Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Yesterday in 2000...

So this Sunday Ben has chosen to be baptized with some of his peers from the middle school ministry, as well as a few high schoolers. Our church practice has it that when a person has made the choice to publicly proclaim their faith, they baptize them. It is pretty different than the practice I grew up with in the Catholic faith, but I understand the reasoning completely. I just think it's such a cool experience to watch and am so glad he's taking the step. My daughter was baptized in 8th grade as well, and it was pretty neat.

The fact that he's in 8th grade, and even more so, that we have TWO teenagers living at home is kind of weird. It seems like just last week he was the kid who stopped to look at himself in the stove window as he walked by it. Or the kid who used to stop dead in his tracks at the zoo to look down every sewer grate and catch basin he could.

He was the kid who had the best "cheesy smile" for every photo-op of his young life. Much like my brother Rob, he was always very aware of where the camera was, and photogenic to go along with it.

Seems like last month we were going to the park every chance we got to "play monster" where I would chase he and his sister through the jungle gym, down the slides and through the habit trail tubes.

Just yesterday he was 8 years old playing city rec-league soccer. The day before he was 2 dancing to "Under the Rainbow" with Sarah in the living room while I videotaped them. (Mom was at Matteo's or schlepping Pampered Chef).

He's gone from WebKinz to XBox, from Blues Clues to YouTube, from Shel Silverstein to Hunger Games, from Boys Club to Middle School Mosaic.

His voice is changing, he's getting entirely too tall, his feet are now big and he's starting to eat like me.

So this choice he's made to publicly declare his faith is pretty cool.

I just want to know when all of this happened?

Blogging off...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Poetic Justification

Personally, this past few months has been incredible for me from a writing standpoint. Since early December, I have had two articles published and two poems accepted for publication. Furthermore, the two articles, published in MidWest Outdoors magazine, paid $30 each. Not retirement money, or really even gas money, but a nice perk nonetheless. Most serious writers might scoff at such paltry publishing accomplishments, but for me it is all a bit surreal. 

You see, when I started to take my writing seriously a few years ago, I never dreamed I would be published multiple times, let alone in two different genres. To say I have already surpassed what I'd hoped to accomplish when I started would not be far from the truth. I'm humbled by the many publications that have said "yes" to my work and in the process, have validated my skills as a writer. Like most in the trade, I am quick to shoot myself down, criticize my own work, and second guess all that I am trying to do. It's nice to know that others think better of me than I do.

The thing about getting those acceptance notices is that every one is just as exciting as the first. Furthermore each one spurs me to work harder at getting the next thing published. The whole process is a bit addictive. 

What floors me most though, has been my success with poetry. When I started this gig, poetry was not even on my radar. I always appreciated it, but if you had told me 4 years ago that I'd be writing it, and having success with it, I would have laughed you out of the room. My gift is creative nonfiction, and to venture outside of that was not in the plans either. 

But strange things happen in a writing workshop.

In my case, my initial poetic inspiration came in the person of Mario, a poet, musician and Buddhism student. He was a student in class when I first started going to AllWriters' in 2010. Like most poets, some of his stuff I just didn't "get". At the same time, when his stuff was good, it scintillated. It was mind-bending, thought provoking and sometimes shocking. It evoked emotion and demanded attention and processing. All the things good poetry is supposed to do. He may not realize it, but he was an inspiration for me to start dabbling in something that I now have great appreciation for.

Inspiration also came from others in the class as well. Kathy, a poet first and foremost who was stretching herself by trying her hand at World War II fiction, wrote wonderful stuff as well. Alita was prolific at writing poems about her mother and family. Later on it took the form of Kristina, Karen, Kris, and Ellen who wrote of relationships, love, loss and even french fries. Beautiful stuff, sprinkled with the occasional clunker, like all writing, but all of it from the heart.

To all of these people, as well as my instructor Kathie, and all the other workshop writers not mentioned here who have supported me as I stretched myself through this unexpected medium, I have to say thank you. Thank you for your advice, your constructive criticism and even your ridicule when it was deserved. You guys energize me and I owe as much to you as to my own efforts.

So, I will continue to struggle with what it means to enjoy and write and appreciate poetry probably for the rest of my life. It's not something I signed up for, and frankly I'm still not sure what to do with it. Until I figure that out, I guess I'll just keep on doing what I'm doing...because it sure is a whole lot of fun.

Blogging off...

Monday, February 18, 2013

El Vacación Fantástico

There were many other eventful happenings on our Mexican vacation/wedding. As with any foreign vacation, the language barrier can come into play at anytime. Throw a thick Spanish accent together with my early-onset, concert-induced hearing loss and there are many chances for a miscommunication during almost every exchange.

