I am thankful. My Son Ben. 

Awash In Joy

I'll start by using my old tag line "I'm not handy". This is my opinion, but I really think I don't give myself enough credit. History has shown that in most projects I take on, I do okay. Today was "install the dishwasher" day. We bought a Bosch Ascenta about a week ago and rather than spend the $150 to have it installed, we thought we'd save a little money and do it ourselves. I had no less than four people tell me that it was "easy" and 3 of those promised me they would be on retainer if needed. Based on those assessments I thought I'd give it a go. I started by watching a YouTube video where a Canadian guy installed one. It looked fairly straightforward, and the video was only 21 minutes long, so I figured how hard can it be? Bear in mind that the Canadian guy didn't live in a house that was 91 years old. His was new or new-ish. So I get started by plugging in my work light that is halogen and, I kid you not, two minute

Spare A Little Change

My wife and I have a friend, who we actually met through another friend. This gentleman works for The Guest House , a homeless shelter/re-housing program in the city center of Milwaukee. The agency is, like many non-profit, humanitarian social services, wildly underfunded considering their case load (or, perhaps more correctly, their potential case load). As a result, they rely heavily on internal fund raising and a large community of volunteers to help fill the gaps. There are 86 beds at the shelter, and the men are typically hooked up with counselling staff to help them with job searches, educational opportunities, substance abuse and  mental health issues. Our friend took us on a tour one day and I have to say, it is one of the more humbling places I've ever toured or had the privilege to serve. A while back, my wife Donna felt compelled to set a goal of trying to pull together enough volunteer donations to be able to serve a meal at the shelter. She set up a sign up list usi

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Well, the waiting game continues. I'm speaking of my attempt to get my manuscript published. I finished it in mid-September and began my publishing pursuits in earnest shortly thereafter. There are many ways to go about getting your book published, and so I consulted a friend of mine who is in the publishing business and asked him what my options were. He said there were essentially three routes you could take, or at least three that he recommends to people that he works with. I describe them below in the suggested order of pursuit. The first is the most desirable, the last being the least. The first route was what he referred to as the agented route. That route involves soliciting the services of an agent, preferably a New York agent. The agent then works for you and pushes your book to various publishing houses in an attempt to get them to publish it. While you still have to write your query letter, synopsis and marketing plan, they do the "hard work" of convincing pu

Coliseums and Gladiators

I just returned from a two day conference in Green Bay. It was the ESRI WI Users Group ( EWUG ) annual meeting and for the second time in 3 years it was held at Lambeau Field. The stadium has meeting rooms and banquet facilities in its atrium and it really worked out nicely for this conference. I've been to a few games at the stadium, so it was not a totally new experience for me. Every time I visit it though, I am more blown away by the behemoth that it has become. Lambeau leaves all other football stadiums in the dust with regards to fan experience. You just cant touch it. It's second to none. At the same time, during the renovations, they took a football field with history and made it into a destination. All of this was done in the interest of revenue generation, but most of it is done in good taste and with class. It reminds me of Miller Park in some respects, as it's as much an indoor mall as it is a sports venue. Not a bad thing, just not your daddy's ballpar

A Reading from the Book of Sarah

Tomorrow my eldest, fairest, and only daughter turns 18. As my boss put it so disturbingly, she could technically get married now and not have to ask permission. Yikes! Thanks for that shot to the cranium. I'm well aware there are a host of other things she'll be eligible for too, including tattoos, credit lines, and probably some once-illicit-now-legal activities in Colorado and Washington. She's a smart kid though and we raised her right, so I trust she'll make only good decisions, like waiting until you're 51 to get a tattoo, if ever. Sarah began to make her entrance into the world in the middle of the night in November of 1995. Donna woke me up at 3:00 AM saying something like "I think this is it!" I jumped out of bed and we both clicked into hyper drive. We let her brother know (he was living with us at the time), called the doctor and hit the road for West Allis Memorial Hospital. After almost 8 hours of labor, she was born at 10:53 AM that day.

All Things Churchy

Our family went to a new church on Sunday. We were feeling compelled to try something new, so thought we would try Transformation City Church in Milwaukee. We've heard good things about their mission of outreach and service, so we thought we'd give it a look. The church itself is built in what used to be an archery range. They've remodeled it, so it is modern and spacious. Like many churches in this day and age, the worship was contemporary, complete with amps, drums and electric guitars. The message was good as well, now we just need to determine if we want to commit to the commute to get there every Sunday which takes 25 minutes. We've been at our current church Elmbrook for twenty years or so. I won't go into why we're looking to change, because this post isn't about that. Instead I'd like to run down some of the churches I've been to over the years. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses, and all of them played a role in shaping my be

The Hero Treatment

I have a date that comes up annually on my Microsoft Outlook calendar every November 1st. It is set to remind me of my nephew's sobriety anniversary. I think this is his 4th or 5th year of being clean and sober and I have the calendar set because, in my mind, this is a significant date that needs to be recognized. It needs to be recognized annually . This guy knows how ugly he was as a drinker. He could be mean, nasty and a completely different person when he was on a bender. He was great to talk to and really funny to be around when he was sober, but if he had a few, look out. I wanted no part of being around him. Now that he's recovered, it's like he's a different person. I say its important to recognize these people for their achievement on an annual basis. However, in their own lives, every day is a day that needs to be recognized, at least for them, unto themselves. One of the foundations of AA and other programs is "one day at a time". While no one wa

Ghosts of Halloween Past

Tomorrow is Halloween Night. This is one of the few holidays we don't spend much time on every year. It used to be a much bigger deal when the kids were younger, but now that they don't trick or treat, we really don't do much at all. We were never into the decorating thing, other than a few pumpkins that we'd carve up. I think this year we may even turn out the lights and pretend we're not home. I'm much more okay with Halloween than Donna, who has never been a big fan. I had my bag stolen at the end of a long night of trick or treating when I was a middle schooler, so I can certainly see how it might not be someone's favorite night. I'm just vanilla about it, I guess. As I say, it was a little more fun when the kids were able to dress up. There was a day when we used to dress up and go to Halloween parties, but that was way back when I had hair. We haven't dressed up or gone to a party for at least 18 years, I'm guessing. When we did, I went a

The Working Mother

Throughout our parenting years, my wife has never really worked a 9-5 job. She tried it for a few months when Sarah was just a baby, but daycare was not only expensive, but just didn't feel right to her (or me.) As a result, over the last 17 years she has held a number of part time and self-employed jobs in order to contribute to the household bottom line and to keep the creditors at bay. I'll be the first to admit that when she mentioned she wanted to quit her 9-5 job because she hated the daycare thing, I was terrified. Losing an income, or in this case, dramatically decreasing it -scared the heck out of me. When we did the math on what daycare was costing however, as well as the thought that making her available to the kids during those critical first years held value too, it was an easier decision than I thought. And so over the years she has tried many things. The one steady job has been waitressing at a local Italian restaurant. It's not great money, but the