For instance at one point I was in line for tacos and the server asked me a if I wanted shredded or ground beef. I think he asked in English, but can't be sure because I couldn't hear it. Anyhow I said, that I'd take one of each. Well, I got two ground beef. Rather than argue, it was just easier to eat what I was given.

Another incident happened when our toilet backed up in our hotel room. When I called the front desk, the man who picked up gave an extended greeting is Spanish, none of which I understood. I said that I had a problem with our toilet and gave him our room number, 2417. He replied that he would send a man right up.

Forty minutes later, no man. So I asked Sarah and Ben how to say "My toilet is bad" along with my room number in Spanish. Then, I wrote it out on a piece of paper. This time when I called, I got the same greeting in Spanish, and, thinking I would make the problem clear, I said "El bano es malo.  veinticuatro diecesiete." After I said it I realized I forgot to say "Hola". This is because I was reading from the script.

Anyways, the gentleman on the other end said in reply, "Oh, your toilet is bad? I'll send a man right up." He did and the problem was cleared up. My kids could not stop laughing at my attempt to speak the language and the fact that I forgot to say hello. Oh well.

As I said, the island is beautiful, especially on the gulf side. The touristy side we stayed on was much more built up and congested. Much of our view from the hotel was obscured by hundred foot tall cruise ships. The whole trip made me quite sure I'll never take a Caribbean cruise. Not my thing, for sure, though some people love it.

The trip was most memorable for time spent with family and friends. I feel like I really got to know my niece Jennifer much better. She is funny and beautiful and it was really good to be around her. I also got the chance to salsa dance with her sister Stephanie at a nighttime concert thing in the teatro' band shell. We had a blast trying out our moves, none of which were in sync at any one time. I'm sure it was a sight from the outside in. When we were done dancing, I said to my wife that I've never really salsa danced before, to which she replied, "Well honey, you still haven't." Evidently I wasn't convincing. :-)

There was quality time with my brother Tom, whose sense of humor is as close to mine as anyone I know. There were endless laughs with my sister Jane as well as some touching moments at the wedding. There were some hilarious moments with my mom who, at one point, was on the back of a motor scooter waiting for Jen to take her around the island. This is a woman who is 79 and she's doing things many 59 year-olds would not do. She is amazing. There were funny moments with my sister in-law, like the time she said something about a pastry and I thought she said "peach treat". (That hearing thing again.)

And of course there were countless memories from the new people I met. Janet's family is fun. Her mom and Dad are great to talk to and I got to know her brother Dan a little at the wedding and around the complex.

Best of all, it took me back to my own destination wedding 22+ years ago. It was a different kind of destination, one not as nice, but to me the day was just as beautiful in every way. Small church, small town, lots of loved ones who traveled far to support me, a large body of water, and a happy occasion with the woman of my life.

What more can a man ask?

Congratulations Nick and Janet! Welcome to the family Jim, Denise, Dan and Julie.

Adios Amigos.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

El Matrimonio Paradiso Es Cozumel

I am slightly more than 25 hours back from Cozumel, Mexico. I was there to celebrate my nephew (and godson) Nick's wedding. There were a number of amazing and awesome moments with my family, both immediate and extended. I'll summarize our experience along with some editorial comments about my first Mexican cultural experience.

Our flight down was good. After our initial disrobing and full body scan, pat-down and humiliation, it came off without a hitch. We did end up sprinting through the Houston airport to make our connection and were literally 4 of the last 6 to get on the plane. If we had missed it, we would have missed a whole day of the trip.

The customs experience in Cozumel was not too bad, although a bit chaotic and slow. The airline had run out of forms for entry, so in customs, virtually everyone on the whole flight was looking for a pen.

The cab ride to the hotel was an education in aggressive driving, near misses, and lawless driving. That is really the only word I can think of for the traffic and transportation system of the island; lawlessness. Vehicular road-worthiness is lax. Traffic laws are written, yet rarely heeded or enforced. There are no passenger limits for any size vehicle. Animal passengers on mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and bikes are frequent and typically quite skilled. (My sister said she saw a small dog standing on all fours on the back of a moving scooter.) Center lines are strictly decorative. Traffic signs are just to allay the tourists. Shoulders are for passing. No parking zones are simply suggestions. Truck beds qualify as back seats for as many as will fit. Rear view mirrors are strictly optional, and, if you happen to have side mirrors, not required at all. Seat belts are for the weak or uninformed. And finally, lights, wipers, and signals need only work for one side of the vehicle. In essence, the only rule of the road is: The bigger vehicle wins.

It is completely random, totally intense, and, at times, shockingly stressful.

And I loved everything about it.

I felt at home. (A few people might say I drive aggressively, but I think I'm fine.) I think we can learn something from it. We are the most over regulated, overprotective country on the planet. We could use a few less rules, signs and policing around here.

The hotel was really good. All accommodations were taken care of, with the exception of slow moving toilets and safes that could not be opened, once locked.

The wedding was positively perfect. It was held near the beach at Mr. Sancho's a few miles outside of town. It was like a fairy tale, including the handsome groom and beautiful fair bride. The Hawaiian version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" was played as the wedding party walked in and it just got better from there. The minister was succinct, but every word had spiritual and emotional meaning.

Another thing that struck all of us when we were there was the way time slowed down. I had more people come up to me and say they always thought it was 2 hours later than it actually was. I can't explain why that is, but I think it had something to do with people not checking their phone, their email, or their facebook status every half hour. It was a refreshing pace of life, and again, I think we could all learn something from it.

The Mexican people are beautiful. They were courteous, friendly, accommodating and hard working. Some of the towns we went through on our way around the island were fairly poor. Many of them had little, and yet seemed happier than many Americans. We need to learn from them that as long as we have our family, our faith and a job, we are truly rich.

There is just too much to cover in a single post, so I"ll save the rest for later in the week. Suffice it to say that I was nothing but impressed with Mexico, it's culture, and it's people. My family is pretty amazing too.

Blogging off...

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Microsoft's Good Graces

My daughter got a new laptop about a month ago. Hers was "too slow" and she was griping about it continuously until I'd had enough and told her I would go with her to get a new one. She got a fine machine, an HP Envy m6-1105dx. It has 6GB of memory and a discrete graphics card. Being the geek that I am, I like all the technical stuff that goes along with these purchases.

As part of the deal, I told her that we would buy her old laptop a Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5985 with 3GB of ram and a 320 GB Hard Drive. My plan was to replace the desktop upstairs, an aging Dell Dimension 2400 running Windows XP. Right now, we are a family with too many computers, and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.

Rather than try and figure out how to make her laptop run better by uninstalling, defragging, and cleaning up  the registry (bear with my geekiness here), I thought I'd just do a factory restore. I had all the "restore DVD's" that I'd carefully created when she bought the thing in 2009. Of course I made the backup DVD's because, it's what geeks do.

After looking online a bit, I was surprised to see a suggestion that said all I needed to do was boot while holding down the '0' at the same time. I tried this and was shocked and awed when it started to reformat, flawlessly on the first try. It then restarted and configured for the next 40+ minutes, running through each of the driver packs etc. I kept waiting for the nasty windows error that ALWAYS shows up during these restores, but it never came.

When it was finished, I was able to login the first time and started to install the updates. The laptop sings like brand new. Again, it went flawlessly, and I kept waiting for disaster. It never came.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, when the planets are all aligned, and your Karma is in a good state, and the zeroes and ones are all clicking the way they should, Windows can be a beautiful thing. I dare say, as beautiful as Mac. It's a rarity, but it does happen. And you know what? I'm going to run with it.

And so, I'd like to thank the people at the Toshiba Corporation for this one, small victory. I am always quick to criticize when software and/or hardware gives me fits, so I think it's only fair that I compliment where compliments are due.

I'd even like to go so far as to thank the fine staff at Microsoft for helping Toshiba to make this historical event so special for me, my family, Wisconsin, and America.

At the same time though, I beg of you to not let it go to your nerdy little heads. Because I know that, somewhere soon, there lies a  blue screen of death, or an initialization error, or a dll failure in my future, and it will not be my fault. Then I will curse the screen and vow to get a Mac, just like I always do.

Until then, life, for the moment, is very, very good.

Blogging off...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Running From It

It's been an interesting end of the week for me. Just when I think I've got my emotions in check and under control, all hell breaks loose and I'm all over the map. There's something about this post 50 experience that is difficult to get my arms around. It's like I'm seeing things through the lens of someone else and while it's a weird, wonderful thing, I'm not sure what to make of it. It's like I need to go hit the heavy bag or shoot a deer or jump out of a plane or something to remind me that I'm a man, not a mush bag.

Thursday night it snowed about 4 inches. Now, normally  I look at this kind of thing as a nuisance, one that is to be endured and moved beyond. Blow the snow, dig out the vehicles, and count the days until spring. Then I go walking to work or driving around and I am positively awestruck by the beauty of the snow-covered trees. Every time I turn a corner, my breath gets taken away. Suddenly, for a short time, I don't mind the cold, or the itchy dry skin, or the heavy clothes. I am just immersed in the beauty of winter, two words I have never used together.

I am a warm weather person, happiest in my shorts and a t-shirt. I see the beauty of spring flowers, summer rain and fall leaves. Winter has always been harder to bear. Lately I've been known to say things like "I don't care if it ever snows again".  Crotchety, cantankerous and crabby.

And so when I suddenly saw beyond the cold and bleakness, I was a caught off guard. It's not to say I want it to stay forever, but dang, it sure was pretty today. I imagine it's a bit of what heaven looks like, but without the need for mittens and a hat. Throw into that a song by Third Day on my iPod, and some memories of Rob, and well, I was a mess.

The other incident happened when I went to a play at Waukesha West High School last night. The performance of Beauty and the Beast is playing and the son of some friends of ours is playing the part of the Beast. I've heard he has a great singing voice, but had never had the opportunity to hear it. Well, he starts into his first major solo and by the end, I'm a teary mess, AGAIN. Of course I try to cover it up so the kids don't see, but at the same time, I'm wondering:

What the hell's going on with me? 

I think I need to watch Die Hard or a Fistfull of Dollars, or something. Criminy sakes.

Some people might call these occurrences normal, healthy, emotional outbursts. Others might criticize it as sensitive-male Alan Alda-itis. All I know is that it ambushes me and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

It is kind of summed up in a poem that I wrote a while back that I had forgotten about until I stumbled across it the other day. So, I'll leave you with the poem, while I go eat a steak, listen to Bruce Springsteen, clean my tackle boxes, and lift my weights. Because THAT's who I am, not this other guy.

What’s Happening?                          by Jim Landwehr

The passion of people
The color of fall
The love of a dog
The artist in the art
The smell of the rain
The hug of a child
The majesty of a sunset
The joy in the music
The smile of a wife
The death of a brother
The brevity of life
The power of God

This is my mid-life

Blogging off...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Walk It Down, Walk It Back

In the winter months I usually walk to work. Bikes and snow do not mix, so I usually dress warm, pick the right footware, and walk the 1.7 miles, each way, to and from work. I do it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because it gives me a decent workout every day.

One of the bigger reasons I do it is that it allows me time to process the coming day, in the case of the morning trip, or the day I had, in the case of the evening. I usually listen to my iPod and walk at a pretty brisk pace, but it allows me to wind down or crank up as need be.

I've decided that walking also serves to ground me; it keeps me humble; one of the people. If there's one thing the world could use it's more walkers, more humility. Cars tend to distance people from their environment and the world around them. When you're walking, you're right in it. You are feeling what's to be felt, hearing what's to be heard and seeing it all up close. It gets my heart going and keeps me lean and at my fightin' weight, as my stepfather used to say.

On my walk I have two businesses that are everyday reminders of my health and mortality. On my way to work, I pass by an senior disabled community center. The place seems to cater largely to people in wheelchairs, but there are a few walkers as well. They do crafts and games and I think they spend most of the day there. When I pass in the morning, there are some who are asleep in their wheelchairs, others who are just sitting with blank faces and others actually doing something.

It is a big wake-up call to see this every morning. As much as you or I say we never want to get to that point, it happens to more people than not, it seems. Each of these people had a vibrant, healthy life at some point and now they're doing everything they can to keep it rich. Sometimes their bodies won't let them; the ultimate physiological betrayal, in my opinion. Other times, it's probably just easier for them to check out and fall asleep.

It's not exactly death staring me in the face every morning, but it's a daily reminder of what might be coming. The days of 1000 piece puzzles with 4 missing pieces, or Yahtzee or Bingo parties, are not too far off. To ward it off, in part, I walk...while I can.

On my way home, just across the street from the senior center, I pass by the Easter Seals agency. From what I gather it is the same kind of center, except for developmentally challenged kids. I see the same variety of expressions as I had earlier in the day across the street. Some kids are sleeping, some are watching TV blankly and others are engaged with playing, goofing off, etc.

This center reminds me of how I am never to take for granted my mental health or that of my children. These kids are beautiful, happy kids in their own right, who, it might be said, have also been betrayed by their own bodies. By God's grace, I was given a healthy body and mind and it's my intention to use both up to their max. To do anything less is to waste the gifts given to me. If we're lucky, we're given 75 years on this earth and if you want to burn 9 of them watching a glowing cathode, well, that's just a damn shame.

Blogging off...